Weird science at Stormont

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Hullo Brian, hullo Sue. You know, in a very real sense, I’m slightly irritated by this campaign in the Grauniad to get secularists and atheists onto Thought for the Day. It may not be so bad, I suppose, if they were putting on serious thinkers with something to say who just happened to be atheists. But, all things being equal, opening the God slot to atheists means Radio 4 turning to whoever volunteers, which means evangelical atheists. And I would be not inconsiderably annoyed if those bozos at the National Secular Society managed to muscle in, since their whole purpose is to say “Religion! Boo!” They’re entitled to do that of course, as long as they do it on their own time. Trying to claim a quota of an already small amount of religious programming seems a bit off to me.

We’ve also got the Darwin anniversary at the moment. I really enjoyed Attenborough’s defence of Darwin the other week, but we can expect to see plenty of Professor Dawkins, who sort of encapsulates a lot of the problem I have with evangelical atheists. One thing that winds me up is his reliance on easy targets. I’ve never yet seen him debate a serious theologian, but he is extremely fond of heading over to Kentucky to wind up some inarticulate hillbillies. He also has this touching belief that the way to make the world a better place is to hector religious people and try to browbeat them into becoming atheists. Yeah, that really worked in the Soviet Union.

There’s also the evidential question, as in the vulgar materialist assumption that science has disproved religion. No it hasn’t. It may have made religion intellectually unnecessary, but as Attenborough understands and Dawkins doesn’t, science can’t prove or disprove a metaphysical assertion. No, where science does come into play, and where Dawkins is very good, is when religious fundamentalists make daft assertions about the physical world. This is trespassing on science’s territory, and science is perfectly within its rights to give the trespasser both barrels.

Which brings me to Stormont, where the occasional sighting of Jocko Homo should be of interest to evolutionary theorists. From today’s Tele:

A DUP Assemblyman has urged one of Northern Ireland’s biggest museums to ‘balance out’ a forthcoming exhibition on evolution with a display about creationism.

The Ulster Museum is to run a series later this year on evolution and fossils, which is expected to incorporate the work of naturalist Charles Darwin, whose birthday 200 years ago is currently being celebrated.

Darwin’s views on the theory of evolution and natural selection shocked the worlds of science and religion when first published.

However, North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey has called for a creationist exhibition to be run alongside which explains the origin of life according to a literal reading of the Genesis account in the Bible.

“All I’m saying is that there should be a balance because there are other views out there,” Mr Storey said.

“There are people who have a different view to Darwin on creation.”

Mr Storey, himself a proponent of creationism, said that he was entitled to express his views on the subject.

“I believe in creationism and intelligent design, I don’t believe in the theory of evolution”, he said.

Mr Storey also said that a failure by the museum to reflect the views of “other people” could raise the possibility that a legal challenge may be launched under equality legislation.

The museum, which is due to reopen later this year following a major refurbishment programme, responded last night with a statement which read: “The Ulster Museum… will house galleries and exhibitions of international significance interpreted in line with excellent scholarship and research.

“Within the permanent science galleries we will explain the conventional scientific theories internationally accepted by scholars and scientists to describe life on earth from the earliest evidence of fossils.

“This is consistent with approaches taken by museums of renown across the world.”

Mervyn is chairman of the Assembly education committee.

In related news, the environment committee has passed a vote of no confidence in Sammy the Streaker, but the rules of the peace process mean the minister stays in situ until Robbo decides otherwise. But I’m very taken, not for the first time, with the comments boxes which are placed at the bottom of Telegraph articles and allow the Ulster populace to speak they’re brane. Here are a few genuine comments:

One day history will show us that ‘climate change’ and the whole CO2 bunkum is a farce. Bona fide science knows this already. Mr.Wilson is to be applauded for his views on the matter and for not following the morons who have fallen for the baised and skewed reporting of the true facts about the fallacy that is man-made climate changed which we have rammed down our throats by government.

At last a minister with a BRAIN, we should give him a medal as big as a frying pan.

Regardless of whether MMGW or AGW are fact (which I dont believe they are) Mr Wilson is to be commended. Why – well, for having the intellectual rigour and conviction to make a stand, for one. To me, the harsh reality is that these ‘climate’ issues are a stage for wanna-be communists, champange socialists and ultra-left liberals, who would like nothing more than to put severe restrictions on the daily lives of everyone, believers (of MMGW/AGW) and non-believers alike.

If we dont collectively waken up we may find ourselves under the cosh of a regime of our own making.

You disagree? Think about it, we’re already in a surveillance driven state, CCTV everywhere, fines for not having rubbish sorted, massive databases of personal information, an overbearing government, etc, etc, etc. Put the pieces together, what could be more perfect than the impending threat of climate carnage as a vehicle for society wide control, huh?

Think, think, think, people, or should that be sheople ?

On second thoughts, maybe we should bring Dawkins over here. Isn’t public understanding of science his job description?

Shock news: Page Three stunna more clued up about climate change than Sammy Wilson

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It seems somebody at the Telegraph knows I can’t resist a cheap punchline. From today’s paper:

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson may have banned climate change ads but that hasn’t stopped Lucy Pinder from launching her own saucy campaign to save energy.

The 25-year-old glamour model sent temperatures soaring as she launched a drive help couples to save electricity on Valentine’s Day.

Lucy kicked off the Energy Saving Week campaign alongside the “energy love doctor” with a racy message to lovers: “Turn me on, turn it off.”

Lucy posed for several revealing photos and said that couples can turn the heat up around the house without using additional power.

The Celebrity Big Brother star’s top tips for lovers include;

  • turning the bedroom lights out in favour of candlelight,
  • sharing showers or baths and
  • cuddling up in bed while turning the heating down.

Rob Bell, “energy love doctor” at the Energy Saving Trust, said: “It appears the economic gloom has ruined romance for many this Valentine’s Day.

“But for those determined to spread a little love, home will truly be where the heart is on February 14 as people feeling the pinch due to the recession try to save cash.”

It seems that, apart from having appeared nude in the tabloids, our Lucy has little in common with Sammy Wilson. In fact, could we persuade her to come over here and be our environment minister? I don’t care if she is a Tory, she’d have to be more convincing than the incumbent.

Ministerial hot air

Sometimes you get one of those little periods where you feel that everything in the world is – well, not quite as it should be, but more or less as you might expect. Where dogs bite men and not vice versa, and everything in the news makes sense.

This, I feel, is one of those times. England have suffered a humiliating batting collapse in Jamaica, and somehow it feels comforting after a period of relative success. A bunch of middle-aged blokes at the Bafta have given an acting award to Kate Winslet’s naked arse, and that also makes sense, at least compared to some Bafta picks down the years. And then you’ve got that classic dog-bites-man standby, Sammy Wilson talking cobblers.

Last Friday, Sammy streaked into the headlines with this gem:

Angry teachers today hit back after Environment Minister Sammy Wilson accused schools of “mollycoddling” children after many closed due to the snow.

More than 30 schools closed their doors yesterday following heavy snowfall and another 15-20 have followed suit today, citing health and safety reasons for the decision.

Mr Wilson, a former teacher himself and the minister with responsibility for promoting road safety, said many people used the weather as an excuse to take the day off.

“Personally, I think it’s a lot of nonsense. It’s no more dangerous to go out in the snow than it is to go out in very wet weather, windy weather or in conditions of poor visibility like mist or fog,” he said.

“I know there are a lot of health and safety nuts out there who are trying to make people take no risks at all. If they had their way, we would all sit in the house all day tied to a chair and never move.”

This is straight out of one of those Richard Littlejohn columns in the Daily Mail about how “decent folk can’t hang paedo’s cos of elf ‘n’ safety”. But as a former teacher, Sammy, one would think, would be aware of the possibility of schools being sued the moment a child slips on some ice and splits its head open. This, I think is more plausible than a reference to unnamed “health and safety nuts” who, if they even exist, are under his aegis at the Roads Service – you know, the guys who advise against unnecessary journeys in extreme weather, only to find their own minister contradicting them. Still, anything for a cheap headline.

Then today Ulster’s answer to Jeremy Clarkson was back with this:

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has banned government television adverts in Northern Ireland warning of the effects of climate change, it emerged today.

The DUP man said he was not prepared to allow “insidious New Labour propaganda” about the impact of climate change which would have been screened on UTV.

These were, as far as can be seen, ads promoting energy efficiency, something the Stormont Executive (and the DUP) are theoretically all in favour of. Sammy is, of course, on record as saying that man-made climate change is a big giant hoax, which is at least a distinctive position for an environment minister. Taken together with his culture of fear stuff, I wonder if Sammy spent too much of his youth reading Living Marxism. Or, perhaps more likely, as a middle-aged man he’s just spent too much time chilling out in front of Top Gear.

Anyway, I fear Sammy may be making trouble for himself with his claims that the climate change we’re currently experiencing is just a manifestation of long-term climatic cycles that work themselves out over millions of years. This won’t endear him to the Young Earth creationists in the DUP, who know perfectly well that the world is only 6000 years old. Memo to Sammy: if you’re going to do pseudo-science, it’s safer to go with the biblical option.

He’s got an ology, you know

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It’s a rum business, fish. I mean, one recognises that the broad masses must have their fish. But let’s say that your daily routine involves springing out of bed at 4am so you can hove down to Billingsgate Market and spend a pleasant several hours up to your knees in dead whitebait. After a certain amount of this, the entertainment value starts to pall and you begin to look on fish with a jaundiced eye. But still, you soldier on in the stoic recognition that it is necessary the proletariat have their fish. Sometimes I feel a bit like that when it comes to writing on the left, which is why I haven’t done it for a while. Nonetheless, I suppose it is this blog’s bread and butter, and I would have to come back to it at some point.

To start at a bit of a tangent, you will be aware that some universities, even in the age of academic downsizing, offer a subject called Philosophy of Science. This is not to be confused with actual science – scientists, on the rare occasions they come into contact with PoS, tend to think it a bit weird and not at all related to what they’re doing. Of course, the Philosophy part of the title is the operative bit. PoS, to cut a long story short, is the creation of Bertrand Russell types attempting to build up another bulwark against the perennial foe of philosophical scepticism, nowadays trading as postmodernism. Its connection to science per se is usually platonic.

You get something rather similar, in a low-rent kind of way, with Marxists who reckon that Marxism provides them with a golden key to understanding everything. A lot of this is the fault of Engels, an enthusiasic dabbler in science who liked to claim that scientific advances vindicated Marxism. As a result, lots of Marxists maintain an amateurish interest in science. This would be fine if it wasn’t for their assumption that they – or rather their gurus – understood science better than scientists. It’s worth noting at this point that few scientists join Marxist groups.

So, let’s take as an example the dialectic. On a philosophical level, and in the hands of an accomplished practitioner like Plekhanov, Deborin or Mao, the dialectic can be an elegant intellectual tool for understanding the world. In the wrong hands – and if you don’t believe me, read Studies in Dialectical Materialism by Gerry Healy – it can be a tool for mystification. But that’s not the point. Take the four so-called laws of the dialectic. According to the precepts of diamat, these are the laws of everything. Now try and pitch that to a practising scientist, and you will almost invariably find she stares at you as if you were an acolyte of L Ron Hubbard or Hare Krishna.

And rightly so. The various scientific disciplines work along their own tracks. They have trouble enough respecting each other’s laws, let alone philosophical schemata put forward by people, moreover, who have a track record of lapsing into the realms of mysticism. Furthermore, the scientific method, to the extent you can talk of a coherent method, is experimental, empricial and evidence-based. And that is why you’ll have trouble finding any scientists who will give house room to diamat.

(Parenthetically, there may be some exceptions among theoretical physicists. I continue to hold that Deborin’s attempt in 1929-31 to make diamat the basis of theoretical physics was no more than theoretical physicists deserve, because as a group they do have a tendency to go in for metaphysical speculation rather a lot. Biologists don’t do that. My own subject, as it happens, was chemistry, which is the most empirical of the lot. Add liquid A to liquid B and see if they go boom.)

This does not, of course, hold back our Marxists. Some readers may be familiar with the volume Reason in Revolt by Grant and Woods. In it, Ted and Alan pontificate on modern scientific controversies around things like time travel and chaos theory. It’s not as bad a book as it’s sometimes made out to be, and there is interesting stuff in it, but it doesn’t really convince as an attempt to marry Marxism to science. Although I would say that Ted and Alan’s insistence that scientific advances vindicate Marxism does, at least, place them squarely in the tradition of Engels.

Now, at the risk of winding Richard up, let’s consider for a moment scientific discourse in the Socialist Workers Party. This is an outfit with no programme, but with a multitude of informal “lines” on the most esoteric of subjects, including lots of subjects there is no conceivable justification for a left group having a “line” on. Many of these “lines” are based on nothing more than the subjective opinion of this or that CC member, most notably perhaps Renaissance Man Chris Harman, who has a ready-made opinion on everything under the sun.

Thus it is that you get the emergence of a party “line” on, say, genetics or evolutionary biology, and not only that, but a “line” that contradicts the existing scientific consensus. A lot of this can be traced back to the Cliff method of fighting an undesirable position by back-forming a theory that is supposed to preclude that position. The debate over the “gay gene” is a case in point. The possibility that there is a genetic component to homosexuality doesn’t necessarily, or even probably, lead to the Nazis’ pseudo-scientific theories of degeneracy, but it’s another thing to say that, in order to avoid these undesirable outcomes, we should reject scientific theories on ideological grounds.

Look, we all know about past and present abuses of science. But in the last analysis there is no “right” or “left” science, only good or bad science. To hear folks with degrees in politics or sociology give out about “bourgeois science” or “reactionary science”, which happens much more often than I’d like, is funny only because the left is small and impotent. If the far left, with its current culture, attitudes and prejudices, ever got a sniff of power… who said Lysenkoism was dead?