Suppressing Science

Over the centuries, we have found that the best way to discover truths about the natural world is through the method of examination, observation, and experimentation known as science. The use of science over the last few centuries has allowed us to make discoveries about the universe and invent new technologies that have fundamentally changed the world we live in, for better or worse but mainly for the better.

Science only works, however, when the people practicing it engage in a relentless, even passionate pursuit of the truth, whatever the consequences. Scientists must honestly report the results of their observations and experiments, even if the results are not what they would like. They must be willing to acknowledge when an experiment disproves the theory they are trying to prove. In particular, for science to work, scientists must be able to work without fear of political or ideological interference.

This is why I find the article, And Yet it Moves, by Jukka Savolainen in City Journal.

Nature Human Behavior, one of the most prestigious journals for social science research, recently published an editorial titled “Science must respect the dignity and rights of all humans.” Though short, the article generated tremendous pushback among academics and intellectuals concerned about the spread of social-justice ideology into science. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said the journal was “no longer a peer-reviewed scientific journal but an enforcer of a political creed,” while Greg Lukianoff, the CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, described the journal’s statement as “an epistemic catastrophe.” What did the editorial say?

In short, it took the position that scientific truth should defer to politics. The journal now considers it appropriate to suppress research that “undermines—or could reasonably be perceived to undermine—the rights and dignities” of people or groups, as well as “text or images that disparage a person or group on the basis of socially constructed human groupings.” Researchers are urged to “consider the potential implications of research on human groups defined on the basis of social characteristics” and “to contextualise their findings to minimize as much as possible potential misuse or risks of harm to the studied groups in the public sphere.” Anything that could be perceived as disparaging is now fair game for rejection or retraction.

The implications on scientific inquiry and truth-seeking are clear. As the journalist Jesse Singal observed, an empirically flawless study could be retracted under the guise of social justice. “What’s most alarming is that unless I’m missing something, research that is perfectly valid and well-executed could run afoul of these guidelines,” he wrote.

Mr. Savolainen points out that this kind of censorship has become increasingly common in the scientific community, especially in the social sciences. He gives two examples of studies that were attacked and suppressed because their results were at variance with politically correct orthodoxy. Such findings might “cause harm” to a particular group and therefore should not be published. Some things are more important than the truth.

The problem with this approach is that it is impossible to suppress the truth indefinitely. Sooner or later, the truth comes out. As the title of the article, what Galileo allegedly whispered to himself, suggests, the Catholic Church tried to suppress the knowledge that the Earth moves around the Sun. The Inquisition may have been able to intimidate Galileo into proclaiming the Earth does not move, but the Earth does move; what the Catholic Church did by silencing Galileo was to gain the undeserved reputation of being a body of ignoramuses. Scientific journals which try to quash inconvenient studies will acquire a similar reputation.

The motivation for these acts of censorship may be noble. The editors seem to be concerned that reporting facts that might reflect negatively on groups that have historically been oppressed, perhaps providing excuses for further oppression. Whether the motivation for concealing truths is or is not noble, it is still a bad idea. If the members of a particular group suffer from some social dysfunction, perhaps they commit crimes at a greater rate than the national average, or lag in educational attainments suppressing the studies that reveal such dysfunctions does not help anyone. We cannot resolve the problems that a particular group of people might have unless we know all of the relevant facts. Suppressing these facts only gives credence to the bigots who use this ‘suppressed knowledge’ to suggest that the marginalized people the censors imagine they are helping are inherently inferior.

When you value politically correct ideology more than the truth, you will never discover what the truth is. You cannot do science unless you are willing to pursue the truth where ever it may lead. You may use scientific terminology and perhaps some aspects of the scientific method, but you are not doing science. You are performing what the physicist Richard Feynman called cargo cult science. The people at Nature Human Behavior have decided to give up real science in favor of the cargo cult variety.

Advertisement

The Nativity According to Matthew

The Adoration of the Magi (circa 1305) by Giot...
The Adoration of the Magi

 

Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. I’ll skip the genealogy and go straight to his account of Jesus’s birth.

 

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 1:18-2:20)

 

Most people think that the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem involved the murder of hundreds or thousands of innocents. Remember, though, that Bethlehem was a small village at this time with a likely population of a few hundred. It is doubtful that more than half a dozen children were killed, not enough to make it into any other sources we have for Herod’s rule. Herod was certainly ruthless enough to order such a massacre. He had no trouble killing members of his own family if he thought they threatened his rule. In fact, Herod being an Idumean (or Edomite) and not a Jew, was a foreigner and so was as despised by many Judeans as a Roman governor would have been. If he had heard that there was a potential rival to his throne, even a child, that the Jews might rally around, he would have wasted no time in disposing of that rival.

 

The word Magi usually refers to Zoroastrian priests. In Greco-Roman usage, the term Magi had connotations of magicians or sorcerers, exotic figures from distant lands. It is not clear just who the Magi actually were. They may indeed have been Zoroastrians. The references to the Star of Bethlehem suggest that they may have been astrologers. The Babylonians had a reputation for being skilled in astrology and magic so the Magi may have come from Mesopotamia. They may also have been Jewish since they were seeking for a king of the Jews. The fact that they were unfamiliar with the prophets may prove that they were Gentiles. The number of the Magi is not given in the Gospel. The reason that three are usually pictured is that there were three gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

It is also not clear just what the Star of Bethlehem was. There have been several theories presented, but none of them are entirely satisfactory. The star might have been a supernova, perhaps in a nearby galaxy. There is no way to know for certain since any supernova remnant so far away would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to detect. It might also have been a comet. This is rather unlikely. Although a comet would behave much as the star is said to behave, hanging in the sky over a certain location for several nights, comets were universally perceived as being harbingers of disaster in ancient, and not so ancient, times. The most likely explanation is a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. The astronomer Keppler discovered that there was indeed such a conjunction in the year 7 BC. The following year there was another conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This might have been very impressive to the Magi. It may also be that the Star was a supernatural phenomenon and one that cannot be studied today.

 

Soft Bigotry

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has recommended that college athletes should no longer be required to submit SAT or ACT scores to be eligible to compete in Division I or Division II sports. Since I don’t follow professional or college sports, I only learned about this latest development from this article at townhall.com.

The NCAA Standardized Test Task Force recommended that high school students preparing to compete in Division I or Division II sports should not have to submit SAT or ACT scores.

 

“This work reflects the NCAA’s commitment to continually reviewing our academic standards based on the best available data and other relevant information,” said Morgan State President David Wilson, who led a group of representatives in both divisions in carrying out a nearly six month project on the matter. “We are observing a national trend in NCAA member schools moving away from requiring standardized test scores for admissions purposes and this recommendation for athletics eligibility aligns directly with that movement.”

The announcement from Friday comes as part of the NCAA’s eight-point plan to “advance racial justice and equity,” which includes reviewing eligibility requirements, reviewing the league’s Academic Progress Rate and its impact on historically black colleges and universities, and implementing “unconscious bias training” for all national office staff.

I wonder if it has occurred to the NCAA administration that by dropping standardized tests to advance “racial justice and equity” they concede that some races are intellectually or academically inferior to others. If they feel that they have to abandon academic standards because some groups; probably African Americans and perhaps Latinos, do not score as highly as other groups on standardized tests, they must be inherently inferior and cannot by nature compete on a level playing field, therefore, the standards must be rigged in their favor or done away with entirely to preserve the myth that everyone is equal. This reasoning strikes me as racist through and through.


I am sure the people responsible for this policy would deny it is racist at all. They would no doubt assert that a level playing field is impossible given the history of oppression and racism some groups have faced. It is only fair that groups that have faced discrimination in the past should receive extra assistance now. Very well, but if discrimination based on race is wrong, as I believe it is, then it is wrong to discriminate against or for anyone by race. Two wrongs do not make a right. In any case, the claim that systemic racism causes Blacks to score poorly on standardized tests fails to explain why other people who have been the victims of discrimination, Jews and East Asians, tend to score very well on such tests; scoring better than the Whites or gentiles who have been oppressing them.


If a racial group, such as African Americans does poorly academically, it must be either because the members of that group really are inferior, on average, or because some external factor, economic or cultural which inhibits their potential. Either way, we do no favors by pretending the problem isn’t there or attributing it to some mythical systemic racism that somehow only manifests itself in hate crime hoaxes.


I cannot emphasize enough that if a particular group, I’ll call it Group X to avoid real-world implications, really is inferior intellectually to Group Y on average, that cannot be considered justification for discriminating against individuals of Group X. We are talking about averages. There will be many intelligent members of Group X and many unintelligent members of Group Y and a considerable degree of overlap. You will not find zero members of Group X among the top tier academically, just relatively fewer than members of Group Y. You will see relatively fewer Group X doctors, lawyers, scientists, and engineers, not none at all. There is no reason to exclude members of Group X from pursuing such occupations. But, there is also no reason to inflate the numbers of Group X by lowering or eliminating standards to pursue equity. That helps no one, least of all the members of Group X who have actually earned their place but now find themselves tainted by association with those who have not.


If, on the other hand, there is some external factor inhibiting Group X from doing as well academically as Group Y, we are also not helping the members of Group X by lowering or eliminating standards. Instead of trying to discover what might be holding Group X back, we are whitewashing the problem in the name of equity. Even worse, the people who push lowering standards in the name of racial equity make the problem worse by attacking those who are actually trying to solve the problem as racists.


Getting back to the real world; my opinion is that no race or population is inherently inferior intellectually or academically. If African-Americans do not do so well on standardized tests, it is because external factors prevent them from realizing their full potential. What these external factors might be, I cannot be sure. I am no expert. I would hazard a guess that the breakup of the Black family and a persistent attitude that academic achievement is somehow not authentically Black or getting good grades is acting White. It is not a coincidence that the East Asians and Jews I referred to as doing well come from cultures that prize strong families and academic achievement.


The NCAA’s recommendation to no longer require standardized tests for athletes to promote racial equity is a step backward in racial progress. It rests on the unspoken assumption that Blacks cannot compete on a level playing field because they are inferior and so must receive extra help from well-meaning Whites. It is the soft bigotry of low expectations or, perhaps the hard bigotry of no expectations at all. It ought to be stopped.

Keith Olbermann Thinks You’re Chicken

I was going to title this “Keith Olbermann is an Idiot”; but we already knew that. His latest idiocy is this video in which he attempts to persuade people to get the Chinese coronavirus vaccine by calling them chicken if they don’t.

Insulting people and calling them names isn’t an effective method of getting them to do something. Keith might have tried attempting to understand why some people might be reluctant to be vaccinated against COVID and presenting a clear, logical case why they ought to. If they still prefer not to be vaccinated, he might have tried respecting their decision. Instead, Keith reverts to the mentality of the grade school playground. He sounds, for all the world, like little boys, who attempt to prove their courage by daring each other to do foolish and dangerous things. I’m surprised he didn’t start mocking the vaccine-hesitant by clucking like a chicken or double-dog-daring people to get the shot.

What Keith doesn’t consider is that there is nothing wrong or shameful about being afraid, if there is cause to be afraid. There is cause to be afraid of the long-term effects of a vaccine rushed into production. The medical establishment assures us that the vaccines are safe, but the medical establishment has not inspired much trust in recent years. I can imagine seeing the advertisements twenty years from now, “If you have received the COVID vaccine and have developed a permanent crotch-itch, call our law office, you may be entitled to compensation. The vaccines are probably safe and effective, but who knows? I should point out that the most vaccine-hesitant are not White Trump supporters, as Keith Olbermann believes, but African-Americans. If you don’t know why Blacks might be more than a little distrustful of the medical establishment, look up the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

Keith also doesn’t seem to understand that the decision to refuse to get the shot might be entirely rational, based on careful consideration of the costs and benefits of the shot. When Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, no one had to be pressured into getting the vaccine. This is because everyone understood that polio is a horrific disease. Polio kills people. Polio causes paralysis. You don’t need to see many people trapped in an iron lung to be convinced that being vaccinated against polio is a good idea. COVID-19 is not horrific. Yes, people die from COVID, but for most people, the coronavirus is not much worse than the common flu. I am not saying that there are no risks associated with COVID and even the young and healthy can die, but this is a disease with a better than 99% survival rate. We are not talking about the Black Death or smallpox. It may be reasonable to decide that the unknown risks of the vaccine are greater than the risks of actual disease, particularly since the natural immunity gained after recovering from the disease is more effective than the immunity from the vaccine.

Keith casually brushes aside the concerns many of us have over vaccine mandates or passports, but this is a valid issue. Even those who have gotten the shot and believe that it would be advisable for everyone to be vaccinated have legitimate concerns about compelling people to be vaccinated. The whole business of showing a vaccine passport to enter a restaurant seems creepy and totalitarian, the sort of thing one might have seen in East Germany rather than a free republic. In the end, the citizens of a free country have the absolute right to decide what does and does not go into their bodies. Maybe it is foolish not to be vaccinated, but freedom must include the freedom to be foolish, or it is not freedom. In a free country, the decision to be vaccinated would be a personal decision that is no one else’s business. Certainly, the idea of mandating or compelling people to receive the vaccine would be unthinkable.

Keith and the left don’t want to live in a free country, however. They want to live in a country in which they are the elite who decide what’s best for us and we are the serfs who must submit. This is why they are so adamant about the vaccine mandate. It is a way to show the rest of us who is boss and to drive another wedge between us. The left is already trying to divide us by race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and anything else they can think of. Now they want to divide us between vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The fact is that it is Keith Olbermann and the leftist elites who are afraid. They are afraid that Americans of every color and creed will stand up and demand to be free. They are afraid that we will start to refuse to comply with their mandates. They are afraid we will start to ask questions about their handling of the coronavirus, of the border, of the Afghanistan withdrawal, of the economy and so much else. They are afraid we will resist their attempts at social media censorship and the false narratives they are pushing on us. They are afraid we will wrest control of the government and the institutions which they have seized and ruined from them and restore them to we the people. They are afraid of us.

I think it is past time we give them something to be afraid of.

CDC Newspeak Dictionary

The Centers for Disease Control has just released an updated edition of the New Speak Dictionary, that is to say, that the CDC has released a new “non-stigmantising” language guide. I read about this development from this article at Campus Reform.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently unveiled a lengthy “non-stigmatizing language” guide.

As Campus Reform has repeatedly reported, universities across the United States frequently implement “inclusive language” guides. The University of Michigan, for example, published a list of words that “are, or can be construed to be, racist, sexist, or non-inclusive.” Words such as “man,” “crazy,” “picnic,” “dummy,” “grandfathered in,” and “long time, no see” were deemed offensive in various ways.

Now, the nation’s top agency for addressing viral diseases has created a similar list of “Preferred Terms.”

 

“Language in communication products should reflect and speak to the needs of people in the audience of focus,” explains the CDC. “The following provides some preferred terms for select population groups; the terms to try to use represent an ongoing shift toward non-stigmatizing language.”

 

For example, the agency suggests replacing the phrase “smokers” with “people who smoke” and “alcoholics” with “persons with alcohol use disorder.” Similarly, they recommend swapping “homeless people” for “people experiencing homelessness” or “persons who are not securely housed.”

 

With respect to mental health, the CDC recommends using “specific disorders” whenever possible. Instead of “crazy” or “insane,” American should use “people with a diagnosis of a mental illness” or “people with a pre-existing mental health disorder.”

There is a lot more of this in the article and you can find the complete list of preferred terms here

I would think that an agency tasked with protecting the nation’s health would want their communications to be as clear as possible without any obfuscating euphemisms. I would suppose that they would feel that keeping people safe from disease, the whole purpose of even existing, might be just a little more important than keeping people from feeling stigmatized.

I think that it would be better for the Centers for Disease Control to express their findings bluntly and risk hurting feelings than for them to risk misunderstandings. As Dr. House put it. “What would you prefer – a doctor who holds your hand while you die or one who ignores you while you get better?”. Would you rather the CDC concentrated on fighting diseases or in being politically correct? I’d prefer they fight diseases. Too bad they have chosen otherwise. This makes it harder to take any of their recommendations on fighting the COVID pandemic seriously. 

 

Of Masks and Queues

Our governor here in Indiana has lifted the mask mandate. It is about time. We, Hoosiers, have been asked to wear a mask for about a year now and if there ever was any legitimate health reason to require citizens to wear masks in their daily lives, it has long since passed. The Chinese COVID-19 epidemic is receding. Vaccines are now available and probably the entire population has been exposed to the virus. There really is no reason to continue the mask mandates and lockdowns.

Yet, the order to lift the mandates has been surprisingly controversial. Those governors which have lifted their states’ mask mandates have been derided as science-denying Neanderthals even as COVID vaccines have become available and cases have been dropping. There is clearly no current justification for continued mask mandates and lockdowns if indeed there ever were. Why is there this insistence on compelling people to wear masks? I have a sort of a theory based on Chinese history. 

In 1644 the Manchus invaded and conquered China. Who are the Manchus, you might be asking? Well if you look at a map of China, the north-eastern part of China, north of Korea used to be called Manchuria.

These days it is called other names for various historical and political reasons, but never mind. The Manchus are the people who live in Manchuria.

The Manchus were a semi-nomadic steppe people much like the Mongolians. As is often the case when a less sophisticated people live alongside a more advanced nation, the Manchus came to admire the Chinese and began to adopt Chinese culture, settling down into cities and farms and importing Chinese artisans. Eventually the Manchu royal family, the Aisin-Gioro clan decided that they admired China so much that they should be the Emperors of China. They began to call themselves the Qing Dynasty and their king proclaimed himself Emperor

So, as I mentioned, in 1644, the Manchus invaded China. At the time China was beset with the usual political unrest, rebellions, and natural disasters which signified the transfer of the Mandate of Heaven from one dynasty, the Ming in this case, to the Qing so the Manchus were able to conquer China.

After they had consolidated their control, the Shunzhi Emperor decreed that every Chinese male must show his loyalty to the Manchus by wearing his hair in the Manchu fashion; his head shaved in the front and long in the back, gathered into a braid or queue. This decree was not popular, except among the toadies and collaborators among the Chinese. The Chinese viewed the Manchu as barbarians and had no desire to emulate them in any way. Moreover, Confucius had taught that as a person’s hair came from his parents, it was an act of disrespect to one’s ancestors to shave to cut one’s hair or beard.

After some initial resistance, the Chinese complied with this decree for the next two and a half centuries, as long as the Qing remained in power. For Westerners, the queue was the stereotypical Chinese hairstyle. Why was this? The Chinese outnumbered the Manchus by more than ten thousand to one. Why did Chinese men continue to wear their hair in a fashion they despised as a mark of their subjugation to a hated occupier? Well, for one thing, the Manchus were fierce steppe warriors, and the Chinese weren’t. Any man who refused to wear the queue was likely to be summarily beheaded as a traitor. A village where the men stopped complying could be destroyed.

Aside from that, China has never been a country that prizes individual liberty or great initiative from the masses. China has been a culture in which the common people were expected to obey their betters and let the Emperor and his Mandarin scholar-officials do the thinking for them. Obedience to their superiors had been pounded into the heads of the Chinese for two thousand years. And yet, the Chinese did resist. As the dynastic cycle progressed and the Qing began to decline, rebellions against the Manchus become increasingly common. The first thing the Chinese did when rebelling was to cut off their queues or let the hair in the front of their heads grow out. 

It seems to me that this insistence on continuing to mandate masks is less about controlling the COVID pandemic at this point and more about compelling a visible sign of submission to the regime, just like the Manchus required Chinese men to wear their hair in a queue. Why else should there be this insistence that everyone wear a mask, regardless of whether they have been infected? It seems to me that in a free country, the decision to wear a mask ought to be up to the individual. If you feel it is necessary to wear a mask to avoid contracting the coronavirus, by all means, wear one. If I believe that having had the coronavirus and been vaccinated believe that I am in no danger and therefore do not believe that wearing a mask is necessary, I shouldn’t be made to wear one. Why the name-calling and mask shaming? 

Maybe you think this is going a bit far. Well, consider this:

Wearing a mask is presented more as a gesture of loyalty to “President” Biden and his agenda than an actual health measure. 

The Chinese wore their hated queues under the threat of superior force and lived in a culture that emphasized conformity. We Americans allegedly have a culture that emphasizes freedom and individualism and no one is threatening to chop off our heads for not wearing a mask, at least not yet. So what is our excuse? Why are we being intimidated into continuing to wear masks even as the pandemic ebbs? Are we really that easily frightened? What happened to the people who wear willing to fight for their freedom?

If you want to wear a mask go ahead. If you don’t want to wear one, don’t. That is what people do in a free country. We don’t let our betters tell us whether to wear a mask. We decide for ourselves. Let’s take off the masks and be free. 

Nightfall

A couple of months ago, I discovered the science fiction/horror classic The Nightland by William Hope Hodgson. The Night is a poignant story of love and adventure set in a dying world millions of years in the future. In the Nightland the Sun has long ago gone out and the world is shrouded in an eternal night without even the Moon or stars to relieve the darkness of the night sky. The surface of the Earth is frozen and uninhabitable and life is only possible at the bottom of a canyon hundreds of miles deep where there is still some warmth from the Earth’s cooling core. There the last remnant of humanity survives in a gigantic pyramid-shaped Last Redoubt besieged by monsters and eldritch forces of evil. There is no chance for humanity to break the siege or defeat the evil forces arrayed against it. They can only wait until the Earth Current which powers the defenses of the Last Redoubt fail at last and the evil forces destroy them.

This story has made quite an impression on me and lately, I find myself thinking about endings. Maybe it is because I am getting older and can see the end coming, Maybe current events seem to be pointing towards the decline and fall of the American Empire as we watch. Whatever the reason, I have been thinking about the end of all things.

The Nightland was written in 1912 and so the science in the book is more than a little dated. We now know that the Sun is powered by nuclear fusion, not by gravitational collapse, and is going to continue burning for billions rather than millions of years. We also know that the Sun will grow hotter and brighter as it exhausts its hydrogen, that it will become a red giant and will swallow Mercury, Venus, and probably Earth before settling down to become a white dwarf slowly cooling down to become a black dwarf. The Earth, assuming it survives, will have long since become uninhabitable, and the human race, unless we have colonized other star systems, will be extinct.

But what about the universe as a whole? Assuming we have learned to travel the vast distances between the stars and made new homes on other planets, how long can we expect to survive. How long will the universe last? Will the world in fire or ice, as the poet said?

Well, the universe certainly began in fire, according to current scientific theory. To be less poetic, the universe began in a state of extreme temperature and density being very much smaller than it is at present, perhaps even beginning as a singularity of infinite density and infinitesimal size. From this point, the big bang, the universe began to expand very rapidly in the process, creating the matter that currently makes up the universe.

Since the big bang, the universe has continued to expand, becoming ever larger and cooler. The question of whether the universe will end in fire or ice depends on whether that expansion will continue forever or whether at some point it will stop and the universe will begin contracting back to a hotter, denser state, perhaps all the way back into a singularity. Maybe the history of the universe is a never-ending cycle of expansion and contraction. Maybe the universe will end in fire to rise again from its own ashes like the phoenix

That doesn’t seem to be the case, though. The does not seem to be enough matter in the universe to slow its expansion and in fact, the rate of expansion seems to be accelerating due to a mysterious force scientists call. dark energy. If current theories are true, the universe will end in ice. We are living in a universe that will grow ever larger, colder, darker, and emptier without any definite end. The stars will die out as they exhaust their nuclear fuel and after some time there will not be not hydrogen gas in space to create new stars. The galaxies will be filled with the corpses of stars, bodies of degenerate matter such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes.

Over the limitless eons, the black holes will attract most of the matter in the universe to themselves with their immense gravitational pull, and eventually, the universe will consist almost entirely of black holes.

This is not quite the end, though. Black Holes do not last forever. According to Stephen Hawking, black holes are not entirely black. For complicated reasons having to do with quantum mechanics, black holes actually emit a small amount of thermal or black body radiation. As they emit this radiation, black holes slowly lose mass, until eventually a black hole is unable to hold itself together with its gravity and it explodes. Paradoxically, larger black holes emit less such radiation than smaller ones. At present, a black hole will take in far more matter and radiation than it could possibly lose through Hawking radiation, but as the universe grows cooler and emptier, black holes will begin to lose mass. This will only happen in the far, distant future and the process of black hole evaporation will take an inconceivably long time, but we are talking about such immense stretches of time that all the thirteen billion years from the big bang to the present is just an eyeblink.

The last events that anyone will observe, if any observers exist, will be the very occasional, perhaps once every billion years, death of a black hole. After the last black hole is gone then night will fall and the universe will be shrouded in darkness, eternal and inescapable. Even matter itself, as we know it will no longer exist if protons decay, as some theories suggest.

Or, maybe not. All of this assumes that our current understanding of the laws of nature over the long eons is correct. It may not be. In fact, it is more than a little presumptuous to imagine that we can know what is really going to happen in the distant future. The universe is full of surprises. In particular, not very much is known about the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. The term dark energy seems to me to be a sort of place holder, a short way of saying we don’t know what it is, or anything about it. For all anyone knows, dark energy could reverse itself and cause the universe to contract. Even if our ideas about the future of the universe are correct, they may not be complete. There may be emergent properties in the universe, yet to develop.

To understand what I mean, imagine some form of intelligence arising in the seconds after the big bang. These beings might consider the future of the universe as growing ever colder and darker over such unimaginable lengths of time as days, years, or centuries. They could have no conception that such objects as stars or planets, or even atoms might develop, filling the universe with light and life. In like fashion, it is possible that new forms of matter and energy might develop in the extremely distant future. There could be lifeforms spanning thousands of light-years living for eons who look back on our time as simply the last stage of the big bang, never imagining that anything could live in the dense, hot universe of the past. Perhaps night will not fall, but the universe will continue to be filled with life in forms we cannot imagine.

Maybe the universe will end in fire, maybe in ice, or maybe there will never be an end, just a continual evolution into new and very different forms. Perhaps we will never know.

 

Pi Day

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi.

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first used by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way, is not pronounced “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were not very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits. Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s, it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years calculating pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately, he made a mistake with the 528th digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached in 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
  45648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273
  72458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436
  78925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094
  33057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548
  07446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912
  98336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798
  60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132
  00056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872
  14684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235
  42019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960
  51870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859
  50244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881
  71010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303
  59825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778
  18577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

Unscientific American

Scientific American used to be a respectable magazine that reported on the latest scientific discoveries for a popular audience. Sadly, that no longer appears to be the case. Take, for example, this interview with “forensic psychologist” Bandy X Lee, in which she discusses the “shared psychosis”: of President Donald Trump and his followers and how best to wean his followers away from their shared delusions. It used to be regarded as highly unethical, in the psychiatric profession to offer a diagnosis of a person the professional has not interviewed and in fact, the American Psychiatric Association has the Goldwater Rule in its ethical guidelines. This rule states:

On occasion, psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement

Ms. Lee brushes this objection aside in the interview.

In doing so, Lee and her colleagues strongly rejected the American Psychiatric Association’s modification of a 1970s-era guideline, known as the Goldwater Rule, that discouraged psychiatrists from giving a professional opinion about public figures who they have not examined in person. “Whenever the Goldwater rule is mentioned, we should refer back to the Declaration of Geneva, which mandates that physicians speak up against destructive governments,” Lee says. “This declaration was created in response to the experience of Nazism.”

How precisely Trump’s government could be considered “destructive” is not mentioned. The usual reason given by leftists is that Trump has been undermining our constitutional and democratic norms. In fact, it is the leftists who have been undermining the norms to get Trump. They have corrupted and politized our intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies to supple falsified information concerning Russian collusion. They have incited riots and unrest in our major cities. They have imposed censorship in social media to influence the election. They have rigged that election to ensure Trump’s defeat. Ms. Lee herself has abandoned longstanding ethical guidelines to engage in a political attack. I would say that the complaints about Trump undermining norms are prime examples of leftist projection. Ms. Lee’s comparison of Trump to Nazism says much about her own delusions. Ms. Lee might also want to consider the history of Soviet misuse of psychiatry to define dissidents as mentally ill. Her own suggested treatment of allegedly delusional Trump supporters comes dangerously close to Soviet standards. There is a reason why the Goldwater rule exists.

Consider what she has to say when asked what motivates Trump supporters.

The reasons are multiple and varied, but in my recent public-service book, Profile of a Nation, I have outlined two major emotional drives: narcissistic symbiosis and shared psychosis. Narcissistic symbiosis refers to the developmental wounds that make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence—while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. When such wounded individuals are given positions of power, they arouse similar pathology in the population that creates a “lock and key” relationship.

and

In Profile of a Nation, I outline the many causes that create his followership. But there is important psychological injury that arises from relative—not absolute—socioeconomic deprivation. Yes, there is great injury, anger and redirectable energy for hatred, which Trump harnessed and stoked for his manipulation and use. The emotional bonds he has created facilitate shared psychosis at a massive scale. It is a natural consequence of the conditions we have set up.

For healing, I usually recommend three steps: (1) Removal of the offending agent (the influential person with severe symptoms). (2) Dismantling systems of thought control—common in advertising but now also heavily adopted by politics. And (3) fixing the socioeconomic conditions that give rise to poor collective mental health in the first place.

I wonder if Ms. Lee has actually spoken to any Trump supporter. She might consider that many of them have real grievances that have been unaddressed by any national figure before Trump ran for president. She might also try to understand that many of Trump’s supporters have benefited from his policies. There is a reason why more people voted for Trump in 2020 than in 2016 and why the Democrats had to hype up the COVID-19 threat and then resort to fraud to defeat Trump.

Scientific American had no business publishing this interview with Bandy X Lee. She has acted in violation of ethical guidelines. She has not met or interviewed Donald Trump and is therefore not qualified to submit any psychiatric diagnoses. She is entitled to her opinion about Trump, and other public figures, but such opinions belong in a political opinion journal, not in a publication devoted to scientific matters. The decision by the editors of Scientific American to publish this interview is an indication of the sad decline of any institution taken over by the left. Leftists infiltrate formerly respectable institutions, “wokeify” them, and leave a sort of husk divested of its former virtues. The left is like a sort of parasitical fungus I once read about that eats away at an insect from the inside out leaving only its carapace intact to lure more victims. Such is the fate of the formerly Scientific American.

The Nativity According to Matthew

The Adoration of the Magi (circa 1305) by Giot...
The Adoration of the Magi

 

Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. I’ll skip the genealogy and go straight to his account of Jesus’s birth.

 

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 1:18-2:20)

 

Most people think that the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem involved the murder of hundreds or thousands of innocents. Remember, though, that Bethlehem was a small village at this time with a likely population of a few hundred. It is doubtful that more than half a dozen children were killed, not enough to make it into any other sources we have for Herod’s rule. Herod was certainly ruthless enough to order such a massacre. He had no trouble killing members of his own family if he thought they threatened his rule. In fact, Herod being an Idumean (or Edomite) and not a Jew, was a foreigner and so was as despised by many Judeans as a Roman governor would have been. If he had heard that there was a potential rival to his throne, even a child, that the Jews might rally around, he would have wasted no time in disposing of that rival.

 

The word Magi usually refers to Zoroastrian priests. In Greco-Roman usage, the term Magi had connotations of magicians or sorcerers, exotic figures from distant lands. It is not clear just who the Magi actually were. They may indeed have been Zoroastrians. The references to the Star of Bethlehem suggest that they may have been astrologers. The Babylonians had a reputation for being skilled in astrology and magic so the Magi may have come from Mesopotamia. They may also have been Jewish since they were seeking for a king of the Jews. The fact that they were unfamiliar with the prophets may prove that they were Gentiles. The number of the Magi is not given in the Gospel. The reason that three are usually pictured is that there were three gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

It is also not clear just what the Star of Bethlehem was. There have been several theories presented, but none of them are entirely satisfactory. The star might have been a supernova, perhaps in a nearby galaxy. There is no way to know for certain since any supernova remnant so far away would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to detect. It might also have been a comet. This is rather unlikely. Although a comet would behave much as the star is said to behave, hanging in the sky over a certain location for several nights, comets were universally perceived as being harbingers of disaster in ancient, and not so ancient, times. The most likely explanation is a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. The astronomer Keppler discovered that there was indeed such a conjunction in the year 7 BC. The following year there was another conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This might have been very impressive to the Magi. It may also be that the Star was a supernatural phenomenon and one that cannot be studied today.

 

%d bloggers like this: