Re: Patriarchy: Re: What Matriarchy?

William Edward Woody (
Fri, 16 Aug 1996 13:24:21 -0700

In article <4uqla0$>, (Gerold Firl) wrote:
> When you say that science assumes that no one fiddles with the
> experimental results, I'm not sure if you are referring to supernatural
> fiddling (a trickster god who messes with the data) or regular old
> human fiddling. Science does recognize that both error and fraud are
> part of life, which is one of the reasons for the emphasis on
> replication. Unless a finding can be replicated, it's treated with
> caution.

The history of the Milikan oil-drop experiment is very apropos here.
It's something they teach every first year student here at Caltech.
(Mostly because he was a pretty famous 'tech prof for whom the
library is named.)

He measured the mass of the electron. The problem was, he threw out
experimental data which suggested the mass was half of what he thought
it should be. And he came up with a number about twice the accepted
mass we believe the electron has today.

But since he was such an influential guy, and such a prominant scientist,
everyone who went to reproduce his findings also threw out the
experimental data which suggested that Milikan was wrong. But as
time went by, later scientists threw out less and less data. (You see,
one of the things any good scientists does during an experiment
is to throw out 'obviously incorrect' data. What makes the data
'obviously incorrect?' The underlying assumptions the scientists
has about the subject before conducting the experiments.)

If you plot the 'scientifically' accepted mass of the electron over time,
you see that it makes this really cool 1/x curve with a little bit
of an asymptotic 'hook' around the time Milikan was alive.

Human fiddling not being replicated? Often, human fiddling can be
replicated, because the humans doing the testing have the same underlying

> As far as supernatural fiddling is concerned, there doesn't seem to be
> any need for that hypothesis.


Because it's obviously not so? Ask any creationist, and they'll tell
you it's just as obvious to him/her that God has a very big role in the
creation and unfolding of the universe as it is to many scientists
that the supernatural doesn't have anything to do with nature at all.

For my money, I just assume that the universe goes on it's merry way
without a God causing the opening of every flower. But then, I at least
acknowledge this untested assumption.

And acknowledge it cannot be tested.

And acknowledge something so many people in the world fail to do:
that I could be wrong, and my being wrong could reach up one day and
bite me in the ass.

> I think that what bryant was saying is that while people from certain
> cultures might not think to quantify something like kinetic energy,
> nonetheless kinetic energy is just as operational for them as for
> anyone else. Cultural assumptions just don't seem to play much of a
> role in the physical universe.

No, but they play a very large role in how we see the universe.

And how we see the universe in *this* culture is as a scientists would:
a mechanical universe, where even at the level of Quantum Mechanics,
God may play dice with the universe, but he does it predictably.

My personal belief (and again, I reserve the right to be wrong) is that
the universe is such a large place, and may include so many things that
I don't know about, including 'planes' of existance (to start sounding
newagey, sorry) beyond the material--I just pretend I understand my little
corner of it, and carry on.

I also believe that while Logical Positivism is a great way to look at
the material world, I understand that this philosophy has it's limits,
can be abused, may not be correct, and does not apply to the 'spiritual
world', to the 'supernatural', to God, or to the emotions, feelings
ethics and morality which forms the human heart. (Not that bloody red
mass that feeds you blood, but the emotional, figurative heart.)

Cultural assumptions *do* play a role with the tales we tell about
the universe. And they guide us in the questions we ask, in the
experimental designs we come up with (for those of us who are Logical
Positivists), in the ways we use (or abuse) that science.

Science and Logical Positivism can be abused by those whose cultural
assumptions aren't the multicultural, gender and race bias-free
world we live in. Witness "The Bell Curve."

- Bill

Who had so much to say about this interesting post--but ran out of time. :-(

William Edward Woody | e-mail:
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