Re: Culture of Science?

Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax (
Fri, 16 Aug 1996 13:10:06 -0800

Michael Smith wrote:
> Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax ( wrote:
> : Nice observation, Bill. I think a study of the Culture of Science could
> : be very interesting and lead us to some new understandings of what it
> : means to be human. Perhaps one reason why scientists find the so-called
> : "Territorial Imperative" so compelling is that it resembles their
> : culture very closely.
> Interesting thesis...
> : Observe how I got flamed by the Wonder from Washington
> : well beyond what I had actually said. Her attacks, by her own admission,
> : were certainly not /rationally/ motivated. And yet they bear a peculiar
> : similarity to remarks I have seen made time and time again when a member
> : of the Scientific Establishment, particularly in that they both claim to
> : be "neutral" (or as Angeline put it, "not personal") and yet their utterances
> : are full of venom!
> Be careful in making generalizations about scientists as a whole (said
> the scientist :)) based on the actions of one person or a few people :)

True. Culture is a fluid phenomenon. For example, in 1991, when the Gulf
War was getting underway, I was indisputably by my cultural upbringing an
American and yet I did not celebrate the war. (I was part of that miniscule
5 to 10% which opposed the war.)

Sometimes it gets frustrating and I lash out against what feels like a brick
wall. Others, too, coming from their own perspectives, undoubtably feel
the same about me! :)
> ACtually you're absolutely right about the arrogance of many scientists.
> "We say it's true and that's all their is to it." The problem comes when
> scientists are so wrapped up in their own culture that they don't bother
> to explain things more carefully to the public. Let's face it, science
> has a massive PR problem, and this is contributing to the unfortunate
> decline of science from American civilization (may the gods help us).
>It's sad because all too often I face the other side of the equation in
other contexts. Take the Gaia Hypothesis people as a sterling example.
There's a real confusion out there among these people as to the difference
between a reality and a metaphor! (I also feel the "Selfish Gene" is
another metaphor. In this case, it is certain other scientists -- quick
to defend their own credibility -- who can't see that they are employing
a metaphor. This metaphor happens to have the backing of a substantial
portion of the elite who never quite gave up Spencerism.)

I don't think the Creationists need any more bashing in this group. We'll
be hard-pressed to find a spokesperson for that belief among present
company. (Though some have spoken to me as if I was a Creationist, too.)

And that leads to another point, Michael related to your PR. Some scientists
seem to have a set of stock responses which they use to address the
public. It is as if they have decided that "This is what the public believes"
and before you can say much else, they've dumped you into one of their
categories and given the automatic response. It gets pretty tedious and I
tend to react strongly to it. As you and I both agree, people are individuals.

> : From where did this culture spring? Here are a few of my hypotheses:
> : * Class. Do Scientists come overwhelming from the Upper Middle and Upper
> : Classes? Again, this could explain many of the mythological baggage which
> : many scientists bear about the natures of their own intellects. Rather than
> : considering the superior value of the education and family upbringing they
> : had, they look hopefully to their own genes.
> Very few scientists fall into that hypothesis. In fact very few
> scientists believe intellect has that much to do with Genetics at all. I
> think you took The Bell Curve too seriously. :) Stephen Jay Gould did a
> wonderful job of trashing garbage like The Bell Curve in his book The
> Mismeasure of Man. Of course there are exceptions such as William
> Shockley but they are few and far between even if vocal.
>Well, an alternative thesis regarding my problem is that I take the people who come to
this group proclaiming themselves to be better scientists than I too seriously. :)

I don't believe much in the Bell Curve. Nature just isn't perfect. To get
a bell curve, you have to play with the data a bit (sometimes more and sometimes
less -- it's a matter of luck, I suppose.)

> : * Protestantism. (Yep, I'll blame this bugaboo just for the sake of
> : theoretical completeness!) I don't give Protestantism the credit for
> : the Scientific Method, only for the the emotional baggage and superiority
> : complex that afflicts a fair number of scientists, at least the vocal
> : ones. Genetic explanations of intelligence sound a lot like good
> : old Calvinist predestination if you think about it.
> Again, I think you took The Bell Curve too seriously. We can give
> Protestantism credit for the culture of science in that it inspired all
> sorts of trouble in Europe and spurred people to embrace
> rationalism...and also it led to the idea that you can find truth *on
> your own* which was far from what the Church wanted at the time.

I don't understand how the Bell Curve comes into this one, Michael. Can
you go into more detail?

> : Perhaps you all have others. The point I would make about these things
> : is that they /are not/ Scientific Method. But they sure as hell sneak
> : in and wreak their havoc often enough for us to be aware of them.
> Glad you pointed that out. Of course the culture scientists espouse, good
> or bad, has no bearing on the nearly unshakeable veracity of scientific
> method.
>The Scientific Method remains, in my book, the best way we have for determining
what Reality is. Chaos theory, for example, was the product of the scientific
method -- simply taking the time to /look/ at something which hadn't been
described and trying to make a /model/ of it. Scientific method gave us a better
/model/ for dealing with all kinds of statistical problems. In anthropology,
it helps us to remember that regardless of what we describe a group's culture
as, there will be as many variations of that culture within the group as their
are individuals.

> Blessed Be,
> Mike Smith
> "Rise, hold fast your faith. To lie dormant is certain death."
> -Slayer, "At Dawn They Sleep"
> DISCLAIMER: My opinions do not necessarily, or even remotely, reflect
> those of Loyola University, Chicago.



___ ___
/\ _|_ /\ Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx
/ /\_|_/\ \
/ / /\|/\ \ \
\ \ \/|\/ / / "If we try to flee from our human condition into
\ \/_|_\/ / the computer, we only meet ourselves there."
\/__|__\/ William Barrett