Simplifying The Data

I plotted out the data points
And tried to comprehend—
The numbers were persuasive
But I didn’t like the trend
It’s time to do some pruning
Of the points where something’s wrong
So I’m looking for the ones that don’t belong…

Though the line was trending downward
(And significantly so!)
I was sure I’d find some cases
That would simply have to go!
A positive relationship,
I’d really like to prove,
So I need to find some more I can remove

If we focus on the meaning
That the outliers can bring—
Don’t get hung up on the numbers;
It’s a qualitative thing
I’ll ignore the vast majority;
Attend to one or two
And the message that I want is coming through!

I can point to my example
When I want to make my point
And ignore the harsh statistics
Always stinking up the joint
Though the numbers stand against me
(Well, at least, last time I checked)
Anecdotally, I’m totally correct!

Inspired by this blog post, and the first comment made to it. I’d reply there, but the last time I commented on patheos, aside from Hemant’s blog, I was banned (while, to my mind, I was being polite).

The post holds up Georges Lemaître (father of the Big Bang) and Stanley Jaki (I don’t know either) as examples proving that science and religion go together like peanut butter and chocolate. If your idea of science is to point to a couple of anecdotes and ignore the larger trend (I forget, are scientists more or less likely to be religious believers than the average members of the cultures these scientists are from?) then perhaps science and religion do go together, but that does not look like the open-minded willingness to follow the data that I like in my science.

The commenter also points to Gregor Mendel, but adds a comment that brings up more questions than it answers:

Lemaitre and Mendel are the two sciencey Catholics I often cite whenever people try to get me to see “reason.” By reason they usually mean militant atheism. Yeah, I’ll pass on that one and stick to the crucifix, medals, rosary, and holy cards I’ve got on my lab desk.

Now, I’ve written before about similar questions, but we have here a slightly more specific set.

Are the paraphernalia on your lab desk assumed to have an active effect on events in your life? The comment seems to imply that you think they do. If they do, aren’t you obligated, as a scientist, to declare them as possible artifacts? Better, to actually test their effect (currently, they would appear to be a constant, rather than a variable, in your experiments)? Can you trust that the results you get are only the results of your manipulations, and are not unduly influenced by your magic jewelry? Are these silly questions? Not if you really think those objects have power… Do you?

The physicist George Darwin used to say that once in a while one should do a completely crazy experiment, like blowing the trumpet to the tulips every morning for a month. Probably nothing will happen, but if something did happen, that would be a stupendous discovery. Source.

I don’t want or need you to drop your belief; what frightens me, though, is that you are so afraid of “militant atheism” that you are actively avoiding reason. Of course religious believers can do good science–but they do it by embracing, not rejecting, reason.


  1. Dean Marold says

    The silly article didn’t even mention Newton or Faraday. They could at least drop some bigger names than Stanley Jaki while they try to argue that the religious aren’t superstitious.

  2. SAWells says

    Pet hate: people referring to Lemaitre as “a Catholic priest” when they mean Professor Dr. Georges Lemaitre, graduate student of Eddington in Cambridge and with Shapley at Harvard and MIT, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was ordained as a secular priest, I think this was a requirement for him to hold a faculty position at the university, but I defy you to find any gods or monsters in his physics.

  3. Die Anyway says

    re: “first comment”
    Sastra, as usual, writes brilliantly but the blinders of religion prevent the responders from grasping the content.

    Oh… and DC, your poetry is once again daring and brilliant too.

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