Science and the Man

Been checking my previous references to “Epstein” but none seem to be the “Jeffrey Epstein”. I checked because it’s quite clear that the (convicted and now dead) billionaire who liked to party and throw his money around to win friends and influence people is clearly “connected” with many science types through Harvard / MIT / Santa-Fe and the Edge publisher John Brockman.

The creepy Larry Krauss is one I’ve mentioned a few times before. I long since decided he was a charlatan science-wise, since it was always clear he’d prefer to ignore difficult questions that might undermine the main thesis of his current book and lecture tour sales. Now, in philosophy or science, getting books published and marketed to best-selling proportions is a tough -messy, commercial – business that goes well beyond their content. I’m not one of those who gets sniffy at academics needing to get commercial reward from book sales. Sexy sells, figuratively speaking at least. Krauss and Dawkins and Hawking are simply examples of where the successful marketing messages get hopelessly confused with good science, to the detriment of real science (and philosophy and public knowledge) as a whole. Most of it concerns the politics of getting their next project funded.

My own main agenda, really, is to counter this with concerns for the supposed self-correcting aspects of the methods of science. (They’re way out of kilter with the speed of modern communication channels systematically non-robust, beyond-fragile, technically non-anti-fragile.)

Frankly I have no idea what Epstein’s real interests (or credentials) ever were in science, but it’s clear he’s funded a few scientists and their projects along the way. The billionaire gets the power buzz, the participants get the attention buzz. A proven recipe. Unless Epstein had some almighty “sting” project in mind I can’t imagine what other motives there could beyond the power-play dependency with the added buzz of illicit sexual danger.

I’m no conspiracy theorist, and have no idea how many of the academic types were where on the knowing / reluctant / willing scale, how many actually participated in the available options or how many had their scientific agendas distorted by their motivations. 90% of science is crap, because 90% of everything is crap. Cock-up rules. If you’re Brockman, money, connections and publicity can only be good for marketing and sales.

The whole thing is very sad, not least for the underage victims criminally exploited. But defending the alleged actions – a la Krauss – is far worse, far beyond regret at errors of judgement.

I still find Brockman’s Edge a useful resource. (Most recently from 2017 unedited) (Many more going back to 2004) Even if only 10% of the objective content is any good, that’s valuable if you have hundreds of individual resources and you can smell the quality. In selecting nuggets from answers to the annual question (4 of the 14 in 2017 were women), I’ve remarked before that part of it is recognising the career politics of the contributors – is this a career-defining idea they need to sell, or are they comfortably into the tenure phase of their first careers or are they onto their second and third careers and can simply afford to be speculatively mischievous? The “business models” used in academia are clearly a root problem here.

Science and the man are inseparable.
A lot of it stinks.


Hat tip to Sophie Scott for sharing this tweet from Rebecca Watson, and to the whole thread of linked resources:

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