Archive for August, 2013

My Top 10 Favourite Bands/Performers …

August 26, 2013

When I showed my list of my top 10 favourite songs to a friend of mine, he was surprised, but mostly by the fact that there was nothing by Ozzy Osbourne on it. In writing my expansion on that theme and listing some of my other favourite songs, I pointed out that while I had a longer list of favourite Meat Loaf songs than songs by The Cars, I still thought that I liked The Cars better overall, at least in part because the songs didn’t stand out; they were all good and I could listen to all of them. So, favourite songs and favourite bands/performers don’t always align, which makes perfect sense; after all, that’s precisely how one-hit wonders work.

So, I thought it would make sense to list my top 10 favourite bands:

10 The Odds
9 Huey Lewis and the News
8 Heart
7 Alice Cooper
6 Meat Loaf
5 Ozzy Osbourne
4 Duran Duran
3 Dire Straits
2 The Cars

Again, this is done with a bit of thought, but in the middle and at the end a lot of it was just going from the bands that I thought of quickly, so there might be ones I’m missing.

Take Two …

August 26, 2013

I watched and talked about the amateur Lydia Ko winning the Canadian Open last year.

Well, she came back this year and did it again. Going away. Again.

She seemed a bit more serious and to have a little less wonder this year, which is sad. But once she turns pro — and she will, eventually — she should be a force on the LPGA tour for years to come.

The most remarkable thing? Over the past two years, she’s had to forfeit almost a million dollars in prize money, because she’s an amateur. That’s a pretty large chunk of change to give up.

Smallville: They Should Have Kept Gina.

August 23, 2013

I’m watching Smallville again, and am again right at the end of Season 7 and the beginning of Season 8, and the end of Season 7 reminded just how much better it would have been if they had never introduced Tess Mercer to replace Lex Luthor, but instead had simply not killed off Gina at the end of Season 7. Everything that they had in Tess Mercer they had in her: she was only his assistant, and so all of the plot lines about her not being considered qualified to run Luthorcorp were valid, she had been involved with Lex in some of his dirtiest dealings and so was certainly trusted by him, she had the undercurrent of being in love with Lex, she was demonstrated to be absolutely ruthless and so was already established as being a threat, her background was vague enough that if they really, really, really had to do the link to Green Arrow — and I personally think that was a really bad idea — they could have done it, and since we had already been exposed to her it would have made for an easier transition from the old main villain to the new one. Add to that that Gina’s death was for the most part absolutely pointless and utterly unnecessary to most of the plot, and that even with that scene they could have inserted some kind of last minute save that could have also resulted in her losing her memory of who the Traveller was, and it smacks of lost potential.

And one thing that strikes me about Season 7 is that there was a lot of lost potential in it, sacrificed in an attempt, it seems, to make things seem more serious and to promote Lex becoming more villainous. The death of Julian is a prime example of that, as is the death of Patricia Swann, as is the death of Gina. None of them were necessary and all of them squander what could have been good plotlines. Having Julian as a naive intermediary between Lionel and Lex would have been a nice development, and even though the ending harkened back to Lex handling a similar situation differently (when Lex was the naive one to trust his brother, kinda), it wasted a long set-up with Julian and his relationship with Lois. Maybe he wasn’t really panning out to the audience at the time — he was kinda annoying to me as well — but because of the set-up the ending just seems to make it worse: focus on a character, interweave him, and then ditch him unceremoniously with a slightly out-of-character move from Lex, who had always tended to be focused on more subtle means first before rsorting to outright violence … just like Lionel. The same thing applies to the death of Patricia Swann. She was an interesting character who could have brought so much more to the table than merely being the person who delivered the plot MacGuffin and died. I was heartened by the hints that she was going to get involved in the story and disappointed with her, again, unceremonious death.

Not only did they waste good characters, the latter two really hurt Lex as a villain, turning him into more of a thug than a Mastermind/Chessmaster, someone who’s first answer is to kill opponents rather than co-opt them into doing his will. And the one that he does co-opt is Jimmy Olsen, who’s not much of a threat. Seeing Lex manipulate major players would establish his credibility as a thinking villain, especially since against Clark Kent/Superman brute force isn’t going to be all that effective. So, Lex’s methods in Season 7 tend to be crude, direct, and brutal, far more so than his methods in previous seasons and making him out to be a far inferior Chessmaster when compared to Lionel … who, don’t get me wrong, was indeed more than willing to kill as well, but was more subtle and had more pinache about it, and also seemed to be almost disappointed when he had to resort to those sorts of crude methods. Lex seems to jump to them first, which is disappointing, especially since Lex Luthor was an incredibly good villain in the previous seasons.

To return to the original topic, Gina could have provided a more brutal villain by combining her ruthlessness, her anger and the fact that she was just not the sort of Chessmaster that the Luthers were, without derailing a character to do so, or introducing a new character that no one knew or cared about to try to fill a void that was already going to be difficult to fill. That she wasn’t the villain Lex was not only would be understandable and expected, but could have worked into her story arc. Keeping Patricia Swann around would have allowed her to step into Tess’ more heroic role and allowed us to keep Gina as a more pure villain, and then Seasons 8 and onward could have set up a subplot of villainy where the main, head-to-head battles could have been between Swann and Gina, an intellectual and ruthless “catfight” to replace the Lex/Clark or Lex/Lionel showdowns, while still heavily involving Clark, Chloe and the others because all of the fighting is, in fact, over Clark, and the story that he presents. I think having two strong, capable women doing the at least public competing would make for a nice change, and those two characters — and actresses — could have pulled it off well.

And then we wouldn’t have had to have lines like Tess insisting that the desk was Lex’s be establishing lines, as opposed to being simple reflections of character traits that we already knew about. If Gina had been in that scene (from the Season 8 premiere), you could have seen the conflict in her from the right context: Gina wanting the power and control, but not wanting to supplant Lex and desperately wanting him to be alive. With Tess, we aren’t sure what that means, because the line is supposed to help us learn about the character. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would have been so much better if we hadn’t had to learn about that character at all.

More of my favourites …

August 23, 2013

And these won’t be in order, but will probably be grouped in terms of various bands. Today, I think I’ll do “The Odds”, “The Cars”, Chris De Burgh and Meat Loaf.

The Odds are an old little group, but they’ve put out some wonderful songs, and there’s one of their songs that I often quote in posts as an side, which is this one: “It Falls Apart”. But that’s not their best and probably not their most famous song. That might be “Eat My Brain” or Someone Who’s Cool, which are among my favourites as well. What highlights them the most is the fact that their lyrics are, well, quite odd, and so very entertaining to listen to. Some my other favourites are I Would Be Your Man, which might be my all-time favourite of theirs, and Make You Mad. I think the only CD of theirs that I don’t like that I’ve had is “Neapolitan”, as I like “Good Weird Feeling” and “Bedbugs”.

I bought a greatest hits CD of Chris de Burgh for “The Lady in Red”, but ended up liking a number of other songs from him. My favourite of his might well be “Borderline”, “The Lady in Red” made the top ten due to history and being the one I remember when I think of him. I also like “Don’t Pay the Ferryman”, which has an odd background. During at least one of the times that I was obsessively listening to that CD, I was watching “Murder in Small Town X, which was one of the better reality shows that came out — and ran for only one season, unfortunately — of the reality TV boom, and one of the main suspects was, indeed, the ferryman, adding a new dimension to the song. I also like “A Spaceman Came Travelling”, “Say Goodbye to it All”, but mostly as a continuation and completion of “Borderline”, “Diamond in the Dark”, and “High on Emotion”. But everything on the “Spark to a Flame” compilation CD is good.

For Meat Loaf, I think his best CD is “Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose”, with the title track maybe being the best song, although it gets stiff competition from “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”, “Blind as a Bat”, “Bad For Good”, “In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King” and “If God Could Talk”. And I could probably list others. See why I say that this is his best CD? There isn’t a bad song on the whole CD. On other CDs, on “Bat out of Hell II” we have “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”, “It Just Won’t Quit”, and “Objects in the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are”, as well as others that are good but probably don’t qualify as favourites. From “Bat Out of Hell”, I’m not that fond of the obvious ones, aside from “Bat Out of Hell” itself, but prefer “For Crying Out Loud” which is probably my favourite on that CD and liked better than anything on “Bat Out of Hell II”, “Heaven Can Wait”, and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad”.

As for this other CDs, I own and like “Bad Attitude”, and put “Cheating in Your Dreams” in the same category as “Porcelain”, except it isn’t done anywhere near as well, and also like “Surf’s Up” and Nowhere Fast. And from “Welcome to the Neighbourhood”, in addition to “I’d Lie to You (And That’s the Truth)”, there’s “Original Sin”, “Not a Dry Eye in the House” and “Left in the Dark”.

That leaves only “The Cars” — and Ric Ocasek –to handle in this rather long list. Aside from “Drive”, my favourites of “The Cars” are “You Might Think”, “Magic”, and “Dangerous Type”. And despite having a relatively short list of favourite songs (which might be more if I wasn’t just going off of the greatest hits CD I have), they are one of my favourite bands because pretty much all of their songs are good, even if they aren’t standouts. Or maybe one of the reasons they don’t stand out is because they’re all pretty good.

I also have a number of Ric Ocasek CDs, which I generally like. From “This Side of Paradise”, I love “Emotion in Motion”, “True Love”, and “Hello Darkness” (the first song I can’t find a youtube link to!). From “Fireball Zone”, there’s “Rockaway”, “They Tried”, “Fireball Zone” and what competes with “Emotion in Motion” as my favourite of his, “The Way You Look Tonight” which in my opinion, like “Drive” is one of the most realistic and yet still romantic love songs I’ve ever heard.

So, that’s this segment, but we still have AC/DC and Dire Straits to go through, as well as the favourites that I didn’t even list on my top ten like Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper. So much more to come.

Better than the Beatles …

August 22, 2013

Over at Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne went on an old man, get off my lawn rant about the state of modern music, listing the Beatles, the Stones, and The Band as groups that modern rock and roll simply can’t match, comparing them to an Avril Lavigne song, in this post. Then, when a lot of people said that they didn’t like the Beatles, and some did, hedecided to post his favourite Beatles song and use the title and the text to — semi-seriously, I hope — challenge people to match that song.

Okay, I’m not a Beatles fan, although I don’t hate them, but that’s not even my favourite Beatles song, so I came up with a number of songs that were, in my opinion, better, and then decided to actually post something here by listing, with links to youtube if I can manage it, my top 10 favourite songs in some semblance of order. (Some of the songs that I listed there will not be among the songs I list here. See if you can find them!).

10 Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart. I bought her greatest hits CD because of this song. This was the only song I really liked.
9 Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This was played in my grade school class as a way of examining poetry and music, and I was hooked. I still love it.
8 Chris De Burgh – Lady in Red. Surprised the heck out of the people in my group at work when I told them that I liked this song, especially since they knew I liked AC/DC.
7 Mark Knopfler – Prarie Wedding. The best song on “Sailing to Philadelphia”.
6 Meat Loaf – I’d Lie For You (And That’s the Truth). My old suitemates would never believe that that’s my favourite Meat Loaf song, since I listened to “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) for pretty much an entire semester in university.
5 AC/DC – Hell’s Bells. My second favourite AC/DC song. And yes, former co-workers, I did fib when I selected this at the Christmas activity, but this was the more appropriate song for a party.
4 AC/DC – Ride On. My favourite AC/DC song ever.
3 The Cars: Drive. The Cars have a lot of great songs. This is probably the best.
2 Amy Lee and Seether – Broken. I bought the Punisher CD for this song. I played it over and over and over again … this song, not the CD, which is not that great.
1 Better than Ezra – Porcelain. The most beautiful and disturbing song I’ve ever heard.

The top three are pretty much a wash; depending on the day, I might choose one of them over the other (today, I was leaning towards Broken being number 1, but couldn’t put it ahead of the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard).

Why most of these are on the list is that, in my opinion, you can’t listen to these songs and not be affected by them or drawn into them, while others didn’t quite have that effect despite my remembering them first. And I can’t think of one Beatles song that does that to me, and absolutely no Stones song that does that to me.

You know what? I think I’ll make a series out of this, because this one was tossed together in a bit of a hurry and a lot of my favourite songs didn’t make the list.

Pinker on Scientism …

August 8, 2013

So, Stephen Pinker has decided to take on scientism, in an article where he implores those in the humanities to not consider science an enemy. However, as I argued through my Scientism 101 series, most of the humanities don’t consider science an enemy, and are often more than happy to consider its input if they think it will help them solve their problems. Philosophy, for example, has a long history of trying to integrate science and its successes into its own methodology … with at best mixed results. For the most part, when philosophers say “Science isn’t going to help here” they aren’t saying that because they’re afraid of science encroaching on their field, but instead because they’ve looked at what science can bring to the table and discovered that it really can’t being much. And in pretty much all the fields where science could have any bearing, the question of whether or not science could help us solve the problems keeps getting raised … by philosophers. While one can argue that religion tends to treat science like an enemy, it’s hard to see how philosophy and most of the humanities treat it that way.

But this strikes at one of the major issues with Pinker’s essay. He starts with this:

The great thinkers of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment were scientists. Not only did many of them contribute to mathematics, physics, and physiology, but all of them were avid theorists in the sciences of human nature. They were cognitive neuroscientists, who tried to explain thought and emotion in terms of physical mechanisms of the nervous system. They were evolutionary psychologists, who speculated on life in a state of nature and on animal instincts that are “infused into our bosoms.” And they were social psychologists, who wrote of the moral sentiments that draw us together, the selfish passions that inflame us, and the foibles of shortsightedness that frustrate our best-laid plans.

So who were these “scientists”?

These thinkers—Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Leibniz, Kant, Smith— …

It’s very interesting to call these thinkers “scientists”, considering that of those about the only one that you might find talked about at all in any course under the Faculty of Science at most universities is Descartes … and that would be for his mathematics, mostly. All of these thinkers and those great and important thoughts that Pinker mentions are covered in … philosophy courses. You won’t get through Philosophy 101 without hearing a lot about Descartes, and you’ll probably at least get Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Kant there as well. When you start talking about ethics, you’ll hear about Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau and Kant. There are entire graduate level courses in philosophy dedicated to Spinoza and Leibniz. Smith, assuming that I’m thinking of the right one, gets talked about in economics and poltical science courses. These “scientists” that Pinker talks about are people who are major figures in the humanities, but are never or rarely talked about in formal science courses. The humanities revere them and think of them as important, while the sciences mostly ignore them. So how in the world can you justify calling them scientists? It would be like treating Newton as primarily a philosopher even though his philosophical work is mostly ignored in philosophy and his actual scientific work is fundamental to science and taught in introductory science courses. There is no reason to treat these thinkers as scientists and not philosophers.

That’s a big issue in Pinker’s essay: while he spends a lot of time talking about the impact of science on religion and how the humanities can use science to get past that, he tends to completely ignore the actual humanities in those discussions … and yet he wants to claim that science will not displace the humanities or subsume them under science, but that instead science will simply help. To that end, focusing more on what the humanities bring to the table, demonstrating that he understands what they can bring to the table and the limits to what science itself can do. He handwaves at that at times, but the fact that the humanities themselves get mostly ignored and that some of the things he says are flat-out ignorant of the history of the questions and fields he presents means that his essay fails to hit the point; he demonstrates the problems of scientism while attempt to demonstrate that there are no such problems.

Though everyone endorses science when it can cure disease, monitor the environment, or bash political opponents, the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities has been deeply resented.

In the major journals of opinion, scientific carpetbaggers are regularly accused of determinism, reductionism, essentialism, positivism, and worst of all, something called “scientism.”

But the reason that they are accused of that is, generally, because they are guilty of it. Jerry Coyne, for example, insists that the world is deterministic and that this means that there is no free will, and he opposes compatibilists who are trying to bridge the two and preserve an interesting notion of free will, and he isn’t alone. We do see a lot of reductionism, particularly in philosophy of mind. And the series on scientism referenced above has to deal with people who advocate positivist positions. Add in that in that series I outlined what I considered scientism and demonstrated that it does seem to occur — especially “broad scientism” — it seems that they are accused of it because, well, they engage in it. And considering that all of the issues listed there other than scientism are long-standing debates in those fields — especially philosophy — it’s perfectly understandable that people might resent science wandering into those debates claiming to have all the answers when what they’re saying is, really, nothing new (the reaction to Krauss and Hawking on the “Something from Nothing” question seems to be that sort of comment).

But “scientism” is indeed often vaguely defined, and I’m certainly not going to claim that no one who decries scientism is doing so more out of, say, an idea that their preferred methodology is the right one as opposed to a real, solid argument, so let’s look at what Pinker calls “scientism” and why he wants to adopt that as a good thing as opposed to a bad thing:

It is distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals, and it is these that scientism seeks to export to the rest of intellectual life.

The first is that the world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves. These principles may in turn be explained by more fundamental principles, and so on. In making sense of our world, there should be few occasions in which we are forced to concede “It just is” or “It’s magic” or “Because I said so.” The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms. The processes of life, for example, used to be attributed to a mysterious élan vital; now we know they are powered by chemical and physical reactions among complex molecules.

The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and super- stitions. Most of the traditional causes of belief—faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, the invigorating glow of subjective certainty—are generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. To understand the world, we must cultivate work-arounds for our cognitive limitations, including skepticism, open debate, formal precision, and empirical tests, often requiring feats of ingenuity. Any movement that calls itself “scientific” but fails to nurture opportunities for the falsification of its own beliefs (most obviously when it murders or imprisons the people who disagree with it) is not a scientific movement.

The problem here is that Pinker’s two ideals don’t seem particularly scientific, meaning particular to it. Sure, to be science one may have to adopt them, but it doesn’t seem reasonable to suggest that, say, philosophy hasn’t embraced these two principles, and yet seems to have a methodology that’s different from science … and it should know, considering that it originally spawned science and considered it a subset of its method — natural philosophy — rather than the whole method itself. But take a look again at that list of things that should be dismissed as sources of knowledge … and that he seems to say should simply be dismissed as sources of knowledge: faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, subjective certainty. If he’s going to go after religion and try to import these things to it, he’s going to have to recognize that faith, revelation and dogma are things that they think work, which means that he’s going to have to argue against it, and argue against it with something that both sides agree works. If science a priori rejects those things, then that isn’t going to work well at all. And authority, conventional wisdom, and subjective certainty seem to be things that, philosophically, we’ve demonstrated can, at least at times, produce knowledge, and even knowledge where science simply can’t get anything like knowledge, or at least where it’s very difficult. The amazing success of folk psychology over the scientifically infused psychology demonstrates that sometimes conventional wisdom works out really well, and thus can even justify itself. In order to solve this problem, Pinker needs something like philosophy, something that doesn’t presume what can generate knowledge but argues for what can and what can’t at a base level that, for the most part, everyone can accept.

So, these two ideals are philosophically questionable, and to the extent that they aren’t questionable they aren’t explicitly scientific. So it seems that right off the bat Pinker is at best claiming things as being fundamentally scientific when they aren’t (they’re fundamental to science, certainly, but not fundamentally scientific) and making claims of what is valid and reasonable about other fields by appealing to justifications that those fields don’t accept. Ignoring the other fields, what they do, and what they need is not a good way to start assuaging the fears of those who aren’t happy about the encroachment of science into the humanities.

In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science. Though the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they certainly hem in the possibilities.

The problem here is that he says that we are guided in our moral and spiritual values by science … as a conclusion to a paragraph that talks entirely about how science disproves religion. And so those possibilities that are hemmed in by science? Well, religious ones. So, here he’s basically arguing that science eliminates religion — ie that it will subsume/eliminate religion because it should — and so that those who are religious are right to fear its encroachment … while ignoring the humanities who are also fearing that, and who he’s trying to calm. And when he outlines this new replacement:

And in combination with a few unexceptionable convictions— that all of us value our own welfare and that we are social beings who impinge on each other and can negotiate codes of conduct—the scientific facts militate toward a defensible morality, namely adhering to principles that maximize the flourishing of humans and other sentient beings. This humanism, which is inextricable from a scientific understanding of the world, is becoming the de facto morality of modern democracies, international organizations, and liberalizing religions, and its unfulfilled promises define the moral imperatives we face today.

… he ignores that this was done philosophically, without any of these modern scientific facts, by Hobbes. His statement here is nothing more than Hobbesian Social Contract, which is not a particularly popular position in moral philosophy, for good reason: It relies on Ethical Egoism, and is seen as being incompatible with an altruism worthy of the name. It is not, despite popular belief, the equivalent of Utilitarianism. Now, none of this means that this isn’t right, but this isn’t new either, and any new facts that can be brought to the table don’t help it, at all. And the conclusion itself is controversial, and it isn’t even clear that this is a view that is inextricable from a scientific understanding of the world. Pinker is, again, taking philosophical positions, claiming them to be science, and then saying that science can help because look at what it brings us? It’d be nice if he’d understand the actual positions of the humanities and the work they’ve done before proclaiming what science can do to help them.

Moreover, science has contributed—directly and enormously—to the fulfillment of these values. If one were to list the proudest accomplishments of our species (setting aside the removal of obstacles we set in our own path, such as the abolition of slavery and the defeat of fascism), many would be gifts bestowed by science.

Few argue that science, in and of itself, has not provided benefit. The scientism debate is not normally one over whether or not science is good; most accept that it is. Even his comments about the criticisms of those who list the contributions science has made to attrocities generally only do it to point out that it’s difficult to claim that science can define our moral values when it has been invoked to support moral attrocities as well as moral progress. Science is descriptive and valueless. It tells us how to achieve our values once we figure out what they are, and so once we decide what our values are we can use science to help us achieve them … depending on what those values are, of course. So it is certainly the case that science will be of use to morality … but it will not particularly help us define what it means to be moral in the first place.

Though science is beneficially embedded in our material, moral, and intellectual lives, many of our cultural institutions, including the liberal arts programs of many universities, cultivate a philistine indifference to science that shades into contempt. Students can graduate from elite colleges with a trifling exposure to science. They are commonly misinformed that scientists no longer care about truth but merely chase the fashions of shifting paradigms.

Well, here’s the thing: students can graduate from elite colleges in the sciences with only a trifling exposure to any of the humanities. Note that in philosophy at least, science gets covered quite a bit, especially since a lot of its fields benefit in at least some way from it. The idea of “paradigm shift” comes from Kuhn … who developed that by empirically studying what scientists actually do. In short Kuhn did science on science and came up with that conclusion … and in philosophy that’s expressed as one idea while the Popperian ideal is stressed as being what the scientific method is really about. Again, Pinker reveals that he knows little about what actually goes on in the humanities while chastising them for not respecting science enough. And, sure, philosophy and the humanities do indeed do similar things to science, but that hardly helps his case.

I can testify that this recrimination is not a relic of the 1990s science wars. When Harvard reformed its general education requirement in 2006 to 2007, the preliminary task force report introduced the teaching of science without any mention of its place in human knowledge: “Science and technology directly affect our students in many ways, both positive and negative: they have led to life-saving medicines, the internet, more efficient energy storage, and digital entertainment; they also have shepherded nuclear weapons, biological warfare agents, electronic eavesdropping, and damage to the environment.” This strange equivocation between the utilitarian and the nefarious was not applied to other disciplines. (Just imagine motivating the study of classical music by noting that it both generates economic activity and inspired the Nazis.) And there was no acknowledgment that we might have good reasons to prefer science and know-how over ignorance and superstition.

The interesting thing here is that the benefits that Harvard cites are pretty much what he and others cite as the reasons why science has been successful and what it has done to help humanity. Noting that science and technology have also had downsides is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly for something that so many people — Pinker himself — tend to cite as unvarnished goods. And the reasons to prefer science over ignorance are given by … the benefits listed in the first part. Hello? So this seems to be nothing more than a gripe that they didn’t just stand up and say that science is great and wonderful and we should just all follow it. Sure, maybe they didn’t say similar things about other fields, but classical music, for example, is not about those benefits, nor does it justify itself by appealing to them. Science does. And so listing the benefits really is important in understanding and accepting science’s role and its success, and why we should value it … and so for completeness we should list its problems as well. Shouldn’t we?

At a 2011 conference, another colleague summed up what she thought was the mixed legacy of science: the eradication of smallpox on the one hand; the Tuskegee syphilis study on the other. (In that study, another bloody shirt in the standard narrative about the evils of science, public-health researchers beginning in 1932 tracked the progression of untreated, latent syphilis in a sample of impoverished African Americans.) The comparison is obtuse. It assumes that the study was the unavoidable dark side of scientific progress as opposed to a universally deplored breach, and it compares a one-time failure to prevent harm to a few dozen people with the prevention of hundreds of millions of deaths per century, in perpetuity.

Sure, the syphilis study isn’t an unavoidable dark side … but it isn’t prevented by science either. There is nothing in the scientific method that says that you shouldn’t study syphilis that way or through one of the many horrific ways we have gained knowledge in the past. It’s morality and moral values that do that, and moral values do not come directly from science, which is generally valueless. In fact, science unvarnished puts gaining knowledge as its top goal, and that implies that you do it any way you can. So learning through atrocities is perfectly compatible with science … but not with morality. Which should, then, make one thing clear: science, in and of itself, does not have moral values and so we must watch science carefully, and hold it to the standards of morality provided by … philosophy. A humanity, you will note. We need ethics boards carefully examining scientific experiments like we have in psychology. That is, indeed, what we have to take from the mixed legacy of scientific investigation. Which does not prove science bad, but rather proves it, well, valueless, in the moral sense.

The humanities are the domain in which the intrusion of science has produced the strongest recoil. Yet it is just that domain that would seem to be most in need of an infusion of new ideas. By most accounts, the humanities are in trouble. University programs are downsizing, the next generation of scholars is un- or underemployed, morale is sinking, students are staying away in droves. No thinking person should be indifferent to our society’s disinvestment from the humanities, which are indispensable to a civilized democracy.

It isn’t the lack of new ideas that is causing the problems in the humanities, nor is it the case that science is necessarily providing them. The problem is the attitude that science is the hallmark of all knowledge worth having, and so things that work the way science does and, more importantly, produce results of the same sort and frequency as those of science — mostly of direct application to our daily lives — are the only things that really have value or are worth studying. Instead of trying to infuse these fields with science to make them more appealing, we need to look at these fields as these fields and demonstrate how they are indeed important. We don’t want these fields to bleed their respect from science, and gain respect only insofar as they work as science or can be considered to be such. Thus, we need to treat the fields not as subfields of science, but as fields in their own right, with the own problems, goals, and methodologies.