Confirmed Stupidity

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

Only two things are infinite:

the universe and human stupidity;

and I’m not sure about the universe. 

Albert Einstein

At the weekend I was reading a post from ‘A Frank Angle’ which I had linked on to via Alex Autin’s Things I Love blog. Alex had been nominated for the “Very Inspiring Blogger” award  –  many congratulations Alex, well deserved  –  and this was one of the site she in turn recommended.

A Frank Angle’s post was on the subject of evolution, which was interesting and very well written. I don’t want to get into one of those “Intelligent Design versus Evolution” arguments, because this blog really isn’t the proper place for such a debate and in my experience I rarely if ever win over the poor deluded fools who don’t believe as I do! Why I’m writing about this at all is just to set the scene for you.

The thing that got to me when I was reading this post by A Frank Angle was in the comments section, not the post itself. Now the comment concerned as a whole was good enough and very applicable to the post so I am not in any way taking the writer to task for that. But it did contain one of the dumbest clichés in creation (little pun there folks!).

The writer talked about people denying “confirmed science”.

This may turn into a bit of a rant, but, excuse me just wtf exactly is “confirmed science”, apart from being a complete contradiction in terms?

It is a phrase often see used in the evolution argument, and elsewhere too, that implies that currently accepted scientific views cannot be challenged, with the further implication that one is an idiot if one dares to do so.

Quite the reverse is the truth in fact. Scientists tell us things are the way they are  –  until some other scientists tell us that this is not the way things are at all, in fact they’re this other different way instead  –  and so it goes on and on. And that’s actually a cack-handed way to define science. It is continual observation and discovery and hopefully therefore increased understanding of things. Nothing is ever “confirmed” forever.

Science is very valuable, I have nothing against it whatsoever. In fact I find lots of scientific things both extremely interesting and fascinating. But science is no different from any other sector as regards the people who inhabit its realm.

My realm is the business world mainly. And you actually can take this as “confirmed” born out through countless observations, that for everyone who is a good businessman or woman there are many, many more of the dumbest so-and-so’s you could ever have the misfortune to meet. And boring – don’t start me on that!

Other spheres are likewise.

There are brilliant doctors and there are good doctors and there are doctors you wouldn’t want to be seen dead with – except you probably would be! Same goes for veterinarians, or bricklayers, or fund managers, or secretaries, etc., etc., etc.

Scientists (and I know a couple of really bright sparks in that field) are no different. They are people and people are fallible. They make mistakes. And they misinterpret things based sometimes on stupidity, sometimes on jumping to the completely wrong conclusion, sometimes by interpreting data in an erroneous way and sometimes they have their own more personal and pecuniary motives. Yes, that last bit means that some of them make “discoveries” for their own attempt at fame or for the money, or both. It happens. They’re just people, smarter people maybe, but people.

Take the global warming debate. I’m not going to go into that in depth here either, but whether you subscribe to the theory that it is a man made phenomenon, or that it the result of millions of cows farting too much, or that it is just a long term natural cycle that predates records, some of the scientists involved have very unscientifically (and dishonestly) “cooked the books” as regards the evidence they have provided on the subject, and more particularly the evidence that they have deliberately withheld.

An engineer and scientist by the unusual name of Vannevar Bush (nothing to do with the Presidents of that name, although I think he may have been an scientific advisor to FDR) gave the game away when he admitted that “The common idea that scientists reject a theory as soon as it leads to a contradiction is just not so. When they get something that works at all they plunge ahead with it and ignore its weak spots… scientists are just as bad as the rest of the public in following fads and being influenced by mass enthusiasm.”

Like I said, they’re just people.

You know how one day scientists tell you your breakfast cereal, with all its vitamins and fiber and stuff, is just the best thing you could ever put inside your body, and then the next day some other scientist decides that it’s really bad for you?

Stop eating chocolate it will kill you!   No, eat chocolate it’s good for your heart!

Cholesterol is bad!   No it’s not, just some of it is bad, actually some of it is really good too!

If you drink alcohol you will surely die!   No, no, have a drink if you want to, as long as you aren’t driving, it’s good for you in moderation, particularly red wine.

There’s a major flu epidemic on the way! It’ll be worse than the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918!! It’s going to kill millions!!! Here stupid governments, spend billions of dollars on this here serum thingummy-doo-dah that we just happen to have prepared earlier and inoculate your people. Er…. what flu epidemic was that then?

The trouble lies in the ill thought out reverence people give to scientists which is founded on ignorance – in every definition of the word. Ordinary folks are afraid to take scientists on because we usually know little or nothing about the very narrow field of study that these people have devoted their lives to.

We don’t look at them as ‘people who know a lot about a little’ which is really what they are. We look at them as ‘people who know everything about everything’ which is absolutely what they are not. And sadly, we just accept what they say as fact when clearly it is not. And that is a very dangerous thing.

What is even more dangerous is that many of the scientists themselves think that they know everything about everything. When they are lucky enough to “discover” something they are seldom content to leave it at that. Next comes the extrapolation based on the “discovery” which is mostly pure conjecture on their part, but it is swallowed as fact by many gullible believers.

Actually I have a theory (not scientific you’ll be relieved to know) that no scientist should ever announce that they have discovered anything that is the be-all-and-end-all of a subject. They’re just setting themselves up for an inevitable fall, and their followers for a big disappointment.

Clever Scientist: “Hey, I’ve discovered the quark. It’s the smallest thing in the universe.”

Simple Simon: “Really? That’s fantastic!” 

Clever Scientist: “Yes, I’m ever so clever, aren’t I?”

Simple Simon: “What’s it made of then?”

Clever Scientist: “What’s it what???……. Oh, crap!”

Scientists used to think the earth was flat. At the time that was “confirmed science”.

For a while, well before microscopes and theories of cells and germs and stuff, scientists believed in spontaneous generation. Aristotle said, in no uncertain terms, that some animals grow spontaneously and not from other animals of their kind. But while you’re laughing at that, many scientists right up to the 19th century believed it was “confirmed science”. Some even wrote recipe books for making animals, like you would make a scorpion by using basil, placed between two bricks and left in sunlight. I know what should have been placed between the two bricks instead, it wouldn’t have made a scorpion but I’m fairly sure it would have stung quite a bit!

Another bit of “confirmed science” was a thing called Phlogiston, which was on the go around 1667 when Johann Joachim Becher (a German physicist) suggested that it was the fifth element to go with the four classical elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire) which was contained within objects that could burn. The “confirmed science” of the day went something like, objects that burned in air were rich in phlogiston and the fact that a fire burned out when oxygen was removed was seen as proof that oxygen could only absorb a limited amount of the substance. This theory even led to the belief that humans’ need to breathe had a sole function which was to remove phlogiston from the body.

And, of course, there was good old alchemy that had its origins in ancient Egypt and, combined with metallurgy, ended up in belief in being able to turn ordinary metals into gold, and even to conjure up genies, and perform all manner of bizarre not-so-science-like activities.

To us now all these bits of “confirmed science” are absurd. But the likelihood is that sometime in the future a lot of the current batch of “confirmed science” will look equally absurd. The truth is, although we now know a lot more than we did, say 100 years ago, we still know next to nothing about our existence, and our own little planet, let alone what’s going on elsewhere. There’s a certain arrogance born out of ignorance that makes anyone think that they have a handle on it all, and an even more certain stupidity about those who believe them.

Take an interest in science by all means, as I do. But please do not be so dumb as to “believe” in scientists. Keep you feet planted firmly on the ground. Gravity will help you with that. It’s a really good job Sir Isaac Newton “discovered” it all those years ago otherwise we’d be floating about all over the place!

gravity - don't leave home without it

15 thoughts on “Confirmed Stupidity

  1. This one of the finest posts i have ever read….Excellent………I guess , as they say in university, its important to use words such as likely,more likely, less likely and i guess a lot of people forget that……

  2. I had no idea that I created such a stir.

    Confirmed science is accurate for a given point in time. It’s the best we know as of today – and subject to change. Is it possible that everything in science today be deemed incorrect sometime in the future? Absolutely, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Individual scientists make mistakes all the time, but the verifying process by the scientific community is the key. Here’s an example.

    Also, one must be careful of generalizations – after all, the more one generalizes, the further one gets from the truth of the statement. For instance, scientists believed the in the flat Earth? Wasn’t that before scientific age?

    Nonetheless, good stuff and I’m glad I was able to spark a post

    • Hi, Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. You write some very interesting things on your blog.
      I don’t know about creating a stir, but it was a good excuse for a bit of a rant, and that’s never a bad thing!
      How you look at this depends first and foremost on how you define “science”. When I was being taught at school science was defined as the acquiring of knowledge (adding to existing theories and/or developing new ones) through observation and experimentation. I wasn’t saying anything against science per se, but rather against the people who treat scientists as some kind of infallible font of all knowledge – a completely different thing.
      As for the flat earthers, you make a good point. I wasn’t really considering a date for when “science” began. When I think about it now, I’m not so sure I would like to dismiss everything before the “Age of Enlightenment”.
      But I’m actually very grateful to the scientists who debunked the theory. If the earth had still been flat all the stupid people would have fallen off and I wouldn’t have anything to blog about!

        • The football analogy is a good one. And your definition makes sense, as long as we try to explain what we observe – not try to explain what we think happened ‘x’ billion years ago and didn’t observe.
          The Symphony of Science was a new thing to me, so thanks for pointing me in that direction. Re the vid, I would have a lot of time for Sagan but little for Dawkins, that’ll maybe tell you a bit about me and possibly them!
          Btw, the penultimate para was very interesting. If you’ve elaborated on that elsewhere and it’s not too much trouble, send me the link. Thanks again.

          • Thanks, Sure we observe the immediate, but we also observe the past by what has been left behind – much like connecting the dots. Science is a way of knowing!

            Of the two scientists you mentioned, Sagan is (was) brilliant, and had a wonderful outlook with the ability of connecting the dots. Dawkins is a very good evolutionary biologist. However, he rubs me the wrong way probably for a different reason than yours – he loves to cross the boundary!

            Thanks fasab!

            • Sagan was a brilliant man, so brilliant that he didn’t have to remind everyone about it. He was also a brilliant communicator. As for the other guy, evolutionary biologist or not, he’s certainly APE! (that’s Arrogant, Pompous and Egotistical).
              Btw, I didn’t know you were a follower of the indisputable leader of the gang! Hello brother!!!

            • Whoops! I’m having a Strother Martin Cool Hand Luke flashback moment. “What we have here is failure to communicate.”
              For APE read Dawkins.
              For the indisputable leader of the gang, read T.C. (Sorry for any confusion. Have I got cross post messaging syndrome do you think?)

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