Friday, September 28, 2012

What Dangerous Davies could teach Chris Trotter

I spent some of the coldest evenings of our Auckland winter under a duvet on the couch, watching The Last Detective, a British drama starring Peter Davison, the man who had the honour of being Doctor Who for a few years back in the eighties.

In The Last Detective, which ran for three series in the mid-noughties, Davison plays a well-mannered, well-meaning, well-read North London copper. Where many of his colleagues rely on computer databases to do their work, the man sarcastically nicknamed Dangerous Davies prefers more old-fashioned research methods. He reads yellowed newspapers, conducts interviews so lengthy and friendly that they might impress an oral historian, and isn't afraid to make the odd guess. Davies is assisted unofficially by his friend Mod, a working class autodidact played by the Irish comedian Sean Hughes. Mod spends much of his time in libraries, partly because they are warmer than his flat, and is forever supplying Davies with curious historical and literary anecdotes that may or may not be related to his investigations.

It is hard not to contrast Dangerous Davies and Mod with most of the crimefighters who turn up on television screens in the twenty-first century. Many telly shows treat crimefighting as a strict science. They show us crime scenes and bodies being analysed minutely by super-intelligent scientists, whose deductions lead them to villains. Even crime dramas that feature old-fashioned street detectives tend to give those cops extraordinary powers. In Unforgettable, a series that premiered on New Zealand screens this year, Poppy Montgomery plays Carrie Wells, a detective who can remember almost everything that happens to her. Wells dips into her memory files to solve crime after crime.

Unforgettable reminded me of Limitless, a 2011 film in which Bradley Cooper played a young man who took a drug which made his memory perfect. With access to billions of new pieces of information, Cooper was able to outwit both crooked financiers and Russian gangsters.
The Last Detective and Limitless might be intended as light entertainments, but they are worth taking seriously, because they symbolise two opposed views about how the human mind works.

Back in the middle decades of the twentieth century, the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer made a distinction between judgement-based thinking and calculative thinking. Calculative thinking, which Gadamer associated with physics, sought to move ineluctably, by a series of deductions, from a body of evidence to a watertight conclusion about that evidence. Judgement-based thinking was looser and more improvisational, and relied on the use of a set of values - moral, political, aesthetic - to interpret evidence.

Gadamer was not completely opposed to calculative thinking, but he warned that it had severe limitations. The sort of precision that a physicist might achieve was not, he insisted, either possible or desirable in a field like biology or geology, let alone history or psychology or jurisprudence.

Gadamer criticised the tendency of some psychologists and philosophers to regard the human brain as a sort of computer. Computers are very good at storing and delivering information and at calculating, but they cannot make judgements.

Dangerous Davies is adept at the sort of judgement-based thinking which enthused Gadamer. He solves crimes with guesses, but his guesses are informed by his deep knowledge of the area where he works, his nagging sense of morality, and the haphazardly brilliant research of his friend Mod.

If The Last Detective is a celebration of judgement-based thinking, then a film like Limitless venerates calculative thinking. Under the influence of his drug, the hero of the film becomes a sort of supercomputer. The vast amounts of information he can suddenly access lead him swiftly and efficiently to precise and wholly correct conclusions. As he outmanoeuvres criminals and plays the stock exchange, he turns psychology, sociology and economics into precise sciences.

Limitless and Unforgettable might be entertaining, but they present us with a fundamentally false picture of the way that the mind works. They suggest that information equals intelligence, and that the more information we have the easier we will find it to understand the world. But information is only useful if we can interpret and evaluate it, and to do this well we need what Gadamer called a 'horizon', and what some psychologists call a schema - a view of the world informed by the sort values we develop through experience, reading, and reflection.

In recent years scientists have been fascinated by the story of a British woman who can remember all her experiences since the age of fourteen in perfect detail. Jill Price describes her condition as a 'curse', which has 'paralysed' her. She feels overwhelmed rather than liberated by her mind's vast memory file. In the real world, the hero of Limitless and the heroine of Unforgettable would likely feel the same way.

In the twenty-first century the calculative model of thinking and the notion that the brain is essentially a computer have become hegemonic amongst politicians, the media, and the general public. The popularity of National Standards in schools reflects this hegemony. National Standards assumes that children's minds are like computers, and that the role of teachers is to fill them with information. The more facts and figures children hold, the smarter they will be. The necessity of developing the sort of sophisticated mental 'horizon' that can help us interpret information sensitively is forgotten.

Our obsession with information and calculation is changing the way we think about intellectuals, as well as about schools.

The term 'intellectual' was first used early in the twentieth century in France, to describe the coalition of writers, teachers, and journalists which campaigned against the anti-Semitic persecution of Alfred Dreyfus. Like the Frenchmen and women who spoke in defence of Dreyfus, intellectuals in other countries quickly became identified with social engagement and public debate. They used their knowledge and their analytic skills to participate in debate with one another and with the rest of society.

The rise of the intellectual in the early twentieth century was associated with the democratisation of public discourse. Great twentieth century intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell and EP Thompson spent as much time with trade unionists as academics. Their writings often reached huge audiences.

Although some intellectuals were academics or full-time men of letters, others were blue collar workers who had a passion for ideas and discussion. Richard Taylor and Len Richards have described the way that the Otahuhu Railway Workshops became, in the sixties and seventies, the 'working class university of New Zealand', as mechanics and sparkies formed study groups and held constant debates about social and political issues.

In the twenty-first century we increasingly associate intellectualism not with participation in public debate, but with a few superintelligent individuals with brains like vast computers. Today the world's most famous 'intellectual' is Stephen Hawking, a freakish, forbidding figure who works in an esoteric corner of science and has little or no interest in the sort of ethical and political issues which stirred Sartre and Thompson. For most of us, debating Hawking would be as unthinkable as racing Usain Bolt.

A recent column by Chris Trotter illustrates how pervasive the new model of the intellectual has become. Trotter claimed that his fellow Kiwis 'don't put a lot of stock in intellectualism', and complained about the lack of respect given to men like Professor Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister's scientific advisor.

Peter Gluckman is a pediatrician who has published many papers about prenatal development. He won the Rutherford Prize for outstanding scientific research in 2001, and is highly regarded by his peers overseas.

In a recent guest lecture at Otago University called 'Setting Priorities for Science', Gluckman claimed that "emotion" and "politics" too often find their way into intellectual debate, and insisted that "Good science should be values-free". Using "fact" and avoiding both "opinions" and "polemic", scientists should provide society with the "knowledge upon which values are appropriately overlaid". Gluckman used the debate about genetically-modified food in the early noughties as an example of how politics can become illegitimately mixed up with science.

Gluckman's words are a very clear expression of the delusions of calculative thinking. He believes that it is possible to separate facts and opinions, information and interpretation. Ignoring hundreds of years of philosophy, Gluckman promotes the illusion that learning is about accumulating masses of 'objective' information which will eventually suggest its own logical and inevitable interpretation.

Gluckman used part of his lecture to complain about 'anti-intellectualism' in this country. But his complaint does not come from a nostalgia for the study groups of the Otahuhu Railway Workshops. As far as Gluckman is concerned, intellectual discourse should be the preserve of a scientific elite which knows how to steer clear of 'politics', polemic', and 'emotion'. Gluckman thinks that Kiwis are anti-intellectual because they are too keen on interfering in the debates of scientists.

Chris Trotter has written often and eloquently about the impact of neo-liberal capitalism on New Zealand. In column after column and blog post after blog post, he has shown how neo-liberal policies like the privatisation of state assets, anti-union legislation and attacks on the welfare state are an affront to democracy, because they give a few men and women in suits - corporate executives, and the bosses of commercialised state bureaucracies - an obscene power over other Kiwis.

But Chris apparently can't see that Peter Gluckman is the intellectual equivalent of the corporate executives he has criticised so often. Like his counterparts in the boardroom, Gluckman considers himself a member of an elite which is entitled to make decisions on behalf of the rest of the community. And Gluckman's intellectual jutsification for his elite status is just as unconvincing as the rhetoric of the neo-liberal suits. The invisible hand of the free market and values-free science are both ideological fantasies designed to protect vested interests.

If Chris wants to see a healthy model of intellectual inquiry, he should stop reading Peter Gluckman's speeches and take a look at The Last Detective.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Blogger Richard said...

Good and bad. First - I never attended any study courses or discussion groups at the Railway Workshops. Nor am I, just because I lack a PhD like you and Jack fit into the category of the Naive Autodidact BUT I grumpily take your points. Lol!

My experience working at the Railways in the late 1960s was very educational and there were courses, and plenty of communists, unionists etc around, and "ordinary" workers who often discussed various issues informally. Charley Baker (of the CP - the MAO ist - not the REVISIONIST CP): was indeed an autodidact. But his knowledge of facts was vast...

Ray Gogh of the CP lent me Rape of Vietnam by H.G. Slinsgby, which changed my whole worldview quiet dramatically as I had pretty much an easy life up until then, as my family were financially pretty well off. As far as academic learning - I studied at Manukau Tech, ATI, extra-murally via Massey in PN, and at the Auckland University...

More importantly, Gadamer is quite naive in his view if he thinks physics is "precise" - sure it aspires to that, but neither mathematics nor physics (upon which it is based) can get anywhere near any certainty.

Gluckman is also therefore quite wrong in this. Emotion and politics are always involved in science and that is part of he reason (and you are right here) that pure calculation is useless.

Some books that challenge of contradict this naive view of knowledge include (apart from Futa Helu's concepts); just about all other human thinkers of significance - but some examples are in "Impossibility - the Limits of Science end the Science of Limits." by John D. Barrow (in that you encounter what are called PN problems and the impossibility of some areas of knowledge ever being certain and also say Godel's theorem and much else); but another good book that covers science, philosophy ethics and knowledge is "The Ascent of Man" by Jacob Bronowski (who moved from physics and mathematics after the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima
(But the "blame" is on the use of science which is really just knowledge), not on science and not certainly on physics as such. Also (most) neurologists are well aware that 'the mind = or ~ a computer' model is not so useful (there are some parallels of course) but that can be seen in the writings of Oliver Sacks and in V.S. Ramachandran's book about the brain-body "The Tell-tale Brain"...he even speculates on synaesthesia and how it relates to creativity and what the art experience is or means...the brain or mind works by a system of storing facts but it also has a complex method of making judgments about "reality". But without the action and interaction of the limbic region (emotion, orientation etc) the Gradgrindian* facts are useless.

*Gradgrind is the "cold" teacher of "facts" in 'Hard Times' by Charles Dickens.

8:16 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

There have been certain scientists who adopt a cold, elitist view of other human beings and try to move towards “solving everything” (I don't think that Stephen Hawkings is one. In his famous book his main concern is whether the Universe will expand forever, will contract and squash itself out of existence!, or will be just right and stay as it is...but fascinating as this all is (a lot of it is bit Dr Strangelovish!) But not all of those who “try to solve everything are such cold elitists, that drive for perfection is a part of what we are, even if we may never get to anything near it. ...A more "human" example of a great astronomer or physicist-cosmologist (most great scientists (including physicists) have also been philosophers and very much concerned with human issues - but there are some "cold fish" examples - is or was Beatrice Tinsley. She made great advances in cosmology but hearing her diaries and letters on the radio showed a picture of very complex and human human being. There are many other examples. Computation is vital and precision very desirable, but (intelligent or thoughtful) scientists know, and Gadamer should have, that calculation alone without intuition and emotion (and even a kind of "poetry" or religious sense which Einstein had) is nothing.

Bronowski cites the (very great) mathematicians John von Neumann as getting caught up n power play and despite or because of or despite this his moving away from the human, whereas he sees Einstein and Gauss et al as showing a deep interest in mystery and beauty and life itself. Oppenheimer is another example - he had studied the Muhabaratta in Sanskrit etc - Bronowski wrote a book about Blake. Bronowski also sees the Uncertainty Principle* as of deep philosophic and human significance.

As you are arguing, far more important to human beings, is knowledge or practice in getting on with each other. That is our social (hence emotional hence political etc etc) expertise or hugely more important than the fostering of computational abilities or the memorization of many many facts.

How can we be happy? How to we relate to each other?

The idea that science or say physics is not at some level connected to intuition and emotion, or that it and mathematics depends on (sure it needs computation and knowledge etc but so does art or poetry or people dealing with human (family and relationships): calculation, accumulation of facts, is an erroneous and naive view of science.

*This doesn't exactly say that every thing is "uncertain" but it has such implications.

8:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

chris will not be amused

8:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Science-bashing will earn you some strange allies

10:45 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for those posts, Richard. I know you weren't necessarily typical of the Otahuhu workshops crowd, because you did a degree at Auckland, but you have described the intellectual and political ferment there quite vividly. So has Len Richards, who unfortunately never finished his PhD on the place.

I think Gluckman would defend himself by saying that he wasn't opposed to public debate on science-related issues, as long as scientists had laid a groundwork of facts. To take this position, though, is to divorce fact too firmly from interpretation, and to give away to a small minority the right to frame debate.

Imagine if a historian said that Kiwis were welcome to discuss, say, Treaty claims, but that they had to accept as a basis for their discussions the conclusions of, Jamie Belich's New Zealand Wars, or the Waitangi Tribunal's Tainui Report.

Such a suggestion would inevitably be met with disbelief, because the conclusions of these texts so obviously rely on interpretation as well as fact. Belich may supply his readers with a lot of empirical material, but this material gets processed and turned into arguments by him.

A similar interpenetration of facts and interpretation is found in the 'hard' sciences, but folks like Gluckman are liable to deny it.

Gluckman's own history, as the head of Neuronz, a startup company that was accused of exploiting the work of grad students at the University of Auckland and of prioritising commercial considerations over research values, and as the co-organiser of the Knowledge Wave, the 2001 gathering of corporate leaders which was widely seen as a neo-liberal challenge to the agenda of the first-term Clark government, hardly attests to his scientific 'objectivity'.

11:49 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

(My “scientific training is bit limited but I did start out trying to be a biochemist and studied engineering etc but nowadays I am more of what is called the “intelligent” (many would doubt this appellation in my case!) Or interested layman and this I read as much about popular science etc as I can.).

Interesting ideas by Polt. But again I think he is forgetting or not seeking out examples of philosophers and scientists, or those philosopher scientists have actually wrestled with these very issues. I asked an old school friend of mine who is an award winning scientist (he’s working with or involved in the “Physiome Project” which is investigating all aspects of the body (and brain of course) – he began as an engineer in hydraulics but switched to biology so now there is big discipline of biomechanics which is very important) what the deal with Richard Dawkins over enthusiasm for making us all “selfish genes” (or words to that effect): and his comment was that such as Dawkins et al are important in combating creationism etc. Evolution by the way is brilliantly shown by Dawkins (esp. in ‘Climbing Mount Improbable’ and ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’) to be as much fact or reality as anything established by Newton, but his pursuance of all this militant atheism and ‘the selfish gene’ etc etc is erroneous. It in fact becomes in itself a kind of religion, or a philosophy, whereas John Barrow and e.g. Ramachandran, give some fascinating views on the mind. The brain mind (or mind-body) is NOTHING like a computer. That is I suppose why Polt quotes Merleau-Ponty and Husserl etc. Nor are we quite animals. I think also this is the value of Barthes and Derrida (as well as the pre-Socratics and Futa Helu etc!).

My friend (I hadn’t seen his since about 1955!) knew Boyd, the biographer and philosopher of Nabokov, and who has lately started relating literature to evolution. Boyd is good, and his biography-study is great, but like Nabokov, he is a little over fond of fact amassment. But at least there is an example of a connection between literature and science. [But many scientists much prefer to keep to one discipline or specialty which is also true of literary people or literary academics who might say keep or concentrate on one time period – not a bad thing but it can lead to over specialization and a sense of division or rivalry or alienation from the other disciplines that Aristotle, quoted by Polt, would not have agreed with.]

We are not just animals or computers. There is something quite impossibly strange about us – but that is good. To know everything, to have all the answers, to be God, would be terribly sterile. There would be nothing to do, nothing to create or discover as everything would have been done, everything would be “known”, tabulated, recorded, and dead.

5:16 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

What it is that, whatever science discovers (and science is just learning, but it is never as objective as Gluckman and perhaps Dawkins would like us to believe (which is indeed where postmodernism has a place, and Jack Ross’s interest in the occult (as much as much of that is for real!). Mao Tse Tung said: “An army without a culture is a dull-witted army.” He was a materialist (he and others tried to be more “flexible” but ultimately for internal contradictory and external causes, it all didn’t work as we might have liked (but then the French Revolution has enormous importance and much positive value even though we might say it “failed”): so we can quote various people we might find very fallible or even possibly “evil” – perhaps not Hitler though, as he took Darwinism etc and Nietzsche’s ideas and hugely twisted them, whereas I think that Dawkins and Polt and (earlier) Mao and Trotsky and others at least meant well when they “set out”. Polt says one or two essays wont cover the issue. He is right to argue for “humanism”.

But I don’t, by the way think that genetic modification of living things is necessarily harmful – but any medical research of any kind has an ethical and hence a political dimension which Gluckmann cannot just push out of his way. Scientists have let themselves be used by politicians and “evil people”. By and large though, most scientific research, including has potentially very beneficial possibilities – if used properly. And here, while I admire the Leavises hugely – C.P. Snow (none of whose novels I have read I am ashamed to admit!)

5:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Bronowski is good in his (admittedly dated title) “The Ascent of Man” (he also errs in his over –enthusiasm for European culture but his interest in error is important (in fact this is the thing that should get Dawkins thinking) as error is the basis of evolution.

But while Ramachandran thinks (quite wrongly!) that he will one day explicate consciousness (he will only ever explicate – if he or other neurologists-philosophers will ever - the MECHANISMS of consciousness in the brain). The fundamental problems of ethics, quiddittas, and design (he right to refer to that Aristotelian view or one view, it is amazing how much Aristotle covered…) etc

As teenager I at one stage I thought everything could be “worked out” if sufficient data is available, but the more I have learnt about science and life the more I simply do don’t know. In this we, as did your religious friend and Updike, need to be “nearly religious” (quote from a poem by myself!). Dawkins can tell us how the eye evolved or who speed got to weave webs, but he knows nothing of the what-ness of things. But he forgets what humans need like an insatiable thirst – mystery and emotion (which will always remain mysterious and beautiful). What I call ultimate reality, if there is any. And of that no one (except perhaps in sudden moments of insight), will ever know. Contradictory and sometimes hurtful as religion can be – it represents with philosophy and art etc what we are: we are “strange beating things.” There are no certainties. The world, the Universe, what we are: all are the richer for being terrible and beautiful, and insolubly mysterious. This is the major theme of almost every poem I have ever written.

5:19 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Imagine if a historian said that Kiwis were welcome to discuss, say, Treaty claims, but that they had to accept as a basis for their discussions the conclusions of, Jamie Belich's New Zealand Wars, or the Waitangi Tribunal's Tainui Report.

Such a suggestion would inevitably be met with disbelief, because the conclusions of these texts so obviously rely on interpretation as well as fact. Belich may supply his readers with a lot of empirical material, but this material gets processed and turned into arguments by him.

A similar interpenetration of facts and interpretation is found in the 'hard' sciences, but folks like Gluckman are liable to deny it.

Gluckman's own history, as the head of Neuronz, a startup company that was accused of exploiting the work of grad students at the University of Auckland and of prioritising commercial considerations over research values, and as the co-organiser of the Knowledge Wave, the 2001 gathering of corporate leaders which was widely seen as a neo-liberal challenge to the agenda of the first-term Clark government, hardly attests to his scientific 'objectivity'."

Yes, this is the problem. There is no way that Belich, or Gluckman, an ever be "objective".

And indeed, scientific results are always debatable. That is good science. And the more astute scientists and philosophers etc know this. There might be "hard" data etc but it quickly or can be used and that is always in a social-political area of some kind.

5:26 pm  
Blogger skalusanini said...

This is, I am affraid, a too simplified vision of the place of science in our society. Science by its very nature has to be "elitist". There is no opinion that matters to, say, neuro-science other than the opinion of those who are the experts. There is absolutely nothing constructive I could bring to such scientific debate. So, any basic scientific research has to be given freedom from social prejudice. However, applied science, giving us (or those with lots of money and power) access to technology such as nuclear energy or GM crops, will forever change lives we lead, bring new social and environmental challenges. This is the time for society as a whole to become involved in debate. To paraphrase Marx: Science is there to explain the world, not to change it.

4:54 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Skalusanini,

I take your point about the necessity of specialist knowledge and elite discourse in a field like neuroscience. In the humanities and social sciences, as well, I think an apprenticeship is necessary before quality research can be done.

But I think that the specialists engaging in technical discourse in a field like, say, neuroscience, need to be aware of the fact that their thought processes are not wholly 'objective' and 'apolitical'. If they aren't aware that their observations are theory-dependent - are determined partly by their preconceptions - then they are liable to make serious mistakes. They'd be better off embracing the notion of judgement-based thinking, rather than a false model of objectivity.

If we see specialist research as judgement-based, then we can treat its results not as holy writ, but as the basis for public discussion.
We can't have wide public discussion of a very technical aspect of neuroscientific discourse; we can, potentially, have a broad discussion of whether, say, the human mind is like a computer or not.

8:56 am  
Blogger Richard said...

It is clearly necessary for say a neurologist to study, biology, medicine, physics etc as they do, as well as the intricate structure of the brain BUT scientists in that field already learn from lay persons which you can see in the writings of say V.S. Ramachandran and Oliver Sacks.

You cant necessarily enlighten such an "expert" (or practice as a neurologist) but you can have an informed ethical input. You can learn enough of these subjects to make informed judgements.

The danger is seen with scientists such as Pauling and the mathematics in von Neumann (and some basic science and reading say (such books as) "The Ascent of Man" is enough - you DONT have to be an expert to contribute - there have been and will continue to be "amateurs who contribute to science - one field by the way has always been amateur radio where electricians say practice practical radio have contributed important discoveries and innovations.

The main thing is when these guys make judgments that are clearly social-political in intent. What can a non expert (in human affairs) such as Gluckman contribute to our lives.

Scientists might use very esoteric jargon and talk of abstruse subjects but they are often devastatingly stupid in human areas.

Take the GM debate. I KNOW it can be good thing IF MANAGED well, a bad thing in the WRONG hands. Simple. (T.S. Eliot : "These hands that can murder or create.") You don't need to know too much about genetics but you can learn from various books (basic biology etc, The New Scientist). Building a bridge is a complex business but deciding whether or where to put it how much to spend on it are ethical moral and hence political questions.

And a scientist and science is wrong to specialize all the time. Those in charge of science (or senior significant people in science) need to have a wide knowledge of the world - including the arts.
And literary people (and others need to take and interest in some technical and scientific areas.

12:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are a bunch of anti-scientific religious wackos

12:46 pm  
Blogger skalusanini said...

Hi Scott,
I will disagree here, good science is that which goes further from common sense, prejudice, superstition, and perceived ideas of morality. To discover that the Earth is not a center of the universe, to discover that we have evolved and are related to all other living creatures on this planet, that there are "wrinkles" in space-time which can tell us about the very beginning of cosmos were exciting human adventures that could only be attempted by those intelligent and brave enough to ask questions no one else around them could have or wanted to ask. It can never be better to know less about the world then more. But I do understand the fear. However, it is not science that is a problem, it is the application of the same. A civil, open, educated society will never choose to make apocalyptic weapons for example. To have a stronger scientific culture is to have a stronger and more open society. Don't fear science - fear selfish commercial, paranoid military, and xenophobic nationalistic powers that try to highjack some of the greatest achievements of human race for their own narrow interests.

1:42 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Skalusanini,

it's not a matter of fearing science or the expansion of knowledge but of opposing the distinction between the supposed neutrality and objectivity of science and the supposed subjectivity of other parts of human life - of political and ethical discourse, for example.

Science is impossible without ethical and political presuppositions and without constant, improvisational judgements. If we imagine that ethics and politics have no place in scientific research, and that scientific conclusions tend to be strictly ordained by evidence rather than partly determined by what leaps of judgement, then we give up the possibility of oversight over scientific work.

You mention early science, but it's notable that most of the early strides forward in science came not from the availability of new evidence, or from the appearance of new technology which made the collection of evidence easier, but from the improvement of the presuppositions that researchers used. The ancient Greeks, who arguably invented science, did so not because they suddenly had access to lots of new data or new technology, but because they had philosophy.

8:14 am  
Blogger skalusanini said...

The best philosophy had started exactly by challenging existing ideas of ethics, morality, of the origins and nature of universe. We are told that Socrates has been condemned to death for questioning the norms of his society. Darwin shook the world by his theory. Science and ethics can go hand in hand. We now know a lot about emotional lives of animals for example - surely this can only make us more kind to other creatures. I am just not convinced that any limits imposed on honest seekers of knowledge and understanding of the world could be of benefit to us. As we discover more we only learn there there is more to know still, and that is a "magical" game humans can play for as long as they exist. I forgot who said it, but I love this quote: "science is the poetry of reality".

9:47 am  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

Sheesh, Scott, you're a hard marker!

The column you have chosen to riff off (brilliantly, as always) was actually a cry for precisely the sort of democratic intellectualism you celebrate.

Perhaps Gluckman was a poor choice. It was just that I had heard him on RNZ-National with Kim Hill and he'd sounded reasonably plausible - and quotable.

Sometimes, in what are billed as "left-wing" columns, it helps to enlist the statements of people who are quite clearly NOT associated with the Left. I confess freely that the column you cite is an instance of the tactic.

Even so, I think you've drawn a pretty long bow with what is, in all honesty, a pretty thin string.

11:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this blogger is using you to promote his own sinister agenda...

3:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sinister = POMO

3:15 pm  
Blogger Robin Johnson's Economics Web Page said...

As some one who is concerned about the risks of global warming, I am quite pleased to read a critique of Peter Gluckman.

I welcomed his 2009 statement on the science of global warming. Later I realised how many times he qualified his statement with respect to 'complexity' and 'uncertainty' and 'political process'

In a July 2012 speech Too much complexity: climate, ecosystem for policy, science, Gluckman continues in the "good science should be values-free" vein, and declares that not only is climate science "value-laden", it is also "complex", and it is "post normal" (Gluckman cites Funtowicz and Ravetz?).

Gluckman implies that it is the climate scientists who have erred, in letting their values intrude on the science, and that they should have been "honest brokers" as described by Roger Pielke Jnr, who provide "value-free science" advice, and then just walk (back to the lab) from the value-laden policy process.

Logically, Gluckman's argument is internally contradictory. His view that climate science should be free of values is of course another value judgment (or political framing). As is his false dichotomy of early 'linear' science and a progression to more recent 'post-normal' science.

Politically, Gluckman's argument gives cover for the status quo, inaction on global warming. It allows the Government and businesses to agree with the climate science without committing to any action. Reducing emissions is best left to the vagaries of the value-laden policy process.

6:57 pm  

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