Doing “Wrong” Right

Two experts, both alike in views
(So much, you can’t tell whose is whose)
Saw something on the evening news
Which challenged their belief

And something that they’d thought was right,
Believing in with all their might,
They now saw in a different light—
It brought them both to grief

The first said “well, I’ve got to change—
Although, of course, it’s rather strange,
My whole worldview I’ll re-arrange
Cos what I thought, was wrong”

The second, though, without remorse,
Declared, “I’d rather stay the course—
Deny the facts; dispute the source,
I’m sailing straight along.”

And when the first apologized,
Revealing that he’d realized
His former view was compromised,
The second was insistent:

“Your newfound view means naught to me—
Your reputation’s shot, you see—
Untouchable, you ought to be,
Because you’re inconsistent!”

Consistency, you can’t deny,
Is crucial in the public eye
But if your stance is just a lie
Perhaps it’s best to quit

We know, a fool’s consistent stand
When better data are at hand
Is often prized, throughout this land…
But still, it’s full of shit.

I just saw a truly rare and remarkable bit of video. You can see it here. Mark Lynas, formerly an anti-GM food activist (until 2008, when the data persuaded him he had been wrong) is interviewed on the BBC’s HARDtalk; the linked video is an excerpt.

First… this is how you do it. As a leader in the anti-GM food movement, it could not have been pleasant to make this change, but Lynas not only made the change, he publicly renounced his former views, and publicly apologized to those whom his actions had harmed. In the linked clip, host Stephen Sackur (to my thinking, anyway) really tries to rub Lynas’s nose in it, pushing him well beyond what I would have been comfortable with. Lynas sits there and takes it, admits some fairly embarrassing things (for instance, how flimsy the evidence was that led him not merely to protest, but to become a leader in the protest movement), and owns up to his past behavior.

Sackur prods: “So that leaves your personal credibility in shreds.” “So you’re ashamed of the entire approach you took; your complete lack of intellectual rigor.” Again, to me, this is a bit much, but Lynas does not get defensive; he admits that he is on the record apologizing for his actions, personally, to the individuals he has wronged.

This is a brief clip, but it illustrates a few things beautifully. First, what Lynas shows that an intelligent person, in the right surroundings, can easily be caught up in thinking something is right when it is demonstrably not. Second, he demonstrates exactly what we should do, but which can be so difficult to do, when confronted by solid evidence that this thing we thought was true is not. Third, he models how to take responsibility, how to own up to previous mistakes, how not to simply get defensive when called out. Fourth…tangentially, but importantly… the clip makes clear that our culture values consistency. A view that changes when new data are available should not be seen as a weakness, but all too often it is.

Disaster Preparation 101

There’s a chance we’ll be demolished by an asteroid from space
There’s a chance a wayward comet comes our way
There’s a certain probability the dangers that we face
Mean tomorrow is our last surviving day

There’s the promise of a super-quake that shakes us to the core
Or the ultimate volcano of them all
There are dozens of diseases we are not preparing for
Even one would be a horror to befall

We are petrified of portents; we are terrified of signs
We are worried that predictions come to pass
Whether ancient Mayan calendars, or when the moon aligns
We’re convinced the cosmos wants to kick our ass

With the slightest provocation, we will panic in the street
Cos we’re utterly convinced that we are right
Spend our savings in convincing any strangers that we meet
That the world is going to end… and, yes, tonight.

But it isn’t really crazy—no, I’m skeptical, you know,
There’s some really stupid stuff I don’t believe
Like this global warming bullshit, while I’m shoveling the snow
And the vaccination doctors who deceive

Or a change in ocean chemistry, from acids in the air
That could stunt our biggest food chain at its source
There are scientists aplenty who will tell me I should care
But they’re shilling for the government, of course

So I’ll prep for Armageddon, or for zombies on the loose,
Or a multitude of aliens from Mars
But this climate propaganda is a thinly veiled excuse
For the government to take away our cars!

There are far, far greater dangers we are certain we might face
That would bring the population to its knees
So we fret about an asteroid destroying us from space
While we’re killing off our future, by degrees

I hope it’s just an availability heuristic thing, and a handful of unrepresentative stories in the media, but wow. People prepped bunkers for the Mayan apocalypse. Harold Camping convinced people the world was going to end…like, six times. On the strength of a splinter group’s interpretation of an ancient text, or a psychic’s premonition, or the ranting of a radio host who profits when you buy gold, guns, or dehydrated food, people are moved to prepare for the worst. But when the scientific consensus points to a far more likely (but long term and slower) disaster?



A small handful of commenters on my Rainbow Connection poll said they knew what I was getting after. Could be, actually. If you know me well, I’m pretty predictable. As a clue, a hint, to those people (and anyone else who wants to guess), I’ll refer back to a favorite verse, and my all-time favorite comment thread… after the jump: [Read more…]

On Adequate Sampling

He claimed it was a goblet of the sweetest, purest wine
But the first sip tastes like vinegar to me.
He said, “but near the bottom there’s a sip that’s just divine—
You may have to drink a lot of it to see.”
He calls me narrow-minded cos I haven’t tried the rest
Says my condemnation takes a lot of gall
And he’s sure that there’s a sip in there that truly is the best
Which I can’t deny until I’ve tried it all.
It’s true, I haven’t tried it all, but gladly I’ll forego,
Since the first sip only made me want to spit
It might not all be vinegar—I guess I’ll never know—
But the man himself is surely full of shit.

Context here, of course.

Attack Of The Undead Scarecrows

If the scientific method uses senses, which are flawed,
Then the scientists who use it, when they poke their fun at God,
Have no guarantee of certainty, and so they might be wrong
Which is what religious faithful have been saying all along.
Religion studies subjects, though, which no one has observed,
There’s no observation bias, thus the truth is better served!
Since they can’t believe their measurements, the scientists are lost—
So the whole of modern science, why it might as well be tossed!
Yes, tomorrow they could tell us that they’ve found they got it wrong,
Cos the solar system’s center was our planet all along!

Since scientists are human, they have all the human flaws
So religion is a better way… because!

Context–both general and specific–after the jump: [Read more…]