Links and Comments: Science, Abortion, Trump v Reality

Here’s a great statement by Neil deGrasse Tyson: What Science Is and How and Why It Works

The scientific method can be summarized in one sentence, which is all about objectivity: “Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is.”

Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality, such as: the value of pi, E=mc2, Earth’s rate of rotation, and that carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases. These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true whether or not you believe in them. Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but there exists no simple way of convincing others who disagree except by heated argument, coercion, or by force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions. Is Jesus your savior? Is Mohammad God’s last prophet on Earth? Should the government support poor people? Is Beyoncé a cultural queen? Kirk or Picard?

Note further that in science, conformity is anathema to success. The persistent accusations that we are all trying to agree with one another is laughable to scientists attempting to advance their careers. The best way to get famous in your own lifetime is to pose an idea that is counter to prevailing research and which ultimately earns a consistency of observations and experiment. This ensures healthy disagreement at all times while working on the bleeding edge of discovery.

Worth reading in full.


This essay summarizes my thoughts about the incoherence and hypocrisy of the pro-life movement [aside from the fundamental biological issues about how an embryo is not a human being] —

Slate: Why Do Pro-Life Activists Seem Only to Care About Unborn Lives?

If pro-life advocates genuinely saw saving unborn children as their top priority, then a significant number of them would also fight for a world in which all women and men can be confident that their children’s future will include education, food, and housing. Many would reject a political platform that cheers taxpayer funding of the military while simultaneously trying to cut health care funding—health care that might allow women to feel secure enough to bring a baby to term. And many would make contraception a central issue, instead of allowing religious prudery to take precedence over the unborn babies they are fighting for.

And yet, once children are born, conservatives have no concern for social welfare programs that might help them thrive. More fundamentally….. I think the revulsion against abortion is about the human compulsion to expand, to reproduce, to grow the tribe. Quantity over quality.


Salon: Trump’s “proof” of voter fraud is an anecdote from a golfer who may have committed voter fraud himself

Trump watches TV, especially Fox News, and watches social media, and reacts with impulsive tweets. From a larger perspective, this is about how stories — in the worst case, mere anecdotes — shape human perception and belief; while systematic investigation, statistical studies, science, while not intuitively easy for human cognition, actually leads to objectively verifiable facts.

And reality will prevail, as Jeffrey Kluger says in Time Magazine, Why Trump Will Lose His War on Science.

Science, it’s worth remembering, doesn’t read your Tweets. It doesn’t care about the size of your Electoral College victory. When rising oceans swamp coastal communities or unvaccinated children fall to outbreaks of measles or mumps or whooping cough, you can’t pin that on a crooked media or a rigged election. It’s simply the way the fact-based world works. That’s a lesson the Trump Administration had best learn — before we all pay the price.


Is Trump a liar or delusional, or something worse? In the past day or two, some clever person registered the domain with an automatic redirect to this piece of Psychology Today: Gaslighting: Know It and Identify It to Protect Yourself.

The idea of ‘gaslighting’, taken from the title of the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a man tries to drive his wife insane by insisting that things she hears and remembers aren’t true, has become more familiar in recent months. Are Trump’s insistence about things that are apparently not true deliberate attempts to ‘gaslight’ the public, in an Orwellian fashion? I’m not sure he’s that clever. I just think he’s a megolamaniac delusional.

But the Psych Today article lists 11 points, and Trump matches several of them, at least.


On a similar theme, Vox, Matthew Yglesias: The best theory for why Trump tells such obvious lies.

In short, Trump doesn’t care about truth or reality, he cares about tribal loyalty. He forces others to tell lies, or support his lies, as a mean of enforcing their loyalty to him.

Any Republican who is willing to publicly echo Trump’s lies does two things. One is that he proves he is willing to incur costs to his personal reputation in order to defend Trump. The other is that having in fact borne costs to his personal reputation, he objectively ties up his success with Trump’s.

In the context of my ‘provisional conclusions’, this echoes the way religions work. Religions are only incidentally about making factual claims about cosmic reality — whether gods exist and control human destiny, etc. — but are more about creating communities [tribes] of like-minded people who, through their religious commitments, trust and support one another. The test of this commitment is about whether they support the supernatural narrative of the tribe…no matter how implausible it might be. The smart ones of the tribe understand that those supernatural claims are ridiculous, serve a social purpose without being actually true, and keep this understanding to themselves. Cultural commitment is more important. That is human nature, and that is why its hijacking by anecdote is easy and dangerous.

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