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Lax parents blamed for 'attention deficit' behaviour

John H. john at faraway.com
Tue Aug 5 01:51:50 EST 2003

I agree on Catalyst, just wanted the opinion of someone closer to the
coalface of science. Unfortunately I am avid newsreader and what I am now
noticing is that FAR too much research is published as being "ground
breaking" when I have referencing even on my tiny database going back 3
years or more of basically the same research. The Genome stuff is a real
bugbear for me too, I think the public is developing a profound
misunderstanding of genetics and I worry that the spectre of Spencerian
Darwinism may again raise its ugly head(though Matthew Ridley writes very
well in relation to genetics for the popular audience). How it even got
started is beyond me, note the comment from Charles Darwin:

"I am not conscious of having profited in my work from Spencer's writings.
His deductive manner of treating every subject is wholly opposed to my frame
of mind. His conclusions never convince me ... . They partake more of the
nature of definition than of laws of nature.

As my conclusion have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been
stated that I attribue the modifcation of species exclusively to natural
selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this
work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position - namely at
the close of the Introduction - the following words. 'I am convinced that
natural selection has been the main, but not the exclusive, means of
modification'. This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady

Note that last comment, that is exactly what is happening today.

As if that wasn't enough, the philosopher GE Moore came up with the
"naturalistic fallacy" idea (1901 I believe) to counter the rise in
Spencer's ideas. Oh but wait, then comes along the USA based eugenics
movements of the 1920's (how's this for a laugh: they tried to exclude Jews
because they thought they were dumb) which was later appropriated by the
Nazis. To add to my woes, I often suspect that an undergirding assumption of
globalisation was "survival of the fittest".

It is extremely difficult for the scientific community to counter such
misrepresentations. Try something new, go to a Bookworld store and look at
the self help sections. Very distressing vis a vis pseudo science.
Intellectual honesty is not encouraged by the marketplace.

I think a big problem for scientists now is that they are being pushed, at
least in Australia, to also be businesspeople, entrepreneurs, teachers,
researchers, investor hunters, and publicists for science. Jeez, I wonder
how much better science would proceed if scientists were allowed to do
science and teaching. Hence scientists must too often stretch the
signficance of their findings to obtain funding, seeking capital and
maintain tenure. I would appreciate it if scientists here would comment on
that aspect of the current world of science.

Yes, I used to say to people, when learning and researching, if you're not
making mistakes, you're not trying hard enough. One psychological trick I
used to employ to avoid hubris was never to appropriate ideas as my own, to
be prepared to follow the Buddha's idea of "throw it down."  Expect
mistakes, as one wit said, "Genius is perseverance in disguise." There's
more truth to that than many appreciate. Most brilliant people work
extremely hard, whether in arts or science.

As Tchaikovsky noted,

"We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands
>in the pretext that he is not in the mood."

Or as Brahms once said of Beethoven,

>"Who, in your opinion, was a perfect type of the creative genuis?"
>"Beethoven. He had lofty inspirations, and at the same time he was an
>indefatigable worker. We all have to work hard."

Or as Margaret Boden noted of Mozart,

>"Even Mozart needed 11 years of concentrated practice before he wrote a
>major composition."

Newton used to fall asleep at the bench, one professor recommended Feynman
for a posting one reason being he was capable of working very hard.
Scientists should be allowed to devote more time to research, those who
suggest otherwise simply don't appreciate how difficult science is. The
reason for that, in part at least, is because of the misrepresentation of
science in the popular media.

Yet today scientists are expected to produce clinically relevant results
yesterday. Nixon proclaimed the 70's as the decade to defeat cancer, the
90's was decade of the brain, and while great progress is being made, I
suspect most people completely under-estimate just how difficult science is.
And I agree with Didier too, Life Sciences are far more challenging than

As to those who don't like admitting errors, they should read the wonderful
work of Anthony Storr, "Feet of Clay", wherein he mentions how those who set
themselves up as sages etc have absolute confidence in their convictions and
often refuse to acknowledge error.

So good luck to you scientists and I trust that over the coming years there
will be a more realistic presentation of scientific research and its
applications. Give 'em hell you bods.

John H>

johnYYYcoe at tpg.com.au

remove YYY in reply
"Matthew Kirkcaldie" <Matthew.Kirkcaldie at newcastle.edu.au> wrote in message
news:Matthew.Kirkcaldie-58A5EA.12174405082003 at seagoon.newcastle.edu.au...
> In article <3f2e64a5 at dnews.tpgi.com.au>, "John H." <john at faraway.com>
> wrote:
> > Then I'm afraid you're going to be a busy boy Matthew! However, let's
> > the waters. Broadly and briefly, how would judge the quality and
accuracy of
> > a program like Catalyst (Aussie science program for those overseas)?
> I like Catalyst, and I have an unreserved admiration for anyone who
> makes an honest attempt to bring science to the general public in a
> demystified way - Karl Kruszelnicki (Dr Karl) and Steve Irwin spring to
> mind, since whatever their quirks as presenters, they always strive for
> accuracy, and communicate their genuine enthusiasm.  Of course, for all
> his supposed failings, Carl Sagan was a massive inspiration to every
> teenaged kid like me who watched Cosmos and realised you could use
> science to ask about people and their environment, instead of the
> acceleration due to gravity.
> Like any journalistic endeavour, Catalyst are at the mercy of their
> sources, but they generally do a bang-up job of enlivening their pieces,
> and get the facts straight as they are presented.  Occasionally they
> present opposing sides of a debate in a worthwhile way, too.  The
> problem, of course, is that the current funding climate has created a
> body of researchers who are aware of media power and are increasingly
> sophisticated in the way they manipulate media exposure, which leads to
> some fairly purple claims being made for what is essentially basic
> research.  If "basic science" wasn't such a dirty word in our
> instant-gratification, year-on-year-earnings, patent-or-die funding
> climate then you'd see more scientists being a LOT more candid about
> where their work is headed.  This of course is why fast-turnaround
> methods like fMRI, gene arrays, c-Fos labelling and cell culture are
> being used so much in neuroscience - and frequently misapplied as well.
> Most scientists would probably say there's nothing wrong with studying a
> system for the sheer challenge of understanding it, and to hope that
> such understanding will be of benefit down the track.  But those same
> people are forced to write "is likely to be of clinical utility in five
> years" or "addresses an immediate and pressing social problem" in order
> to justify their research for funding purposes.  Or worse, they are
> forced to follow projects which meet these criteria by filling in the
> gaps in established knowledge.  I reckon that in a decade we will find
> we have coloured in the map very thoroughly but there are no new
> countries to explore, because the long punts were discouraged. (end of
> rant)
> > By the way, I'm an armchair philosopher but make an honest attempt to
get at
> > the truth still with too many errors. Whatever, as James Joyce noted, "A
> > man's errors are his portals of discovery."(Ulysses I think but can't be
> > bothered checking tonight)
> Oh, I'm an armchair philosopher too!  I just get irritated by people who
> present their opinions and theories as fact, in order to gain notoriety
> or gain financially!  Particularly the latter.  As long as both of us
> are comfortable with having our ideas shot down or rebuilt from the
> ground up, I think we'll be all right.  Actually, I really enjoy having
> a cherished notion yanked out from under me, it tells you fairly quickly
> how robust your other ideas are.  If you strike someone who doesn't like
> to be challenged or questioned, chances are they're out of their depth
> but putting up a bluff for some ulterior motive.
>       Cheers,
>          Matthew.
> PS: Most fun I've had today, that's for sure ... !

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