Monday, March 25, 2013

"His delight is, in fact, a delight in learning."

The man and his books

So I'm a fan of historian David Hackett Fischer. There, I said it.

(I've also posted about his work here and here. And highly recommend both books of his that I've read: Historians' Fallacies and Paul Revere's Ride.)

Now I wish I had the time to finish his three-hour 2004 interview on C-SPAN's BookTV.

It's almost enough to make me want to go back to school to study and teach history.

On Scientific Consensus

It's hemlock for those who don't defend the status quo

According to historian David Hackett Fischer, historians are susceptible to falling victim to the fallacy of the prevalent proof, which "makes mass opinion into a method of verification."

There are at least a few historians [Fischer writes] who would make a seminar into a senate and resolve a professional problem by resorting to a vote. I witnessed one such occasion (circa 1962) as a student at the Johns Hopkins University. A scholar who was baffled by a knotty problem of fact literally called for a show of hands to settle the question. An alienated minority of callow youths in the back of the room raised both hands and carried the day, in defiance of logic, empiricism, and parliamentary procedure. [pg. 52 of Fischer's Historian's Fallacies]

It's not just a problem for historians, however. Scientists often appeal to the idea of a scientific consensus--a hypothesis or theory generally accepted as truth by a majority of scientists. Anthropogenic climate change comes to mind, as does the lipid hypothesis of cardiovascular disease. (Regarding the latter, see this, for example.)

But it's important to remember that mass opinion, even if the opinion belongs to highly educated scientists, is not the same thing as empiricism. Paradigms shift with new evidence. Scientific hypotheses are always tentative and must be continuously challenged, debated, refined, and sometimes rejected, not merely voted on (if only implicitly).

If only the progress of science were at stake then there would be little harm in the appeal to scientific consensus, but, sadly, it's often invoked for political purposes. Where there's politics there's policies, and as a student of science, I should be concerned with the politicizing of science and the enlistment of the strong arm of Government to enact and enforce policies based on its ever-tentative hypotheses, even when scientific consensus exists.

Do I have any better ideas? Nope. I'm just saying.

(For interesting reads on what happens when someone, in this case a philosopher, bucks scientific consensus, see this and this.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Is Logical Thinking Compatible with Spiritual Thinking?

Webster's defines logic as . . .

According to Mike Ash, author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One's Testimony In the Face of Criticism and Doubt, it is.

I agree.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

And the Desert shall Blossom as the Rose

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.

It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing . . . they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.

--Isaiah 35:1-2

The world's largest desert

The implications of the following TED talk are nothing short of amazing.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Now this is an exciting piece of news!