Monday, April 12, 2010

Michael Specter: The Danger of Science Denial

Filmed Feb 2010; Posted Apr 2010 on TED
Vaccine-autism claims, "Frankenfood" bans, the herbal cure craze: All point to the public's growing fear (and, often, outright denial) of science and reason, says Michael Specter. He warns the trend spells disaster for human progress.


  1. First he kicks supplementation then he wanna grow rice with added vitamin A and says it will help millions????

  2. <span>Supplementation for well-fed North Americans is essentially useless. Supplementation for the malnourished will save lives.</span>

  3. Needed to be said... probably to an audience that is made up of many of the guilty thinkers...  Can't believe all the new age BS at our city's Idea Festival.

  4. That was pretty worthless. For someone supposedly on the side of science I do not recall one reference to a single study in the whole spiel. Facts are facts? Maybe in journalism school, but in the science department everything is evaluated as a probability. Where was this guys statistical analysis? This guy might give a worthwhile speach on proper punctuation but has no business talking about the merits of science. I sure hope TED gets it together, they are really slipping.

  5. Ahh, did somebody step on your toes Greg?

  6. FAIL.
    There's a significant difference between science (the acquisition and organization of facts) and engineering (such as Frankenfoods).  Having worked in the quality profession for a decade, I can tell you nothing terrifies me more than corporate-driven biological engineering, of any sort.  And yes, intentionally making a genetic change necessarily exceeds the natural rate of change, and that IS an important difference, because the rest of the planet isn't changing to adapt to it at the same rate.
    I'm still waiting for engineering to grow up to be the profession it claims to be.  That means you don't build something until you can reasonably predict the whole life cycle of the thing.  Fact is, whatever you're building, we've already survived thousands and thousands of years without it, and nobody really knows what change is going to bring us, so we probably don't need whatever toy is being invented.  It's cowboy engineers that got us into the messes we are in, and they show no sign of being able to get us out of them.  Because that's the hard work, and not the fun part. 
    Let's not confuse toys with progress.  Progress happens when we actually do things that are a net improvement for us.  Net improvement.  That means the improvement doesn't come at a greater expense somewhere else. Progress isn't just another shiny toy to play with.  That's called waste.  
    Regarding proof, individuals almost NEVER get any proof.  Who has a home nuclear physics lab?  The information most of us get comes from people with an agenda: our doctor, our pharmacist, the news, corporations, etc.  So we have to evaluate that as best we can.  Scientists and engineers are humans, paid by other humans, and their organizations can be corrupt. 
    As far as keeping people alive, that is exactly the problem.  The more people we have on this planet, and the longer we all live, the worse it will be for everyone.  We should be working toward shorter lives of higher quality, and fewer people.  So, no, I'm not interested in feeding 70% more people than we have now.  That's exactly the wrong path.

  7. You are correct Randy, we have survived for thousands and thousands of years, but not in the current populations we are boasting. As for determining "whole life cycles" I don't think that can be done for any sort of agricultural innovation, but we can use science to derive a reasonable idea of the ramifications of new types of crops.

    As for the second half of what you said, seemed more like an arrogant spiel coming from a privaledged person in a developed country that doesn't have to worry about being in the block of billions that have to starve to sate your desire for a natural rate of change.

  8. ahem ... about these shorter lives you want people to have, how?

    And why?

    And what about the millions who <span>will</span> be born and are destined to starve if we don't find ways to feed them?  Do we just let them perish?  What about the wars that would be fought over scarce food supplies whether because of population pressures or climate change or water shortage? What about getting rid of the sick and disabled, that'd cut the numbers? Can you really not see another way?

    You scare me!

  9. Do you see the stupid on display in the posts above? The proud ignorance? The irrational belief? Remind you of anything? Hm?

    This, ladies and gentlemen, is why have always, and will always call myself a skeptic, a rationalist, and a scientist before I will call myself an atheist. I am an atheist, there's no question about that, but my first home is in the skeptic community and my atheism is a product of of my skepticism -NOT the other way around. I see a lot of people who are calling themselves atheist these days who, it seems to me, don't have the slightest idea of how to think rationally and how to evaluate and either accept or reject claims based upon the evidence that they hold in their favor. I see embarrassing levels of ignorance about how science actually functions and then I wonder just how in the hell these people happened to start identifying as atheist anyway.

    <span><span>The answers that I often find are not terribly reassuring and all too commonly reside on ill-considered arguments of emotion. Thus, I consider the atheism of these sorts of people as fragile, the foundations of their disbelief are dangerously shaky. Start with a foundation of scientific skepticism, a philosophical outlook at whose very core lies doubt and then go from there.</span>  
    This lecture was fucking awesome and it's apparently exactly what a lot of people need to hear much, much more of. 10 out of 10.</span>

  10. What are his science credentials? I can't find any credentials.

  11. I guess this won't count in your book either:

  12. Hey randy, be sure and let me know when you're ready to be euthenized. 50, was it? Maybe we can just ship you out to some shithole and let "nature" take its course.Oh, and in the meantime, I'll assume that you're getting on just fine without the benefit of the engineers that preceded you.

    I think you've done us all a service by providing a tailor-made example of the high-tech colonialism alluded to in the video.

    Randy, you are teh fail.

  13. It counts. I'm just wondering if he has a degree in the philosophy of science, biology, or english. I like what he is saying, but I like to know a person's qualifications. If I was giving a an eloquent talk on quantum mechanics, which I'm definitely unqualified to do, people could walk away with some serious misinformation.

  14. Atheist just means you don't belive in gods, it does not mean you think rationaly.
    And from that speach you sound more like a band wagon type of guy than a skeptic to me.

  15. "<span>As far as keeping people alive, that is exactly the problem.  The more people we have on this planet, and the longer we all live, the worse it will be for everyone.  We should be working toward shorter lives of higher quality, and fewer people"</span>
    Oh boy, talk about an agenda. You go right ahead and keep your own life short and in high quality...I won't sign up for that. Here I am greedy.

    If I could choose I'd want to live at least 5000 years...with better more effient technology and fewer children it could be possible..

    Meat for instance can be grown in labs in the future..

  16. Doug..depends on the target crowd. Quantum mechanics seems to have become the choice of way to describe all sorts of woo woo these days.

  17. "<span>Atheist just means you don't belive in gods, it does not mean you think rationaly."</span>

    Yes I think you and others have proven that point nicely right here.

    "<span>And from that speach you sound more like a band wagon type of guy than a skeptic to me."</span>

    Right, exactly, because agreeing heartily with anything at all must mean you're on a bandwagon of some sort. stfu.