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« Aging North America | Main | Quote for the Day »

September 15, 2008


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Are scientists more rational than the rest of us? Or are they simply people -- as foolish, quirky, and squishy as any others -- whose field enforces an empiricism-oriented rationality?

Nice passage from Razib's good posting:

Many scientists believe that because science is such a superior method of extracting information about the world around us, and constructing predictive models which have been shown to have great utility, that that means that they as scientists can simply transfer their godlike powers to other domains with the greatest of ease.

For a short while, many years ago, I dated the daughter of a scientist. And what a strange set of complexes, hangups, and weaknesses scientist-Daddy (who apparently really prided himself on being the possessor of rationality-superpowers) had endowed her with. And how hard it was for her to get used to the idea that her dad might be just a man.

Hey, I've often thought that a study of artists' children should be written. What a weird and distinctive set of breeders-and-offspring they are. Perhaps a similar study should be done of scientists' kids.

Bonus points:

  • Andrew Sullivan approves, and gets in a nice mention of one of my heroes, the philosopher Michael Oakeshott.
  • I liked Sullivan's semi-recent book.
  • Read a terrific talk Sullivan gave about Michael Oakeshott here.
  • Razib adds more, and responds to Sullivan.
  • Anti-Citizen One takes issue.
  • Anti-Citizen One flips for Nietzsche's "The Gay Science." I remember finding the book wonderfully high-spirited too.
  • Razib (and commenters) reviews some facts about Switzerland here. Pretty maps!

Please note that this Blowhard makes no claims whatsoever to exceptional rationality, nor would he want to. As for superpowers, though ...



posted by Michael at September 15, 2008


Anyone who has spent significant time with scientists would not think they are more rational. Seriously, ever been in academia? People care, desperately, about thinks like ranks, titles, committee assignments and offices. Okay, it kind of makes sense in that setting, but, more rational? No. Human is as human does.

Posted by: MD on September 15, 2008 12:30 PM

Razib describes himself as "a fan of cliometrics, [who] welcome[s] a science of cliodynamics."

I too am a fan of Clio's measurements--I mean metrics of course!--and indeed hope to master soon the science of her "a-wiggle and a-walk and a-giggle and a'talk"--her dynamics of course! I mean her cliodynamics! Lord love a duck, will you just listen to me!

Ahem. Only if she will permit me, of course.

P.S. I am not alone. Our dear Clio has been wreaking havoc on the hearts and loins of several youthful and, ah, vigorous commenters at Roissy's. And all without saying a word!

Muses! You have to watch yourself around them, you know. Especially that Clio. I know. Believe me, I know...

Posted by: PatrickH on September 15, 2008 1:12 PM

patrick, *too much information*.

Posted by: razib on September 15, 2008 3:44 PM

I liked Sullivan when I first read him years ago. Then, he disintegrated. I haven't read him since he degenerated into hysteria.

Sullivan acquired AIDS through just the type of behavior that will give you AIDS. He continued, and probably continues, to engage in the type of behavior that will give you AIDS and any other available STD.

Instead of blaming himself for his behavior, Sullivan became the world's most obnoxious spoiled brat, blaming society, law and religion for his own problems. The Catholic Church is supposed to discard its teachings to make him happy. Society must immediately allow him to marry another man... because it was after all bigotry that gave him AIDS.

Sullivan is a poster child for the insanity that has become normalcy in places like New York, Boston and San Francisco. Everything is supposed to be turned upside down and inside out so that the great ideal (whatever it is at this moment) can be created.

How, Michael, can you view this horrifying, shrieking brat as worth any attention? He is a piece of garbage. Do you really share his belief that we should toss out everything that defines us so that this diaper wetting bastard can get his way?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 15, 2008 4:46 PM

Nah, as a working scientist, I can tell you that we're not intrinsically more rational. The better ones have trained themselves to, as much as possible, think rationally about their work and the scientific work of others, but let me tell you: it's not easy.

Posted by: Derek Lowe on September 15, 2008 6:17 PM

I'm not a prose snob. Just browsing through a blog like Blowhards, I pick up plenty of nice little quips and phrases I wish were mine. The odd rough edge is no bother. But I do have a fascination with highly regarded authors who write badly. It can be fun to collect a few of their sentences to form a kind of Rogue's Gallery. The likeable but ditzy Camille Paglia has no peer in this regard, but the far less likeable Andrew Sullivan deserves his own gallery.

"John McCain is now for ever a despicable and dishonest and dishonorable man." d-d-d

"we are being subjected to an absolutely disorienting blizzard of lies and absurdities" ab-ab

Okay, not in Camille's class. I'm trying too hard to fill the gallery. Most of Sullivan is just leaden bombast.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on September 15, 2008 7:20 PM

"Star" scientists, like stars in other competitive and high-stakes fields, have big egos and can be pushy. But I've found that typical working scientists tend to be pretty modest and thoughtful people. The experimental method beats humility into you, because nature contradicts your brilliant ideas so damn often. There's a need to subordinate your ego to the facts, to discipline yourself, that is greater than in the arts or entertainment fields.

Scientists usually do get worked about popular misconceptions that go completely counter to the truths they've dedicated themselves to in their fields. For instance, I've known some pretty calm and even-keeled biologists who only get vehement on the subject of creationism. But I cut them some slack on that.

Posted by: MQ on September 15, 2008 11:59 PM

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