All posts filed under: Science / Tech

The Strange Truth About Alternative Facts

Facts are overrated in political and moral debates. They’re fragile and impotent. They don’t do the work expected of them. What follows is an explanation of why no one should be persuaded by most facts. This is not a rehashing of the well known inability of facts to persuade emotional beings. Nor is it a postmodern denial of truth. My point is that facts which are absolutely true can be absolutely irrelevant in overlooked ways. It’s obvious that facts can be irrelevant; everyone knows that. But some facts which seem relevant are not. For example, let’s say you ask me whether or not women face gender bias in grad school admissions and I tell you that hummingbirds can fly backwards. This is an obviously irrelevant fact. But if I told you that data shows female applicants were significantly less likely than male applicants to be accepted to grad school, that would also be irrelevant. How could that fact possibly be irrelevant? It seems like exactly the kind of fact that could help answer the question. But …

In Defence of Scientism

Nothing provokes widespread horror quite like science trespassing where it is said not to belong. This aversion is so powerful that it can unite the most disparate areas of the sociopolitical spectrum in a righteous fury. The extension of science into other spheres is typically decried as scientism, but the term is so broadly used that it’s often hard to pin down exactly what is being criticized. Applying science ‘out of context’ is too disenchanting, it is complained, too reductionist, too Western, too uncertain, too arrogant. Most of these objections are spurious. Science is not exclusively reductionist, nor uniquely Western, and its notoriety for disillusionment is as overstated as it is perverse. These objections are propped up by a litany of misconceptions about the scientific method and practice, and often make strawmen of themselves by attacking obsolete scientific philosophies. Turning to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, we find scientism to be an inflated “trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (in philosophy, the social sciences, and the …

Why the Techlash Won’t Go Away

“This would probably not have happened if Hillary had won the 2016 presidential race,” is the kind of comment you may hear these days around Silicon Valley as gloomy high-tech titans are forced to contend with a growing political backlash against what critics allege is the concentrated wealth and power in the hands of omnipotent tech companies. And they accuse social media and other online services of posing risks to national security and to freedom of speech, with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers calling for some form of government regulation of the Internet. Hell hath no fury like an Internet Utopianist scorned. The irony is that much of this backlash, or “tech-lash”, has been driven by many of the same Democrats that companies like Google and Facebook had backed during the presidential campaign, when employees of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, donated US$1.6 million to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, or about 80 percent more than the amount given by workers at any other corporation, according to The Wall Street Journal.  And Eric Schmidt, the …

Why Do Men Rape?

One of the keys to understanding the underlying visions of conservatives and progressives is to observe how they interpret crime. Progressives tend to believe that people are not born to be criminals; one way or another, crime is perceived to be a reflection and consequence of the structure of society and the unfortunate place in that society that the criminal occupies. Property crime is typically explained as a result of the unemployment and inequality produced by capitalism, and of the rigid property rights that prevent people from sharing resources more equally, as they might have done in the pre-societies described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more likely to see crime as the result of a decaying of social morality, and are quick to point out that there was less crime during the darkest days of material deprivation during the Great Depression than there is today. According to the conservative worldview, self-interested people can be relied upon to trample others to get their own way, …

What the Alt-Right Gets Wrong About Jews

For many on the alt-right, every grievance is, at root, about Jews. Andrew Anglin, host of the most popular alt-right/neo-Nazi website, explains: “the only thing in our movement that really matters [is] anti-Semitism.” If only the Jews were gone, he argues, the white race, freed from bondage, would immediately overcome all of its problems. Where does this attitude come from? Jews are a conspicuous people, small in number but large in footprint. As Mark Twain wrote in 1899: If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race….Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk….What is the secret of his immortality? For many people throughout history, the answer to Twain’s question was simple: Jews conspire among themselves to dominate and disadvantage gentiles. This answer fell out of fashion, at least in …

The Case for Electric Vehicles

Elon Musk is trying to lead the world to a better place with his commitment to electric vehicles. Specifically, he is leading American middle-class families of the future towards cheaper, more efficient cars and energy usage. Musk’s desire to make America competitive in the budding electric car market is not only good for American consumers, but it is also good for the United States: it will help make the country more energy independent, thereby liberating America from having to depend on dubious oil-producing states. Musk should not only be commended for his pioneering work, but the United States government should continue subsidizing his work to remain competitive in the 21st century economy. Since its inception in 2006, Tesla Motors has contributed significantly to research into and development of the electric car in the United States. The electric car is not a new idea. Yet, it never fully captured the imagination of Americans the way the traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicle did. However, the Great Recession of 2008 (and the anemic recovery that followed), placed many Americans …

Is There a Future for Human Spaceflight?

On February 6, Elon Musk and his company Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) accomplished the maiden launch of their Falcon Heavy rocket. It was exhilarating to watch, even vicariously through the Internet. The payload, one of Musk’s red Tesla sports cars, is now on a deep space trajectory that will see it reach out beyond the orbit of Mars before swinging back inward on a permanent and repeatable arch about the Sun. This much lauded success brings Musk one step closer to his personal goal of establishing a human settlement on another world. While certainly a happy day for Musk and his space company, other space visionaries wishing to establish a human foothold in space have recently recorded less spectacular progress. This past Fall, XCORE – a company developing a spacecraft to transport tourists to space – announced it had filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy. And, not so long-ago, Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic – also a space tourism company – suffered a fatal crash of its SpaceShipOne vehicle during testing, an accident that has significantly …