Thursday Throughput: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Science, and Facts vs Truth

Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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22 Responses

  1. Bill Blake
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    says:

    There does not appear to be a link for item 10.Report

  2. Michael Cain
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    My own experience is that science is all about models, not facts. And science advances because we acknowledge the first part of “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

    “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning,” is a weather forecasting model. Not a particularly good one, but a model and not a fact. Enormously complicated finite element models of the atmosphere and oceans are somewhat better models, but far from perfect. Where I live, come July, the weather forecasters acknowledge that much as they would like to, they can’t predict with any real accuracy whether the North American Monsoon will be a big one, or when it will start.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain
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      All models are wrong, but some are useful.

      As our models become more complicated, the trick becomes recognizing the domain in which a given model is useful. I have a tool I maintain that is a model of an internal combustion engine (piston/cylinder). It is a fantastic model for estimating the heat transfer from the cylinder to the surrounding engine parts. It is a terrible model for getting details regarding what is happening in the cylinder. We have another model for that. Put the two together, and you can get some very impressive results, but each on their own…Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon
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        We have a lot of models that simply haven’t ever been tested at all. Eugenics, for example, was never tested, and there are pretty good indications it wouldn’t work particularly well on humans outside of a few very obvious diseases.

        But…actually, the problem with eugenics wasn’t even that it doesn’t really work on species with such a long breeding cycle and complicated combinations of genetic expression, like humans. It was they literally were _inventing_ what they were trying to use eugenics to solve.

        If someone tries to use eugenics to solve color-blindness, that probably would work! I’m not saying we should do it, but, yeah, we could get rid of color-blindness within a generation with eugenics.

        Someone tries to use eugenics to solve cancer…not so much. That’s too complicated and hard to figure out.

        But what they were doing back then was trying to use eugenics to solve…moral degeneracy (Not a thing that is genetic) and ‘feeblemindedness’ (By which they really just mean ‘prone to having breakdowns’ and/or ‘poorly educated’ and/or ‘foreign’.)

        Like, there’s a scientific problem with eugenics on human for real issues (In addition to a moral problem.), but _that’s_ not even why the eugenics they came up with a century ago didn’t work! It’s because they basically were using it as an excuse for racial and class cleansing, and nothing they were talking about ‘selecting for’ was a real objective thing!

        And it’s even less science with ‘science said homosexuality was a mental illness’.

        What is that even supposed to mean? Science has no concept of ‘mental illnesses’. That’s just a phrase, a classification that implies certain things should be done about it, as opposed to other classifications that don’t imply those things. There’s no science there…and I don’t mean it’s anti-scientific either, I mean, it’s literally not within the realm of science what we think or do about homosexuality.

        None of these things are past scientific errors, or even bad scientific models. They are ‘we do not like some people so we are going to assert things about them.

        Just because science says that burning witches would kill them doesn’t make science wrong. It is an entirely reasonable model of the world, burning living things pretty much always kills them.

        The problem is the idiots who invented the category of witches and started shoving people in it, and then decided the correct thing to do was to kill them.Report

  3. InMD
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    I am not a scientist but watching the periodically insane things courts, regulators, and legislatures do based on ‘science’ has made me very much appreciate the sentiment here. Too often it becomes an appeal to authority fallacy.

    NdGT is a good guy but man do I think we miss Carl Sagan as a society. It’s better to think of science as a process rather than a belief system. I think The Demon-Haunted World should he mandatory reading.Report

  4. Oscar Gordon
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    ThTh11: Good news about suicides! I do worry about people who have been avoiding (or unable to get an appointment with) the doctor because of COVID and allowing serious conditions to progress.Report

  5. Oscar Gordon
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    ThTh13: There does seem to be a strain of climate activist who really, REALLY wants mitigation to be economically painful. The more we can prove them wrong, the better.Report

  6. PD Shaw
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    ThTh3: Whatever one thinks about excited delirium, Balko’s skepticism misses the point. Excited delirium is mentioned by police on the body cam video. One of the prosecutor’s expert witnesses explained what it was on cross-examination in a way that Balko would not agree with. That testimony was a week before Balko’s column, so the most charitable assessment is that Balko had a lot of prepared material on issues surrounding the clinical diagnosis, but he is not paying attention to the trial.Report

  7. CJColucci
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    ThTh1 and ThTh14: scientists can be wrong. Non-scientists are, as the saying goes, not even wrong.Report

  8. Mike Schilling
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    [ThTh1] In the diagram above, the angle between the two outer lines at S is called the parallax. The larger the parallax, the more the star will appear to move. They’re all very small, of course, which is why the motion wasn’t detected until the 19th century. Even the closest star has a parallax of about one second of arc, that is, one sixtieth of one sixtieth of a degree.

    And there’s a special term for that distance, which is a bit over three light years: If the parallax is one second, it’s a parsec.Report

  9. Mike Schilling
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    [ThTh4]
    If John Campbell were still alive, he would already have written 12 editorials about how important this effect was.Report

  10. JS
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    [ThTh7]: One of the few silver linings of COVID-19 is that mRNA vaccines are getting a heck of a test, with a lot of real world data. Priceless real world data that can be used to sort out everything from expected efficacy of new mRNA vaccines, to how often they’d need to be administered, where to start looking on dosages, who should (or shouldn’t) be getting them, the sort of side effects that are to be expected — and how to manage them….

    All data we have on classic “live virus” and “Dead virus” vaccines as a framework, that we can now compare hundreds of millions of mRNA vaccine dosages to. It’s a broad base of incredibly useful data that’ll inform further research and creation of mRNA vaccines.

    Which will come in darn handy, especially considering some of the mRNA research is towards vaccines that could be called “boutique” (a very small number, as these things go, of people needing such vaccinations) or even bespoke (individualized cancer vaccinations).

    Personally my high hopes for them is a vaccine for retroviruses — or at least a decent treatment, aimed at suppressing flare-ups due to quick immune response. Imagine an HIV or herpes treatment that was a twice a year shot, rather than daily pills?Report

    • DavidTC in reply to JS
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      The scariest thing about Covid is, if it had happened just ten years earlier, we wouldn’t even be close to a vaccine a year later. (And we’d be a lot worse off in internet stuff. )

      Just one decade earlier, this stuff is a whole lot worse…and yes, that’s _even with Bush_ (Who would be competent enough to stay out of the way and repeat what the doctors said) instead of Trump. We probably would have been better off infection-wise at this point, but we’d have to endure another year or so of it.

      It’s like humanity somehow managed to barely outrun the fireball.Report

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