Ignoramus telling scientist how science works

Would you believe Republican Senator John Cornyn had the gall to mouth off about the scientific method? Of course you would, he’s an idiot.

That’s just breathtakingly stupid. Does he have the slightest understanding of what a model is? It’s the core of the hypothetico-deductive process (which is not the whole of science, but it’s pretty essential). He’s been refuted in a couple of places by knowledgeable people already.

In a now-famous lecture, quantum physicist Richard Feynman similarly described to his students the process of discovering a new law of physics: “First, we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what… it would imply. And then we compare those computation results to nature… If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.”

Zach Weinersmith also has a 100+ panel comic describing epidemiology and models if Mr Cornyn needs pictures to go with the words.

If Cornyn actually wanted to have a “good faith discussion” about epidemiological modeling (I don’t believe he does), I have a couple of expectations: as someone who has no training in science at all — he’s a lawyer — he ought to be more humbly asking for information, rather than poisoning the well with nonsense, and he has to admit that the source he worships, Donald Trump, is a total incompetent at science and a worthless font of misinformation. Then we can begin.

Actually, I think I’d rather begin by seeing Cornyn evicted from his office.


  1. chrislawson says

    The problem is they’ve used “modelling” to demonise every scientific interpretation they don’t like for so long now that they can’t even think clearly about what the word means. How do they think NASA landed Apollo 11? How do they think artillery shells land on target?

  2. Rich Woods says

    @Aachen #1:

    He could start by avoiding his inbuilt collision avoidance model and save the energy required for its iterative updates for the other brain functions he clearly so desperately needs.

  3. Scott Simmons says

    I get the honor of voting against him in November (assuming I live that long), but I can’t say I’m full of hope that we’ll evict him.

  4. blf says

    How do they think artillery shells land on target? — A magic sky faerie reaches down, pulls the shell from the barrel (the big BOOM! is the signal — starter’s gun — that it’s ready), carries it across the battlefield, and then gently puts it down on the ground, where it acts like a mine, waiting for someone to blunder into it…

    Naval shells are similar (just add floats, without them, it’s a depth charge — provided the magic sky faerie is really really good at holding its/her/his/their breath).

    Aeroplane bombs are much more complicated. So are anti-aircraft shells.

  5. Larry says

    Cornyn’s concept of what science is is that whatever the president says must, by its very prestige and majesty, be the truth. Unless, of course, that president is from the other party and/or is black.

  6. daverytier says

    Wow, this place still exists…

    It isn’t the scientific method

    To slightly extent one variant of the mathematical principle of explosion – “any delusional parallel reality is completely parallel – each and every element of it, including basic concepts and meanings of words is radically different from ours.”
    So, he is basically telling us that his “reality”‘s “scientific” “method” doesn’t do hypotheses ( aka models )

  7. pick says

    I have a bad habit of listening to our local right wing radio, (just in brief doses though, despite an assumed life long immunity – the stuff has increased in toxicity of late + it’s truly disgusting, I’m washing my hands and ears).
    Anyway I heard this same drivel used to demonize science. It’s extraordinary. Trump gives them some completely misguided notion and it becomes ok to shout lunacy in public. Unbelievable.

  8. militantagnostic says

    Their beloved oil and gas industry has relied on models to design secondary recovery shemes like waterfloods etc. as well as for production forecasting, for much longer than my now nearly moribund career in the industry.

    I second Rich Woods recomendation @3.

  9. bobphillips says

    A lawyer…hmmm. On the spectrum of professional disciplines and their relationship to physical/natural reality, the law is at the opposite extreme from science. Law is a purely artificial human construct with no connection to reality beyond what the law itself makes of it; and the legal profession is all about winning arguments by any means (debates), not necessarily about finding out the truth of a matter.

  10. brucegee1962 says

    But look, folks! He cites Wikipedia! Surely that will impress everyone (who never took a freshman composition course)!

  11. daverytier says

    @13 ancient Sophists already walked that path to the bitter end – play every dirty trick you got and at the end play the nihilism card so that neither you nor your opponent can even make a case, never mind arguing it, rendering all debates a “draw” – which is basically a victory for the wrongdoer. Only to end up being disqualified, banned from any rational debate and becoming the definition of “foul play”.

  12. brucegee1962 says

    Perhaps he thinks that science stopped around the time of Isaac Newton. Newton did not have access to computers; therefore, ipso facto, anyone who uses computers isn’t doing science.

  13. mond says

    I hope the Senator does’t wear a watch as they not completely accurate.
    So by his logic they are of no use cos they are always ‘wrong’.
    So rather than striving for a better time piece or find how accurate a time piece we really need for various scenarios we should abandon this whole idea of ‘telling the time’.

  14. blf says

    @17, Galileo Galilei was doing modelling of a sort with, e.g., his Salviati–Sagredo–Simplicio “dialogues” in Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems). And I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if, e.g., Archimedes, also engaged in what could be termed modelling.

  15. blf says

    @22, Yes, a hypothesis is a model. But perhaps not modeling, not if one doesn’t seek to test or otherwise explore where it leads.

  16. daverytier says

    @23 Working out any prediction of a model is “modeling”. If one doesn’t do that, he is not doing science. And I am pretty sure Archimedes did.

  17. daverytier says

    Yep, he did. wikipedia :

    The second book is a mathematical achievement unmatched in antiquity and rarely equaled since.[1] The book contains a detailed investigation of the stable equilibrium positions of floating right paraboloids of various shapes and relative densities, when floating in a fluid of greater specific gravity, according to geometric and hydrostatic variations. It is restricted to the case when the base of the paraboloid lies either entirely above or entirely below the fluid surface. Archimedes’ investigation of paraboloids was probably an idealization of the shapes of ships’ hulls. Some of his sections float with the base under water and the summit above water, similar to the way that icebergs float. Of his works that survive, the second of his two books of On Floating Bodies is considered his most mature work, commonly described as a tour de force.[5]

  18. drew says

    He’s not trying to say things that are provably true. He’s trying to rile up the liberals. It’s good for his base.
    Trying to educate him doesn’t help anything. That counts as being riled up.
    Instead, try something like attacking him on his personal acceptance of bestiality even though it contradicts the law. There are some awfully skittish box turtles somewhere in Texas. Dress up in sexy turtle costumes and parade around him in an attempt to “out him” as a turtle diddler (or maybe he just likes to watch.) That would actually damage him.

  19. says

    The subtext here is the modelling done on covid-19 for the number of deaths wasn’t good because we are unlikely (not impossible) to get to 100,000 dead in the first wave. Our deaths are lower than projected because:

    1) our behavior has changed via social distancing


    2) social distancing was more effective than it was first thought.

    I am a complete layman in this area but I have followed the models closely and the actual numbers. They have generally been right inline with each other day to day.

  20. DanDare says

    And your horrible president is now blaming the World Health Organisation for all the fuckupd.
    So lets see
    – federal government being dismantled
    – loss of faith in democracy
    – states becoming disunited
    – science treated as just opinion like religion
    – legal system commanded by corrupt law lords
    Kotch brothers must be very happy.

  21. brightmoon says

    28 Trump will do everything except take responsibility for his fuck up . It it means murdering millions of people he doesn’t care . Those 60,000 psychiatrists and psychologists who called him a sadist malignant narcissist called it correctly . This is typical narcissistic behavior which is why they called for his removal from office

  22. wzrd1 says

    No, no, no!
    He’s absolutely right! Modeling is evil, wrong and worthless, as is anything and everything created with, especially, a computer model.
    Therefor, we need to be rid of every aircraft designed after the F-15, as those were all modeled on a computer and many use computer modeling to fly. We also need to get rid of any weapon system made since 1980, as those are computer modeled as well and obviously worthless and unreliable.
    We also need to get rid of all current nuclear and thermonuclear warheads, as every single one of those were designed and built using computer modeling.

    When confronting an asswipe, use the asswipe’s own concepts and words against him or her, they’ll happily help digging themselves in deeper.

  23. nomdeplume says

    This comes under the same heading as “It’s only a theory”. Perhaps schools should teach not simply the results of scientific work, but put more emphasis on the scientific method. Still, there are a large number of parents, and conservative politicians and religious leaders, who emphatically do NOT want their children taught how to think.

  24. zippythepinhead says

    First they came for the computer models, but I said nothing because I wasn’t a computer scientist. Then they came for the differential equations, but I said nothing because I wasn’t a mathematician. Then they came for me. If there was only a way to predict that.

  25. says

    Rich Woods
    ” ‘How do they think artillery shells land on target?’
    Prayer has more to do with the persons at the other end of the process—Don’thitmeDon’thitmeDon’thitme…

  26. christoph says

    @nomdeplume, # 32: We should change that from “It’s only a theory” to “It’s only a hypothesis.”

  27. daverytier says

    @32 Not sufficient – what needs to be done is to drill “motivated reasoning is wrong*” into the children starting from the kindergarden. Otherwise “persons” like the one the article is about will just switch to a different set of sophisms.
    * not just meaning “incorrect”, but also morally wrong.