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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The forked tongue of the fetishist

I thought this exchange on Slashdot between an engineer and a science champion concerning the recent Italian court verdicts was as illuminating as it was entertaining:
 E1: As a professional engineer, accountability starts the moment you have a license number in your state.  Any opinion you give on any project makes you liable.  The problem is that too many people are giving opinions on subjects that affect other people's lives and have zero accountability. this trial is a precursor to what may eventually become the norm. Picture these so-called experts on TV talking about this and that and if they are found wrong and someone was affected by it, then they can be held accountable. The same will be applied to lawyers and politicians and before you know it, people will be better off if we hold people with some sort of power (over other people) accountable.

S1: You seem to be conflating science with engineering. Now I have news for you: there's a reason why we have two different words for these things (and no, it's not so that poets can have a richer vocabulary for writing odes).

S2: The difference is obvious. An engineered system is just that -- a system that is fully understood and can have predictable outcomes from known initial conditions. So...it is reasonable to expect engineers to be liable for their work. Predicting earthquakes is not anywhere near as simple. To find criminal accountability from such failures is preposterous.
As a pro-scientody critic of scientistry, I am very much enjoying the flailing about of the professional scientific community and its cheerleaders in response to the L'Aquila verdicts.  Notice how these attempts to argue that scientists cannot be held liable for their false predictions completely flies in the face of the absurd, but common claim that science is the only possible means of genuinely knowing anything.  What we're witnessing here in real time is the logical unraveling of the rational materialist's science fetish; the next time you encounter an appeal to science, you now possess a powerful rhetorical weapon that will be much more effective than the logical arguments which the science fetishists ignore so readily.

If science is so obviously unreliable that scientists cannot reasonably be held responsible for the accuracy of their science-based predictions, then how can one rationally assert that it is always more reliable than documentary evidence, eyewitness testimony, or even haruspicy?  If evolution and global warming are scientific facts, then why can't they be used predict any future events with a degree of accuracy that comes anywhere close to that of a street bookie?  Is there a single biologist on the planet who is willing to risk his job on the basis of a scientific prediction, the way that so many non-scientists do every single day?

The observable and provable fact is that most science that has not already been confirmed by its transformation into engineering is absolutely and utterly unreliable and most factual assertions by scientists are guaranteed to be false.  One need not know anything about science to correctly conclude this, one need only understand basic human behavior and witness the way in which scientists are highly accountability-avoidant.  Moreover, it is worth noting that the position taken by the science champions is a point I have previously articulated, which is that science can only be considered reliable to the extent that it has evolved into engineering.

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49 Comments:

Anonymous scoobius dubious October 24, 2012 6:35 AM  

"science can only be considered reliable to the extent that it has evolved into engineering."

A usefully pithy expression of what I believe used to be, some time ago, considered the common-sense consensus, even (or perhaps especially) among "actual" scientists themselves.

What happened to change it all? Well, an awful lot of things, and the societal archaeology is rather complex, but if I had to express the reason in one single word I'd instead pick a number, the only number more terrifying than '1984,' and that number is...

1968.

(by the way, this number, when left to mature along its own logical lines of progression, actually ends up inevitably producing 1984, as we are observing at the present time. We could state, more or less as an axiom: 1968 ---> 1984.)

Yes, the soixante-retards have really done a number on this civilization.

I recall a while back having a rather tense discussion with a bunch of "the-science-is-settled-so-let's-use-it-as-the-pretext-for-a-power-grab" leftists/warmenists/satanists. I reminded them that the set of people who considered AGW "science" to be "settled" was awfully congruent with the set of people who, as recently as 1988, loudly proclaimed that Marxist "scientific" socialism was "settled" as the "inevitable" course of human history. As scientifically determined by science-y science. With cute chicks in glasses wearing lab coats, and everything.

Cue Thomas Dolby.

Anonymous Tom B October 24, 2012 6:37 AM  

I would assume that this will be includec in the next edition of The Irrational Atheist?

Anonymous Nah October 24, 2012 6:43 AM  

The observable and provable fact is that most science is absolutely and utterly unreliable and most factual assertions by scientists are guaranteed to be false.

Eh, don't get carried away. If this were true then engineering wouldn't work either - but it does.

Anonymous VD October 24, 2012 6:59 AM  

Eh, don't get carried away. If this were true then engineering wouldn't work either - but it does.

Fair enough. I will modify the statement accordingly. Most science (that has not already been confirmed by its transformation into engineering) is absolutely and utterly unreliable....

Anonymous VryeDenker October 24, 2012 7:11 AM  

I would suggest: Science that can't produce accurate models is not settled.

Anonymous dh October 24, 2012 7:17 AM  

Fair enough. I will modify the statement accordingly. Most science (that has not already been confirmed by its transformation into engineering) is absolutely and utterly unreliable....

This is tautological. All science which fails to become engineering is by definition unreliable. There is nothing new or revolutionary in this statement.

Anonymous VryeDenker October 24, 2012 7:23 AM  

"This is tautological. All science which fails to become engineering is by definition unreliable. There is nothing new or revolutionary in this statement."

Unless you consider that science-fetishists do not hold to this view.

Anonymous Amir Larijani October 24, 2012 8:44 AM  

Seems to me that scientists today--as a group--are technological juveniles. They use their academic backgrounds as a launching point for issuing "professional opinions" and even making government policy--often drawing large compensation--without either responsibility or accountability for the outcomes of their actions.

So basically, they get the license to do what the professional engineer can do, only without the liabilities if anything goes wrong.

This is what happens when you conflate feminism, science, and government policy-wonk culture.

Blogger LibertyPortraits October 24, 2012 8:48 AM  

It seems a lot of people who view scientists as authorities are attempting to self-justify the cognitive dissonance this Italian event is creating.

Anonymous Gx1080 October 24, 2012 8:50 AM  

Is amusing that the defense of the science champion is basically: "is too complicated! (ink cloud to escape)".

Anonymous HH October 24, 2012 9:01 AM  

"Fair enough. I will modify the statement accordingly. Most science (that has not already been confirmed by its transformation into engineering) is absolutely and utterly unreliable...."

Those of us who working in the engineering field appreciate your confidence here but as a engineer and scientist I can say that we (humanity) have picked much of the low hanging fruit of the science tree to turn into engineered results... there's a lot of stuff in the world of science that is many many years (could be hundreds to thousands) before they become engineered products and some areas which have no engineering application at all...

Are we saying that we should limit the range of science to only those things that can result in engineered products/solutions --- that would be the capitalist approach maybe but a very boring and limited IMHO.

I think we need to find a better way for defining what is good science .. I like the model theme often used here but that works for only a subset of science. The "only things that are observable theme" for science -- maybe that works for the ancient Greeks but many things above trivial level cant be seen with the naked eye or even some fairly sophisticated equipment and occur time scales often do not fit well with observation.

Blogger James Dixon October 24, 2012 9:07 AM  

> Are we saying that we should limit the range of science to only those things that can result in engineered products/solutions --- that would be the capitalist approach maybe but a very boring and limited IMHO.

No. He's saying we should limited governmental policy decisions to only those things.

Your ignoring the fact that these scientists were acting as advisors to and official of the government.

Instapundit had the following post late last night:

> SCIENCE: ‘We won’t advise the state again’: Scientists outraged at Italian seismologists’ jailing.

Here was my email response:


"Glenn, I'm an engineer. I'm probably as pro-science as it's possible to get.

But do I really need to point out that issuing scientific opinions
which get people killed isn't a good thing?

If this makes scientists take a more realistic view of the relative
value versus risk of their statements, especially statements issued
under government auspices, that can only be a good thing.

For the individual scientists involved, it's unfortunate, but the
current intermingling of science and government made such an event
inevitable."

Anonymous VryeDenker October 24, 2012 9:08 AM  

You are of course welcome to go study the mating habits of the South African Tree Crocodile if that is what fascinates you the most in life. But if it does not tangibly improve society or the world, then you shouldn't be doing it on someone else's dime. And you shouldn't use your expertise in this field to prognosticate on the dangers of something you have NOT studied, like AGW. And you shouldn't be allowed to call yourself an expert until such time as you can produce a prediction model. Yes, maybe that's unfair to evolutionary biologists, but no one likes them anyway.

Anonymous scoobius dubious October 24, 2012 9:08 AM  

"Are we saying that we should limit the range of science to only those things that can result in engineered products/solutions --- that would be the capitalist approach"

No, I don't think that's what is being said. I think we are trying to find a reasonable answer to questions like, "What can we reasonably say we genuinely know without a doubt?" and, "When asked to stake our lives or our fortunes or our childrens futures and well-being on a scientific claim, what is there in the claim to give us confidence we are not being deceived?" and, "What is the dividing line that separates science from priest-craft?"

btw, your conception of what a 'capitalist approach' is, smacks of poverty of the imagination and poverty of perception. It appears at least that you are not an engineer of the English language.

Anonymous SouthTX October 24, 2012 9:10 AM  

Good engineers I respect. A lot may have assburgers (Cartman gets the win here), but the smart ones I trust. They realize if the pooch is screwed, bad sh*t happens. But even so, the folks who have to operate and maintain what they design get to review and approve it before it gets used (Reputable companies who don't want their ass handed to them in front of a jury). There are some engineers with no common sense. Predicting earthquakes may be more of an art than a science though.

Anonymous Jake October 24, 2012 9:17 AM  

Are we saying that we should limit the range of science to only those things that can result in engineered products/solutions --- that would be the capitalist approach maybe but a very boring and limited IMHO.

I'll say it (essentially). And I don't think it'd be boring at all. The only people who would be "bored" by such a world are the ones collecting a paycheck from the Gov. for indulging their curiosity.

If you can't find someone or some group to freely choose to fund your research then you'd better just find a cheaper way to satisfy your curiosity. Note that this doesn't necessarily rule out pure science where there's little if any immediate practical application, it just says you can't reach into everyone ELSE'S pocket to fund your (probably pointless) research.

Anonymous Roundtine October 24, 2012 9:21 AM  

Predicting earthquakes may be more of an art than a science though.

The "political" scientists focus on process, not results. Same with academic and "political" economists.

Anonymous VD October 24, 2012 9:27 AM  

This is tautological. All science which fails to become engineering is by definition unreliable. There is nothing new or revolutionary in this statement.

That may be so. Would you also argue that the statement is widely accepted by scientists, science enthusiasts, and self-appointed defenders of science? Do you think those who argue science is the only real arbiter of truth would agree with it?

Anonymous Amir Larijani October 24, 2012 9:28 AM  

Those "scientists" weren't convicted for failing to predict an earthquake. They were convicted for failing to provide an adequate risk assessment.

There's a big difference between predicting an earthquake--that involves the precision of time--and predicting the risk of occurrence of one.

When a scientist is paid public monies to do the latter, and fails to do it, then why should he not be held to account for failure to do what he was paid to do?

Anonymous Jake October 24, 2012 9:29 AM  

I wonder if 150 years from now school children in gov. schools will be taught about this incident as an indictment of the ignorant backwards religious people of the 21st century and their anti-science views.

"Italian scientists persecuted for failing to predict and earthquake, which no one knew how to do at the time"

Seems like this trick of ignoring/forgetting the nuances of a situation in favor of a preexisting narrative shoe-horned into a few of the more convenient facts is the norm for the stories of religion persecuting science.

Anonymous Bobo October 24, 2012 9:30 AM  

If predicting earthquakes is so unreliable, issue a big caveat with the prognosis in language everyone can understand. They should have simply said "An earthquake could occur in the next 5 minutes or after 1000 years. We don't know. You may want to reconsider if you want to pay us for this advice."

Anonymous Bobo October 24, 2012 9:33 AM  

[i]Those "scientists" weren't convicted for failing to predict an earthquake. They were convicted for failing to provide an adequate risk assessment.[/i]

Exactly. Most of the science fetishists however don't get that. Comprehension seems to be a problem for them.

Anonymous Daniel October 24, 2012 9:42 AM  

The minute you suggest that science must evolve is the minute that the science-fetishist becomes an evolution skeptic.

Blogger IM2L844 October 24, 2012 9:46 AM  

Regardless of the science, courts making precedent setting decisions like this nearly always produce unforeseen detrimental consequences for the future. These sorts of things always seem to come back and unexpectedly bite someone from the cheering section in the ass sooner or later. Neither the courts nor the scientists have my support in this matter. I would prefer a caged death match.

Anonymous Godfrey October 24, 2012 9:47 AM  

It seems scientists have more in common with politicians than engineers.

Anonymous SouthTX October 24, 2012 9:48 AM  

Risk analysis, compent engineers know. Having been "drafted" more than once as a non engineer on a RC/PHA or HAZOP study. Risk asessment is what happens. Typically for lower risk scenarios, you need less layers of protection. High risk, casualties every 100000 years and up. Sorry for the acronyms. It's too long to go into it. If interested, look it up. Otherwise it can give you a headache.

Anonymous Jake October 24, 2012 9:48 AM  

What I think is being overlooked is that what the scientist did wrong wasn't failing to predict the earthquake. Had they said "we don't know" I suspect they'd be fine.

What they said was: "ignore your long-established tradition of leaving town when tremors start, WE ARE SCIENTISTS, and we declare that there is no danger"

An analogy might be a car mechanic not noticing the damaged and leaking brake line when the car comes in for an oil change (maybe a poor reflection on his abilities and thoroughness, but not something that would seem to make the mechanic liable) verses a mechanic being told "my brakes feel wrong and there's a puddle of fluid next to my tire every morning", driving the car around the block, and immediately declaring that the brakes work fine and the owner should not worry about it.

Failing to warn someone of danger: OK (or at least not a criminal issue)

Telling someone there is no danger in spite of all indications to the contrary: NOT OK

Anonymous Josh October 24, 2012 10:03 AM  

Now there's no sense crying over every mistake

We'll just keep on trying till we run out of cake

And the science gets done

And we make a big gun

For the people who are still alive

Anonymous Darth Toolpodicus October 24, 2012 10:05 AM  

" a system that is fully understood and can have predictable outcomes from known initial conditions."

Since when is *that* the case? The science fetishist gets it wrong at the outset.

Anonymous Richardthughes October 24, 2012 10:18 AM  

Stochastic vs Deterministic?

Anonymous Darth Toolpodicus October 24, 2012 10:30 AM  

No, to clarify: When is the above an adequate description of an (real world) Engineered System as differentiated from a "scientific system" for the purposes of prediction.

Engineered systems are seldom if ever fully understood, and thus neither completely deterministic nor stochastic. Even systems that are functionally deterministic can "fail" in a completely deterministic, but wholly unanticipated manner.

Outcomes, especially undesired ones, are often only "predictable" in a retroactive fashion, and then added to the database of known classes of failure modes.

Being able to focus on the most likely potential failure modes of a given system in advance is often a matter of earned judgement (i.e.: experience in system design) that enables a designer to do so.

Anonymous Daniel October 24, 2012 10:38 AM  

Nice, Josh. Entertainment media has agreed (unintentionally) with Vox's thesis for years: the hero/well-intentioned scientist ends up being a victim of unintended (yet predictable) consequences.

The guy who causes humanity's downfall and the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, after all, is the good scientist.

The lethal engineering of Portal is the result of an insane version of benevolence from the good scientist.

The engineers in 2001: A Space Odyssey are victims of good scientists with the good intention of avoiding a nuclear war.

In Childhood's End, the welcome destruction of man is brought about by enlightened and good scientists.

Don't forget that Ash, in Alien, was the science officer with very good intentions.

Now, if you were to ask the creators of these things if "settled science" is a bad thing, they'd recoil. But the truth comes out in the drama: scientists detached from results are just philosophers seeking control.

Anonymous VryeDenker October 24, 2012 10:54 AM  

It's funny how quick one's faith(heh) in "settled science" dwindles when there is a very real chance that you can get punched in the mouth, be it literally or figuratively, if it turns out to be wrong.

Anonymous Noah B. October 24, 2012 11:02 AM  

Sounds like these scientists don't know much about engineering, either. In many fields, one seldom has the luxury of dealing with "predictable outcomes from known initial conditions." And if you find yourself convinced that something is completely predictable, you've probably developed an overly simplistic view of the situation.

Anonymous Anonymous October 24, 2012 11:02 AM  

there's a lot of stuff in the world of science that is many many years (could be hundreds to thousands) before they become engineered products and some areas which have no engineering application at all...

I'm just ticked that I am not able to travel to work on a jet-pack. After watching THIS as a kid, I was sure that it would happen in my lifetime.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K8zz9eI4-8

Anonymous DonReynolds October 24, 2012 11:27 AM  

Global warming, Myan calendar, rapture, end of days....it is all a fact(?)....If it were a fact and the majority of people will soon be dead, then how does that fact impact acuarial tables and insurance rates. I can assure you, the insurance companies are pretty quick to include known risks to their pools.

So what are the insurance companies doing? a) continue with business as usual and hope nobody else notices, b) not worry about it, since they will not pay off those kind of losses anyway, or c) plan to survive into the future, regardless of events?

Blogger James Dixon October 24, 2012 11:39 AM  

> So what are the insurance companies doing

b) not worry about it, since they will not pay off those kind of losses anyway

Remember that acts of god and war are exempted from coverage.

Blogger John Williams October 24, 2012 11:55 AM  

Engineering isn't exact either. There's cases where assumptions are made and rules of thumb are followed. If you're sharp, you know what they are and follow standard practices to be safe.

Years ago I was reading on Chaos Theory and the example of the pendulum was used. To make the math easy, it is assumed that sin(0) = 0, which is close enough for small angles. There are college PhD's that forget about this assumption and believe that a pendulum is a simple harmonic device that follows a simple equation of motion and time. True enough, most the time, but you need to know the assumptions and history (know the history, sound familiar on this blog?) behind what you're doing to know when what approaches work.

Right now it seems a lot of science is "get a grant for research" And you don't have to look to far to see that lots of that research is inane. PMS doesn't affect women? I bet that was gov't money that was wasted.

Anonymous Jack Amok October 24, 2012 12:44 PM  

Outcomes, especially undesired ones, are often only "predictable" in a retroactive fashion, and then added to the database of known classes of failure modes.

Sure. Galloping Gertie is a great example of this - nobody understood shedding eddies before that bridge collapsed. Thing is, Engineering understands that too - engineers aren't generally held liable for failing to predict the unknown. Liability is usually limited to cases where the engineer failed to meet generally accepted standards.

However...

...one of those generally accepted standards is remaining within your capabilities and not trying to design or build something utterly beyond your understanding. If you are pushing the envelope, it's expected that you'll do small scale tests, proofs of concept, and in general find ways to mitigate risks until you have a better idea of what you're doing.


The problem with science these days is the same problem that afflicts all the Left touches. Leftists take a word that refers to a respected concept and start using to for something else, something that furthers their agenda. For example, "liberal" used to mean someone who respected liberty. Then leftists stole it, used the residual respect it carries, and completely perverted it so that now it means (in the US anyway) a toxic combination of authoritarian-socialist-freak show denizen.

Same with "science." Leftists took the respected word and started using it to refer to what amounts to Gaia Worshipping religious dogma mixed with authoritarian rent-seeking politics. Instapundit is getting caught by that trap right now - he's still thinking of the old meaning of "science."


Anonymous MendoScot October 24, 2012 1:03 PM  

As a government-employed scientist who has made public pronouncements (and may be testifying before a US Congressional Committee before too long) I would agree with the general points being made about professional responsibility, but I suspect that this particular case has been a miscarriage of justice.

It is not clear to me from what I have read that the scientists made an incorrect risk assessment. There are three events described in the Nature article: a pre-meeting press-conference, the risk assessment meeting itself, and a post-meeting press-conference. It appears from the description that the first press conference was held before the group convened, so they can hardly be held responsible for its tone.

The content of the meeting itself is frustratingly vague, with reference to what was or was not recorded in the minutes. Nonetheless, there were town functionaries present, so something of the risk assessment was communicated to those directly responsible for seeing to the safety of the townsfolk.

The post-meeting press conference appears to have been held largely to calm the populace with no emphasis on risk-reducing behaviour. Again, it is not stated whether the whole group participated. It is my opinion that it was still their responsibility to ensure that the contents of the post-meeting conference accurately reflected their own assessment and was not diluted down by the bureaucrats' own agenda.

If they properly communicated the risk to the functionaries present in the meeting and were not present at the post-meeting conference then there has been a miscarriage of justice, even though they remain responsible for the procedural breakdown. If they knew of the tone and contents of the conference then no, they don't have the right to wash their hands and walk away - regardless of whether they accurately assessed the risk in-meeting.

Anonymous Anonymous October 24, 2012 2:19 PM  

the thing i loved most about the Italian legal system when i lived there was the "Denuncia". to those who do not know, if you accused anyone of anything and wanted to take them to court, you had to fill out a Denuncia. you were basically saying that you have rock solid proof that the person accused committed the crime. sounds ok, but the best part is if the person is found not guilty, the person filing the Denuncia goes to jail. i thought they were to receive the same person as they denounced, but i'm not longer sure.

such a system should be in effect everywhere and would eliminate litigious cases. it held people accountable.

so i am not surprised that italy would do something like this.

frenchy

Anonymous Anonymous October 24, 2012 2:21 PM  

sorry,

i meant to say they were to receive the same punishment as the accused was supposed to receive.

frenchy

Anonymous Idle Spectator October 24, 2012 3:25 PM  

Science can only be considered reliable to the extent that it has evolved into engineering.

This "engineering" encompasses quite a lot.

If it's biochemistry science, it can be reliable by turning it into actual drugs (Pharmacy). Both reliable in the good like aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), and the bad like Vioxx.
Microbiology -> Actual organisms. Such as that new gold-produced bacteria that was discovered.
Chemistry -> Chemical products and industrial chemistry.
Medicine -> Actual treatments, like artificial hearts and angioplasty.

Blogger Desert Cat October 24, 2012 4:03 PM  

S1: You seem to be conflating science with engineering. Now I have news for you: there's a reason why we have two different words for these things (and no, it's not so that poets can have a richer vocabulary for writing odes).

Ahahahaha! No, Mister Scientist, no, it is your own cohorts in scientistry who boldly proclaim that SCIENCE!!! is responsible for all the wonders of the modern world, and magnanimously include "engineering" in the sweep as "applied science".

This, when it is to your advantage to do so.

Now, when it is pointed out that said "applied science" is held to a much higher standard than mere scientific inquiry, "why, how *dare* you try to hold us to the same standards!?"

Either SCIENCE!! can lay claim to the accomplishments of engineering, by including engineering in the definition of science, or it cannot lay claim to the accomplishments of engineering because it is very much a separate endeavor.

Which way do you want it, TODAY?

Blogger Desert Cat October 24, 2012 4:11 PM  

It will be a great day when Scientistrists are required to have a professional registration and carry professional liability insurance before they are permitted to open their mouths.

Blogger Desert Cat October 24, 2012 4:16 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Duke of Earl October 24, 2012 6:56 PM  

Are we saying that we should limit the range of science to only those things that can result in engineered products/solutions --- that would be the capitalist approach maybe but a very boring and limited IMHO.

That was the attitude of the first natural philosophers, mainly monks. They didn't have time for too many shell games, so their science basically revolved around, "does it work?," and, "is it useful?"

Anonymous DT October 24, 2012 8:01 PM  

So...when do we get to hold politicians accountable?

A politician announces that program A will only cost X dollars. On the basis of that prediction, program A passes. Program A then ends up costing 10X dollars. As a taxpayer I am clearly harmed by this. And there's nothing fuzzy about the harm inflicted. It can be stated using precise numbers.

Why should politicians be treated any differently from the scientists in Italy?

I want to see the politicians who made predictions about Social Security, Medicare, "quantitative easing", and the wars in the middle east thrown in prison.

Anonymous dh October 24, 2012 10:14 PM  

That may be so. Would you also argue that the statement is widely accepted by scientists, science enthusiasts, and self-appointed defenders of science? Do you think those who argue science is the only real arbiter of truth would agree with it?

Complex question. I am not the Gallup organization, and I don't keep my finger on the pulse of what I would consider the elite scientists of the world. I would suspect that the scientists in the world who produce useful things (i.e. scientists doing R&D that will lead to production of goods or services that people want to buy) have absolutely mastered this concept.

I also tend to think that medical men - doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, etc are also likely to agree with this statement. For the all voodoo related to medicine care most of it does come down to statistical odds and a modulation of inputs to get desired outputs. Pharmacology is very much like this - you can control the outputs by changing the inputs. Surgeons also operate in this way - there is always risk of an adverse reaction, but they are almost always calculated risks - risks which a reasonable person can assess the odds.

As the type of science drifts towards more esoteric and philosophical fields I suspect the conception also draws tenuous. I honestly believe part of the lack of grounding are because the topics being discussed are so far outside of the human timescale that scientists are drawn to imagine that some far off potential catastrophe will occur within their own human timeline.

I've also observed that scientists have an uncanny ability to hold onto things which appear to be of no value. In computer software, there is a saying which, basically, you can't lie to the compiler. It's of course not literally true, because you can often trick the compiler into doing something you shouldn't be able to do, but of course, in the end, what we really mean is that you can't trick the computer, or really, you can't trick the physics of the computer. If you attempt to do something which is physically impossible, it will fail.

Scientists have intense incentives to hold onto theories that have not panned out and been brought into engineering.

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