The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
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26-09-2011, 02:11 PM
 
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
Sorry guys, you seem to be missing the point of this thread. You are hung up on the title and not the content of my arguments.

Peterkin's last post was the most eloquent response to some of the misunderstanding floating around here.

And still NOT A SINGLE ONE OF YOU answered my questions I listed above in Post #16.


...and those questions are exactly what this thread is about!

Huh
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26-09-2011, 02:29 PM (This post was last modified: 26-09-2011 02:45 PM by Peterkin.)
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
(26-09-2011 12:55 PM)mysticjbyrd Wrote:  Lol, Peterkin why is every time I say something it is mere speculation, and when you whip arguments from your ass its facts?
Every response you wrote was hogwash.

Don't care, Still going with the Stop signs.


Quote:No, I am saying there simply is no dark side of anything,
Good and Evil is solely a human invention, and does not actually exist. We label things as good and evil based on cultural and social decisions.

Lots of things are labeled evil, but it is completely arbitrary.

Homosexuals are labeled as evil by some.
Technology is considered evil.
Human sacrifice is evil.
Science is evil.

Oddly enough, you are the only one using the word 'evil' or

Quote: Oh ok, so "science being potentially dangerous".
You are right, we would be much better off adopting the Amish lifestyle. Billions would starve, but the planet is kind of overpopulated anyways.

going to an absurd extreme in trying to explain away simple, well-known facts.
I'm not sure why.
There is a real danger to deifying science and refusing to deal with its negative aspects, and i think there is a portion of intelligent young people falling into that philosophical trap. Things don't come in just black/ white, good/ bad: if it isn't 100% this, it must be the opposite; no half-way, no third way.
The kind of thinking that refuses to acknowledge problems can't ever solve problems: it is almost as hobbled and ineffectual as religious thinking.

If you pray to anything, you're prey to anything.
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26-09-2011, 02:39 PM
 
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
PS. Peterkin is right again.

Simplistic thinking says: "if it isn't this, it must be the exact opposite!"

Like people saying: "We must be doing something -- this is something, therefore we must be doing it!".

Reality is a very complex phenomenon that requires careful reflection, considering it from every angle. Don't just pick up one piece of it and start running with it, you may leave a lot of it behind you.

GirlyMan did not seem to have any problem with grasping the essence of the thread.

But that is all right, he knew what I was talking about -- he is a scientist -- and so am I. We have some idea of what science is about.

Sorry to pull rank, but it is really important to treat the subject with responsible attention.

Or not , -- after all, the Forum is just for fun -- right?

Big Grin
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26-09-2011, 02:53 PM
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
"the question is what safeguard should society consider, what laws should be passed, what changes should be made to minimize the danger of science being misused?"

Misused by who? Corporations? Society? Military? What constitutes misuse? Some research is directly related to its use and would be considered by some to be immoral (weapons research). Or some research may find applicable uses in fields that it was unintended (genome research leads to cloning of extinct species). I could argue that cloning an extinct species is immoral and wrong, but the research itself is not immoral. We have laws that restrict what we can and cannot do in laboratories. We have laws that prohibit certain types of research experiments. Are you suggesting that we implement laws that prohibit research from one field being used for military applications (or perhaps commercial applications) in some instances? This is a dangerous road. Limiting what the research can and cannot be used for really eliminates a lot of the reason we do research. Interdisciplinary uses is one of the key reasons we do it. Or are you advocating for limits on how society can use it? This is also a dangerous road. Obviously we limit this already. I mean, a normal person cannot order enriched plutonium.

"... should universities be forbidden to accept grants from military and/or industry? Should the government allocate funding to universities that would enable them to do basic research, without strings attached? You don't have to motivate scientists to do research (or other common-good projects), they are the most motivated people on Earth."


Grants from military and corporations do not always lead to biased research. Universities, like the one I am at, have research programs funded by oil companies that use this for three reasons. 1) they use the research directly to find oil 2) Public relations 3) future employees. Corporations don't fund universities and tell them that the research has to come out looking a certain way. They may ask for a specific product though. Corporations and the military fund university research in order to obtain independent, third-party research. This funding is not what motivates scientists, but it is what makes it possible. Government grants are getting very hard to come by.


"What could be done to prevent unlimited funds offered for such idiocy and offer it instead for fusion research that would solve almost all of our energy problems (or other common-good projects)?"

Designating one area of research as more important than another is based on your perception of what is valuable. Perhaps funding more research in fusion is futile because the smart money in energy would be antimatter? Funding research across the board ensures a healthy amount of research in all fields that may find applications in other fields. For instance, fusion research may find itself in need of a deposit of a particular mineral, and mineral deposit research may provide the data needed to obtain it.

"If the public wants to understand the danger in science, they have to be aware of the psychology of scientists who are in love with their science. Once scientists are aware of something possible, they just have to know, they have to try."

I think your perception of scientists is the guy with the crazy hair in a lab coat and rubber gloves shouting "EUREKA!" Scientists don't get funded to do their research if it is bat shit crazy or has no feasible application. They may want to try and create a seven-assed monkey, but unless someone privately funds them, it will never happen. Universities and departments would also quickly isolate anyone doing anything uncouth.


"In order to protect us from the dark side, society should create a safe, well-motivated (for the common good, education and knowledge) environment for scientific research, in universities as it used to be, where money and power is not allowed to be a motivation. "


I thought this was the way it still is. I am in science, in a university, and I am doing research. The purpose of my research is to further our academic understanding in paleontology/paleoclimatology in the hopes that it can be applied to improving our way of life and our future. I am not sure what examples you have that suggest otherwise.

“Science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.”
—Thomas Henry Huxley
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26-09-2011, 03:01 PM
 
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
Finally, someone answered my questions.

This is progress, indeed.

I agree with some of the answers, I disagree with some of the others.

I will now stand back and see if anyone else has comments about the real essence of this thread.

Then I will decide if I want to continue with it.

Sometimes, it is just too much work!

Sad
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26-09-2011, 06:28 PM (This post was last modified: 27-09-2011 06:35 PM by GirlyMan.)
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
(25-09-2011 08:37 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  If genius-caliber scientists are such little children, among the rest of us adults, maybe society should put them into maximum-security kindergartens, with 600 pounds Super Nannies watching them ALL THE TIME!!!

How 'bout 100 pound baboons instead? Smile - Aldous Huxley, Ape and Essence

"The opening scene shows two Einsteins, tied to leashes held by baboons on either side of a pair of baboon armies, facing each other and preparing for battle. They are then directed to operate machines which release 'improved' disease-causing clouds at the opposition. This scene expresses the belief that society's most intelligent figures are exploited by ignorant warmongers, and the hopelessness of a society in which every party seeks to annihilate all others."

(26-09-2011 02:11 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  
And still NOT A SINGLE ONE OF YOU answered my questions I listed above in Post #16.

Your frustration is noted, Zatamon. But to be fair to the rest of us those are not trivial questions which should be answered casualy without due, even full, consideration. Don't get me wrong, those are the right questions, it's just that the answers are not readily apparent.

(25-09-2011 06:02 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  Should the government allocate funding to universities that would enable them to do basic research, without strings attached?

But this one I can answer readily, at least from the DoD perspective (NSF I think operates exactly as you suggest). When DoD funds basic research the only strings attached are the typically onerous reporting and invoice requirements you might expect when dealing with any bureaucracy. The difference is that DoD scientists define the topic of the basic research and then solicit and review proposals from academia and industry to determine which are most likely to make progress on the topic. These topics are obviously not chosen randomly. They are chosen because there is a need for progress in this particular basic research area in order to further advance some weapon system, some protective measures, or some sort of intelligence requirement. And the basic research topic is peculiar or esoteric enough that they don't see academia or industry adequately addressing it without government interest and stimulus. I don't see this necessarily as an inherently bad thing. Many of the technologies, especially in the area of communications, have a shitload of dual-use humanitarian potential - first responders, emergency relief, etc.

(25-09-2011 09:25 PM)Peterkin Wrote:  Maybe the ivory tower is a playpen and the precocious, very powerful children in it are incapable of telling right from wrong, because they have a different standard, a different morality, a different set of judges from the rest of us.

No, that's not it. A better analogy is that they are junkies. They get off on it, they get high on it. I've felt it several times in my career when I had a Eureka! moment after discovering the insight behind the solution to a particularly challenging nasty problem. If they had measured my dopamine levels at that time I'm sure they would have thought I was on cocaine. I don't get those reactions anymore, but I can tell when the young scientists I work with do.

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
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26-09-2011, 07:31 PM
 
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
(26-09-2011 06:28 PM)GirlyMan Wrote:  How 'bout 100 pound baboons instead? Smile - Aldous Huxley, Ape and Essence

Huxley is one of my all time favourites. I have read almost everything he has written. My favourite is "After Many a Summer" which is superb satire about American narcissism. But "Point Counter Point" comes close as does "Antic Hay". His last book: "Island" had a huge impact on my thinking. I am happy to hear you appreciate him too. Smile

Quote:Your frustration is noted, Zatamon. But to be fair to the rest of us those are not trivial questions which should be answered casualy without due, even full, consideration. Don't get me wrong, those are the right questions, it's just that the answers are not readily apparent.

I agree, GirlyMan and I never thought that these were trivial questions, but I thought they were worthy of serious discussion. These questions were the intended essence of this thread, not whether science is 'evil' or not, which is a very stupid interpretation of my points. Only an idiot would not realize that science by itself is neither good or bad -- only what people do with it can earn that distinction.

Quote:But this one I can answer readily, at least from the DoD perspective

Thank you for this input, GirlyMan, I appreciate it. My experience along this line is spotty -- I spent most of my career partly teaching at college, partly consulting with industry. In one of my consulting assignments, with a government lab, I was told by the scientists that they were often approached by industry, offering them substantial amount of money for a research project if they could guarantee the findings they expected.

Quote:No, that's not it. A better analogy is that they are junkies. They get off on it, they get high on it. I've felt it several times in my career when I had a Eureka! moment after discovering the insight behind the solution to a particularly challenging nasty problem. If they had measured my dopamine levels at that time I'm sure they would have thought I was on cocaine. I don't get those reactions anymore, but I can tell when the young scientists I work with do.

I know exactly what you mean, I often felt like that on conceiving of clever ideas and breakthroughs, feeling almost drunk with the mental high I felt. I remember one night when I dremt the solution to a stubborn problem I had been battling with for weeks. I sat bolt upright in bed, got some clothes over my pyjamas and drove 5 miles through a snowstorm at 2:30 in the morning to the lab to try it out and was shaking with excitement when it did work! I have never tried drugs but I am sure the experience must be similar.
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26-09-2011, 07:50 PM
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
(26-09-2011 07:31 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  His last book: "Island" had a huge impact on my thinking. ... Smile

The Doors of Perception for me. Blush

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
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27-09-2011, 05:55 AM
 
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
In the OP I wrote:

Quote:I think that the concept and the engineering of cruise missiles are beautiful, from the technical point of view. It is almost as if the weapon was alive and had a mind of its own.

I can just feel the thrill, excitement, 'high' of the scientists and engineers who designed, perfected and tested that weapon. So many 'impossible' technical challenges had to be solved, so many clever, brilliant ideas had to be put into it to make it work, to perform flawlessly. It was magnificent science, just like the first nuclear weapon development.

I wonder how many of them really thought of the purpose it was made for?

I am sure that the standard justifications were mentioned, casually, like "I am defending my country", etc.

At the lab I was consulting during the first Gulf War, I remember engineers coming in to work after the first day of the attack on Baghdad and practically salivated over what they saw on TV: "can you believe it? that cruise missile just sailed through the door and blew the building to pieces?!" they said.

What was missing from the picture was the human bodies torn to pieces, bodies of people they never met, people who were just doing their jobs, trying to survive, pay the rent and feed their kids, like the rest of us.

When I mentioned this, they said, with a dismissing gesture of the hand: "oh well, this is war, you always have casualties, even innocent ones. But how about that cruise missile? Can you believe it? Like it had a mind of its own!"

During the Falkland war, French scientists were practically dancing on the streets, celebrating the superiority of French science, when news of a a single Exocet missile, fired from 40 km away from a plane, destroyed the British navel vessel Sheffield, in spite of the sailors' desperate attempt to divert it or shoot it down. The fact that British sailors (their allies) were burnt to death alive, did not enter too many minds. Their missile worked perfectly!

These are examples of what I consider the "dark side of science", even though I KNOW that science on its own is not evil or good.

However, it is the love of science that blinds many scientists to the responsibility they carry and owe to the world. This love of science is what the puppet masters take advantage of and channel into purposes of their own.

Society should be aware of this seldom recognized factor and find safeguards that would prevent science and its love to be used for obscenely destructive purposes.

Maybe courses like "The Ethics of Science" should be compulsory in all science and engineering programs. I never heard of any of it at University, that is for sure.

Trying to come up with ideas like this is what I hoped this thread could be about.
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27-09-2011, 08:07 AM (This post was last modified: 27-09-2011 09:29 AM by Peterkin.)
RE: The dark side of science -- how do you feel about it?
Quote: GirlyMan wrote:
Quote: Peterkin Wrote: Maybe the ivory tower is a playpen and the precocious, very powerful children in it are incapable of telling right from wrong, because they have a different standard, a different morality, a different set of judges from the rest of us.

No, that's not it. A better analogy is that they are junkies. They get off on it, they get high on it. I've felt it several times in my career when I had a Eureka! moment after discovering the insight behind the solution to a particularly challenging nasty problem. If they had measured my dopamine levels at that time I'm sure they would have thought I was on cocaine. I don't get those reactions anymore, but I can tell when the young scientists I work with do.

Oh, i understand that. Also dedication, single-mindedness, preoccupation and obsession.
What i meant was the star treatment - not of scientists in general, but of people who are seen as exceptionally gifted, in any area. Like, a popular rock band is expected to tear up hotels rooms and discard inebriated young women. A succesful painter isn't required to pay his rent: somebody else does. For a big deal football player, it's okay to kill his ex-wife.
In a smaller way, i've seen what i think of as "the House syndrome" in medicine: talented young surgeon gets away with rudeness to patients and staff; the research fellow who's just published a well-received paper on immunology is deferred-to in poor administrative decisions.
Ego being ego, the person who receives star treatment tends to think unrealistically well of himself - tends to be less critical of his own choices, less stringent in his standards of behaviour toward other people; might even start believing that he is worth more than other people and his work is more important not only than their work, but more important than their lives, livelihood, environment and well-being.
When we indulge the scientific geniuses - when society lets them get away with bad shit, and they cut themselves too much moral slack, these special people can do far more serious damage than exceptionally talented cellists can.

I totally agree that ethics needs to be taught - not in university, but from kindergarten onward. And the teachers need to be chosen, not on the basis of which prize-winner would be a bigger feather in the school cap or a bigger draw for funds, but which cares most for, and can best communicate with, the young people in his charge.

Nor would it hurt to teach all of our children some rudiments of scientific method, language and evaluation. And maybe have a reasonably versed science correspondent on television news? And maybe give her four minutes, instead of 40 seconds to explain a new breakthrough to the public?

Aside from that, the two insurmountable problems are money and competition, which may or may not overlap in any given instance. I think co-operation and free sharing of information could prevent a whole lot of waste, as well as lay open to peer scrutiny any short-cuts, blind-spots, fudging of data, conceptual errors, potential disasters. I believe most scientists are ethical people, with a strong desire to benefit their society. In isolation, it's too easy to fall into patriotic mode, or a winner/ loser mind-set; too small a horizon, insufficient perspective.

We're not about to get a perfect world, but it wouldn't kill us to try - while failing to do so certainly will.

If you pray to anything, you're prey to anything.
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