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Post Update on Food Politics: Monsanto
Created by John Eipper on 08/03/12 7:58 AM

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Update on Food Politics: Monsanto (Sergio Mukherjee, Germany, 08/03/12 7:58 am)

Here's an addendum to Tor Guimaraes's response to Randy Black (August 2). If Monsanto's GM food is really so "safe and technologically advanced," I just wonder why Monsanto's own staff seems to take issue with the serving of GM food at the company's cafeteria. Talk about paradoxes and ironies.

http://gizadeathstar.com/2012/02/monsanto-cafeteria-bans-gmo-foods/

For more details on food politics and the corporatization of the food industry, see the documentary "Food Inc." (below is the trailer):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eKYyD14d_0

JE comments:  Very interesting.  At least Philip Morris/Altria used to encourage smoking by its employees--horrors, but no hypocrisy, in that.  Who doesn't remember the chain-smoking Apostle of Tobacco, Geoffrey Bible?


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  • Update on Food Politics: Monsanto (Istvan Simon, USA 08/04/12 6:49 PM)
    With all due respect to Sergio Mukherjee (3 July), this kind of argument is not evidence that Monsanto's GM seeds are unsafe. It indicates simply that Monsanto's employees base their choices of food to be served in the cafeteria on fear of the unknown rather than any rational decision. It indicates that Monsanto would have to overcome considerable opposition to the use of food grown from these seeds from consumers. Nonetheless, consumers are not scientists, and their fears are not scientific evidence of anything wrong with Monsanto's GM seeds.

    I think that surveys also indicate that a majority of people believe in ghosts and angels. Shall we take then this belief as evidence of the existence of ghosts and angels? I contend that of course not, and the survey indicates merely that the majority of people are prone to believe in superstitions. The fear of GM seeds is similarly merely a superstition, until scientific evidence is produced that they may be harmful.


    JE comments:  It may be too much science fiction, but genetically modified foods bring up the Frankenstein factor.  Who knows we're not creating something that will turn on us?  



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    • Update on Food Politics (John Heelan, UK 08/05/12 6:36 AM)
      Istvan Simon wrote on 4 August: "The fear of GM [genetically modified] seeds is similarly merely a superstition, until scientific evidence is produced that they may be harmful."

      Is that not what the tobacco industry preached in the last century and took enormous efforts to obstruct and badmouth scientific reports of the potential harm to health? Does not the pharmaceutical industry take a similar approach with some medications (such as the furor over MMR as a potential cause of autism)? Does not the petrochemical industry seek to bury scientific reports on the side-effects of crop spraying?


      Vested commercial interests promote "scientific" reports that support their products and dissuade research into potential harm, and attack those that they cannot dissuade. Capitalism appears to rule academe, especially in the United States.


      One would expect Monsanto employees to be better informed about the dangers of GM products than the general population, and thus their views should be respected. To suggest otherwise indicates some scientific arrogance, especially as scientific "certainty" has a validity limited by the next independent scientific discovery.


      JE comments: Regarding Monsanto employees, see Randy Black's post from earlier today (5 August).  Apparently they are quite content to lunch on "conventional" food.



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      • Food Politics (Istvan Simon, USA 08/07/12 4:53 AM)
        With all due respect to John Heelan (5 August), what is involved with the genetically modified food industry is not at all analogous to the tobacco industry's attempt to suppress the scientific evidence against tobacco. Monsanto is not suppressing any scientific evidence to my knowledge. There are of course, scientists who are cautious about GM seeds. Such caution is entirely appropriate. But to my knowledge there is no scientific evidence at all that GM seeds are dangerous. I could be wrong.

        John Heelan writes that one would expect Monsanto employees to be more aware of problems with GM seeds than the general population.


        I respond: Nonsense. Why would that be the case? Most Monsanto employees are of course not scientists, they are no better informed at all than the general public. They are the general public. The guy that works in shipping, or receiving, or accounting, or whatever at Monsanto, is no better informed about GM seeds than the guy that works in shipping, receiving, accounting, etc. at Intel.


        Scientific arrogance? What on Earth is that? If there is science that suggests that GM seeds are dangerous, let's hear what it is. If, on the other hand, there is no such science, then the fears of the public are merely superstition, exactly as I said. That is the bottom line.


        JE comments: Shall we discuss the existence or non-existence of "scientific arrogance"? Insofar as the modern scientific community confidently packages its findings as "truth," at least until they are disproved by newer science, I'd say that SA (scientific arrogance) exists.  The public is also easily awed by the claim that something is a "scientific fact."  Istvan Simon will not agree, but perhaps we can get a good cross-disciplinary conversation going.  Given the diversity of backgrounds of our colleagues, this is the kind of thing WAIS does best.



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        • Food Safety and the Pusztai Affair (Sergio Mukherjee, Germany 08/08/12 2:09 AM)
          As a reaction to Istvan Simon's interest (7 August) in scientific evidence concerning GM food's safety--or lack thereof, I would like to draw the Forum's attention to the so-called "Pusztai affair." Arpad Pusztai, a Hungarian biochemist, spoke against the safety of certain types of genetically modified food, with particular reference to damages noticed on stomach linings and the immune system.

          While some scientists took issue with the reliability of Pusztai findings, others were fully convinced about their scientificity. Of course, one could rush to characterize the latter group as "superstitious," but the very existence of a divide within the scientific community is a testament to the plurality of concerns and findings on the effects of GM technology.


          Arpad Pusztai's findings ended up costing him a suspension from the University of Aberdeen, where he served as a researcher (note: years later, he was awarded a prize by the Federation of German Scientists). As such, my sense is that the so-called "lack of scientific evidence" on such inconvenient matters should be contextualized by a proper consideration of the risks faced by those who have the courage to speak up against powerful interest groups.


          JE comments: On the Pusztai Affair, see the following Wikipedia account. Monsanto is mentioned as a possible culprit in Pusztai's sacking:


          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pusztai_affair



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          • Food Safety and the Pusztai Affair (Istvan Simon, USA 08/09/12 8:07 AM)
            I thank Sergio Mukherjee (8 August) for his bringing to our attention the findings of Pusztai, a fellow Hungarian.  Pusztai's findings may or may not be significant. Only time will tell. Monsanto is of course a powerful and rich corporation. But it does not seem likely to me that Monsanto bought the Royal Society.

            That the Royal Society got involved in this affair can be taken as evidence that Monsanto has a powerful influence. But to me it seems unlikely that every member of the Royal Society has sold out to Monsanto.


            Whether or not Pusztai's findings are or not relevant is not a matter of controversy. First, his findings will have to be duplicated by other scientists. If his findings can be replicated, the objections raised by the Royal Society will need to be examined, and in turn reviewed. Eventually, the truth will be found, because science proceeds systematically, and there are many good scientists that Monsanto cannot buy.


            One final comment: I ask Sergio, why is Monsanto interested in GM seeds? I answer my own question thus: because GM seeds open up the possibility that better potatoes, in this case, can be grown. What would make a potato better? I answer my own question once again. It could be better, if for instance it resisted pests, that devastate ordinary potatoes. That is an example of why Monsanto is interested in developing GM foods.


            JE comments: Why is Monsanto interested in GM seeds? My answer would be, to make a profit. There's no value judgement here, just a comment on the raison d'etre of corporations.

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            • "Scientific Arrogance"; Genetically Modified Seeds (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/10/12 6:13 AM)
              While I tend to agree with much of what Istvan Simon says about science and the scientific method, please allow me to be "scientifically arrogant" in absolutely contradicting him.

              John Eipper was correct in proposing the concept of "scientific arrogance." [Actually it was first proposed on WAIS by John Heelan--JE.] Most of such arrogance comes from scientists forgetting about the very nature of the scientific method (a continuous process of hypothesis testing). Some have greater egos than the validity of their "scientific" discoveries. Even when a specific hypothesis has been tested widely over a long period of time to be declared a "law," scientists should always be humble in their statements about it because the Universe is a very complex place.


              Thus, a law in one situation can be wrong under a different situation which for a variety of reasons was never contemplated before. John Heelan (9 August) provides one in a long list of major examples with "For 1400 years the Ptolemaic scientific proof indicated that the Universe was geocentric; in 1543 Copernicus proved it was heliocentric." In a minor question, yesterday I heard that while Copernicus apparently had all the necessary data and proposed the heliocentric system, Galileo is the one who provided the "proof" by watching the eclipses on the moon and Mars (and was placed under house arrest for that). Would some scientific historian please confirm that Copernicus was the theoretician but Galileo was the experimenter?


              Returning to the topic of genetically modified seeds, Istvan Simon responded (9 August) to Sergio Mukherjee by asking, "why is Monsanto interested in GM seeds? I answer my own question thus: because GM seeds open up the possibility that better potatoes, in this case, can be grown. What would make a potato better? I answer my own question once again. It could be better, if for instance it resisted pests, that devastate ordinary potatoes. That is an example of why Monsanto is interested in developing GM foods."


              I cannot argue with these statements, but I strongly disagree with the implicit notion by some WAISers that because Monsanto believes it is doing mankind a favor by developing GE food, it should be allowed to by subterfuge/deception figuratively push its products down consumers' and independent farmers' throats. Supposedly, we live in a free market economy free from market manipulation, not a command and control by powerful corporations-type system, as the same WAISers would preach.


              JE comments:  Question:  what do WAISers Tor Guimaraes, Istvan Simon and Sergio Mukherjee have in common?  Answer:  a Brazilian connection:  Sergio and Tor are Brazilian-born, and Istvan lived there for many years.  Not that this has anything to do with genetically modified foods, but I think it's pretty cool.  We could conduct this whole discussion thread in Portuguese--truly one of the languages of the future.  (Keep in mind Mendo Henriques's "Portugaliza" post of 2 August):


              http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=71239&objectTypeId=64192&topicId=37


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        • Does "Scientific Arrogance" Exist? (Istvan Simon, USA 08/08/12 2:16 AM)
          JE (7 August) is wrong. There is no scientific arrogance, at least not from any good scientist. Scientists do not claim that they know everything; they know that they do not. On the other hand, scientists know what they do know, and they proceed in a methodical and systematic way to discover what the truth is, whatever it is. I pride myself of being an open-minded good scientist.

          JE comments: I'd like to hear others' views on this subject: is there such a thing as scientific arrogance? For now, I must depart for the Medellín airport and a flight to Miami. WAIS will return in about six hours (we have a long layover in Miami).



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          • Does "Scientific Arrogance" Exist? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 08/08/12 12:59 PM)
            Istvan Simon wrote on 8 August:

            "JE (7 August) is wrong. There is no scientific arrogance, at least not from any good scientist. Scientists do not claim that they know everything; they know that they do not. On the other hand, scientists know what they do know, and they proceed in a methodical and systematic way to discover what the truth is, whatever it is. I pride myself of being an open-minded good scientist."



            Well, "scientific arrogance" may refer to different things, so I'm not sure there is such a simple answer.



            Science is, first of all, a system, based on the Scientific Method. If we speak of science as a system--as I think Istvan is using the term--then there is nothing arrogant about it. Science, in that sense, is merely a method of discovering a certain kind of truth, where the phrase "a certain kind of" is crucially important. Science, in this sense, does not claim to explain everything in the world, but merely to answer certain narrow questions. And the extraordinary power of the Scientific Method has brought an entire wealth of knowledge to mankind, distinctly changing human life.



            But the Scientific Method has brought such spectacular results that people often forget its limitations. There are a number of entire fields of study which claim to be branches of science, but which probably are actually pseudo-sciences, since the Scientific Method cannot really be applied. And now we get back to Karl Marx, whose ideas we were recently discussing--or rather, Friedrich Engels interpreting Marx. A crucial aspect of Marxism, as it has come down to us through Engels and Lenin, is so-called "Scientific Socialism," which is a claim that Marxism, or the body of Marxist ideas, with the application of a particular method, namely dialectical materialism, is actually infallible, and capable of explaining absolutely everything in the world. This claim is crucial to Marxism-Leninism, because it is the basic justification for party dictatorship--possessing an infallible method and thus access to absolute truth, the theory goes, the party itself is infallible, and there is no need for democracy or any kind of check or balance on the power of the party.



            Now this already goes far beyond the original claims for the scientific method, and is already in the realm of philosophy, not science. I can't imagine that any true scientist would recognize any science in Scientific Socialism--the method is based on a lot of mumbo-jumbo masquerading as "dialectics," and to me, at least, is obviously a pseudo-science.



            So in such cases, we do indeed see something we might call "scientific arrogance"--making claims for methods which someone claims to be scientific, which are not sustainable, and/or which are not actually scientific. But I think that it would be more accurate to say, not "scientific arrogance," but "pseudo-scientific arrogance," or "arrogance covering itself with science"--and these are really different things. So in my opinion, both JE and Istvan are right--they are simply using terms in different ways. For Scientific Socialism, there is an poorly edited, short, but extremely interesting article on Wiki:


            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_socialism


            JE comments: I didn't have "scientific socialism" in mind, but rather something along the lines of what Cameron terms "arrogance covering itself with science." We've seen countless examples over the last two centuries. John Heelan was the first to use the expression "scientific arrogance" in this thread. I have a note from John on gun control (next in queue), but I'd like to hear John's response to Istvan Simon's and Cameron Sawyer's latest posts.

            And while we're talking science, how about the "dismal science"?  Can economics claim any legitimacy unless it markets itself as a science?
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            • Does "Scientific Arrogance" Exist? (John Heelan, UK 08/09/12 7:38 AM)
              JE asked me to respond to the 8 August posts of Cameron Sawyer and Istvan Simon on "scientific arrogance," as I raise the concept in the first place.

              As most discussions founder on the rocks of definition, it is worthwhile reiterating what I termed "scientific arrogance" (5 August), in which I responded to Istvan Simon's assertion on the (alleged) views of Monsanto employees refusing GM food in their staff restaurants, that the "fear of GM seeds is similarly merely a superstition, until scientific evidence is produced that they may be harmful." This implies that that "truth"--whatever that is--depends on the outcome of science. Without wishing to insult the scientists in WAIS, I suggested that this attitude was indicative of "scientific arrogance."



              While one admires science's strict discipline of hypothesis, experimentation and repeatability by others, one also has to remember that mere "repeatability" demands a very tight definition of the experiment to be performed again by others. This results in "scientific proof" of a very small and limited target. Further, the "scientific proof" is valid only until a later scientific discovery reveals a flaw in the original "scientific truth."  (For 1400 years the Ptolemaic scientific proof indicated that the Universe was geocentric; in 1543 Copernicus proved it was heliocentric.)



              Thus the best that scientists and others can state is that "The truth appears to be (so-and so) depending on our current level of knowledge." To claim anything further is in my opinion arrogant, whether it is of the scientific, religious, ideological or philosophical variety.



              In 1997, the renowned physicists, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, published their Impostures Intellectuales, which attacked some famous French post-modernist authors for "repeatedly abusing scientific concepts and terminology: either using scientific ideas totally out of context, without giving the slightest justification or throwing around scientific jargon in front of their non-scientist readers without any regard to its relevance or its meaning." (Alain de Benoist might well remember the furor caused by the book and wish to comment.) The essence of their valid argument was that post-modernist non-scientists disguised their lack of deep scientific knowledge by using impenetrable language of their own. The disguise went unchallenged by their readers. Sokal had demonstrated it by getting a hoax article "Transgressing the boundaries: Toward a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity," published in Duke University's Social Text journal (Spring/Summer 1996 edition). The abstruseness of the language successfully hid the meaninglessness of the article, thereby proving Sokal's point.



              Yet in this highly readable and thought-provoking book, the authors seems to fall into a logic trap of their own. In discussing relativism and criminal investigation, they recall a 1996 Belgian criminal case about child kidnap-murder there was a disagreement about a vital file being sent to the judge. The policeman swore he sent it: the judge swore he did not receive it. Sokal et al. comment that the dispute was about a material, measurable fact, a binary choice: was the file sent or not. The measure would define the "truth" of the matter. I suggest that in this case both were speaking the truth "based on their current knowledge," and in fact there were two valid parallel but disconnected "truths" which each reported honestly--file was sent but was not received for some reason. Yet Sokal et al. dismiss this parallel truthfulness, commenting that it makes no sense to say that "both are telling the truth." (p. 92)



              Is there not a whiff of scientific arrogance in their determining that there can only be one truth based on measurable fact, rather than two truths about separate but closely connected events?



              I recommend that both scientific and "literature" WAISers read this book, as there is much both can to be learn from it. However, also bear in mind that the scientists writing the book are not always necessarily correct in their comments.


              JE comments: We made it home from Medellín/Miami late last night. I'll catch up on WAIS postings throughout the day.

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          • Does "Scientific Arrogance" Exist? (Robert Whealey, USA 08/09/12 8:57 AM)
            Istvan Simon (8 August) is 100 percent correct on his definition of good science. What some call "scientific arrogance" is usually called "scientism," a form of propaganda for somebody's pet technological gadget.

            JE comments: "Scientism" may be a synonym for "pseudo-science," but the existence of this semantic distinction actually underscores the notion of scientific arrogance: since "science" is the infallible repository of truth, any attempt to question or undermine a specific finding must label it in a different way.


            I am reminded of the brilliant 17th-century Mexican poet-scientist-nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who wrote of the "queen of all sciences."  Which one is that, you ask?  Theology. 

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            • "Scientific Arrogance" and Euler (Henry Levin, USA 08/09/12 3:47 PM)

              In response to Robert Whealey (9 August), my impression is that scientism is also used more generally to refer to a presentation that has the appearance of science in its language and logic and declaration of "facts," even when the underlying basis is specious. It is the attempt to persuade by creating the appearance of science or scientific method and finding. One of the most famous versions of this is the following, often repeated, but without solid verification, but amusing and credible. You probably know that Euler was a very famous mathematician as Diderot was a prominent philosopher. And Catherine...?


              Leonhard Euler


              Euler's Proof of God


              Unknown if it is true or not, there is a story in which Euler convinces a French Philosopher that God did indeed exist. This story could be an urban myth, but in reality Euler did have other published proofs that God existed.


              The story is as follows: Once at the court of Catherine the Great, Euler met a French philosopher named Denis Diderot. Diderot was a convinced atheist, and was trying to convince the Russians into atheism also. Catherine was very annoyed by this and she asked for Euler's help. Euler thought about it and when he began a theological discussion with Diderot, Euler said: "(a+b^n)/n = x, therefore God exists." Diderot was said to know almost nothing about algebra, and therefore returned to Paris.



              Euler's equation that proves God exists:


              a+b^n  =  x


                  x


              JE comments:  We need more math jokes on WAIS!  I hope Istvan Simon, Massoud Malek or another WAISer mathematician could walk us through Euler's joke.  Does the equation mean anything at all?  How exactly is it funny?



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              • Euler's Proof of God (Henry Levin, USA 08/11/12 8:43 AM)
                Following up on my post of 9 August, I first read of Euler's proof of God in James Newman's World of Mathematics some 50 years ago. This is a classic four-volume set that has many wonderful stories and paradoxes and explanations of math. This is a good source of traditional math jokes, although told quite soberly.

                Newman's version is actually better, because he asserts that Diderot was a charmer who was seducing (at least spiritually, but perhaps literally) the young in the Court of Catherine with his ridiculing belief in God. [Disbelief in God?--JE.] And apparently it was influencing the young. So, knowing that Euler (the most famous mathematician in Europe) was a believer, she invited him to the Court. The rest of the story is the same, except that Diderot was exasperated by his ignorance of math and inability to respond and took leave of the court.


                Interestingly, much of analytic philosophy has been reduced to symbolic logic and systems of equations along with mathematical linguistics. I would guess that most recent Professors of Philosophy have strong backgrounds in certain branches of mathematics. Perhaps the philosophers in WAIS can give more precision to this surmisal.


                JE comments: Many of us PhDs don't really know much Ph [ilosophy]--or at least, beyond the anecdotal level.  I'll grudgingly include myself in that group.

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              • Euler's Proof, Camel and Old Gold (Robert Whealey, USA 08/12/12 4:30 AM)

                Euler's proof of God (see Henry Levin, 9 August) is good humor and good philosophy (logic) essential for natural science and the more debatable "social science."


                On the lighter side, I graduated from high school in 1948, when Camel cigarettes were number one in sales. Their slogan was, "More Doctors smoke Camel Cigarettes than any other cigarette." One of their major competitors was "Old Gold." Their reply was, "If you want a treat instead of a treatment, treat yourself to Old Gold."


                JE comments: Ah, the Old (Gold or not) Days, when cigarettes could make medical claims. Anybody recall the Spud brand--the first menthol cig?  Spud ads used to tout their health benefits and soothing effect on the throat and lungs.  Madison Ave outdid itself with this slogan:  "Got a cold?  Change to Spuds."


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            • "Scientific Arrogance" Revisited (Alain de Benoist, France 08/22/12 10:52 AM)

              There was an interesting discussion about "scientific arrogance" on WAIS, to which Istvan Simon (8 August), Cameron Sawyer (8 August), John Heelan (9 August), Robert Whealey (9 August), Henry Levin (10 August) and Tor Guimaraes (10 August) all contributed. I would like to add my two cents on that topic.



              In the first place, it is obvious that the arrogance of some scientists (those who "have greater egos than the validity of their ‘scientific' discoveries," to use Tor Guimaraes's words) must be distinguished from the possible arrogance of science itself.



              In my opinion, scientific arrogance begins with scientism, that is the belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method to everything, the belief that science has (and is the only means to have) the answer to all meaningful questions. In this perspective, science is the only possible way of knowledge, scientific discoveries being identified as the only possible truths (and scientific propositions as the only meaningful propositions). Philosophical, aesthetic, spiritual or ethical truths are rejected as insignificant because they cannot be verified (or falsified), or as propositions having no real meaning (this was the position of the logical positivism, held in the 1930s by the people from the Vienna Circle). In this sense, the concept of scientism is closely related to positivism and reductionism.



              I agree that it would be quite foolish to reject what has been (provisionally) established by science. Nobody can go against science. But the question is to know if it possible to go beyond or beside it.



              It is probably possible to go further. A good reading could be The Tyranny of Science, by Paul Feyerabend (Polity Press, 2011), a book which collects some lectures given by the author (who died in 1994) at the University of California, Berkeley. Feyerabend questions the claim of scientists to present science as a unified worldview (a "monolith"), which it is not. Science is both incomplete and quite strongly disunified. The associated ideology sometimes known as objectivism, which takes science to be our ultimate measure of what exists, is therefore ungrounded. In that sense, even the word "science" is out of place. We should rather speak about "sciences" (plural form).



              For Feyerabend, when it comes to methodology, the empiricist idea that science starts from facts, and eschews theories until the facts are gathered, is a myth. The same can be said of the idea that science is completely value-free. The Platonic-rationalist picture of science as a kind of pure thinking about the nature of reality appears here to be a distortion.



              The renowned French mathematician Henri Poincaré (1857-1912) expressed some similar views. For Poincaré, the only reality by which a science can be concerned is linked to mind operations, not to the supposed truth of a particular matter. In other words, two strictly identical phenomena do not exist. What exists is an identity of the mind operations applied to describe them, which is very different. "Just as houses are made of stones," said Poincaré, "so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house, and a collection of facts is not necessarily science." Poincaré adds that a mathematician's model or theory does not say the "truth of the world," but expounds only convenient representations, which are of course fruitful when they are confirmed by experiment. He says also that the laws of physics "are not imposed on us by nature, but imposed by us on nature" (see the famous Higgs boson, which is not a "thing," but rather an efficient equation, quite useful in the field of the exploration of very high energies).



              Because it relativizes the pretentions of many scientists to hold the results of their works as "natural truths," Poincaré's "conventionalism" seems to me more subtle and more interesting than the theories of pragmatists or occasionalists like Charles Sanders Peirce or William James, even more than Henri Bergson or Richard Rorty.



              If Poincaré is right, Laplace was wrong: a "rational nature" does not exist, but is only a matter of belief. That's why "a law in one situation can be wrong under a different situation" (Tor Guimaraes). What we called "sciences" expresses only a rational way of conceiving action, a set of efficient procedures and representations, but nothing more. "Scientific arrogance" could consist by calling "science" the deciphered state of a pseudo-rational nature, not a state of the creative thought. Against such arrogance, it could be necessary to return to the "pollakos legomenon" of Aristotle: the being has to be "said" in different ways, not through an only one.


              JE comments:  Not much to add here, but I invite WAISers to reflect on Alain's appeal to go "beyond or beside" science.


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              • "Scientific Arrogance" and Spirituality (Vincent Littrell, USA 08/22/12 5:08 PM)
                I enjoyed Alain de Benoist's post on scientism (22 August). I have one question, however. Regarding scientism Alain states, "Philosophical, aesthetic, spiritual or ethical truths are rejected as insignificant because they cannot be verified (or falsified), or as propositions having no real meaning (this was the position of the logical positivism, held in the 1930s by the people from the Vienna Circle)."

                Alain has criticized me in the past for using the word "spiritual," by alluding to a seeming indefinability to the word.  Yet he uses it here. What precisely does Alain mean by spiritual and "spiritual truths"?

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                • "Scientific Arrogance" and Spirituality (Randy Black, USA 08/23/12 3:28 PM)
                  Vincent Littrell's questions on 22 August in response to Alain de Benoist's post on scientism and other matters brings to mind the courses taught to millions of college students across the former USSR over decades.



                  I would like to add my questions about the matters of several of those courses. I'm looking at a university transcript from a major Soviet teacher training institute.



                  Among the usual courses of study, there are the expected college classes in History of CPSS, Political Economics, English, Psychology and Physical Education.



                  And then: Philosophy of Marxism-Leninism, Scientific Communism, Basic Scientific Atheism and Esthetics of Marxism-Leninism. All of these courses are intended, I assume, to help one become an elementary school Art Teacher.



                  Comments?

                  JE comments: Randy Black reminds us how "science" has been used in the most creative ways over the ages. Germane to our discussion, note that in the Soviet ideological system, science is really used to suggest "truth." For me, the most memorable Soviet course of study was for the "Engineer Economist," concerned not with the designing or building of, say, roads and dams, but of entire economies.



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                  • "Engineer Economists" Then and Now (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 09/03/12 6:31 AM)
                    When commenting Randy Black's post of 23 August, JE wrote:

                    "Randy reminds us how 'science' has been used in the most creative ways over the ages. Germane to our discussion, note that in the Soviet ideological system, science is really used to suggest 'truth.' For me, the most memorable Soviet course of study was for the 'Engineer Economist,' concerned not with the designing or building of, say, roads and dams, but of entire economies."



                    I hate to constantly be the WAIS spoilsport, but as fascinating as JE's description of the "engineer-economist" profession was, it is false. I employ engineer-economists in my business. The definition of this profession is "a specialist in the economics and organization of production"--in German, "Betriebswirt."


                    See: http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/rus_orthography/27445/%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B6%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%80


                    The English translation is given as "planning engineer," and a typical job description is, "Planning engineers are responsible for working out a sequence of activities that are required to complete a project and linking them all together using the resources to the best possible effect." http://www.myjobsearch.com/careers/planning-engineer.html . The mistake is that Engineer-Economists are microeconomists, not macroeconomists, that is, they are from not from the field of "narodnoe khozaistvo" or "Volkswirtschaft," but rather from "Betriebswirtschaft," a distinction which is clear in Russian and German, but which is harder to describe in English.


                    The Soviet economic system did require, of course, a lot of central planners. The state agency for central planning was called Gosplan; see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gosplan . For an excellent general discussion of centrally planned or "command" economies, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_economy . Gosplan was responsible for coordinating the whole Soviet economy, setting output targets, and allocating resources--a vast task, impossible to fulfill, as it turned out. This agency was full of engineers, economists, both macro- and micro-, and no doubt engineer-economists, too. But the profession JE is thinking about was part of the field of "narodnoe khozaistvo," exactly "Volkswirtschaft" in German; these people were generically called "planners" or simply "economists."



                    Central planning seems like a quaint, failed, inherently authoritarian, inherently unworkable, Commie approach to the economy in these days of the ascendancy of the market. And by and large that's what it is. But we all fail to understand the 20th century if we are unable to understand the idea of the Soviet economy, what its aims were, and what it actually achieved. The Soviet economy defeated the Nazis in WWII, and achieved some surprising things, despite its failure to provide a decent material basis of life for Soviet citizens, and its eventual general failure and bankruptcy. A key factor in the failure of the Soviet economy was the inherent problem of collection and dissemination of information required for effective planning--getting back to JE's "engineer-economists"--something which a market economy needs far less of, since the regulation of a market economy, particularly, the allocation of resources, is largely natural, decentralized and automatic (and therefore vastly more efficient).


                    But what if the Soviet economy had lasted until the present day? How much of the efficiency gap, compared to market economies, could have been closed with modern information technology, with its ability to handle vastly greater volumes of information? It's an interesting question, but for me a purely intellectual one--no one should think that I am advocating command economies, God forbid. It is interesting to note that the Soviets had very advanced computer technology, roughly equivalent to ours, and in some respects surpassing ours, right up until the IBM PC and PC networking introduced the revolution of decentralized computing. I have not read this novel:



                    http://www.amazon.com/Red-Plenty-F-Spufford/dp/0571225233



                    ...but it looks fascinating, and it looks like something which would be terrifically useful for anyone who is actually curious about what the Soviets were trying to achieve economically.



                    Another minor detail which is perhaps worth correcting: Randy Black recently wrote that the name of Gorky Park was changed when the Soviet Union ended. This is not true. Muscovites have always called it "Park Kultura," and there is a Metro station nearby with that name. Or, interchangeably, but less frequently, "Park Gork'ogo." Its full name is "Tsentrany Park Kultury i Otdykha imeni Gor'kogo," that is "Central Park of Culture and Recreation in the Name of Gorky." It was thus named when it was created in 1928, and still bears this name today. It's a nice park, by the way, a great place to go for a walk or go for a run, one of hundreds of lovely green spaces in Moscow.


                    JE comments: Cameron Sawyer sent me this post about a week ago; my apologies for overlooking it.  Have we seen a failure of WAIS Central Planning?


                    It is significant that the Soviets kept pace with the Capitalist world in the old days of behemoth mainframe computing, but the PC Revolution changed everything.  It's a useful metaphor for the differences in economic systems.  Note that the widespread "Western" adoption of PCs came just a few years before the collapse of the Soviet bloc.  John Heelan is a veteran computer hand, who traveled behind the "Curtain" to lecture on computing technology.  I'd love to hear his thoughts.



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                    • Computing in the Soviet Bloc (John Heelan, UK 09/03/12 1:24 PM)
                      When commenting Cameron Sawyer's post of 2 September, JE wrote:

                      "It is significant that the Soviets kept pace with the Capitalist world in the old days of behemoth mainframe computing, but the PC Revolution changed everything. It's a useful metaphor for the differences in economic systems. Note that the widespread 'Western' adoption of PCs came just a few years before the collapse of the Soviet bloc. John Heelan is a veteran computer hand, who traveled behind the 'Curtain' to lecture on computing technology. I'd love to hear his thoughts."


                      I am not so sure that the Soviets did "keep pace with the Capitalist world in the old days of behemoth mainframe computing" for the following reasons. Firstly the hardware. Strict US export licensing of high-tech equipment denied the USSR and its satellites direct purchases of computer equipment, software or training. The sanctions were fierce for any corporation found to be transgressing the rules: as a result in my part of the business, I spend many hours having to check the credentials of potential purchasers before accepting their orders. So the only way that USSR could obtain mainframe computing was via "grey imports" and by reverse-engineering the hardware they acquired. My impression of the quality of the reverse-engineered is summed up by the German word "ersatz" as used in WWII Germany, e.g., "looks like coffee but does not taste like coffee!"


                      Thus the quality of the hardware was suspect and genuine spares were generally unobtainable. (The 1984 book Techno-Bandits: How the Soviets are Stealing America's High-Tech Future is a very good summary of the situation that pertained then. Also take a look at


                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Soviet_computer_systems , and count the number of times the word "clone" is used--in my view it is an underestimate.)


                      Then there is the operating system and programming software that is constantly being updated, changed with regular new versions that corrected past bugs and errors as well as providing more powerful tools. Compliance with the US Export Licensing diktats made it difficult for the USSR to keep up to date.


                      The rapid spread of personal computing combined with the Export Licensing restrictions, exacerbated the situation for the Soviets, although they still followed a well-trodden path of acquiring and reverse-engineering the equipment. (Our engineers managed to acquire one of these--a DVK--and found it to be a shoddy copy, two or three generations out of date.)


                      Many of the early USSR space accidents were attributed to the relatively poor computing infrastructure, yet they were able to predict with reasonable accuracy where on the land-mass the returning astronauts would land: at that time it seems that the US was not quite as accurate.


                      JE comments:  I wonder if the Soviet prowess with reverse-engineering computers carried over to the sophisticated computer talent found in the former Soviet republics today.  Our IT director, Roman Zhovtulya of the Ukraine, provides a tremendous amount of computing power for WAIS on a shoestring budget.  (Granted, Roman was still a child when the USSR collapsed.) 


                      Can you comment on this, Roman?


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                    • Engineer Economists (Robert Whealey, USA 09/04/12 7:23 AM)
                      Cameron Sawyer (3 September) is right about the difference between an economist and an engineer. What the Germans call a Betriebswirt, Americans call a manager. An organizer of production could be a "systems engineer."



                      A true economist is a philosopher, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx, or John Maynard Keynes. They are concerned with a just balance of profits, wages, rents, taxes, crashes, slumps, debts, etc. The purpose of production is not to increase profits only, but to balance the income from land, labor, capital, and wages for the benefit of the prosperity of the democratic nation-state. Each nation's trading partners are in the competitive global marketplace. Adam Smith and Keynes took care of Britain first. Tariffs and exchange rates are a later technical consideration open to negotiations.



                      Marx was a utopian and talked about the international working class socializing the means of production. Most people do not understand Jesus, Marx, Locke, Kant and even Adam Smith.



                      The Soviet experiment failed, and Leon Trotsky called Stalin a state capitalist. The CCP [Chinese Communist Party?--JE] is running a state-capitalist society. Diplomats, clergy, and secular philanthropists can avoid war between the nations by the art of diplomatic discussions and political discussions.



                      Wars break out because of fools in high political office who do not understand what the last war achieved or failed to achieve.

                      JE comments: A topic for possible WAIS discussion: is it the economist's role to advocate for--or even to seek--an economically just society? A lot of economists would say absolutely not.



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                      • Is It the Economist's Role to Seek an Economically Just Society? (Henry Levin, USA 09/04/12 10:47 AM)
                        In response to JE's questions following Robert Whealey's discussion of engineering economics (4 September), there is such a specialization within economics. The emphasis is on the economics of production, where the expert must understand both the engineering principles of production as well as the economics of maximization subject to given resource constraints. Much of this is mathematical and statistical rather than philosophical. Some universities such as Stanford have a Department of Engineering-Economic Systems in the School of Engineering. Others include this specialization in their Operations Research departments.

                        The standard economics view is that economics as a field does not set out value propositions on inequality as a discipline; but individual economists can set this out as a normative issue and can use economic solutions to address it. Milton Friedman separates "positive" from normative economics. For Friedman the economics profession is charged with telling the consequences of different economic strategies, what he calls positive economics. That is, he sees economics as seeking the consequences of economic relationships. Normative economics is an exercise in "what should be" which is based upon the subjective views of the observer and addresses how to get to a different reality.


                        JE comments: This explanation works for me. It would be amusing if universities required Economics programs to add "dismal" to their course offerings:  Dismal Macro, Dismal Statistics, Dismal Econometrics, etc.

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              • "Scientific Arrogance" Revisited; on Love (Istvan Simon, USA 08/23/12 6:03 AM)
                JE said that there was not much to add to Alain de Benoist's essay of 22 August, but I disagree, and so I would like to have a first crack to add something to this interesting discussion.

                I read Alain's essay with interest, and at first I felt mostly in agreement with what I thought he was saying. Without going into the specifics of a long list of very general observations on Alain's essay, I would like to invite Alain to become a bit more concrete in this discussion.


                Let's start with the statement that science is supposedly arrogant when it assumes that everything is the purvey of the scientific method. Now I dispute first of all this statement on its merits. I said repeatedly here that I consider myself to be a scientist, yet I do not suffer from the illusion that everything must be subject to the Scientific Method. There are lot of things that have not to my knowledge been investigated by science. And I think that scientists are well aware of this. So once again, good scientists are not guilty at all of the "arrogance" that Alain refers to, and of course science as a whole is even less guilty, since it is absolutely neutral on what might or might not be a proper field of inquiry by the Scientific Method.


                Second, let us turn this discussion on its head and instead of the arrogance of science and scientists, let us talk about the arrogance of philosophers instead.


                For example, take this fellow Feyerabend cited by Alain, who is complaining about the tyranny of science. I have not read Feyerabend's complaints, and do not want to dislike what I have not read. But going simply by what Alain wrote about his ideas, I will comment on each of his complaints:


                1. "Feyerabend questions the claim of scientists to present science as a unified worldview (a 'monolith'), which it is not. Science is both incomplete and quite strongly disunified. "


                My comment: So what? Science does not present itself as a monolith, and has no problem with being supposedly disunified. So I would tell Mr. Feyerabend, if he were still alive, to stop bellyaching--this complaint is groundless.


                2. "The associated ideology sometimes known as objectivism, which takes science to be our ultimate measure of what exists, is therefore ungrounded. In that sense, even the word 'science' is out of place. We should rather speak about 'sciences' (plural form)."


                My comment: Huh? First of all let us be clear that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So if Mr. Feyerabend objects to the objectivist point of view, rather than these childish observations about "ultimate measure" and so on, let him come up with something which is a valuable piece of knowledge, which is not subject to scientific inquiry.


                For example, let us take a simple example, which is a favorite of mine anyway. Take love. Now I have no doubt that love exists, because I feel it. And I spent a great deal of my life pondering about it, thinking about it, and analyzing every aspect of it that I could think of. I could present a coherent version of these thoughts, but that is not my purpose here. If I did present it, I would say that it represented a body of knowledge which is non-scientific and which was obtained by reflection rather than analysis of scientific experiments on the issue. So it would be positive proof that this scientist believes that there is knowledge that is not obtained by the Scientific Method. Now, we could be tempted to say that the subject of love is in the realm of poets and philosophers, and that it is not possible to apply the scientific method for its study. But that would be clearly false, and an example of arrogance by poets and philosophers. For there is plenty that science could say about the subject of love.


                Let us present a list of some of the things that science could do about love (and quite possibly already did, for I am not familiar with all psychological and biochemical scientific research that might already have been done to investigate this subject). So if some of the things on this list already might have been done by scientists, so much the better, but if not, then my list is clearly a partial one of all the things that could be studied scientifically about love.


                It would be, for example, a perfectly valid scientific experiment or a series of experiments whose aim would be to determine the areas of the brain where amorous activities excite. We could, for example, study the brain waves of teenagers kissing. Or the chemicals released in the brain that would explain the exhilarating happiness that people in love exhibit. Compare those chemicals to those released in the brain due to illegal drugs that produce similar exhilaration. Study why the exhilaration of love seems to be healthy, whereas that produced by the illegal drugs is damaging. All of these experiments are in the realm of science, and they all seem quite worthy of investigation.


                But we could go further. For I believe that Darwin's theory of evolution is correct, and therefore love is a marvelous example of the evolution of a complex almost mystic and mystifying behavior, which nature invented for the sole purpose of inducing lovers to make babies.


                3. Returning to Alain's words: "The associated ideology sometimes known as objectivism, which takes science to be our ultimate measure of what exists, is therefore ungrounded. In that sense, even the word 'science' is out of place. We should rather speak about 'sciences' (plural form)."


                My comment: And why is this distinction of any importance? Do we really care if we say "sciences," for example psychology in the list of experiments on teenagers I postulated above, and biology and biochemistry in the case of the the chemicals released in the brain, or biology, anthropology and so on in the case of Darwinian evolution?


                4. Alain again: "For Feyerabend, when it comes to methodology, the empiricist idea that science starts from facts, and eschews theories until the facts are gathered, is a myth. The same can be said of the idea that science is completely value-free. The Platonic-rationalist picture of science as a kind of pure thinking about the nature of reality appears here to be a distortion."


                My comment: Who cares? And why should we care about all these superficial generalities? Can Feyerabend come up with a concrete example of why this list of complaints and generalities actually matters?


                I claim that in my opinion I added to this interesting discussion and further, that in my view sciences and scientists are quite absolved of the arrogance charge, but science's critics are not. The Biblical maxim of Matthew 7:3 comes to mind here when it comes to arrogance. For I say to science's critics, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" Substitute brother by science and scientists, and replace own by Feyerabend and other science critics.


                JE comments: Feyerabend, alas, isn't here to answer Istvan, but I do believe (revealing my Humanist roots) that critiques of science can achieve more than mere bellyaching.  It might be instructive, for example, to explore the role of science critics (philosophers and other Humanists) in debunking the pseudo-sciences of the 19th century.  Take phrenology.


                The subject of love is an excellent example of the nexus of science and philosophy, anthropology, religion, and even the arts.  In fact, I see love as a possible way to reconcile Istvan's and Alain's opposing views on this topic.  Recall that Alain invited us to look "beside" and "beyond" science, and Istvan writes that science can have a great deal to say about love...but it will never be enough.


                Several other responses to Alain's essay have come in.  I'll be posting them throughout the day.  Next in line:  Anthony D'Amato.



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              • "Scientific Arrogance" Revisited (Anthony D`Amato, USA 08/23/12 6:40 AM)
                Some scattered comments in response to Alain de Benoist's post on scientism (22 August):

                The arts (music, fine arts, literature, poetry, theatre) are not the opposite of science, and are not "spiritual." They exist independently of science, and yet (in my opinion) have truth-value. "Beauty is truth; truth beauty," said Keats, but it's more--there's objective beauty in the arts (e.g., symmetry, symmetry-breaking). The attempt to introduce mathematics into the arts directly, e.g., Schoenberg's twelve-tone music, was a disaster, but at the same time there's a kind of regularity of expectation in the best tunes (Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Jerome Kern) that is warmly satisfying even on first hearing. Gershwin successfully challenged the regularity of rhythm , especially in "Rhapsody in Blue," a kind of compendium of syncopations. And the elemental tunes of Kurt Weill get into the marrow of your bones.


                The arts are creative. They introduce things into the universe that were never there before. Science studies things in the universe that are already there. In a manner of speaking, arts are qualitative and science quantitative. I'm certainly grateful that applied science brings to the grocery store foods from around the world, feeding 250 million people in the US every day, quite a feat compared to the way Neanderthals got their food.


                Since science studies the universe, it studies evidence. (Law studies evidence, too.) There are some things that only seem to exist because of the evidence of them; Alain mentioned Higgs boson. Some of the most fascinating things in science seem to happen in ways we cannot understand, like action-at-a-distance. Another Alain, Alain Aspect, proved Bell's theorem in 1982: paired protons affect each other more quickly when separated at a distance beyond that which can be traversed by the speed of light. But we can challenge our concept of distance. If the world is multi-dimensional, then the pair of protons might be "next" to each other in one of those dimensions even though they are apart in the third dimension.


                When I'm walking, my time is slowing down. I am not aging as quickly as sedentary folks. Although they are experiencing the maximum of time flow, they are trading it for zero distance. Nothing contradictory about this.



                Action at a distance is sometimes called "spooky action at a distance." But it's definitely not spiritual. I would suggest that "spiritual," "religious," "God," are subjects characterized by a lack of evidence. Alain, following Poincare, calls it "facts," not "evidence," though I prefer the latter. That there is no "fact" of God may suggest that we just haven't looked hard enough into the universe; someday his huge face may appear through a powerful telescope. By "evidence" I mean that there can be no evidence of God. Why? Because the term "God" is a contradiction. (If God made the universe, who made God?)


                Regarding the quote of Poincare that Alain brings up: "the laws of physics are not imposed on us by nature, but imposed by us on nature." It's certainly true, but strange coming from Poincare, who anticipated much of Einstein's theory of relativity two years earlier in his book Science and Hypothesis. Just thinking about travel, distance, and heat, he arrived at the same conclusion as Einstein who thought about travel, distance, and light. Poincare didn't exactly impose this law on nature, but he didn't derive it from nature either.


                Finally, there may not be a "rational nature" (Alain quoting Laplace), but there is definitely such a thing as rationality. For Frege it was the foundation of communication. If WAISers write irrationally (heaven forfend) they are simply not communicating. Wittgenstein saw this, which is why he stopped attending the meetings of the Vienna Circle. (W. however challenged whether the communication was real, or just a very useful language game.)  I think that rationality is primitive, that avoidance of contradiction is our best sign of rationality, and, so far at least, there is nothing self-contradictory about evidence.


                JE comments:  Legal minds like Anthony D'Amato's abhor contradiction above all, yet science at its most advanced/abstract embraces it.  I think.  Forgive me if I'm out of my league in this discussion.


                One nitpick I do know:  the relationship music-mathematics did not originate with Schoenberg; it has existed since the beginning.  Look at the Renaissance university, where both arithmetic and music were part of the "quadrivium."  The two disciplines were seen as closely related.

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                • "Scientific Arrogance" Revisited (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/23/12 2:44 PM)
                  I agree with most if not all the comments by Istvan Simon (23 August) regarding science and the scientific method, but wish to comment on some statements by Alain de Benoist (22 August). Regarding "it is obvious that the arrogance of some scientists ... 'who have greater egos than the validity of their scientific discoveries,' must be distinguished from the possible arrogance of science itself": Science is not arrogant, but one may have an arrogant definition/understanding of science. I believe in the "universal applicability of the scientific method to everything," but I disagree with "science has (and is the only means to have) the answer to all meaningful questions ... science is the only possible way of knowledge, scientific discoveries being identified as the only possible truths (and scientific propositions as the only meaningful propositions)."

                  As stated by Anthony D'Amato (23 August), "the arts (music, fine arts, literature, poetry, theatre) are not the opposite of science, and are not 'spiritual.' They exist independently of science, and ... have truth-value." I agree; philosophical, ethical, etc., propositions can be extremely significant to humans; and some can be verified using the scientific method, while most must be taken on faith.


                  Alain also wrote "it would be quite foolish to reject what has been (provisionally) established by science. Nobody can go against science." That is not true. The results from science are continuously being challenged by better theories, better measurement, better philosophy, ethics, and empirical evidence. It is possible to go "beyond or beside" science. Science is merely the application of the scientific method to discover/validate universal truths. The results from the process are always tentative truths: the best truth available at the time. In the social sciences, for example, ethics may force further theory testing and perhaps changes to the theory. What seemed like good science can suddenly be questioned and then be "proven" wrong. Thus, one can surmise in this case that ethics was ahead of science and led to a better theory toward the truth. On the other hand, if the researcher for whatever reason cannot test the ethical challenge to the existing theory, one may think the conflicting views are beside each other.


                  I find this statement to be meaningless: "Feyerabend questions the claim of scientists to present science as a unified worldview (a 'monolith'), which it is not. Science is both incomplete and quite strongly disunified. The associated ideology sometimes known as objectivism, which takes science to be our ultimate measure of what exists, is therefore ungrounded."


                  Science can be viewed as a collection of knowledge acquired through the testing of specific hypotheses. These hypotheses are obviously tested separately but can be more "unified" later as knowledge on the subject matter grows.


                  The statement, "For Feyerabend, when it comes to methodology, the empiricist idea that science starts from facts, and eschews theories until the facts are gathered, is a myth. The same can be said of the idea that science is completely value-free. The Platonic-rationalist picture of science as a kind of pure thinking about the nature of reality appears here to be a distortion" strikes me as imaginary straw men created only to be knocked down. I don't think I know any human-related activity which is totally value-free. And, science starts with hypotheses (not facts) justified by logic or prior propositions to be tested. After the propositions/hypotheses were properly tested by different researchers and were corroborated, they are considered to be theory or parts of a theory. To test a hypothesis, the researcher proposes a relationship between two constructs which must be observable and measurable (both). Only then data/fact collection starts to test the hypothesis.


                  The statements, "For Poincaré, ...two strictly identical phenomena do not exist. ... and a collection of facts is not necessarily science," are rather obvious. On the other hand, I disagree "that a mathematician's model or theory does not say the 'truth of the world.'" I think it does represent at least a temporary truth until it is proven incomplete or wrong. Also, "the famous Higgs boson" is still a hypothesis being tested. If the data collected indicates the presence of such construct (as measured by the researchers), then it becomes a thing (as hypothesized) that exists in nature. A "rational nature" does exist, but we can only hope that we found a specific piece of it which was represented in the successfully tested hypothesis. If not, any new hypothesis, logic, or empirical evidence questioning our hope/belief in the standing hypothesis/theory/law, must be proposed and tested. The process is continuous; it only stops for an undetermined amount of time until our possibly/likely temporary truth becomes the apparently wrong belief and the search for the truth must continue.


                  Anthony D'Amato (23 August) also made some statements I wish to comment on. Regarding "The arts are creative. They introduce things into the universe that were never there before. Science studies things in the universe that are already there. In a manner of speaking, arts are qualitative and science quantitative," I disagree. Science can be very creative also; without science there is little technology. By saying, "I'm certainly grateful that applied science brings to the grocery store foods from around the world, feeding 250 million people in the US every day..." Anthony provided one example confirming that.


                  Last, Anthony facetiously (I assume) wrote "that there is no 'fact' of God may suggest that we just haven't looked hard enough into the universe; someday his huge face may appear through a powerful telescope. By 'evidence' I mean that there can be no evidence of God. Why? Because the term 'God' is a contradiction (If God made the universe, who made God?)." I disagree strongly. It all depends in one's definition of God. As I have posted in depth before, to me God is the Universe; it obviously exists, and I will not be deprived because my mind is presently too feeble to explain the riddle implicit in "the Universe/God made itself." God is Truth, and we are here to discover it hypothesis by hypothesis through the scientific method with the assistance of philosophy, ethics, etc.


                  JE comments: Anthony D'Amato is very careful at crafting his prose, so I resisted the urge to "correct" his claim (23 August) that modern science feeds 250 million Americans each day. We now number over 300 million. Is Anthony suggesting, as I believe he is, that some 50 million Americans are not properly fed?

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              • Post Unpublished - please check back later







  • GM Foods and the Monsanto Cafeteria: A Hoax? (Randy Black, USA 08/05/12 6:07 AM)
    Sergio Mukherjee (3 August) and Tor Guimaraes wrote that the global firm Monsanto did not serve genetically modified food products in their cafeterias. They both cited several websites to support their position. Sergio used one called gizadeathstar.com, while Tor found one that called Monsanto the "Agent Orange" of agriculture, and also made the claim about what was served in the global firm's cafeteria.



    The problem with both Sergio and Tor's claims is that the cafeteria story was fabricated by Greenpeace in 1999 and recycled in 2012 by Greenpeace and others. Yes, Greenpeace would fabricate a story and recycle it 13 years later.



    http://monsantoblog.com/2012/02/10/whats-served-in-monsantos-cafeterias/




    Says Monsanto in 2012 about that 1999 Internet myth: "All foods can be found in Monsanto cafeterias... None of it is singled out as conventional or organic. It's just food served in our cafeterias, the same food that everyone eats."



    One of Tor's "sources" is actually an 18-year-old high school graduate and political activist in Minnesota who's "place of business" is a mail drop operation. The owner of that www.bestmeal.info Website has other websites, including one that is under the "Revolution" heading. His facebook Homepage photo shows him in a Batman costume.



    The trouble remains that various folks who are involved in political activities such as the fellow in Minnesota who was 5 years old when the original fabrication was circulated in 1999 continue to run it on their various websites.



    My point here is that when we are eager to support our various theories about matters that we do not like, we should be doubly careful as to who we find to support our positions.



    Finally, Monsanto discusses virtually all rumors that opponents raise here:


    http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/Issues-and-Answers.aspx



    JE comments: Randy Black appended a longish list of additional URLs, all of which seem legitimate to me. So I am reasonably convinced that the Monsanto cafeteria story is a hoax. I wonder why Snopes.com hasn't done an article yet.


    There is one language/rhetoric point I'd like to highlight. Monsanto at the link above says its cafeterias serve "both organic and conventional food." The benign label "conventional" now presumably includes genetically modified foods.  Contrast this with "conventional oven," which is simply a regular old oven.


    Conventional food, conventional weapons... the list goes on: the semantic conventions of "conventional" have changed in very interesting ways.

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    • GM Food and Monsanto (John Heelan, UK 08/06/12 6:20 AM)
      If Monsanto is so confident about the lack of long-term risks to human health (Randy Black, 5 August), one wonders why they lobby against legislation requiring labeling of of products containing GM foods, as proposed by the US Food and Drug Administration. So far in this US electoral cycle, Monsanto has contributed $296,500 to candidates for federal office.

      http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/


      Consumer surveys suggest that the majority would like that labeling. Such labeling is already required in the EU (EC regulation 1829/2003 and 1830/2003) and forty other countries outside the EU.


      JE comments: I'm quite confident that the labeling will come to the US, eventually.  We like our labels here.  The question is, will it happen through legislation or litigation?  (See Anthony D'Amato's thoughts on the two, 5 August.)


      One observation: $300,000 is chicken feed in today's electoral politics. If I were to play the Devil's Advocate, I'd say Monsanto is not lobbying hard enough...



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      • GM Food and Monsanto (Randy Black, USA 08/07/12 5:18 AM)
        John Heelan's 6 August post asks the question, "one wonders why they [Monsanto] lobby against legislation requiring labeling of products containing GM foods."



        It seems to me to be a marketing decision by Monsanto. Why would they take such actions? It's clear to me that they are not the first company to object to product labeling requirements by a government entity.



        From Monsanto: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees food labeling in the United States. The FDA has found there is no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by biotechnology present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. The American Medical Association shares this view and approved a formal statement at their June 2012 meeting that there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.



        A look back: The makers of the many artificial sweeteners ran into a firestorm of objections several decades back. The dentists who supported treating public water supplies with fluoridation in the US of the 1950s ran into a firestorm that continues to this day in the backwaters of the US, Russia, China and elsewhere.



        As a kid in Fort Worth, Texas in the early ‘50s, I recall the doomsayers claiming that this "socialist practice" of enforced "medication" via the water supply was the road to ruin for American democracy and cancers. Have you ever noticed how many folks who object to or support this or that practice, regulation or political position, when faced with the objections of others, almost always claim that the new product or practice or political position is a danger to democracy? (see Tor Guimaraes's 6 August reply to Richard Hancock.)



        Personally, I believe that Monsanto's objection to "full disclosure" is a marketing mistake. There, I said it. Now don't tell me that I support Monsanto come hell or high water.



        Better marketing tactics by Monsanto might include full disclosure and simply let market demand determine their success in these matters. More than likely, the objections will disappear over time, much as the objections to fluoridated water went away.



        There are dozens if not hundreds of other types of food "modification" companies in the world. These are products that have been around since the 1970s if not earlier.



        Hormel sells dozens of irradiated food and meat projects (got a few of Hormel's Compleats [sic] meals in my pantry at this moment), as does Omaha Steaks, the United Food Group, Del Monte, Tyson, Kraft and dozens of others.



        Legally irradiated and mass marketing foods are produced in more than 35 nations, including the UK, China, Argentina, Belgium, Russia, Mexico, Norway, Germany and France. Beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, wheat, eggs, herbs, dried seasonings and honey are among the hundreds of irradiated products being sold. Heck, the first irradiated bacon was sold in 1963.



        Even food irradiation, a type of product modification, has been in common use for decades and enables the "permanent" scientific establishment in Antarctica to maintain foods over the long winter. Where is the uproar against irradiated foods? It went away in the 1980s, just as this matter will go away in a year or three.



        A brief history of GM science: Genetic modification of food sources dates to the time of Francis Bacon, who predicted the practice in 1627. Down the road to 1865, Gregor Mendel published his studies in the modification of peas. Was not Mendel researching the matter of modifying a food crop over time in order to produce better crops?



        More recently, if that's the correct phrase, Barbara McClintock and Harriet Creighton demonstrated the effects of chromosome changes in maize in the early 1930s. Today, gene therapy seems almost quaint when one researches the history of these matters.



        http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/food-labeling.aspx



        http://www.purefood.org/irrad/status.cfm





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        • GM Food Labeling and Monsanto (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 08/24/12 5:25 AM)

          I agree with Randy Black (7 August) about the labeling of GM foods. I think Monsanto has made a big marketing mistake by fighting it.



          I don't think that there is an iota of evidence that there is anything the slightest bit harmful about GM foods. But people have the right to know anything which they consider relevant to their buying decisions, even if it is a superstition. Monsanto is just wrong here, and I think it will come back to haunt them.


          JE comments:  Does Monsanto directly market any food products--meaning, ones you will find at the grocery?  I'm not aware of any.  To label foods produced by third parties, which originate with Monsanto GM seeds, would require the cooperation of those companies.  This seems to be one of Monsanto's arguments against labeling.

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      • GM Food, Monsanto and Lobbying (John Heelan, UK 08/07/12 5:29 AM)
        JE wrote on 6 August: "One observation: $300,000 is chicken feed in today's electoral politics. If I were to play the Devil's Advocate, I'd say Monsanto is not lobbying hard enough..."

        Of course the $300k is just the tip of the iceberg of corporate funding. It represents only those donations that have to be registered by electoral law.


        Nowadays with the plethora of "soft money" for political campaigns, PAC, SuperPACS and the right--provided by the US Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC (January 2010)--to buy politicians by donating unlimited sums, means that all US politics is up for sale to corporations and powerful lobbying groups. Further, the source of the political donations can now be effectively hidden from scrutiny.


        A recent WAIS discussion on the survival of Capitalism and/or Communism ignored (in my humble opinion) the fact that, unless there is a populist revolution, whoever controls the levers of political power controls the ruling ideology. In the US (and the UK to some extent), capitalism has bought and continues to buy the levers of power.


        JE comments: This (last) point has been made by Tor Guimaraes on numerous occasions. Tor, incidentally, is next in the queue, with a response to Istvan Simon on China.



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