Differentiating Scientific Literacy from Social Propaganda
Remember, all things being equal, Simpleton (simplest explanation) Science is much easier to promote to the public than is the real thing. The sign of being scientifically literate is one’s empowering them self to be robust to simpleton science communication. One method of promotion of simpleton science is by means of propaganda case study. By skipping right past what constitutes real scientific method and thinking, and right to the specific conclusions which stand as earmarks of those who are correct – in contrast with those who are identified in advance as the bad guys.
Richard Feynman has been popularly credited for originating the saying ‘Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.’ Dr. Kevin Folta, self-proclaimed expert on a variety of scientific matters, is offering a course on scientific literacy later this year at his University in Florida. The course is touted as a series of case studies around four very visible ‘issues of science’ made popular inside public discourse. The contention being implied by Dr. Folta, that one’s position on these four issues stands as the litmus test of one’s scientific literacy. Or more specifically, the correct conclusions around these four issues of purported science – standing as indicative of one’s acceptance into the scientifically literate club. Remember The Ethical Skeptic’s views on club quality – such an approach is never effective in achieving, nor is it really about, improvement in its target goals. Club quality is only about establishing who the bad guys are, and showing you how you can qualify to join the good guys club. Such is the anticipated propagandistic nature of Kevin Folta’s course on scientific literacy.
Earlier in our blog series, we identified the structure and nature of propaganda, and more specifically that of rhetoric:
/philosophy : argument : bias : inverse logic : sleight of hand/ : appearing to be focused on a given topic or a given case example, when a slightly different or less acceptable somewhat related position is actually being surreptitiously promoted. Enacted through opportunistic measures, desperate for an avenue of entry through any means of persuasion and locution – a form of such extreme commitment to a conclusion that it bears not the ethics and honesty of straightforwardness, science, transparency or poetry. An answer seeking a question which then targets a victim – a disliked topic or person.
Let’s take this understanding of the true nature of rhetoric, and use it as the context in which to expound upon the differences between real scientific literacy, and the fake substitute being promoted inside this academic ruse. Neil deGrasse Tyson is incorrect in the graphic below. Any line of reasoning can serve to fulfill his standard of ‘literacy,’ qualified by the fact that you declared someone to be ‘full of bullshit.’ Under this bandwagon qualification, all you have to do is be a cynic, and you are scientifically literate. Such a wonder! No, real scientific literacy involves the objective ability to spot errant method, process, definition, reason and the surreptitious manipulation of each towards an a priori conclusive end. This includes spotting such conditions in both others, organizations as well as self.
- Having fee-free access to and knowing how to access the available catalog of direct-observation based scientific research on a subject.
- Understanding the structure, process and flow of the full scientific method and why each step is important in reducing a hypothesis set.
- The ability to frame, develop and recognize the relevant, salient, sequitur and ethically skeptical next question under the scientific method.
- Appreciating the difference between incremental/technological development and scientific discovery work.
- Understanding the foibles of human nature, especially humans who seek or hold power. Understanding the nature of locution, persuasion and rhetoric.
- Understanding one’s own biases and influences/vulnerabilities imbued from external social forces.
- Understanding the difference between valid consensus and manipulated pluralistic ignorance.
- Being able to discern objectivity from an attitude surreptitiously promoting assumptions.
- Being able to readily identify the difference between a research effort and a ‘study’ – and the role of the null hypothesis in each context.
- Understanding the difference between facts, information, data and intelligence – and how and why they are reduced into a question.
- Being able to spot the methodical abuse of consilience and consensus and a condition of Unity of Knowledge Error (see below: The Unity of Knowledge)
- Promoting specific conclusions for public consumption as instances of unquestioned science.
- The habit of forming clubs of exclusivity, mocking and disdain.
- Identifying the bad guys, the stupid/anti, and those who are not in the club.
- Pretending that science can be accomplished through simply the act of examining big data.
- Promoting through social positions, one liners and tag phrases.
- Promoting/defending oligarch corporate interests.
- Boasts of consensus under an atmosphere of intimidation.
- Pitching fake skepticism as a justification for your politics and religion.
- Relying on celebrity to promote ideas as being scientific.
- An over reliance on the concepts of experts and proof (both as a boast of inclusivity and denial exclusivity).
- The methodical abuse of consilience and consensus as it serves to influence public perception (see below: The Method of Scientific Propaganda)
Scientific propaganda is not always nor completely wrong. The art of propaganda however, involves sprinkling enough correct information in at the right time, in order to collectively disguise your agenda, mislead your audience by sleight-of-hand, and without undue alarm, slip by the nuclear waste of misinformation and politics being diluted inside the scientific information. Let’s examine an example below. To the right we see the graphic outline Dr. Folta published regarding his course on ‘scientific literacy.’ Of course, instead of a focus on the scientific method and habits/resources useful to the skeptical mind, Kevin skips right through to a specific set of conclusions – apologizing for this by calling it ‘case studies.’ Remember the definition of rhetoric and propaganda.
In essence, he is saying – I don’t need to teach scientific literacy – if you are taking my course you already are (by taking the course) scientifically literate – we only need now celebrate some specific bandwagon examples of APPLIED scientific literacy. In other words, very much a familiar propaganda technique.
If you agree to and promote the conclusions I have bundled inside these supposed positions of science, then you are scientifically literate. Here, take 1 semester credit hour of ‘science.’
Now believe it or not, as it relates to the four case studies on the right. I side with the valid scientific concerns behind each one. I am very concerned about the anthropogenic contribution to the current regular upswing in Malinkovitch Earth heat cycle. I am a staunch evolutionist – sincerely advocating for a phylogeny which is clearly delineated by the allele dependencies between each speciation break. I am pro selective gene transfer for species rescue and development of our full understanding of how speciation, epigenetics and proteomics work. I am pro-vaccine when human life is threatened by the spectre of deadly epidemic.
Through the Objective Looking Glass of Consilience and Consensus
But I would not consider Kevin Folta to be an expert (as he claims) on these subjects nor the scientific method. He understands (as demonstrated in his Freedom of Information Act request emails) the corporate sponsorship model, but not the methods of objective science. Nor would I consider his boasts of proof, demands for proof and misrepresentations of pluralistic ignorance to stand as scientific literacy, in any way shape or form. Scientific literacy pertains to the integrity by which one handles method, data, reason, definition, alternative, objectivity and person – especially when proof is a difficult standard to attain, or social pressure mounts to select for a particular alternative before any real alternative study has been done. See The Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation for a complete listing of the ways in which crooked thinking is applied as a masquerade of science.
Before we contrast Scientific Literacy with Propaganda however, let’s examine some key terms which get thrown around by fake skeptics a great deal: consensus and consilience, contrasted with their manipulation or the Silly Con.
/philosophy : inductive science: objectivity in hypothesis ranking/ : is the nature or characteristic of an argument wherein its underpinning premises, data, multiple associated disciplines, avenues of research or predicates provide for independent but mutual reinforcement of its conclusion. This is usually regarded as important in a hypothesis reduction which cannot be easily resolved by means of Popper falsification.¹ Consilience is not tantamount to consensus.
Consilience is used to develop a hypothesis and provide it the underfooting of integrity through which it can be seriously considered for inclusion in consensus study. However consilience can never stand as a claim to finished science. It may provide our underpinning for our best current explanation, but this is not the same as deductive falsification in the least.“No matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.” -Karl Popper
/philosophy : deductive science : objectivity in conclusion/ : is the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists composing a particular field of study. It is not a popularity poll among scientists in general nor even necessarily inside the field of study in question. Consensus can only be claimed when multiple opposing explanatory alternatives have been researched in objective detail, and a reasonable body of those scientists who developed the field of opposition alternatives, have been convinced of the complimentary alternative’s superiority. Just because a null hypothesis exists, and only that hypothesis has been researched, does not provide a basis for a claim to consensus, no matter how many scientists, or those pretending to speak for science in the media, favor the null hypothesis.¹
When a person makes a claim to consensus on an issue, ask them what type of consensus has been derived and how was it determined. The three types of derived scientific consensus:
Professional Poll – surveys taken inside specialty subgroups at conferences, and inside associations for the advancement of science.
vulnerability: popularity contest, skewed by most powerful memebers in the sub-discipline who attend conferences and the fact that non-degree holding activists are allowed into associations. (see TES: Jan 31, 2015, Part I).
Meta-Analysis – scan of the available literature and research study base, by keyword, results in a body of studies which are then broken out by alternative position supported by the body of studies
vulnerability: keywords are weak as inclusion criteria basis, body does not differentiate between consilience/incremental development studies versus true alternative comparison and discovery research, often includes science articles touted as ‘studies’ which are simply a rehash of other studies, data analysis of data analysis is weak as compared to direct observational study, and dissenting opinions are not typically observable in the study base; especially if there is social pressure around the favored alternative. (see TES: Jan 31, 2015, Part II also see “Muta-Analysis“).
Peer Directed – a thorough vetting of all the reasonable compelling explanatory hypotheses, which through the process of peer review are coalesced into unanimous support as one alternative being the best explanation at the current time.
vulnerability: exposed to the influences of politically minded scientists/activists/pretend skeptics in positions of power, who administer consensus through peer review. Many times claims to having ‘thoroughly developed and vetted all the compelling and mutually/partially exclusive alternatives’ are false – as only the favored hypothesis has in reality been studied – this in an effort to protect one’s career from the dangers of peer review. (see TES: Jan 31, 2015, Part III)
Example: A person may, through assembly of evidence from disparate avenues, conclude or develop a theory that their spouse is cheating on them. Examination of times coming home late versus history, sudden trips out of town, strange upsurge in text messages, staying up late, strange phone calls, the person acting defensive and in a secretive fashion. All of these disparate avenues of predicate and evidence, provide consilience towards the idea that one’s spouse is cheating on them. Finally after weeks of pursuing this theory, the person finds that their partner was simply planning a surprise birthday party. The problem is that the person assembling consilience failed to examine the field of viable alternatives. They spun a conclusion through a spectre of internal obsession and blinder-focused research – providing for a Unity of Knowledge around a single favored (through fear) idea.
If we ignore the field of viable alternatives prior to declaring consensus or seek to conflate consilience into consensus – this is a premature establishment of consensus – pseudo-scientific folly (See Unity of Knowledge Error below). This is also portrayed inside Scott Adams’ Law of Slow-Moving Disasters. Karl Popper further expounds on this in his work The Logic of Scientific Discovery:¹
…my main reason for rejecting [sole reliance upon] inductive logic is precisely that it does not provide a suitable distinguishing mark of the empirical, non-metaphysical, character of a theoretical system; or in other words, that it does not provide a suitable ‘criterion of demarcation’.
In short, consensus is an agreement among divergent hypotheses, and not an agreement among data nor poll participants. Consilience is an agreement among disparate avenues of research toward the integrity (hypothesis viability) of one argument. It suffers Popper’s ‘problem of induction‘ and is not the same thing as deductive consensus.
The Method of Scientific Propaganda
The common deeper hallmarks of scientific propaganda in this regard therefore proceed according to this method:
- To conflate and promote consilience as consensus. Consilience is not a ‘unity of knowledge’ as Edward O. Wilson contends – as only diligent investigation of all compelling alternatives can serve to unify knowledge.
- To imply or default that a null hypothesis is ‘true‘ until proved otherwise, knowing that proof is a seldom attained standard in science.
- To employ as null hypothesis, that which cannot be approached by Popper demarcation and falsification, and then further demonize all competing ideas.
- To investigate only one hypothesis, and deem the social pressure and pluralistic ignorance around this bad habit as consensus or even consilience.
- To proscribe investigation into any alternative or deviation from consilience and give a moniker (anti-science or pseudoscience) to those who do so.
- To fail to conduct followup or safety confirmation studies, or sufficient parsimonious or precautionary study, in a circumstance where a risk has been adopted in the name of science.
- To tamper with or conflate, the three forms of consensus into a falsely (through vulnerability exploitation) derived claim to scientific consensus of an Omega Hypothesis.
- To alter scientific paradigms or questions in a sleight-of-hand manner in order to establish a false basis for a completely separate but disguised contention.
- To teach simpleton (simplest answer) or black and white delineations of scientific arguments as settled science, through channels of journalism which cannot differentiate good science from bad.
- To employ explanitude based disciplines, bullying, celebrity, journalism and false forms of philosophy and skepticism, as a means to enforce an agenda, dressed up as science.
These are the familiar actions of the propaganda spinner, also known as the Silly Con:
/philosophy : pseudoscience : social skepticism : pretend scientific methodology/ : spinning consilience as consensus. Investigating only one alternative and through manipulative pluralistic ignorance and social pressure, declaring that hypothesis as consensus and all others as unnecessary/pseudoscience/anti-science. Spinning politically motivated variations of an accepted scientific hypothesis, and selling those variations to the untrained public, for consumption in the name of science.
Folta’s “Case Studies”
So now that we have ’empowered ourselves to know when someone else is full of bullshit,’ in the deGrasse Tyson understanding, coupled with the fact that we are armed with Popper’s contrast between the Silly Con and scientific consilience versus consensus, let us examine some Foltaganda nominated (from the course graphic above) “Case Studies” in Social Propaganda posing as science:
Literate Climate Science
Promoting research as to the causes of the current rapid acceleration in global temperatures – unlinked from economic activity and the global recession and far exceeding model prediction. Understanding the contribution of AGW into this measure set.
Propaganda Climate ‘Science’
Making jokes about the bad guys and citing their political party. Promoting your specific political party and socio-economic philosophy as being supported by science, yet never once offering even one solution to the problem being used as an expedient football. Ignoring any data except the one bit you like.
There is consensus on climate change. There is consilience around anthropogenic-carbon contribution to climate change as being significantly additive to the current Milankovitch, Total Solar Irradiance, Schumann-Core Resonance Cycle and Solar Spectral Index Shift – most of which are in a ‘hot cycle’ at the same time. This sucks to be sure, but to ignore these four factors, and declare our consilience around AGW to be consensus therefore regarding the alternatives, is pseudoscience.
It is clear that global temperatures are rising even faster than our carbon models have predicted. This should concern us greatly – from two perspectives. Not only a concern regarding the temperatures themselves, but also this condition: when actual measures outpace your models – that condition is not an über-confirmation of your models – rather stands as underpinning for an urgent call to develop a new model. Under such circumstances, none of this should be employed as a political football unless a consensus mechanism-approach-solution has been developed for the AGW component of climate change.
Literate Evolution Science
Promoting research as to the DNA heritance pathways incumbent inside our new gene based (as opposed to morphology based) cladistics.
Propaganda Evolution ‘Science’
Identifying ‘creationists,’ talking about the Noah’s Ark replica, and pushing abiogenesis and random mutations as matters of proved scientific consensus (when they are not even close to being supported by science nor scientists).
There is consensus on genetically generated Evolution – no doubt. There is neither consilience nor consensus on abiogenesis and random muta-genesis. Be careful to distinguish actual scientific Evolution from religious, social or wishful thinking. Evolution proves nihilism and Atheism no more than it does Abrahamism.
Literate GMO Science
Understanding the ethics threshold, reasons for, preparation and stakeholder voices necessary in approving irreversible transgene modification of an entire (especially food) species. Understanding case histories where unbridled and inexpert hybridization has served to damage human health in the name of ‘efficiency and productivity.’
Propaganda GMO ‘Science’
Identifying the bad guys, and giving them a name. Pretending that the GMO food argument is about genetic science. Promoting a specific pesticide and a specific company and oligarch/cartel through government fraud, incest and irreversible premature manipulation of 95% of our food supply. Justifying this through specious claims (to inexpert ears) of being the only solution available to feed a growing world population. Claiming that meiosis-based reproduction between species produces the same results as a transgene based protein array alteration.
There is consensus that trans-genetic modifications CAN be benign. There is no consensus that the trans-gene modifications we have introduced into 85+% our our daily food consumption, are necessary. There is no consensus around the idea that specific trans-gene applications are associated with an increase in farm productivity, nor on the social necessity of such productivity were it real. There is consilience concerning the idea that glyphosate, its microbiome impacts and/or the specific glyphosate tolerant trans-gene modifications we have chosen to undertake, are premature and monopolistic in focus, are unethical in a free, already-fed-well society and are causing undue harm to human (American) health. To block research of this alternative through propaganda is criminal pseudoscience.
Literate Vaccine Science
Promoting independent consumer and science led panels to conservatively identify when a vaccine is necessary in the public interest. Eliminating conflict of interest pharmaceutical company or pharma company sponsored contributors to this ethical process.
Propaganda Vaccine ‘Science’
Identifying the bad guys, giving them a name, and making jokes about how ridiculous they all are. Drooling over a couple big data studies which showed irrational autism curative influences when autism is ironically skyrocketing, as being ‘science.’ Pretending that vaccine injuries do not exist, or that brain injuries are a bifurcation of rare happenstance coupled with no impact at all. The pretense that a very small portion of the population has been vaccine injured and using the Vaccine Injury Award Court results as a scientific database to which one refers.
There is consensus that a vaccine can serve to protect against a deadly disease. There is no consensus that all of the vaccines we administer to American children are necessary. There are a few inductive statistical cohort studies which support the idea that specific vaccines do not appear to be associated with the observed increase in autism. There is consilience however, that our over-use of and early employment of so many vaccines/adjuvants, are both unnecessary, stem from financial conflicts of interest & legislative influence, and are causing a broad set (by genetic subgroup) of cognitive and auto-immune impacts on our children’s health. To block research of this alternative through propaganda is criminal pseudoscience.
I sincerely urge the students of this 1 credit hour ‘class,’ to challenge themselves – ponder this message and begin to discipline your mind prior to accepting the propaganda which will be stuffed down your throat in this class. The issues are not as simple as your simpleton science promoters might suggest. These people are not smart, nor well informed, simply because they inhabit a tenure office and wear a PhD. Beware of being passed a religion under a trick of sleight-of-hand, otherwise known as the Unity of Knowledge:
Unity of Knowledge Error (Religion)
/philosophy : pseudoscience : errant method : religion/ : to conflate and promote consilience as consensus. Consilience is by its essence inductive and therefore cannot alone underpin a ‘unity of knowledge’ as Edward O. Wilson contends. Only diligent investigation of all compelling alternatives, deductive science, can serve to finalize and unify knowledge (under consensus). To promote consilience as a unity of knowledge or substitute for consensus, in absence of having diligently investigated competing alternative hypotheses, is also know in ethics as ‘religion.’
Remember, all things being equal, Simpleton (simplest explanation) Science is much easier to promote to the public than is the real thing. The sign of being scientifically literate is your invulnerability to simpleton science – your ability to question and not take sides of belief in advance. One method of promotion of simpleton science is by means of propaganda case studies. By skipping right past what constitutes real scientific thinking, and right to the conclusions which stand as earmarks of those who are correct. Know real science, real skepticism.
You do not have to agree with me, nor with any specific conclusion, in order to do real science. Question what they offer as case studies, which skip over the real issues and pretend to be based on issues of science when in reality they are not.
- Challenge the notion that compelling alternatives have all been seriously researched, when a claim to consensus is made (also examine to see if they are generously conflating consensus and consilience in order to force a point).
- Differentiate between an alternative possessing good integrity in formulation, versus one which has been proved or accepted through competition with other alternatives.
- When they make a contention, go look up the real scientific definition and ask why they spun a different version of the real science involved.
- Raise your hand and mention that you do not care about what name has been given to the ‘anti-‘ people, you would rather focus on the issue at hand – as THAT is scientific literacy and not the former.
- Roll eyes at persons who shove themselves into the public forum for money, celebrity and career advancement, and then bitch about the public ‘harassing’ them.
Remember that propaganda and rhetoric is never about the subject at hand. The subjects stand merely as footballs to be employed in attacking someone the spinner despises. Even if the ‘case studies’ they foist on you appear to be correct. Be ethical, be skeptical.
¹ Popper, Karl Raimund (1934). The Logic of Scientific Discovery (2002 ed.). New York: Routledge Classics. ISBN 978-0-415-27844-7; http://strangebeautiful.com/other-texts/popper-logic-scientific-discovery.pdf
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