Wednesday, February 8, 2017

STEM the Denialism™

Over at my main tech blog,, I have long examined the gamut of issues pertaining to medical science and technology. Here we will look at STEM issues broadly. I originally intended to name this blog "STEM the Idiocracy," but, upon further reflection thought it might be counterproductively inflammatory -- implicitly and imprecisely deriding a vague class of people as "stupid," and/or "ignorant."

For the record (and notwithstanding the painfully hilarious thrust of the comedy movie "Idiocracy"), "idiot" is not a synonym for "stupid." It derives from the ancient Greek "idios," meaning "aware of only oneself." The term "Ignorant" is likewise frequently tossed around as a proxy for "stupid," where in fact it lexically only denotes "unaware of the facts." 

"Denialism," goes less to an assumed class of intellectually lesser people and more to a unjustifiably contrary and instransigent cognitive disposition (that may well afflict otherwise "smart" people) going well beyond the bounds of rational skepticism.

From the Wiki:
In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person's choice to deny reality, as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth. Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, by the person refusing to accept an empirically verifiable reality. In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas. The terms Holocaust denialism and AIDS denialism describe the denial of the facts and the reality of the subject matters, and the term climate change denialist is applied to people who argue against the scientific consensus that the global warming of planet Earth is a real and occurring event primarily caused by human activity. The forms of denialism present the common feature of the person rejecting overwhelming evidence and the generation of political controversy with attempts to deny the existence of consensus. The motivations and causes of denialism include religion and self-interest (economic, political, financial) and defence mechanisms meant to protect the psyche of the denialist against mentally disturbing facts and ideas.
"Science," on the other hand, is properly all about proper skepticism along with transparency and concomitant respect for (and collaboration in support of) the rational, evidence-informed opinions of appropriately learned others, as they critically evaluate and seek to either confirm or disconfirm your assertions of truth.


I'd probably have coined the ungainly, Eastern European-sounding "SMET." The rigorous processes of Science, using the essential tools of applied Mathematics, are then deployed via Engineering, subsequently yielding the myriad Technologies that serve to enhance our lives in countless ways.

Pedantic "order of operations." Nah. STEM it is. It's already cemented into the acronym lexicon anyway.


From the Wiki:
The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The Oxford Dictionaries Online define the scientific method as "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses." Experiments need to be designed to test hypotheses. The most important part of the scientific method is the experiment.

The scientific method is a continuous process, which usually begins with observations about the natural world. Human beings are naturally inquisitive, so they often come up with questions about things they see or hear and often develop ideas (hypotheses) about why things are the way they are. The best hypotheses lead to predictions that can be tested in various ways, including making further observations about nature. In general, the strongest tests of hypotheses come from carefully controlled and replicated experiments that gather empirical data. Depending on how well the tests match the predictions, the original hypothesis may require refinement, alteration, expansion or even rejection. If a particular hypothesis becomes very well supported a general theory may be developed.

Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features are frequently shared in common between them. The overall process of the scientific method involves making conjectures (hypotheses), deriving predictions from them as logical consequences, and then carrying out experiments based on those predictions. A hypothesis is a conjecture, based on knowledge obtained while formulating the question. The hypothesis might be very specific or it might be broad. Scientists then test hypotheses by conducting experiments. Under modern interpretations, a scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable, implying that it is possible to identify a possible outcome of an experiment that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, the hypothesis cannot be meaningfully tested...

Obviously, there are many, many more. But the credible footnote/endnote reference citation bibliographies in just these four minimally go to many hundreds of them.

Add to those Shawn Otto's important book:

These are but a few of the recent titles that inform my thinking in this area of late. But, as I have noted on my KHIT blog, "I am not a scientist."


The choice of the subhead tagline above at the top of this blog was deliberate. Shawn Otto refers to Thomas Jefferson dozens of times in The War on Science. And, the quickest of Google searches turns up a lengthy trove of Jefferson's observations on science.
"Indeed, we need not look back half a century to times which many now living remember well, and see the wonderful advances in the sciences and arts which have been made within that period. Some of these have rendered the elements themselves subservient to the purposes of man, have harnessed them to the yoke of his labors and effected the great blessings of moderating his own, of accomplishing what was beyond his feeble force, and extending the comforts of life to a much enlarged circle, to those who had before known its necessaries only." - Thomas Jefferson, 1879 
As noted by Otto, Jefferson and his fellow Founders, far from being "atheists" (look up "deism"), held that "God's handiwork" was revealed via the processes and findings of science. And, that
"Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error." - Thomas Jefferson, [date unknown]
"The main object of all science is the freedom and happiness of man." - Thomas Jefferson, 1810

Hold those thoughts. Stay tuned. We're about to get to the new Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos...