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No heroes, ever

Through my drug-induced haze, I’ve been following the rising tide of revulsion at Richard Feynman’s personal behavior. It’s been sad and distressing; he was pretty much an opportunistic cad with women. What’s also been disturbing is the denial by people who should know better — Feynman was completely open about it in his published memoir. Face it, accept it, get over it. If you’re making excuses for him, we’re laughing at you. I was amused at this illustration of the problem:

Being a great physicist does not make you a great human being. Everyone is a mosaic of different properties, and there is no automatic correlation of saintliness in all dimensions. And most importantly, being really good at physics or any other intellectual endeavor is not an excuse for being a reprehensible asshole.

Comments

  1. Trebuchet says

    Why the drug-induced haze? Something medical, I assume.

    One minor nit-pick: “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman” is not exactly Feynman’s memoir, but a collection of recordings edited by someone else. He was still living, so I assume he approved, but it’s not quite that he wrote it all himself.

  2. says

    I’m not convinced Asimov was much better, and he says as much in his autobiography (I know several women who felt uncomfortable with Asimov’s “friendliness” at conventions)

  3. microraptor says

    Reading about Feynman talking about working on the Atomic Bomb or stealing the door at his frat house was funny.

    Reading about the way he treated women was not so funny. He did some cool stuff but I really don’t think he was the kind of person that I’d have wanted to actually have associated with.

  4. says

    “Rising” tide? Weren’t the problems already obvious from his book? Was there a more recent development I’m not aware of?

  5. says

    @5, there was a post at Scientific American that came across to an awful lot of people as hitting a bunch of the squares that ended up on that bingo card. Click on the link under the bingo card and you’ll see a couple of the posts written in response to that one.

  6. Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy says

    Also, the ability to tell amusing stories about past adventures doesn’t mean those adventures were themselves admirable, entirely or even in part.

  7. says

    I don’t recall a time in my life when I knew who Feynman was but I didn’t know he was a womanizer. I suspect miller is in the same boat. Is it that it is only now generating revulsion?

    I want to defend a bingo square, and in the process almost certainly reveal a poor understanding of the context. Picking up women isn’t sexist, in the broad definition I associate with the metaphorical sense of the term, though the phrasing isn’t great. Doing it in certain ways, or under certain circumstances, is, and I can readily believe he was going about it in a sexist way. Or is the point of the square that people are saying exactly that, and eliding that context?

  8. Rock Doc says

    I work as a female academic, and I am still somewhat confused by people saying “a guy trying to pick me up is sexist”. I don’t see it that way. If a guy tries to pick me up at work (student, colleague, whatever…), that’s fine. I don’t have an issue with guys asking me out – even at work. As long as the matter is dropped when I say no. I appreciate that there are cases where the guys don’t let it go (and I’ve been a victim of this), and they make your life a nightmare, but in principle…

    Maybe it’s just me?

  9. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Hershele:

    Yep. I think the point is the elision.

    Some people think that an adequate/effective response to critiques of Feynmann’s behavior is to say that “Picking up women isn’t sexist”.

  10. doublereed says

    To be fair, we’re only going to talk about someone’s sex life if there’s something wrong with it. There’s (probably) plenty of examples of role models having admirable personal lives, but why would we talk about that?

  11. Suido says

    @Rock Doc #10:

    I am still somewhat confused by people saying “a guy trying to pick me up is sexist”.

    Do people actually say that? I haven’t seen that argued anywhere. Could you point to an example?

    I have seen people argue that patterns of behaviour, including attempts to pick up women, can be sexist. I have seen people argue that context is important when judging whether such an action is sexist. I haven’t seen anyone say that men attempting to pick up women is automatically sexist under all circumstances.

    As per comments 9, 11 and 13, if you were responding to that particular square, it doesn’t imply the opposite is true, only that it’s a shit excuse for Feynman’s actions.

  12. Alverant says

    Can we take the good while acknowledging the bad? What’s wrong with having people you admire provided you are honest about their flaws and avoid emulating their bad behavior?

  13. says

    Hm. Heroes in the sense of perfect people, no. Heroes in the sense of extremely admirable people, yes. Some of the people I’ve admired are male scientists. Kropotkin, for example, or (after reading Brave Genius) Jacques Monod.* They weren’t perfect (Kropotkin was, though, perfectly amazing – great human being, scientist, science communicator, advocate of humanistic and radically democratic science,…), nor do I agree with them about everything, but they were admirable people.

    The problem in this community, it seems to me, isn’t the fact of community admiration but its objects** and the reasons for the selection of objects. (We should be as fair to people of the past as we want people of the future – speaking optimistically – to be to us.)

    *I did have a problem with the contrast made in the book between bad Soviet and allegedly unimpeachable “Western” science, especially as it’s presented as “Russian claims that ‘Western’ science contributed to Nazism were ridiculous,” at the same time as Carroll describes Monod’s attendance at a postwar Cold Spring Harbor event – like Cold Spring Harbor wasn’t a center of eugenics. (I don’t mean to suggest that Stalinist science wasn’t bad, of course, or that all US or Western European science was. Or that this was necessarily Monod’s perspective – might just be Carroll’s.)

    **both the types of individuals and the individuals themselves

  14. Suido says

    @Alverant #18:

    That’s the point of PZ’s title. Hero worship doesn’t do that. Hero worship prefers to gloss over or ignore the bad, and should be anathema to critical thinkers.

    Also, it depends on the bad. Should anyone admire Jimmy Saville for his philanthropy, given that he used it to gain access to vulnerable girls and women?

  15. Suido says

    That should be “vulnerable children and women”. Police reports indicated he abused boys as well as girls.

  16. says

    Hi Rock Doc

    “Pick up” has always had sexist connotations. It is not the same as “ask you on a date” or even “try to hook up with you”. “Picking up women” is something done to or at women, not with them as equals.

    Maybe people don’t know this any more, I don’t know. But I have never heard the phrase used, ever, without an implied power dynamic and something from a particular set of attitudes about the target gender. In the far less common cases where women were (self-) described as “picking up” men (or boys), it was always done with a certain intent and a power differential (and yes, accounting for the default privilege differentials).

    Maybe some people or groups don’t use the term “pick up” with this baggage, but it’s very verbal construction leans rather heavily against this. Whatever, my attempt at description here should at least hint toward what the complaint about “picking up women” is. I’m sure someone else can offer a far better post than I if you still have questions. But they (we) don’t mean that this is the same thing as asking someone for a date or sex in general.

    Whether or not you agree, I hope this helps to describe the position of those who have a problem with “picking up”.

  17. Rock Doc says

    #22 F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    That perhaps explains it. I equate “picking up” with “hooking up”. I have never differentiated in that regard.

  18. says

    Feynman’s life and his record of his life are what they are; he’s a wonderful, brilliant flawed human being. Holding him up as an example of greatness in gender relationships is maybe not such a great idea, in calculating, perhaps not so bad (though even his calculating was idiosyncratic)

    I loved Feynman for the transparent joy with which he told stories. That was enough.

  19. says

    “Everyone is a mosaic of different properties, and there is no automatic correlation of saintliness in all dimensions.”

    Shouldn’t that be one of the bingo squares?

  20. says

    I was aware of Feynmann’s extreme creepiness before the recent set of articles.
    _
    What I was not aware of was the document release by the FBI from a couple of years ago, of 356 pages of documentation it had compiled on Feynmann from the 1940s through the 1950s, associated with various background checks and Cold-War communist-witch-hunting. Included in there was a note from 1958 reporting on Feynmann’s divorce from Mary Louise Bell two years before:

    His ex-wife reportedly testified that on several occasions when she unwittingly disturbed either his [doing] calculus or his [playing] drums he flew into a violent rage, during which time he choked her, threw pieces of bric-a-brac about and smashed the furniture.

    (emphasis added)

    So. Yeah. That would be criminal by current laws.

    Ref. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/47829034/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/fbi-files-famous-physicist-released/

  21. Callinectes says

    Where do we put our moral event horizon? The one where on one side we can say that we reject these qualities as reprehensible but we can still cautiously accept the person for their redeeming qualities even if we still don’t like them, and on the other side where they have done things so bad that nothing no matter how wonderful can make up for it and we cast them into the metaphorical pit? We all know of people we’d put on both sides, but where exactly does the line run?

  22. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Where do we put our moral event horizon?

    We’ll figure that out once we dissipate the putative Greatness Event Horizons.

    Nice strawman.

    I’m sure someone else can offer a far better post than I if you still have questions.

    Oh, get bent. ;/

    (Seriously, you said everything ELSE I was about to. >.>)

  23. PaulBC says

    I always found it telling that when discussing scientific integrity (in Cargo Cult Science), Feynman adds the caveat:

    I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being.

    He was a brilliant physicist and had a great curiosity as well as scientific integrity. That doesn’t make him an exemplary human being in other ways. To be honest, I think he probably was a typical man of his time, like it says on the Bingo card. That doesn’t excuse him or turn him into a role model.

    His anecdotes are amusing, and his explanations in QED are thought provoking (which doesn’t mean I really understood it afterwards). I agree that there is no excuse for hero worship.

  24. Suido says

    @F [i'm not here, i'm gone] #22.

    Interesting. The only difference I thought of between ‘picking up’ and ‘hooking up’ was that ‘picking up’ is about the first time, whereas ‘hooking up’ can be applied to first and any subsequent times. Other than that, I thought of the two terms as interchangeable.

    However, now when thinking of how PUAs and dudebros use the term, it’s clear that ‘picking up’ is a form of objectification. Contrasting to ‘hooking up’ – which is always ‘with’ – the difference is clear. Thanks.

  25. says

    Where do we put our moral event horizon?

    Is there a term for the fallacy/bullshitter technique that argues that because things are gradient rather than binary it is impossible to make a judgement call within any degree of accuracy?

    the claim that because there is an area in a spectrum that could be considered as equally gray as it is off white that more contrasting shade comparisons are invalid?

  26. says

    I’m sure it’s related to the inability to judge someone based on several metrics rather than confusing “Worthy, Decent, Talented, Useful, etc” as equivalent.

  27. Nick Gotts says

    Is there a term for the fallacy/bullshitter technique that argues that because things are gradient rather than binary it is impossible to make a judgement call within any degree of accuracy? – Ing@36

    Not that I know of, but it does give me a chance to trot out one of my favourite quotations, (despite the source – Edmund Burke, a political conservative – and the sexist idiom at the start):

    Though no man can draw a stroke between the confines of day and night, yet light and darkness are upon the whole tolerably distinguishable.

    I notice we’ve seen this bullshitter technique deployed in the “Class War” thread.

  28. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Though no man can draw a stroke between the confines of day and night

    Ironic, given how much metaphorical “stroking” this pseudo-confusion inspires.

  29. Gerard O says

    This would never have happened if technicians rather than theoreticians had been given ‘rock star’ status. Perhaps the closest thing to a scientific hero to me is colliding-beam pioneer Gerard O’Neill (who also gives his name to my Gmail account). Not only did he overcome the technical obstacles to make colliding beams a reality, he realized that he could use his genius to provide a practical solution to humanity’s environmental problems in the form of space habitats.

  30. ck says

    Ing wrote:

    Is there a term for the fallacy/bullshitter technique that argues that because things are gradient rather than binary it is impossible to make a judgement call within any degree of accuracy?

    I’m not sure there is, but it does usually seem related to the slippery slope arguments. “If you accept A, then you must by extension accept B, and since you accepted B, then you must accept C, and since you accepted C then you must also accept that murder is perfectly acceptable, you monster!”

  31. Moggie says

    PaulBC:

    That doesn’t excuse him or turn him into a role model.

    “Role model” implies a role. Every one of us (some more than others) has multiple roles, which may demand different qualities. I have no trouble regarding him as a model for some roles and deplorable for others.

  32. Nick Gotts says

    a practical solution to humanity’s environmental problems in the form of space habitats.

    Er, no. I remember reading O’Neill’s book on this, The High Frontier soon after it came out in 1976, and being quite convinced. That was in the early days of the space shuttle programme (before any shuttles had actually flown), and thus before they were shown to be extremely difficult to maintain and indeed, liable to catastrophic failure. O’Neill needed much more ambitious reusable launchers, capable of lifting much heavier loads and a rapid turnaround, to get even the initial stage of his dreams off the ground. Even if that had been possible within the time needed to find “a solution to humanity’s environmental problems” (in case you haven’t noticed, this is urgently required), there’s no possible way even one of his space habitats could have been built within a century, let alone enough to significantly reduce the pressure on terrestrial resources. I’m quite favourable to the ideas of asteroid or lunar mining for key resources, and of satellite solar power, but neither is going to solve the key environmental problems, and if either ever happens, it will be done by robots.

  33. Callinectes says

    This has happened a few times on this site now, when I ask a question and people seem to think I’m making some kind of sly, Socratic defense of awful behaviour. I’m really am just asking a question in the hope of an elucidating answer. I understand that folk here encounter people with rather atrocious views on a regular basis right here in these threads, but when someone jumps ahead to attack the point they think I’m making it’s usually the first time I’ve heard the argument being attributed to me. I’m not one of those guys. I’m certainly trying not to be. I’m on board with FTB’s social values and I usually don’t say anything at all, since learning about other people’s experiences is better served by listening quietly than by speaking up.

  34. says

    You know, after the Marion Zimmer Bradley revalations a few weeks ago, I just don’t care about Feynman’s sins this month. Yeah, he was a sexist, and brute of a man that I am, I’d still want to hang out with him if he was around to hang out with. If I was hanging out with him and he was being a gendered procreative organ to someone based on their gender I hope I’d have the courage to tell him that wasn’t cool, but who knows? Maybe I’d just avoid hanging out with him in situations where he could demonstrate his sexism.

  35. Gerard O says

    In reply to Nick Gotts, there are only two reasonable options at this time:

    1) Dramatically reduce our population and change our lifestyles considerably, or

    2) Start moving off the planet into orbiting colonies

    Number 1 would be the easiest solution, but changing the attitudes and behaviour of most people seems harder than herding cats. Even if O’Neill’s vision is never realized in full there should be serious attempts made to get some sort of space colony up and running.

  36. cubist says

    sez callinectes: “This has happened a few times on this site now, when I ask a question and people seem to think I’m making some kind of sly, Socratic defense of awful behaviour.”
    Since this has “happened a few times on this site now” (emphasis added), and it seems to have yielded pretty much the same sort of response each time—a response you neither appreciate nor intend—perhaps you might consider a different approach than the one which has repeatedly yielded unfortunate responses?

    “I’m really am just asking a question in the hope of an elucidating answer. I understand that folk here encounter people with rather atrocious views on a regular basis right here in these threads…”
    Yes. And those “people with atrocious views” frequently exhibit their atrocious views in the Socratic format known as “JAQing off” (“JAQ” = “Just Asking Questions). This being the case, it is hardly surprising that some folks’ ‘SLYMEdar’ is rather sensitive, perhaps with the undesired consequence of false positives, i.e. the possibility that some people who genuinely do ask slyme-y questions out of a sincere desire for information are inaccurately regarded as Slymepit denizens.
    All of which said and acknowledged, however… it really is disspiriting to realize how often seemingly oversensitive SLYMEdar is, in fact, right on the money. So it’s far from clear how sensitive SLYMEdar has to get before it false positives are actually a problem.

  37. Nick Gotts says

    Gerard O@47,

    How many people do you think could be moved off the planet within the time-frame of a few decades – which is the time we have, at most, to avoid catastrophic climate change? What would this require in terms of resources? Who is going to fund it?

    Really, it’s arrant, irresponsible nonsense to propose this as any sort of solution at all to the real and very serious problems we face. If we could marshal the organization, labour and material resources necessary to move even a few hundred people into some kind of proto-colony within the next 50 years, we could use the same assets to solve those real problems.

    Changing attitudes is hard, but it is by no means impossible. Look at the vast change in the attitudes to lesbian, gay and bisexual people* over the past few decades in many countries. In the UK in the same period, there have been similarly huge changes in the attitude to drink driving, use of seatbelts, and smoking. Population growth has slowed considerably in the last 50 years (the proportional rate of growth has approximately halved and is still falling in almost all countries), and we know how to encourage this to continue. Many of the technologies for a sustainable and comfortable lifestyle for a population of ten billion (the likely peak) already exist: the obstacles to deploying them are political. To propose a pipedream like orbital colonies as an alternative is so ridiculous it’s hard to believe you’re serious – frankly, I think you really, really want those colonies to exist (a wish I understand, because I once shared it and still think it would be cool), and fool yourself into believing they are a solution to real problems.

    *I haven’t used “LGBTQ” here because I don’t think such a change has occurred yet in the last two cases the acronym refers to.

  38. Lofty says

    Gerard O

    Number 1 would be the easiest solution,

    Number two is sooo unlikely as to be effectively impossible. How do you elevate/supply a few billion people in orbit without frying the planet with rocket exhaust? Got any magic solutions up your sleeve?

  39. Maureen Brian says

    Gerard O,

    The other and more likely outcome of O’Neill’s vision is that, having wasted enormous resources on it, we end up a couple of centuries later with 200 of our best scientists marooned on Mars and watching in horror as civilisation on Earth goes over any number of entirely predictable tipping points into oblivion.

    There is no reason to believe that with our tendency to look for magic answers rather than the hard graft of change we’d make any better job of running another planet or space station than we have of this one. It’s the lack of intestinal fortitude in the necessary arguments which needs to change, not the technology.

    In your nearer future, though, I foresee a giant prat-fall coming your way. To avoid at least some of the bruises you would be well advised to look up Nick Gotts in the literature.

  40. badgersdaughter says

    Classical music students have always had this question in front of them as they struggle with, for example, the music of Wagner (whether it is argued, mistakenly, that Wagner himself was a Nazi, or, less mistakenly, that he had socialist ideas, or whether the problem is simply with the stigma of the popularity of his music among Nazi officials). From time to time accusations are made that classical music is racist, sexist, elitist, politically unsavory for one reason or another, and so forth. It all just seems terribly familiar to people in the music business.

  41. Bernard Bumner says

    Orbital colonies make for nice Sci-Fi imagery, but would solve nothing at a cost of massive resource investment.

    I work in next-generation chemical manufacturing. People need to understand that the barriers to uptake of drop – in replacement technologies are often political, and that even adoption of those technologies often only displaces the resource burden from one limited resource to another, for example fossil fuels with a burden on precious metal resources or food crops (hydrogen and biofuels).

    Moving beyond 1st/2nd generation replacements takes you into the realms of exciting technologies such as C1 gases to bio-derived alternative feedstocks/intermediates/chemical products. These have the potential for carbon and waste neutral manufacturing, but our ability to develop and translate those routes into processes is limited by funding/political will/self – interest of conventional manufacturers and end – users.

    Nick’s assessment of technology readiness may be fairly optimistic (certainly compared to many with, for instance, the chemical manufacturing industry). Given the current state of global commerce and politics – which he identifies rightly as a major barrier – a lot of people are going to die unnecesarily for lack of access to even current technologies. I think that a lot of people will die even in the most optimistic scenario.

    India, for example, would need to transition from a state where most people have almost no meaningful access to technology or resources.

  42. says

    I never met Feynman. (Neither did his biographer James Gleick. Krauss did, briefly.) While we should not excuse bad behaviour, even if it was par for the course at the time, neither should we make something out to be bad behaviour when it is not, otherwise we end up looking like Andrea Dworkin claiming that all consensual sex is really rape in disguise.

    “What startled me the most was the fact that when he was a young, boyish looking professor at Cornell, Feynman used to pretend to be a student so he could ask undergraduate women out.”

    The way I remember the story, a while after his first wife died (it’s not clear whether the marriage was ever consummated), of TB, he wanted to meet some girls, so he went to a dance at Cornell. In order that he couldn’t be accused of taking advantage of his position, he was coy about his status. “Are you a freshman” the girls asked. “Well, no”. “A sophomore?” “No”. And so on. Then they try to be sympathetic “Hey, don’t worry about being a bit older; a lot of guys started college late because they were in the war”, thinking that he was an old student who was ashamed of not having finished on time. Then he decides that honesty is the best policy and tells them that he is a professor, at which point he gets slapped, probably because they thought he was lying.

    Another time, looking for a place to stay, he tried to get a room through the service which organized rooms for students. I don’t see this as “pretending”, as he didn’t lie, more “I’m a professor, but I’m still just an ordinary guy, so why not live with the students, eat with the students etc”. He didn’t pull rank and try to use his position to get better treatment. Nevertheless, someone noticed, and word got around that a professor was interested in student accommodation. Later, when again looking for accommodation, a guy said to Feynman “Listen, buddy, things are tight around here. Let me tell you how tight they are. Recently, even a professor tried to rent a dormitory room!” At this point, Feynman said “Hey, I was that professor, and I still don’t have a room!”

    I’ve read most of the Feynman books. I remember him as a guy who enjoyed women, but not as sexist in any sensible definition of the term. Sure, if he’s looking for someone for sex, as a heterosexual male he would be looking for women, not men. If that’s sexist, OK. Most people would understand “sexist” to mean some sort of discrimination against women, such as hiring a man as opposed to a better qualified woman. Is there any evidence Feynman did something like this? Yes, he enjoyed women as much as Mick Jagger or Gene Simmons (or I, for that matter), but what is “sexist” in that? It seems some people have the impression that just because he enjoyed women he was sexist.

  43. says

    I never met Feynman. (Neither did his biographer James Gleick. Krauss did, briefly.) While we should not excuse bad behaviour, even if it was par for the course at the time, neither should we make something out to be bad behaviour when it is not, otherwise we end up looking like Andrea Dworkin claiming that all consensual sex is really rape in disguise.

    “What startled me the most was the fact that when he was a young, boyish looking professor at Cornell, Feynman used to pretend to be a student so he could ask undergraduate women out.”

    The way I remember the story, a while after his first wife died (it’s not clear whether the marriage was ever consummated), of TB, he wanted to meet some girls, so he went to a dance at Cornell. In order that he couldn’t be accused of taking advantage of his position, he was coy about his status. “Are you a freshman” the girls asked. “Well, no”. “A sophomore?” “No”. And so on. Then they try to be sympathetic “Hey, don’t worry about being a bit older; a lot of guys started college late because they were in the war”, thinking that he was an old student who was ashamed of not having finished on time. Then he decides that honesty is the best policy and tells them that he is a professor, at which point he gets slapped, probably because they thought he was lying.

    Another time, looking for a place to stay, he tried to get a room through the service which organized rooms for students. I don’t see this as “pretending”, as he didn’t lie, more “I’m a professor, but I’m still just an ordinary guy, so why not live with the students, eat with the students etc”. He didn’t pull rank and try to use his position to get better treatment. Nevertheless, someone noticed, and word got around that a professor was interested in student accommodation. Later, when again looking for accommodation, a guy said to Feynman “Listen, buddy, things are tight around here. Let me tell you how tight they are. Recently, even a professor tried to rent a dormitory room!” At this point, Feynman said “Hey, I was that professor, and I still don’t have a room!”

    I’ve read most of the Feynman books. I remember him as a guy who enjoyed women, but not as sexist in any sensible definition of the term. Sure, if he’s looking for someone for sex, as a heterosexual male he would be looking for women, not men. If that’s sexist, OK. Most people would understand “sexist” to mean some sort of discrimination against women, such as hiring a man as opposed to a better qualified woman. Is there any evidence Feynman did something like this? Yes, he enjoyed women as much as Mick Jagger or Gene Simmons (or I, for that matter), but what is “sexist” in that? It seems some people have the impression that just because he enjoyed women he was sexist.

  44. says

    I never met Feynman. (Neither did his biographer James Gleick. Krauss did, briefly.) While we should not excuse bad behaviour, even if it was par for the course at the time, neither should we make something out to be bad behaviour when it is not, otherwise we end up looking like Andrea Dworkin claiming that all consensual sex is really rape in disguise.

    “What startled me the most was the fact that when he was a young, boyish looking professor at Cornell, Feynman used to pretend to be a student so he could ask undergraduate women out.”

    The way I remember the story, a while after his first wife died (it’s not clear whether the marriage was ever consummated), of TB, he wanted to meet some girls, so he went to a dance at Cornell. In order that he couldn’t be accused of taking advantage of his position, he was coy about his status. “Are you a freshman” the girls asked. “Well, no”. “A sophomore?” “No”. And so on. Then they try to be sympathetic “Hey, don’t worry about being a bit older; a lot of guys started college late because they were in the war”, thinking that he was an old student who was ashamed of not having finished on time. Then he decides that honesty is the best policy and tells them that he is a professor, at which point he gets slapped, probably because they thought he was lying.

    Another time, looking for a place to stay, he tried to get a room through the service which organized rooms for students. I don’t see this as “pretending”, as he didn’t lie, more “I’m a professor, but I’m still just an ordinary guy, so why not live with the students, eat with the students etc”. He didn’t pull rank and try to use his position to get better treatment. Nevertheless, someone noticed, and word got around that a professor was interested in student accommodation. Later, when again looking for accommodation, a guy said to Feynman “Listen, buddy, things are tight around here. Let me tell you how tight they are. Recently, even a professor tried to rent a dormitory room!” At this point, Feynman said “Hey, I was that professor, and I still don’t have a room!”

    I’ve read most of the Feynman books. I remember him as a guy who enjoyed women, but not as sexist in any sensible definition of the term. Sure, if he’s looking for someone for sex, as a heterosexual male he would be looking for women, not men. If that’s sexist, OK. Most people would understand “sexist” to mean some sort of discrimination against women, such as hiring a man as opposed to a better qualified woman. Is there any evidence Feynman did something like this? Yes, he enjoyed women as much as Mick Jagger or Gene Simmons (or I, for that matter), but what is “sexist” in that? It seems some people have the impression that just because he enjoyed women he was sexist.

    There is a bug in WordPress; apologies is this appears more than once.

  45. donaldmartin says

    I have long had the theory that the brighter a person is, the less well socialized he or she is likely to be. Bright is different, and your childhood society values sameness. Rejected, different people do other things, like studying rather than dating, becoming even more different. Feynman’s behavior is sad, but not surprising.

  46. Gerard O says

    The bombastic comment left by Maureen Brian at #51 reveals her ignorance on this subject. O’Neill himself was extremely careful with both his physics research and his space colonization ideas, limiting designs to known technologies and the most conservative estimates.
    It’s also worth noting that part of the motivation for these colonies was cheap energy for Earth-based people, using solar energy relayed down from above. It was never the intention to move everyone off the planet.
    Also, given that this has little to do with Richard Feynman I might leave this debate for another venue.

  47. says

    I never met Feynman. (Neither did his biographer James Gleick. Krauss did, briefly.) While we should not excuse bad behaviour, even if it was par for the course at the time, neither should we make something out to be bad behaviour when it is not, otherwise we end up looking like Andrea Dworkin claiming that all consensual sex is really rape in disguise.

    “What startled me the most was the fact that when he was a young, boyish looking professor at Cornell, Feynman used to pretend to be a student so he could ask undergraduate women out.”

    The way I remember the story, a while after his first wife died (it’s not clear whether the marriage was ever consummated), of TB, he wanted to meet some girls, so he went to a dance at Cornell. In order that he couldn’t be accused of taking advantage of his position, he was coy about his status. “Are you a freshman” the girls asked. “Well, no”. “A sophomore?” “No”. And so on. Then they try to be sympathetic “Hey, don’t worry about being a bit older; a lot of guys started college late because they were in the war”, thinking that he was an old student who was ashamed of not having finished on time. Then he decides that honesty is the best policy and tells them that he is a professor, at which point he gets slapped, probably because they thought he was lying.

    Another time, looking for a place to stay, he tried to get a room through the service which organized rooms for students. I don’t see this as “pretending”, as he didn’t lie, more “I’m a professor, but I’m still just an ordinary guy, so why not live with the students, eat with the students etc”. He didn’t pull rank and try to use his position to get better treatment. Nevertheless, someone noticed, and word got around that a professor was interested in student accommodation. Later, when again looking for accommodation, a guy said to Feynman “Listen, buddy, things are tight around here. Let me tell you how tight they are. Recently, even a professor tried to rent a dormitory room!” At this point, Feynman said “Hey, I was that professor, and I still don’t have a room!”

    I’ve read most of the Feynman books. I remember him as a guy who enjoyed women, but not as sexist in any sensible definition of the term. Sure, if he’s looking for someone for sex, as a heterosexual male he would be looking for women, not men. If that’s sexist, OK. Most people would understand “sexist” to mean some sort of discrimination against women, such as hiring a man as opposed to a better qualified woman. Is there any evidence Feynman did something like this? Yes, he enjoyed women as much as Mick Jagger or Gene Simmons (or I, for that matter), but what is “sexist” in that? It seems some people have the impression that just because he enjoyed women he was sexist.

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  48. says

    I never met Feynman. (Neither did his biographer James Gleick. Krauss did, briefly.) While we should not excuse bad behaviour, even if it was par for the course at the time, neither should we make something out to be bad behaviour when it is not, otherwise we end up looking like Andrea Dworkin claiming that all consensual sex is really rape in disguise.

    “What startled me the most was the fact that when he was a young, boyish looking professor at Cornell, Feynman used to pretend to be a student so he could ask undergraduate women out.”

    The way I remember the story, a while after his first wife died (it’s not clear whether the marriage was ever consummated), of TB, he wanted to meet some girls, so he went to a dance at Cornell. In order that he couldn’t be accused of taking advantage of his position, he was coy about his status. “Are you a freshman” the girls asked. “Well, no”. “A sophomore?” “No”. And so on. Then they try to be sympathetic “Hey, don’t worry about being a bit older; a lot of guys started college late because they were in the war”, thinking that he was an old student who was ashamed of not having finished on time. Then he decides that honesty is the best policy and tells them that he is a professor, at which point he gets slapped, probably because they thought he was lying.

    Another time, looking for a place to stay, he tried to get a room through the service which organized rooms for students. I don’t see this as “pretending”, as he didn’t lie, more “I’m a professor, but I’m still just an ordinary guy, so why not live with the students, eat with the students etc”. He didn’t pull rank and try to use his position to get better treatment. Nevertheless, someone noticed, and word got around that a professor was interested in student accommodation. Later, when again looking for accommodation, a guy said to Feynman “Listen, buddy, things are tight around here. Let me tell you how tight they are. Recently, even a professor tried to rent a dormitory room!” At this point, Feynman said “Hey, I was that professor, and I still don’t have a room!”

    I’ve read most of the Feynman books. I remember him as a guy who enjoyed women, but not as sexist in any sensible definition of the term. Sure, if he’s looking for someone for sex, as a heterosexual male he would be looking for women, not men. If that’s sexist, OK. Most people would understand “sexist” to mean some sort of discrimination against women, such as hiring a man as opposed to a better qualified woman. Is there any evidence Feynman did something like this? Yes, he enjoyed women as much as Mick Jagger or Gene Simmons (or I, for that matter), but what is “sexist” in that? It seems some people have the impression that just because he enjoyed women he was sexist.

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  49. Maureen Brian says

    No matter how brilliant O’Neill may have been at physics or any number of technologies, he clearly had no grasp of either psychology or of politics. Nor did he have access to the breadth of understanding which would make him a good futurologist. He was a brilliant physicist at the expense of that breadth, which is not a rare occurrence.

    No-one is blaming him for having limited knowledge. We all have limited knowledge. Limited knowledge only becomes a problem when people delay progress by claiming that only a narrow specialism counts and will, of course, save the world. That is magic thinking and look where that has got us to date!

    Have you looked up Nick yet?

  50. Gerard O says

    Yes I have looked up Nick.
    There’s no magical thinking in O’Neill’s work, and no-one familiar with his work would describe it that way, even if they disagreed with the concept.

  51. Athywren says

    Given some of the people who have turned up on my list of heroes… Saville and Harris in childhood; The Amazing Atheist and Thunderf00t in early atheism (I am not making comparrisons between those two pairs, only listing poor hero choices); a number of non-famous people in my late teens and early twenties who make equally poor role models… yeah, no heroes seems like the healthier option.

  52. David Wilford says

    I suppose one could also play Martin Luther King bingo based on the records the FBI kept of his womanizing, but that wouldn’t be quite so much fun I suppose. Anyway, all my heroes have feet of clay as far as I’m concerned, but I still do have heroes. That’s because I define a hero based on acts that are heroic, and not on their moral perfection. Even Gandhi wasn’t a perfect human being and never claimed to be one, but was he a hero? You bet. Richard Feynman was far from a perfect human being but he did have a few moments of genius and he does deserve recognition for that. Feynman’s turn on the committee that investigated the Challenger disaster was indeed commendable, period.

  53. says

    Gerard O:

    There’s no magical thinking in O’Neill’s work, and no-one familiar with his work would describe it that way, even if they disagreed with the concept.

    What people are saying is that it *is* magical thinking to believe space colonization is a reasonable option.

  54. colnago80 says

    Feynman was not alone in being a womanizer. Einstein was reputed to be something of a womanizer also.

    It should also be recalled that Isaac Newton was, in many ways, less then an admirable human being. He feuded with many of his contemporaries, including the Bernoullis, Christian Huygens, Hooke, and Gottfried von Liebnitz, the latter over who invented calculus. He also, during his sojourn as Director of the Mint, was zealous in pursuit of counterfeiters and strongly favored capital punishment for them.

  55. says

    I’m gonna be insanely depressed if David Attenborough turns out to be an abusive asshole. He’s the closest thing to a hero I’ve got left.

  56. says

    See an article on Wagner by Deems Taylor which indicates that he was an abominable human being. Antisemitism was only part of his shtick.

    Interesting read; thanks for the link.
    Now I am not surprised that he and Neitszche eventually couldn’t stand eachother’s company. An opera house wouldn’t be big enough for the two of them.

  57. loreo says

    I stopped reading Surely You’re Joking… when I realized he talked about women the way he talked about the radios of his youth: “Hey, look at this trick I figured out!”

  58. loreo says

    “Feynman was not alone in being a womanizer. Einstein was reputed to be something of a womanizer also.”

    And look at the institutional barriers women in science have faced and continue to face today. Science is a collaborative enterprise, we need everybody.

  59. says

    What people are saying is that it *is* magical thinking to believe space colonization is a reasonable option.

    Something which was touched on recently, in this thread, for those who missed it.

  60. opposablethumbs says

    “Feynman was not alone in being a womanizer. Einstein was reputed to be something of a womanizer also.”

    O3.

    It’s square O3. Right there in the OP. Which is mildly amusing.
    (For all I know, Einstein could have been a total douche in his personal life. I have no idea. Newton certainly was. But with regard to Feynman … so what?)

  61. says

    @Ing #35

    Is there a term for the fallacy/bullshitter technique that argues that because things are gradient rather than binary it is impossible to make a judgement call within any degree of accuracy?

    I think it is mostly the case of nirvana fallacy.

  62. colnago80 says

    Re opposablethumbs @ #69

    Einstein’s son, Hans Albert Einstein was a professor of electrical engineering at UC Berkeley when I was an undergraduate there and I was told by some of the professors in the physics department that he have very little good to say about his father.

  63. colnago80 says

    Re Marcus Ranum @ #64

    I hate to break it to you but even ole Dave seems to be less then a perfect human being. On the other had, he is 87 years old and maybe is starting to get a little dingy.

    http://goo.gl/JR77Ff

  64. Christopher says

    I thought the Hero archetype implied personal flaws not perfection.

    From Beowulf to Achilles, heroes are people that do great things, but also have some super douchy personality fails. Many of the hero myths even have the hero in question being taken down by their own flaws in spite of their great accomplishments. And these are fictional characters; I don’t know why anyone would expect perfection out of any non-fictional human being, even someone who is very accomplished in some aspect of their life.

    If anything, Feynman’s misogyny makes him fit the hero archetype better than if he lived the life of an enlightened monk.

  65. Athywren says

    @Christopher, 73

    I thought the Hero archetype implied personal flaws not perfection.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that turned out to be intentional. After all, surely the ancient greeks engaged in hero worship just as much as we do today? It seems to me that a good storyteller who recognised that heroes inevitably let us down would make a point of expressing that to his audience.

  66. neverjaunty says

    It’s square O3. Right there in the OP. Which is mildly amusing.

    And square N1, too!

    Christopher @73: If you’re going to try to stuff Feynman into some kind of pseudo-Campbellian leitmotif, then you must happily embrace PZ’s point, because being laid low and punished for douchey behavior is indeed part of that story-cycle.

    Rock Doc @10: What you’re missing is that this kind of constant macking from co-workers often results from the attitude that’s what you’re primarily for (unlike your male colleagues, who are presumed to be there to do science and their jobs). So the issue is not that “Hi, um, would you like to get coffee sometime?” is inherently sexist; it’s a question of the context where those invitations occur, and there’s a pretty ugly history of that context being “Yay, Bart finally hired a lab assistant with a nice rack”, and women being ignored and minimized if they are great with the science but not so great with rocking a pair of high heels. Also, that we still live in a culture with a double standard, where a woman who has sex with colleagues is devalued where a man wouldn’t be. This certainly may not all be the case where you work, but that’s the reason people raise their eyebrows about it.

  67. Christopher says

    If you’re going to try to stuff Feynman into some kind of pseudo-Campbellian leitmotif, then you must happily embrace PZ’s point, because being laid low and punished for douchey behavior is indeed part of that story-cycle.

    And I’m fine with that.

    The hero motif teaches us to admire their accomplishments, strive to emulate their successes, and acknowledge their failures. Hero worship is and always has been silly, but having heroes isn’t. We need more heroes in this world, personality flaws and all.

    Maybe if this blog post was titled ‘No hero worship, ever’ instead of ‘No heroes, ever’ it would be less problematic for me.

  68. says

    I thought the Hero archetype implied personal flaws not perfection.

    In Mythology class we were taught that the original meaning did not imply any great virtue necessarily and was more akin to “Cultural Mascot”

    There were of course classical heroes that did embody cultural virtues but it wasn’t a requirement for the title, just doing great deeds.

  69. Pierce R. Butler says

    Please, nobody disillusion me about Jessica Ahlquist and Malala Yousufzai!

  70. says

    colnago80:

    Einstein’s son, Hans Albert Einstein was a professor of electrical engineering at UC Berkeley when I was an undergraduate there and I was told by some of the professors in the physics department that he have very little good to say about his father.

    You’re missing the point opposablethumbs was making. This thread is not about Einstein. What he did or didn’t do, whether he was a womanizer or not, has no relevance to this discussion which is

    [...] the rising tide of revulsion at Richard Feynman’s personal behavior.

    Bringing up Einstein only serves as a distraction.

  71. microraptor says

    You know, after the Marion Zimmer Bradley revalations a few weeks ago, I just don’t care about Feynman’s sins this month.

    I missed that one, I think. Could someone give me a brief, not distracting from this thread rundown?

  72. Gerard O says

    I was genuinely surprised to learn that there’s a real dispute about whether Einstein actually formed his theories himself http://www.en.wikpedia.org/wiki/Relativity_priority_dispute but it would explain why he made such little impact during the last forty years of his life.
    It’s also worth mentioning that those who engage purely in theorizing may not actually be scientists in a pedantic sense — you can’t describe Feynman or Einstein as ‘scientific heroes’ because they weren’t scientists in the first place!

  73. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Gerard O.,
    The fact that many people could claim a role in development of Special Relativity is not surprising. The Michelson-Morley result was a nagging failure of classical physics at turn of the century. It was on everyone’s mind and many tried to find resolutions. What is indisputable is that Einstein was the first to derive the transformations from the laws of electrodynamics. It is also indisputable that General Relativity was entirely the creation of Einstein.

    Gerard O.: “…but it would explain why he made such little impact during the last forty years of his life.”

    This is utter complete horsecrap. Einstein made considerable contributions for understanding quantum theory even into the ’50s. He is responsible, with Podolsky and Rosen, for our understanding of quantum entanglement–although he intended the idea to discredit quantum theory. Einstein’s lack of progress toward a unified theory of gravity and electromagnetism derived from our primitive understanding of field theory in the ’50s and his pigheaded resistance to quantum theory. I would also note that most theoretical phyisicists make their biggest contributions in their 20s and early 30s.

    Gerard O.: “It’s also worth mentioning that those who engage purely in theorizing may not actually be scientists in a pedantic sense — you can’t describe Feynman or Einstein as ‘scientific heroes’ because they weren’t scientists in the first place!”

    You cannot possibly be stupid enough to believe that.

  74. says

    Ok, in quickly looking at the Google, I see he’s been dead for over 25 years, unless of course, there is someone else around with that name. So the question here is: Eh? Why is anyone talking about this now?

  75. Athywren says

    @Ronald Couch, 88

    So the question here is: Eh? Why is anyone talking about this now?

    http://mathematigal.com/home/2014/7/14/feynman-is-not-my-hero#comment-1487325335

    As of today, Gleick’s Feynman book is #6 in the best-seller list for Amazon’s scientist biographies category. “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” is at #12 – pretty good for something published almost thirty years ago.

    So enough with the “that was a long time ago and we’ve moved on” argument. Feynman’s books are still selling today, people are still reading them today, he is still influencing attitudes today, and where that influence is problematic it’s quite appropriate to challenge it today. Would’ve been great if it had been challenged earlier! But as you say, we can’t change the past, only the present.

    Yes, I could say it myself, but I’m tired and lazy today and someone has already done it for me.

  76. Gerard O says

    I was being deliberately provocative with my comment @83, and I will desist.
    However, I do believe that if something is not verifiable by experiment it does not (yet) qualify as science. I am thinking of such concepts as String Theory and multiverses.

  77. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    This has happened a few times on this site now, when I ask a question and people seem to think I’m making some kind of sly, Socratic defense of awful behaviour.

    This is, we get a LOT of that.

    Often preceded or punctuated by stuff like this, in fact:

    I’m really am just asking a question in the hope of an elucidating answer.

    Also:

    What is indisputable is that Einstein was the first to derive the transformations from the laws of electrodynamics. It is also indisputable that General Relativity was entirely the creation of Einstein.

    Or at least that he was the first to publish them.

  78. Nick Gotts says

    In your nearer future, though, I foresee a giant prat-fall coming your way. To avoid at least some of the bruises you would be well advised to look up Nick Gotts in the literature. – Maureen Brian@51

    I must disclaim Maureen’s kind implication that I have specialist knowledge relevant to Gerard O’Neill’s fantasies! I’m not quite sure what she’s thinking of, although I have done work on simulating socio-environmental systems and associated decision-making, most recently concerning domestic energy use. But as Gerard O says, the topic is not really relevant here – though I’m quite prepared to continue the discussion on Thunderdome.

  79. says

    Re #10 and others: The problem is that Feynman wasn’t *merely* picking up women. The problem was he was picking them up by actively being a jerk to them. And that’s not just what I say, it’s what Feynman said, in his book. He defended it on the grounds that it was effective.

    Doesn’t that just scream “pickup artist from another decade”?

  80. says

    Here’s the problem with “typical man of his time”: the doctors who practiced before germ theory caught on bled their patients. They were typical men of their time. The patients died all the same.

    As for another square, I do wonder why this is coming up now, but it’s genuine wondering, I’m not trying to imply that there’s some sort of statute of limitations in effect. I know there’s a new TV series about the Manhattan Project, does that have something to do with it? I understand why, per Athywren @ 89, it can’t be consigned to history, I don’t know what changed in the world that it’s (finally?) being brought up and made an issue of.

    Ing @ 35: “Sorites”?

    Ing @ 36:

    I’m sure it’s related to the inability to judge someone based on several metrics rather than confusing “Worthy, Decent, Talented, Useful, etc” as equivalent.

    Tabeltop RPG types should have no trouble with this concept.

    Nick Gotts @ 37: Burke was a conservative at the time, but I suspect he’d find a significant minority, at least, of positions held by modern (and particularly American) conservatives repulsive or incomprehensible.

  81. AMM says

    Where I first saw discussion of the dark side of Feynman’s character was in reference to an article in a Scientific American blog:
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/doing-good-science/2014/07/13/heroes-human-foibles-and-science-outreach/
    .
    The point of _that_ article was that presenting Feynman as an example of Great Physics was likely to alienate rather than attract certain classes of people (women in particular), in the same way that presenting Thomas Jefferson as an example of a Great American is going to alienate many African-Americans.
    .
    Male scientists are likely to identify with him and maybe even admire him for his “womanizing” ways. Female scientists and STEM students are likely, because of their many experiences of male scientists treating them as nothing more than fuck-objects, to see him as an example of what they _don’t_ like about science.

  82. Athywren says

    @Hershele, 94

    As for another square, I do wonder why this is coming up now, but it’s genuine wondering, I’m not trying to imply that there’s some sort of statute of limitations in effect. I know there’s a new TV series about the Manhattan Project, does that have something to do with it? I understand why, per Athywren @ 89, it can’t be consigned to history, I don’t know what changed in the world that it’s (finally?) being brought up and made an issue of.

    Me too, actually. It does seem odd that it’s been raised now, and I’m not sure why it would have become the sort of issue that spans several blogs. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong in asking that, it’s just when you get the “Why is anybody even talking about this?” approach that’s so ridiculous and annoying. I’d definitely like some context on the roots of this particular tide.

    I’m sure it’s related to the inability to judge someone based on several metrics rather than confusing “Worthy, Decent, Talented, Useful, etc” as equivalent.

    Tabeltop RPG types should have no trouble with this concept.

    You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Somehow a female gnome with a book can kick the ass of a male ogre with a hammer the size of your entire family without breaking through their suspension of disbelief, but a real woman being as capable as a real man? Nowai!
    Although, speaking as a Tabletop RPG type, NATTRPGTALT!!!

  83. unclefrogy says

    this whole discussion could easily generate a few book sized comments.
    Indeed it would not be hard to find enough books already published to fill a shopping cart or 2. I do not mean space colonies but how this social animal deals with being a social animal with drives and needs given that much of our behavior has been influenced by social conditioning . We all hold conflicting ideas it is inherent in the social conditioning, it is often in conflict internally and with our biology. Works itself out in and between individuals who all have histories which full of mistakes and events.
    I for one do not it seems have any great ability to negotiate very well all of these things that make up this complex thing called social interaction. I am always amazed at how highly judgmental some people’s reaction is to some things, I even amaze myself (shock) when I find myself reacting in that way.

    I’ll leave this here
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lKwXwU5iWs
    uncle frogy

  84. alexanderz says

    I’m surprised that there grown up people here either admitting to having heroes, or somehow excusing heroes as necessary. Heroes are nothing more than secular saints, and as such they, as Orwell (who never wanted to be a hero) once wrote “should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent”.

    It’s also quite obvious why. To become a “hero” you must have a single-mindedness to achieve something unexpected, the vanity to advertise your achievement, and since no one is truly unique, the ruthlessness needed to silence anyone who claims to be working on the same or similar project as you, have achieved similar things but haven’t advertised them as well or at all, or simply whose work, insights or other input could diminish your status.
    In another words – talented egocentric jerks. Who, like all jerks, hurt other people, but who also have the added feature of being supported by a strong enough force of public or elitist opinion, thus excusing all their actions.

    Athywren #59

    Saville and Harris in childhood; The Amazing Atheist and Thunderf00t in early atheism

    My life taught me that a good way to judge people is to look for any signs of smugness, narcissism, lack of self doubt and other self-centered qualities. You won’t be able to predict how exactly those people would offend, but you’ll always know that they’re capable of it, in one way or another.

    David Wilford #60:

    Even Gandhi wasn’t a perfect human being and never claimed to be one, but was he a hero? You bet.

    Pray tell me, was he a hero by supporting the holocaust or by molesting an underage girl as part of his “spiritual” recreation?

    Christopher #76:

    Hero worship is and always has been silly, but having heroes isn’t. We need more heroes in this world, personality flaws and all.

    How the hell does that work?! If hero-worship is silly, in what way is a “hero” different from someone who is good at their job? And why should they get special treatment? Since when is “he did good science” a justifiable defense in any crime or even misconduct? Would you come to a victim and say “sorry you’ve been harassed/assaulted/abused/battered/raped (pick one, any one; this thread mentions people who did all of these things and are still considered heroes), but humanity sure is better for it”?!

  85. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    My life taught me that a good way to judge people is to look for any signs of smugness, narcissism, lack of self doubt and other self-centered qualities.

    …you don’t say…

  86. says

    Gerard O #83

    It’s also worth mentioning that those who engage purely in theorizing may not actually be scientists in a pedantic sense

    I would consider that too pedantic. Science is a collaborative effort, so if one person doesn’t engage in all aspects, that cannot be an invalidation. It makes perfectly good sense for some people to specialize in analyzing masses of data and generating hypotheses, leaving others to do the actual testing. We can’t all be experts at everything.

    Gerard O #90

    However, I do believe that if something is not verifiable by experiment it does not (yet) qualify as science. I am thinking of such concepts as String Theory and multiverses.

    I think it’s important to distinguish between the process of science and the facts it produces. Sure, an unverified hypothesis can’t be taken as scientific fact, but it’s most definitely part of the scientific process.

    Even if it’s completely untestable, it still counts. It just means it’s at an earlier stage; the vague idea stage. That stage is no less important than the others, since this is where we get the fuel for future research. As long as people are trying to move the idea forward and don’t claim more than the facts can support, that’s not a problem.

  87. Athywren says

    @alexanderz, 99
    In defence of my rational capabilities, I’ve made a point of having no heroes since my early twenties. The lesson has been learnt. It’s much easier treating everyone as capable of screwing up.

  88. colnago80 says

    Gerard O @ #90

    That’s why we should distinguish between a hypothesis and a theory. Strings and the multiverse are hypotheses which may or may not be valid but currently have no evidence supporting them. I have inveighed on several blogs that strings should be referred to as the strings hypothesis, not string theory because there is, as yet, no evidence to support it. As we sit here today, despite the claims of Brian Greene, strings is a branch of mathematics which has some interesting properties and may or may not be applicable to physics. The jury is still out on that one.

    Examples of theories are evolutionary common descent and the big bang.

    Examples of hypotheses which have been falsified are inheritance of acquired traits (erroneously attributed to Lamarck) and the continuous creation universe proposed by Fred Hoyle.

  89. David Marjanović says

    @5, there was a post at Scientific American that came across to an awful lot of people as hitting a bunch of the squares that ended up on that bingo card. Click on the link under the bingo card and you’ll see a couple of the posts written in response to that one.

    It’s not “at Scientific American”, although SciAm would probably like to make you think so. It’s at Curious Wavefunction, a blog that happens to be currently hosted by the SciAm website.

    Where do we put our moral event horizon?

    What are you, a Sith?

    Many of the technologies for a sustainable and comfortable lifestyle for a population of ten billion (the likely peak) already exist: the obstacles to deploying them are political.

    Assuming, of course, that peak oil won’t simply cut all of that short.

    If indeed it doesn’t, the world’s population is projected to peak this century and then decline; by the end of the century it may well be lower than it was at the beginning of the century. (In 2001 there was a Nature or Science paper about that.)

    I have long had the theory that the brighter a person is, the less well socialized he or she is likely to be. Bright is different, and your childhood society values sameness. Rejected, different people do other things, like studying rather than dating, becoming even more different. Feynman’s behavior is sad, but not surprising.

    I’ll just say you’re not one of those bright people.

    Regarding half of humanity as not people (as explained in comment 66!) is something that doesn’t come naturally to anyone but a sociopath. It’s something people learn – it’s something people are socialized into.

    However, I do believe that if something is not verifiable by experiment it does not (yet) qualify as science. I am thinking of such concepts as String Theory and multiverses.

    Neither of those has anything to do with Einstein at least.

    I have inveighed on several blogs that strings should be referred to as the strings hypothesis, not string theory because there is, as yet, no evidence to support it.

    A theory isn’t necessarily any better supported than a hypothesis; it’s just bigger – it explains a greater number of seemingly unconnected facts and laws. By that (unquantified) definition, string theory very clearly is a theory, simply because it would explain the whole universe.

    Examples of hypotheses which have been falsified are inheritance of acquired traits (erroneously attributed to Lamarck) and the continuous creation universe proposed by Fred Hoyle.

    Those are examples of falsified theories.

  90. Christopher says

    To become a “hero” you must have a single-mindedness to achieve something unexpected, the vanity to advertise your achievement, and since no one is truly unique, the ruthlessness needed to silence anyone who claims to be working on the same or similar project as you, have achieved similar things but haven’t advertised them as well or at all, or simply whose work, insights or other input could diminish your status.
    In another words – talented egocentric jerks.

    We need talented, single-minded egocentric jerks because they get shit done and make sure everyone knows about it. Without the talented, single-mindedness, they would never achive the advances we as a society need. Without the egocentricity, we would never know of their achievements and thus would have to reinvent the wheel over and over again.

    How the hell does that work?! If hero-worship is silly, in what way is a “hero” different from someone who is good at their job? And why should they get special treatment? Since when is “he did good science” a justifiable defense in any crime or even misconduct? Would you come to a victim and say “sorry you’ve been harassed/assaulted/abused/battered/raped (pick one, any one; this thread mentions people who did all of these things and are still considered heroes), but humanity sure is better for it”?!

    A hero is exceptionally good at their job in a way that makes us all want to be better. That doesn’t excuse any other personal failings and I don’t see how you can construe what I said to mean that.

  91. David Wilford says

    alexanderz @ 99

    Pray tell me, was he a hero by supporting the holocaust or by molesting an underage girl as part of his “spiritual” recreation?

    Actually, Gandhi’s heroic accomplishment was his non-violent movement to get the British to quit India peacefully, and, more importantly, to get the Indians to let them peacefully leave. A lot of needless bloodshed was averted as a result. For his efforts of course, Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindi nationalist. BTW, to call Gandhi a supporter of the Holocaust is a distortion of what he actually said. You can learn more here from George Orwell’s essay on Gandhi, which I very much recommend.

    http://www.orwell.ru/library/reviews/gandhi/english/e_gandhi

  92. Rob Grigjanis says

    colnago80 @103:

    strings should be referred to as the strings hypothesis, not string theory

    It’s fun to read physicists squabbling about this. Opinions run the gamut from ‘If new papers are published, it’s a theory’ to Gerard ‘t Hooft;

    Actually, I would not even be prepared to call string theory a “theory” – rather a model or not even that: just a hunch.

    I think ‘t Hooft may have softened a bit since he wrote that.

  93. Anton Mates says

    colnago80 @72,

    I hate to break it to you but even ole Dave seems to be less then a perfect human being. On the other had, he is 87 years old and maybe is starting to get a little dingy.

    http://goo.gl/JR77Ff

    Nah, I don’t think so. If you look at Attenborough’s original remarks, he’s pretty clearly saying that having the UN ship bags of flour to famine-ridden countries is not a sufficient long-term solution to food shortages, which is quite correct. He says nothing about it actually being bad to send food to starving people–at least, nowhere that I can find.

    The silliest thing I’ve ever heard Attenborough say, personally, is that the aquatic ape hypothesis has been unfairly dismissed by mainstream science.

  94. says

    Philip Helbig #61

    otherwise we end up looking like Andrea Dworkin claiming that all consensual sex is really rape in disguise.

    You know, considering that your argument appears to be “let’s not misrepresent what’s going on”, it’s odd that you start out by misrepresenting someone. Here’s a direct response when she was asked about this myth:

    Michael Moorcock: …Several reviewers accused you of saying that all intercourse was rape. I haven’t found a hint of that anywhere in the book. Is that what you are saying?
    Andrea Dworkin: No, I wasn’t saying that and I didn’t say that, then or ever. There is a long section in Right-Wing Women on intercourse in marriage. My point was that as long as the law allows statutory exemption for a husband from rape charges, no married woman has legal protection from rape. I also argued, based on a reading of our laws, that marriage mandated intercourse—it was compulsory, part of the marriage contract. Under the circumstances, I said, it was impossible to view sexual intercourse in marriage as the free act of a free woman. I said that when we look at sexual liberation and the law, we need to look not only at which sexual acts are forbidden, but which are compelled.

    As far as I can see, that position is entirely reasonable and accurate. For consent to have any meaning, it must occur in a situation where it’s also possible to refuse consent. If you can’t refuse, you can’t consent. If you don’t consent, it’s rape.

    …he wanted to meet some girls, so he went to a dance at Cornell.  In order that he couldn’t be accused of taking advantage of his position, he was coy about his status.

    Irrelevant. A professor shouldn’t get involved with students, period. The fact that he tried to hide his status doesn’t excuse him, it makes it worse.

    “I’m a professor, but I’m still just an ordinary guy, so why not live with the students, eat with the students etc”

    Because he was a fucking professor! There should be a certain distance between students and faculty for the simple reason that the faculty holds power over the students.
    Such rules exist to protect the students and when faculty crosses the line, it erodes that protection, even if that faculty member didn’t actually abuse their power.

    It seems some people have the impression that just because he enjoyed women he was sexist.

    Transparent bullshit strawman.

  95. Athywren says

    It seems some people have the impression that just because he enjoyed women he was sexist.

    Transparent bullshit strawman.

    True… but… “enjoyed women.” Eugh. I’m perfectly willing to put that down to sloppy language, but seriously.
    I enjoy a bacon sandwich. I enjoy a milkshake. I enjoy ice cream and movies. I don’t enjoy people – I enjoy the time I spend with people. I enjoy romantic evenings spent with women, I even enjoy sex with women, but just repeating the phrase “enjoy women” in my mind makes me feel dirty. Women are not commodities or activities – they’re people.

  96. alexanderz says

    Azkyroth #105:

    …you don’t say…

    …and yet here we are, with people surprised every single time.

    Christopher #111:

    We need talented, single-minded egocentric jerks because they get shit done…

    No, no, no, slavery gets shit done. Though we do seem to manage without it somehow.

    Without the egocentricity, we would never know of their achievements and thus would have to reinvent the wheel over and over again.

    And yet I can find out what any scientist has written just by searching the library. Funny that.

    Almost any work is collaborative effort and science is no exception. The only reason you may attribute one achievement or discovery to one person instead to the entire team working together (or a host of different teams working independently on the same thing at the same time – the reason why almost any “first!1!!” discovery is disputed) is because that team’s achievements were intentionally appropriated by some loudmouth scum, i.e. “the hero”. If that’s the kind of attitude that inspires you to greatness than I can only feel sorry for you.

    That doesn’t excuse any other personal failings and I don’t see how you can construe what I said to mean that.

    You acknowledge that heroes have “personal failings” (let’s not beat around the bush, we’re talking about crimes and severe misconduct, not just being unpleasant company), but maintain that we need them anyway. How is that not an excuse for their behavior?

    David Wilford #113:

    Actually, Gandhi’s heroic accomplishment was his non-violent movement to get the British to quit India peacefully, and, more importantly, to get the Indians to let them peacefully leave. A lot of needless bloodshed was averted as a result.

    It did? From what I know the British have left nearly all of their colonies/occupied territories after the war, none of which had a Gandhi-like personality in them. So there is little evidence that he and his vision had any result whatsoever, rather than India being more than what the devastated British empire could afford to keep (no, not just because they needed to subdue peaceful protests, but because there was also an armed rebellion going on at the time – and that does require a heavy military presence) especially considering the ethnic cleansing that followed the India/Pakistan separation.
    He did have a positive impact on the early ethnic clashes between Hindus and Muslims, but even that was minor and not enduring. History shows that any person in authority can inflame or quiet that conflict and can’t see why he was any better than more recent politicians.

    At best you can say he was admirable because he preached non-violence. But then, so do many people on this blog alone, and hopefully they can do it without molesting little girls.

    BTW, to call Gandhi a supporter of the Holocaust is a distortion of what he actually said. You can learn more here from George Orwell’s essay on Gandhi, which I very much recommend

    Erm, I don’t know why you’re pointing me to an article I’ve linked to, but for the record here is the relevant part:

    ‘Gandhi was asked a somewhat similar question in 1938 and that his answer is on record in Mr. Louis Fischer’s Gandhi and Stalin. According to Mr. Fischer, Gandhi’s view was that the German Jews ought to commit collective suicide, which “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” After the war he justified himself: the Jews had been killed anyway, and might as well have died significantly.’

    Yep, definitely a distortion on my part. Please note that “all Jews should just kill themselves” is a position not supported by most modern neo-Nazis, nor was it even supported by the Nazis at that time. In 1938, when Gandhi was delivering his murderous spiel, Eichmann, the architect of the Final Solution, was still working on deportation Jews. Basically, Gandhi’s ideas were worse than those of the Nazi leadership.
    That’s our hero, ladies and gentlemen. A round of applause!

  97. colnago80 says

    Re Anton Mates @ #115

    I am afraid that we are going to agree to disagree on this one, hopefully not disagreeably. Attenborough stated that sending food aid to Ethiopia was “barmy”, implying that we shouldn’t do it. The result of not doing it would be to allow thousands of people to starve to death.

    Re David Marjanović @ #109

    Your definition of a theory is not the one used in science.

    In the science community, a scientific theory is defined as a hypothesis or a group of hypotheses about some phenomena that have been supported through research using the scientific method.

    A hypothesis, placed into a simple explanation, is an educated guess.

    Further:

    So the scientist, or a group of scientists, would do testing of the hypothesis. This is described as scientific research. Often, the research studies that are conducted with hypothesis testing happen over a long period of time. After many repeated research studies, a scientist would move to call the hypothesis a theory.

    http://goo.gl/kdN3ji

    To put this another way, a hypothesis becomes a theory or part of a theory when sufficient evidence is obtained to support it.

    Thus, there is no evidence as we sit here today that supports the strings hypothesis or the multiverse hypothesis and thus they are not currently theories as defined in science.

    Now, neither the continuous creation cosmological hypothesis or the inheritance of acquired traits hypothesis ever had any evidence to support them and hence they never rose to the level of theories.

  98. David Wilford says

    alexanderz @ 118:

    At best you can say he was admirable because he preached non-violence. But then, so do many people on this blog alone, and hopefully they can do it without molesting little girls.

    Um, Gandhi did do more than preach non-violence. He pretty much lived it:

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

    Anyway, it’s certainly true that Gandhi’s non-violent approach was wrong for dealing with the likes of Hitler, and some of his other recommendations on diet and celibacy were strange and rather creepy. But there’s no denying Gandhi’s courage and accomplishments, which do amount to far more than just a comment on a blog.

  99. says

    colnago80:

    Re David Marjanović @ #109

    Your definition of a theory is not the one used in science.

    This is absolutely rich. Priceless. You’re telling DM about what a scientific theory is. Hee Hee….

  100. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Azkyroth #105:

    …you don’t say…

    …and yet here we are, with people surprised every single time.

    *passes hand over top of head*

  101. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I am afraid that we are going to agree to disagree on this one, hopefully not disagreeably. Attenborough stated that sending food aid to Ethiopia was “barmy”, implying that we shouldn’t do it. The result of not doing it would be to allow thousands of people to starve to death.

    …wait, have you finally reached the conclusion that thousands of non-Israeli people dying for no good reason is a bad thing?

  102. Maureen Brian says

    The repeated famines in Ethiopia and neighbouring countries, as any fule kno, have been caused by the climate change going on in the Sahel for many decades, the use of that part of the world for Cold War proxy conflicts which have depleted resources and prevented the use of all available grazing land in a humance economy because borders are things you can fight about, irrational distribution of land, systemic administrative weaknesses and in many places a total lack of infrastructure.

    These problems mean that the land is currently unable to support the population which tries to live there, not necessarily that the land never could. There have also been problems with both authoritarian regimes and big business insisting that everyone plant the same variety of the same seed. (cf. famine, Ireland, 1840s)

    So in the midst of all that and well aware of the wider context, Attenborough decided that the most urgent task was to reduce the total population. Quite where he was going to put them is unsure and, besides, I disagree with him on the priorities but let’s get this in proportion. He didn’t say we should do nothing. He didn’t say we should sit and watch as they all starve to death. He made it clear that sending bags of flour every 3 or 4 years was not enough.

    So why the need to mis-represent him?

  103. Nick Gotts says

    Maureen Brian@124,

    I don’t think it’s clear from the Telegraph article exactly what Attenborough said; specifically, whether he supports sending food aid in emergencies such as the famines in Ethiopia or not. In the absence of more detailed evidence, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, he’s quoted in a linked article as saying:

    Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now

    which is complete tosh: neither famine nor chronic malnutrition has been shown to be making any noticeable difference to population growth. AIDS has had a noticeable effect in a few countries, but that’s not a result of too many people. What’s reduced the rate of growth is the fall in birthrates in almost all countries. Attenborough’s ignorance here is culpable. (As it is in his statement in another article that human populations are no longer evolving through natural selection.)

  104. Nick Gotts says

    From what I know the British have left nearly all of their colonies/occupied territories after the war, none of which had a Gandhi-like personality in them. So there is little evidence that he and his vision had any result whatsoever, rather than India being more than what the devastated British empire could afford to keep (no, not just because they needed to subdue peaceful protests, but because there was also an armed rebellion going on at the time – and that does require a heavy military presence) – alexanderz

    A related point is that post-WWII India was a creditor of Britain, not a debtor, as it had been for a long period. An important motive for maintaining the Raj was the ability to encourage, and if necessary coerce India into meeting its financial “obligations”. It was hoped that a politically independent India would remain within the Sterling Area – which, at first, it did by agreement. I agree with your scepticism about Gandhi: independence would probably have come at around the same time and in much the same way if he’d never been born.

  105. unclefrogy says

    well I might tend to agree with the statement that humans are no longer evolving through natural selection in that the effects of natural selection on survival right now are much reduced compared to the selection processes we use like medicine, sanitation, farming, social welfare, and war.
    What does that have to do with what a hero is.
    I have not read all the links posted but are the charges implying that Feynman was a serial rapist or something.

    uncle frogy

  106. Rob Grigjanis says

    David Marjanović @109: [my bolding]

    A theory isn’t necessarily any better supported than a hypothesis; it’s just bigger – it explains a greater number of seemingly unconnected facts and laws. By that (unquantified) definition, string theory very clearly is a theory, simply because it would explain the whole universe.

    Would…if what? If it actually had predictive power? If we had the slightest idea how to select the correct vacuum from the 10^500 possible vacua?

  107. colnago80 says

    Re Tony @ #121

    I have a PhD in elementary particle physics from a reputable university so I guess I might have some small qualification to pontificate on science. In addition, my definition agrees with that of the National Center for Science Education.

  108. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    Colnago80,
    That’s nice.

    David Marjanović is a paleontologist with a PhD of his own, who is on staff at a highly reputable natural history museum and a number of published papers to his name.

    So…

  109. Terska says

    Sort of off topic but Smithsonian magazine posted a story to Facebook a couple days ago about the absence of women, Hispanic and black faculty in physics. The white outrage at even bringing up the subject was shocking. If you can, please find the post on Facebook about and give the Freepers some shit. The trolls were all screaming about oppressed white people about how minorities have all the good stuff and are just lazy idiot bums so that’s why there are no female physicists. Racist trolls seem to show up in serious discussions way to easily for me to dismiss it as chance. They must have a method of crashing such things and shutting down sensible dialog. Twitter maybe.

    I haven’t heard the rumors about Feynman but I got the impression he discovered he was bisexual late in life after watching his documentary of his voyage to Tuva. It was a long time ago and my memory is going down hill.

  110. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    David Marjanović is a paleontologist with a PhD of his own, who is on staff at a highly reputable natural history museum and a number of published papers to his name.

    And has no history of advocating genocide as a response to either terrorism or the self-determination aspirations of populations whose homes Israel was essentially spraypainted over. Just sayin’.

  111. says

    Helbig @ 55 et seq:

    It seems some people have the impression that just because he enjoyed women he was sexist.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that anyone as generally fluent in English who uses the phrasing “enjoyed women” is sexist and proud of it. That means, in turn, that when he defends someone els(‘s actions) as not sexist, I’m less than impressed.

    違う) @ 7/16 2229 UTC:

    So PZ is awake.

    But not a hero.

    LykeX @ 7/17 0847 UTC:

    You know, considering that your argument appears to be “let’s not misrepresent what’s going on”, it’s odd that you start out by misrepresenting someone.

    Somewhere David Futrelle has a debunking of a whole list of these.

    Ah, here it is, with a link here. (I hope the second one is still up, or Trip will come in here and say where it has gone if not.)

    Athywren @ 7/17 1016 UTC:

    I’m perfectly willing to put that down to sloppy language

    I’m not. Eloquent as the rest of the comment is, I would find the claim that his command of language failed him in the last few sentences, and in a gross, sexist way, extraordinary.

    just repeating the phrase “enjoy women” in my mind makes me feel dirty. Women are not commodities or activities – they’re people.

    It sounds like the sort of thing someone who views women as living masturbation devices would say.

  112. David Marjanović says

    Gerard ‘t Hooft [wrote the following];

    Actually, I would not even be prepared to call string theory a “theory” – rather a model or not even that: just a hunch.

    I think ‘t Hooft may have softened a bit since he wrote that.

    Well, on the one end, it is a hunch: “what if different elementary particles are actually just vibration states of a single kind of string?” – a speculation out of nowhere, motivated by nothing but reductionist esthetics (and induction from the success that science has had with that). At the other end, it’s an elaborated, consistent system that, if correct, explains pretty much the whole universe.* I consider it an untested theory and hope that a way to test it will be found.

    * Goethe’s Faust: dass ich erkenne, was die Welt / im Innersten zusammenhält “that I see what holds the world together at its innermost”.

    slavery gets shit done

    The pyramids were not built by slaves. They were built by farmers in the season when they couldn’t work in the fields. Those farmers went on the first documented strike in history – and won.

    Re David Marjanović @ #109

    Your definition of a theory is not the one used in science.

    Perhaps your source accurately describes the usage in nursing research. There definitely are differences between disciplines; physicists talk about “models” (like the Standard Model) all the time, while biologists never use that term, for example. But the authoritative, generalizing statements about “the science community” don’t hold up when compared to actual usage. In biology, it is flat-out inaccurate to state that “A hypothesis, placed into a simple explanation, is an educated guess“; an educated guess can indeed be a hypothesis if it’s testable, but a well-tested hypothesis is still a hypothesis. Pretty much the only ideas considered theories in biology are the theories of evolution (the modern “nearly neutral” one of evolution by mutation, selection and drift; earlier “Darwinian” ones that largely forgot about drift; “Lamarckian” ones that said nothing about selection and made false assumptions about mutation; and so on). I’m a phylogeneticist; phylogenetic hypotheses remain hypotheses no matter if they’re well enough supported that you can just teach them as facts. Similarly, it seems to me that the only ideas considered theories in geology are plate tectonics and continental drift before it; not much in geology makes sense if it’s not seen in the light of plate tectonics. Also similarly, there once was the phlogiston theory of combustion; it explained a lot of chemical reactions all the way to the corrosion of metals, it just happened to be wrong.

    Would…if what? If it actually had predictive power? If we had the slightest idea how to select the correct vacuum from the 10^500 possible vacua?

    Yes.

    And has no history of advocating genocide as a response to either terrorism or the self-determination aspirations of populations whose homes Israel was essentially spraypainted over. Just sayin’.

    colnago80 being a breathtaking asshole doesn’t make the claims of him or his source at education-portal.com wrong about the usage of certain terms by scientists, though. Disagreeing with observed reality is what makes them wrong.

  113. CJO says

    The pyramids were not built by slaves. They were built by farmers in the season when they couldn’t work in the fields. Those farmers went on the first documented strike in history – and won.

    Practically all that is known about the pyramid builders of the 5th Dynasty is from “stones and bones” archaeology, not texts, so I don’t think we know about any strikes that may have occurred, though I could be wrong. You may be thinking about a famous action that is documented, that took place in the 19th (Ramesside) Dynasty at the Valley of the Kings by the workers housed at Deir el-Medina. That site provides by itself a majority of detail we have about how things were for ordinary people in the New Kingdom, due mostly to the large number of ostraca found there.

  114. says

    @ Azkyroth

    …wait, have you finally reached the conclusion that thousands of non-Israeli people dying for no good reason is a bad thing?

    Since when was non-Israeli people dying for no good reason a bad thing? Can’t you handle a little bigotry? Man-up. The internet is a tough place with no quarter asked or given. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I am attacked on many blogs and to me, it is water off a ducks back. I say bring it on.

    [/snark]

  115. Rob Grigjanis says

    David Marjanović @135:

    a speculation out of nowhere, motivated by nothing but reductionist esthetics (and induction from the success that science has had with that)

    Where do you get this from? Veneziano, Susskind and Nambu (couple of others maybe) would probably object. See here. Also here. Really short version;

    String theory, which is the subject I want to focus on here, grew out of the S-Matrix approach to hadronic physics

  116. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    colnago80 being a breathtaking asshole doesn’t make the claims of him or his source at education-portal.com wrong about the usage of certain terms by scientists, though. Disagreeing with observed reality is what makes them wrong.

    From a strictly deductive standpoint, yes; however, he implicitly claimed to speak with authority about A Thing, and the fact that he has a documented habit of coming to absurd conclusions based to emotional prior commitments is not irrelevant to the strength of that claim.

  117. says

    The closest we’ll likely get to a hero: Nelson Mandela.

    It is Nelson Mandela Day today. He still speaks to us. He still speaks to colnago80 :

    No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.