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Nov 23 2008

Progress Report: Shoot Me Now

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I really shouldn’t have punked off the week of the election. Argh. Ah, well, we’re closing in, and as long as I live off of frozen dinners and energy drinks, we’ll get there.

Have a snippet from ye olde chapter on science:

A SCIENCE PRIMER

There are lots of groups out there now who are attempting to prove that the Bible is scientifically accurate. You may have run across some of them: The Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis are the two that come immediately to my mind. They claim to be doing science, they have people with “Dr.” in front of their names working for them, and they publish “scientific” papers, but what they do isn’t science. That’s why if you cite them as authorites, atheists will scoff.

Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: just because someone’s calling themselves a scientist and using sciency-sounding words doesn’t mean they’re actually doing science. A lot of us get snookered because we don’t really know what science is, we just know we’re supposed to be impressed by it. That’s why companies get away with selling “ionized” water as a super-strong cleaning solution. So this chapter really serves two purposes: it will help you avoid the common misunderstandings between believers and atheists when science comes up, and you’ll be able to debunk late-night infomercials for fun and profit.

Let me give you a crash course in what science is. We’ll start with a definition, and what could be more appropriate for a simple course than to take that definition from ScienceMadeSimple.com:

The word science comes from the Latin “scientia,” meaning knowledge…

Science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge. This system uses observation and experimentation to describe and explain natural phenomena. The term science also refers to the organized body of knowledge people have gained using that system.

That’s how simple science is. Of course, it’s a little more complicated in the execution, but it’s not really hard to grasp the basics.

No, but it’s fucking hard to explain them. Argh argh argh. But I think it’s coming together all right – you’ll be the judges of that when the thing’s complete and you can get your very own draft copy to rip to shreds.

I’m in the no-sleep stage of NaNo. It’s only going to get worse as the week goes on, alas. So if I start to speak in incoherent sentences, please don’t think my brain’s done a Bush – it’s just the sleep deprivation, and things’ll improve once December 1st rolls round.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Woozle

    I’m in awe, Dana. Keep ploughing! Laissez les bon mots roulle!

  2. 2
    Woozle

    P.S. Some thoughts which might help inspire more verbiage on the topic at hand:Science is just a bunch of techniques we’ve worked out, over the millennia, for overcoming bias.Our brains have all kinds of tendencies to prefer certain kinds of explanations — here are just a few of particular relevance:* thinking that there’s someone or something behind a phenomenon (this is called “agency”, “intention”, “purpose”, or “design”)* explanations which fit what we already believe (“confirmation bias”), along with the tendency to dismiss any evidence which does not fit what we already believe (“denial”)* explanations that other people agree with (the “bandwagon effect” or “herd/mob psychology”)* explanations that are simple and easy to understand, rather than explanations which are more complicated but more accurate (call this the “simplicity bias”)* explanations that come from a trusted source, rather than from an unknown sourceScience is a set of techniques whereby we “take ourselves out of the circuit” and let the facts speak for themselves without our interference. It is primarily a tool we use to find the truth when our biases get in the way.Actually, that’s not the whole story. The word “science” is commonly used to refer to four slightly different things:* The scientific method, which is what I’ve been describing* Scientific knowledge is the collection of facts acquired (slowly and painstakingly, and constantly subject to questioning, verification, and refinement) by use of the scientific method.* The scientific community is the collection of all those engaged in scientific activity. The “scientific establishment” refers to the most highly-respected of this community; the vast majority of these individuals have earned that respect by their keen insight and valuable discoveries, not by arbitrary anointment from some central authority.* Technology is increasingly (but not always!) the result of scientific discovery.Anyone who tries to tell you that science is “evil” or “immoral” either doesn’t understand any of this, or is lying to you. Science (def. 1) is a tool for discovering truth; sometimes the truth is unpleasant, but again science (def. 2 and 4) can help us prevent the worst consequences of that truth — and science (def. 3) will often go vastly beyond the call of duty to warn us of dangers we may not have noticed.Nothing else does this. Ignoring science lets you continue to believe things that are wrong, take the wrong actions in order to deal with the problems you do know about, and remain blissfully unaware of the problems you don’t know about until they clobber you.Hope this is helpful. (Anyone want to take bets on how long it takes before we hear some raving religionist essentially repeating that last paragraph but substituting “God” for “science”?)

  3. 3
    Nicole

    Keep writing! We’ll get it!I’ve been a little crazy busy this week, so I’m still stuck at about 20,000 words. Ugh.Wanna finish mine, too?

  4. 4
    Cujo359

    Michael Shermer’s The Borderlands Of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense is a terrific guide to the difference between science and psuedoscience. Might be the wrong time to suggest it as reading material, but it’s a terrific introduction to the subject of what science is and what it isn’t, with examples.

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