Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of Science and Civilization

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Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of Science and Civilization

Brilliant Essay!

 

Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of Science and Civilization

by Stan Moore

 

Some day when archaeologists examine the artifacts and history of our civilization, they will marvel at how clever we were, and stupid at the same time. If they evaluate our “progress” towards self-destruction over several centuries, they will be forced to note the differences between knowledge and wisdom, between cleverness and ignorance, and between artificial prestige and real accomplishment. Our doom will be self-imposed, preventable, and all the more tragic. The collapse of science and academic training will be hallmarks of the collapse of our civilization, as the collapse will be top-down and engineered by the human failings of the “best and the brightest” of our time.

The corporation Enron was the subject of a documentary film titled “The Smartest Guys in the Room”, and is an example of this sort of failure. Enron executives were clever bastards, and they were smug and self-assured and confident that they were serving the public interest. They figured out how to persuade government regulators and the public that their securitization of energy resources was actually creating wealth. They manipulated energy markets, drove prices through the roof, fleeced the public and public agencies, and enjoyed spectacular financial rewards individually and collectively – until they outsmarted themselves and everyone else and the whole enterprise collapsed in shame and criminal litigation.

Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan/Chase and other financial institutions have done to economics, financial securities and investing what Enron did to energy. Once again, the “best and the brightest” in the world of mathematics, finance, computerization of securities trading, created the illusion of vast wealth. These people used political clout to remove prudent government regulation and to begin trading in instruments of mass financial destruction. When all was said and done, not only did they destroy the largest economies in the history of the world, but they managed to obtain government bailouts from their self-imposed failures, engineer the largest transfer of wealth in world history to themselves via government largess, and take their ill-begotten gains and use it to purchase real assets in the “real economy” in the form of real estate and other hard assets purchased with what in reality was worthless paper and artificial assets.

The world of the biological sciences fares no better. Science has long been in the process of collapse even as it has appeared to be more sophisticated through the emphasis on high mathematics, statistics, and computerized analysis. The scientific literature, as in ornithology, is full of mathematics-oriented papers that get published as of value, but which are chaff and not wheat. Editors and peer reviewers seem to believe that the inclusion of technical jargon is what is really important, and that the actual data are inconsequential. The philosophy of science, which ought to be the pursuit of truth with a minimum of biases is distorted in favor of technical excercises from which real truth is often impossible to ascertain or is missing altogether. Artificial prestige is generated in the process, leveraging into further failure.

A typical example of this failure in the biological sciences is Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and its so-called “conservation science” efforts and political/financial success. HMS learned long ago how to monetize raptors, much as Enron learned to monetize energy-related securities. This monetization of raptors has been effectively leveraged into power by funding other biologists through internship programs and outright donations by HMS to other raptor organizations around the world. Thus artificial prestige is generated, including the recent leveraging of a former HMS intern into the presidency of the Raptor Research Foundation despite probably the weakest resume in the history of that organization’s presidency.

Moreover, HMS and other hawk migration entities have exploited the ongoing weakness of professional organized science to the publication of one weak paper after another in the literature, using mathematics to create the illusion of science in the alleged population indexing of undefined raptor populations around North America. There is no professional outcry over the exploitation of science in this way, because professional “science is now all about careers and raptor science more exploitive of raptors for career purposes than of real knowledge or conservation concern for them. The most effective proved means of artificial prestige in raptor science now is to use convenience sampling to generate mathematical models to create the illusion of conservation science. Everything is superficial, minimal, underfunded, understudied, overhyped, and exaggerated as to its conservation significance.

Recent research in the Altamont Pass is another example of this failure. Statistical studies have taken place over the past decade using flawed methods that could not even pass the funding agency’s own peer review. But the studies were published regardless and management ensued. To the mind of the professional scientist who craves more funding and artificial prestige, bad data and flawed analysis can always be corrected by further mathematical “adjustments” such as “bootstrapping”. It matters not or very little if reality is represented by the results of the scientific method. What is important is that careers and artificial prestige be developed and maintained. The Altamont Pass has become a “feeding trough” for a select, incestual body of “conservation scientists” even as the underlying problems are unresolved. Worse yet, the underlying problems for raptors in the Altamont Pass are impossible now to accurately resolve with confidence, because all the number crunching has essentially made reality impossible to recognize.

Our entire civilization is operating this way now. Tragically, even as careers have blossomed in all professional fields of endeavor, and as we have more PhD biologists and engineers and professionals in every field of endeavor, our civilization keeps listing and threatening to sink like the Titanic under the cold, dark sea of reality.

All the artificial prestige that, in effect, bestows high status to the “elite” is dooming our entire civilization to collapse. It is almost funny to see the backlash that is emerging now, as anti-intellectuals such as Sara Palin vie for political clout on the national scene because the public is tired of being bamboozled by the elite and so many have become reactionaries and supportive of failure to the opposite extreme.

Superficial excellence, artificial prestige, convenience in stastical sampling – these are “no way to run a railroad”. But that is how the railroad is being run. The train is about to jump the tracks and catastrophe is headed our way. And we may not even understand the catastrophe until it is too late to do anything about it.

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...

!

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...

'Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan/Chase and other financial institutions have done to economics, financial securities and investing what Enron did to energy. Once again, the “best and the brightest” in the world of mathematics, finance, computerization of securities trading, created the illusion of vast wealth. The world of the biological sciences fares no better. Science has long been in the process of collapse even as it has appeared to be more sophisticated through the emphasis on high mathematics, statistics, and computerized analysis.'

One of my favorite hobby horses is to apply this analysis to a prominent pseudo-science, economics. As outlined in Dr. Martenson's crash course, the mathematics of exponential growth are not complicated. But economists, beholden to their employers, keep quiet about the unsound foundations of our fiat-currency economy, doomed by the relentless compounding of debt. Similarly, the accounting profession keeps silent about the fact that governments -- the largest financial entities on the planet -- continue using deceptive cash accounting, when accrual accounting (e.g., the Financial Report of the United States) already shows that they are hopelessly insolvent.

Among the factors corrupting science is government funding, which increasingly finances research. Unless you toe the line of conventional wisdom, your research project won't be funded. Let's not kid ourselves. If Galileo were alive today, his condemnation as a heretic would be just as certain, through denial of grants and funding.

Why did past advanced civilizations recede? Evidently, it was prosaic factors -- they ran out of water, food, resources; or couldn't cope with changes in rainfall. So we are told. A new science of 'civilizational decline' would be very pertinent now. Unfortunately, universities won't create such a department; journals won't publish its papers; academic authorities won't accredit it; and governments won't fund it. So in 99,000 A.D., when the next Ice Age ends, the new tribe of humans will scratc h their heads over what the hell happened to us. And they'll puzzle mightily over those multi-coloured scraps of paper that people kept in their wallets. Artifacts of superstition? Good luck charms? One could say so.

 


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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...

Why did past advanced civilizations recede? Evidently, it was prosaic factors -- they ran out of water, food, resources; or couldn't cope with changes in rainfall. So we are told. A new science of 'civilizational decline' would be very pertinent now. Unfortunately, universities won't create such a department; journals won't publish its papers; academic authorities won't accredit it; and governments won't fund it. So in 99,000 A.D., when the next Ice Age ends, the new tribe of humans will scratch their heads over what the hell happened to us. And they'll puzzle mightily over those multi-coloured scraps of paper that people kept in their wallets. Artifacts of superstition? Good luck charms? One could say so.

 

LOL...Ughhhh....... Nicely written, Machinehead.....should be added to the essay. This is all adding up to what Darwin Bond-Graham calls the "Deepshit Horizon" - - - 

...Somewhere out there, within the time frame of several more generations, in the economic frame of perhaps a few more business cycles, a decade or so status quo levels of coal fired energy and a billion cars, out there is mass extinction and an end to the planetary conditions that created and sustain life.

I believe we're trapped by our own self-righteous lies. Back to "business as usual" is all the operators at the helm know, and they will frame it in the context of a "jobless recovery", rising equities, and celebrations of "Earth Day" sponsored by "environmentally friendly" corporations.

“Willful ignorance is the bedrock of denialism." -- Tim Murray

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...
machinehead wrote:

'Among the factors corrupting science is government funding, which increasingly finances research. Unless you toe the line of conventional wisdom, your research project won't be funded. Let's not kid ourselves. If Galileo were alive today, his condemnation as a heretic would be just as certain, through denial of grants and funding.

Here I am, down to only a few remaining functional nerves and you just tweaked one of them. The public at large is blissfully unaware that nearly every area of science is under the control of powerful orthodoxies that control jobs, journals and grants. The vaunted peer review system is badly broken. Until recently empirical science still progressed via hard data, honestly collected and openly shared. Even that has ended in climate studies and maybe also in other areas about which I know less. Things aren't going well in a world where anything goes.

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...

This essay seems to be going somewhere in the beginning.. but by the time I finished it I felt like it was written by a raptor researcher who felt wronged by this raptor research org... .in other words.. the whole thing was just a construct to tar the raptor org and it's president.    

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This essay seems to be going somewhere in the beginning.. but by the time I finished it I felt like it was written by a raptor researcher who felt wronged by this raptor research org... .in other words.. the whole thing was just a construct to tar the raptor org and it's president.

That appears to be his field of study, but it's just one small example of how the pillars of our modern civilization - science, education, economy, politics - have proven themselves corrupt and incompetent over the last decade, lacking common sense, integrity and wisdom and instead overrun by the narrow-minded, self-serving agenda of a few. That is the overall message here. And it's leading to our downfall for certain.

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...
Stan Robertson wrote:
machinehead wrote:

'Among the factors corrupting science is government funding, which increasingly finances research. Unless you toe the line of conventional wisdom, your research project won't be funded. Let's not kid ourselves. If Galileo were alive today, his condemnation as a heretic would be just as certain, through denial of grants and funding.

Here I am, down to only a few remaining functional nerves and you just tweaked one of them. The public at large is blissfully unaware that nearly every area of science is under the control of powerful orthodoxies that control jobs, journals and grants. The vaunted peer review system is badly broken. Until recently empirical science still progressed via hard data, honestly collected and openly shared. Even that has ended in climate studies and maybe also in other areas about which I know less. Things aren't going well in a world where anything goes.

OK count me as tweaked.  Powerful orthodoxies indeed!  Have any of you done any serious looking at university science departments?  What once was the province of science for the sake of science and the exploration of the universe which was funded through a combination of government grants, university budgeting and trust funds and endowments is now for sale to the highest bidder.  Forget the government distortion!  That is NOTHING compared to the entire departments bought and sold for the price of a new science building or a new piece of machinery.   Look for the vested interests in the science. Look for the funding stream.....

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All of this suggests that the return on research funding is going to fall. The scientific breakthroughs needed to catalyze future economic growth aren't going to be generated by a compromised system, bound in orthodoxy and beholden to special interests. Which indicates that the debt bomb really is going to blow up in our faces.

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...

I'd like to know what percentage of scientists "shill for this or that industry... hiding or obfuscating data." How much of science today is overly influenced by biases and other failings of individual scientists as well as others trying to shape scientific debates?

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Let' see Mike, we have Monsanto, we have big pharma, we have Archer Daniel Midland, we have the corporations of the military industrial complex,we have big oil..........wow seems like a pretty  high percentage and I am sure I am leaving some out. Let's see oh yeah climate scientists.

V

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Let' see Mike, we have Monsanto, we have big pharma, we have Archer Daniel Midland, we have the corporations of the military industrial complex,we have big oil..........wow seems like a pretty  high percentage and I am sure I am leaving some out. Let's see oh yeah climate scientists.

V

 

Maybe the question should be if there are any who are doing work free from this web of influence. Perhaps a fraction of a percentile? 

And being as that is the state of the corporate-controlled system, will any good come out of it that will save humanity before this century comes to a close?

That void in our future vision, I believe, is not accidental. In the 40 years since the first Earth Day, a whole set of industries has grown large attacking scientists and conservationists; falsely complexifying issues; spinning the news of environmental crimes; launching astroturf front groups; endowing think tanks; bribing politicians; obfuscating the need for systemic change by pushing funding towards NGOs that advocate the most limited of personal actions; and by promoting (in the most direct financial sense) cultural work that promotes cynicism and a disdain (if not a hatred) for idealists, from talk radio to teabagging. In a twist on the old axiom that tyrants don't care if they are hated so long as their subjects don't love each other, these industries don't care if the future they're offering us looks dark, so long as no other futures we can imagine look brighter. Despairing consumers still buy, and they cause less trouble for the investing class. "We have an economy," as Paul Hawken says, "where we steal the future, sell it in the present, and call it G.D.P." Keeping the future dark hides the crime.

Putting the Future Back in the Room

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Once upon a time there were certain industries that were non-profit because it was assumed that they were necessary for the common good and that there was no profit to be made in providing health care for the sick or educating the young at any level.  The entire business model of these fields was predicated on eschewing the taint of profit as it would make the motive unclean.  But, the days of the John Nash Milton Friedman absolutely everything can be fixed through the "free market" model found arena's of profit in these fields.  And science as we knew it vanished.  These fields were much of the basis for science and for a scientist to allow his work to be used by a corporation for whom he did not work or to be slanted by the government was shameful.  Everyone knew if you worked for DuPont you worked for DuPont.  If you were at a college you worked for the college whose only interest was prestige and getting gov't and endowment funds.

During the Bush administration universities whose science did not meet the political agenda were threatened if they dared to publish.  Yes, powerful orthodoxies did indeed tilt the scale,  but those orthodoxies did not have political and economic clout.  The orthodoxies championed by the inner circle of corporate agendas did.   No science can be trusted until you have hunted down who funded it and found out who funded them.......  Layers upon layers of deceit.    

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...
Stan Robertson wrote:

Things aren't going well in a world where anything goes.

Great line, Stan; thanks!

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Once upon a time there were certain industries that were non-profit because it was assumed that they were necessary for the common good and that there was no profit to be made in providing health care for the sick or educating the young at any level.  The entire business model of these fields was predicated on eschewing the taint of profit as it would make the motive unclean.  But, the days of the John Nash Milton Friedman absolutely everything can be fixed through the "free market" model found arena's of profit in these fields.  And science as we knew it vanished.  These fields were much of the basis for science and for a scientist to allow his work to be used by a corporation for whom he did not work or to be slanted by the government was shameful.  Everyone knew if you worked for DuPont you worked for DuPont.  If you were at a college you worked for the college whose only interest was prestige and getting gov't and endowment funds.

During the Bush administration universities whose science did not meet the political agenda were threatened if they dared to publish.  Yes, powerful orthodoxies did indeed tilt the scale,  but those orthodoxies did not have political and economic clout.  The orthodoxies championed by the inner circle of corporate agendas did.   No science can be trusted until you have hunted down who funded it and found out who funded them.......  Layers upon layers of deceit.    

 

What you describe is what John Perkins calls this "unsustainable mutant form of capitalism" where nothing itself has any intrinsic value besides what can be extracted from it for a dollar. There is no more "common good" in a world where the individual is herded around on a computer sceen, a mere statistic in the planet's 6 billion plus. We have reached that point Asimov described where democracy and human dignity die.

"In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation.  Human dignity cannot survive it.   Convenience and decency cannot survive it.  As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears.  It doesn't matter if someone dies.  The more people there are, the less one individual matters." --- Asimov

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...

Science is not collapsing but the scientific method has advanced.  The old way was to collect data through observation and experimentation, and then formulate and test a hypothesis.  Now, to save time, we are able to simply identify the desired hypothesis and perform the science to prove it.

Civilization is not collapsing, it is being purposely destroyed.  Both science and civilization requires people with an ability to think critically and be bound by morality.  Unfortunately, people have evolved to become immoral and stupid.   

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...
DrKrbyLuv wrote:

Science is not collapsing but the scientific method has advanced.  The old way was to collect data through observation and experimentation, and then formulate and test a hypothesis.  Now, to save time, we are able to simply identify the desired hypothesis and perform the science to prove it.

Civilization is not collapsing, it is being purposely destroyed.  Both science and civilization requires people with an ability to think critically and be bound by morality.  Unfortunately, people have evolved to become immoral and stupid.

"Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceeding generation . . . Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." (Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999) p. 186-187.) http://www.spaceandmotion.com/quantum-mechanics-richard-feynman-quotes.htm

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...

Bruce G. Charlton, Editor-in-Chief of Medical Hypotheses and Professor of Theoretical Medicine at University of Buckingham, UK wrote the following editorial back in 2009:

“In a nutshell, the inducements to dishonesty have come from outside of science – from politics, government administration and the media (for example) all of whom are continually attempting to distort science to the needs of their own agendas and convert real science to Zombie science. But whatever the origin of the pressures to corrupt science, it is sadly obvious that scientific leaders have mostly themselves been corrupted by these pressures rather than courageously resisting them. And these same leaders have degraded hypothesis-testing real science into an elaborate expression of professional opinion (‘peer review’) that is formally indistinguishable from bureaucratic power-games.” (p. 634)

http://www.inters.org/disf/sites/default/files/Onest%C3%A0_nella_Scienza.pdf

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...

I disagree that science is collapsing.  I see it advancing rapidly. We have more scientists on earth than ever before.  Frequently, multiple groups work on similar issues.  This creates a wealth of new information that may not be internally consistent within topic as every study has limitations and each only approximates (some better than others) 'truth'.  After enough information is collected, a weight of evidence approach is needed to refine the approximation.

 Yes, we are inundated with privately-funded research, politicized issues (global change anyone?) and suppressed results.  It has always been so.  Think of all the scientists through the ages that had to endure ostracism and sometimes persecution because of their work.

 Thomas Kuhn developed the interesting concept of the ‘Paradigm shift’ that addresses this point of internal conflict within society and the scientific community.

"During periods of normal science, the primary task of scientists is to bring the accepted theory and fact into closer agreement. As a consequence, scientists tend to ignore research findings that might threaten the existing paradigm and trigger the development of a new and competing paradigm. For example, Ptolemy popularized the notion that the sun revolves around the earth, and this view was defended for centuries even in the face of conflicting evidence. In the pursuit of science, Kuhn observed, "novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation."

And yet, young scientists who are not so deeply indoctrinated into accepted theories - a Newton, Lavoisier, or Einstein - can manage to sweep an old paradigm away. Such scientific revolutions come only after long periods of tradition-bound normal science, for "frameworks must be lived with and explored before they can be broken." However, crisis is always implicit in research because every problem that normal science sees as a puzzle can be seen, from another perspective, as a counterinstance and thus as a source of crisis. This is the "essential tension" in scientific research. "

http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/Kuhnsnap.html

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Kuhn

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Re: Superficiality, Artificial Prestige and the Collapse of ...

The powers that be (including funding entities) are frequently heavily invested in maintaining a specific paradigm. It takes courage and perseverance to actually effect a paradigm shift.

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