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May 27 2010

Spinster aunt reveals her inner Firestone

Holy bajoly! The discussion on one of my recent posts has taken quite an unexpected turn. It went from the idea that women’s history has been erased/co-opted by the dominant culture to the idea that — I’m not even kidding — science is bad!

Unfortunately I have to go and see a girl about a horse, so time is short, but here’s the gist of the much better post I had intended to write on this topic (it was going to have more jokes, and probably an unforgettable new coined term, so it’s too bad, but there it is):

Science is bad, apparently, because men dominate the field. Also, women are better than men because we “have an intuitive understanding of nature and the processes involved.”

Concludes this commenter:

All the paper that men need to record history that they destroy, to transmit information, that we used to tell by stories and metaphors, is just a waste. They are just inefficient. It’s annoying because I always understood how bees and flies and some birds and bats flew, intuitively and it is only in 2005 that male scientists begin to understand it, with high tech equipment. It’s annoying also because they claim we never knew it, when Nietche(sp) wrote about it, the oscillation. It’s soooo dumb.

Women’s intuition? Seriously?

Again I say it: holy bajoly!

Intuition is unproven conjecture based on this, that, or the other thing. As blamer Nails put it:

Science is about understanding that your intuition is not always right and that the way to really *know* that it was involves testing and repeatability and good structure for experiments. You can tell me you intuitively know whatever you want to, but it doesn’t prove it at all.

Science is a process by which one discovers actual truth. Have Pinkfaced Captains of Industry and their Dude Nation minions subverted the scientific method for evil? Sure. Does their having done that invalidate the method itself, to the extent that goddessy ladies should pooh-pooh the whole idea in favor of some kind of magic lady-worship cult, the centerpiece of which is faith in “feelings”?

It is unlikely that the best place to find truth-n-beauty is at a matriarchy convention in San Marcos where the subject of the keynote speech is “My Journey with Sekhmet Goddess of Power and Change” and afterward there’s a drum circle.

Patriarchy is the problem, not science. Science does not oppress women. Dude culture oppresses women. I’m not advocating “science equality,’ either. I’m advocating — as always — liberation from oppression. Is anything more liberating than truth-n-beauty? I ask you.

Scientific discovery leading to human-friendly technology is the only way we’re gonna get out of the dark ages. For example, here at the lab at Spinster HQ we’re working on an anti-patchouli ray which we fully expect will change the way we smell public spaces forever more.

94 comments

3 pings

  1. The Nerd

    Preach it, Twisty! I’m sharing this with everyone I know. :)

  2. Valkyrie of phyiscs

    Thank you!

    As an atheist feminist who studies science, this sort of New Agey gender-essentialism really bothers me. It seems like, after being oppressed for millennia partly because of fairy tales about talking snakes and goddesses who really want apples, some women respond by making up new, prettier fairy tales. The new fairy tales are nicer in some ways, but they still reserve some characteristics for women, and other for men. And I, for one, don’t need to think I’m a magical daughter of a goddess to think I should demand respect as a human being.

    As for the people who think women have not been part of science: this is mostly because men haven’t bothered to write much about women. For a short list of influential women scientists, see

    http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/

    Thanks again for the blog! I don’t comment much, but I’ve been reading for years.

  3. Valkyrie of phyiscs

    *some characteristics for women, and otherS for men. Gah!

  4. thewhatifgirl

    I feel obligated to mention that there are many women who contributed greatly to the founding and basic makeup of various scientific fields (my favorite: Margaret Mead). The reason you don’t know about them is, you guessed it, patriarchy! Not because they didn’t exist, but because men like to pretend they didn’t.

  5. Sarah Ann

    “I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess”. That line is 25 years old now, and it still resonates.

    An anthropologist should write a book about the tendency of gender politics, or some wings of it, to delve/retreat into a kind of naive nature-worship. This kind of feminist attitude was a lot more common in the 80′s, I think, as was the whole Robert Bly “mens movement” and their back to nature/primal masculinity thing. But they’re both still around.

  6. Pinko Punko

    Agreed.

    Disclaimer: Science is the day job, here. It will be used the same way as religion to justify pre-existing notions, but unlike religion, has the ability to overturn existing notions- therefore it could be a tool of the Revolution, in addition to being a tool of the P.

  7. JRoth

    “Is anything more liberating than truth-n-beauty?”

    Surely heartwarming nature crap is.

    Or maybe that’s just a subcategory. Or an exemplar, or something.

  8. Orange

    I have a cousin who dropped out of college because the people who created the atomic bomb had educations. Therefore, education is the problem, right? Let us fight against both education and science! Let us foster illiteracy. All those illiterate women in poor countries are AWESOME and should not learn to read and write, should not learn about birth control, should not get educations, and certainly should not pursue science careers. Because that’s the feminist solution!

    Plus, that damned science created the birth control pill and the IUD. No women should use those.

    Tangent: Today’s NYT column by Nicholas Kristof contains the earth-shaking news that the Catholic hierarchy values men and fetuses above women and children. He almost seems surprised by this.

  9. allhellsloose

    I notice that the American Life League plus other anti-choicers are having a ‘Protest the Pill Day 2010: The Pill kills the Environment.’

    So…it’s not that they’re against women having control over their collective uteri but the fact that it’s the pill, and the pill alone presumeably, that’s killing teh little fishies (worse turning them into females) in the waterways – just ignore that giant oil spill, turn away now. If this protest alone doesn’t validate the role of science in liberating truth-n-beauty then we may as well give up.

  10. humanbein

    When I read the Dialectic of Sex, I was given hope by the idea of science overcoming the need for physical reproduction, the mechanical womb. Firestone seemed to believe that once women were free of the need to incubate fetuses, sexism would be dealt a major blow. Now it seems like some women would probably still choose to incubate fetuses, but the mere fact that it was a choice would change the way men see women forever.

  11. Fede

    That science is not inherently bad should go without saying. But because it has been developed within the dominance-submission paradigm, and certainly because, as Pinko Punko said, it can be used to justify pre-existing notions, science as it stands is very, very far from being as benign and empowerfulerating as it should be. I’ll agree with any science skeptic that far.

    Yes, we need to jettison that whole women’s intuition idea. But we also need to be aware that the scientific method itself is not god-given. (Though ‘”god-given” is probably the wrong choice of word in this place. How about Heartwarming Nature-given?)

    Sometimes people talk as if science in itself is a neutral tool, and whether it is used for truth and beauty or for evil depends on the people wielding it. But there is no “science in itself”.

    That said, I agree with Twisty. I always do; it annoys me sometimes.

  12. rootlesscosmo

    This article by Naomi Weisstein may be relevant here:

    http://tinyurl.com/33tbcvv

  13. Vera

    It is unlikely that the best place to find truth-n-beauty is at a matriarchy convention in San Marcos where the subject of the keynote speech is “My Journey with Sekhmet Goddess of Power and Change” and afterward there’s a drum circle.

    Sounds like fun, though.

  14. yttik

    Ah, this is starting to make sense. The belief is that science is about rational thought and that reason and logic may provide some way to combat patriarchy. Since male dominated spirituality, intuition, religion, etc, has delivered so many irrational results, science is viewed as the anecdote to that insanity.

    There is no anecdote. Both science and reason are constantly defined and redefined by the patriarchy. For example it was quite rational and well reasoned to remove uteruses since they have been scientifically proven to cause hysteria. Science did not create birth control and IUD’s, farmers did. They used to put rocks into the wombs of animals to prevent pregnancy. Science did not come up with birth control pills out of reason or logic. Margaret Sanger had to spend more then half a century harassing and bribing scientists and drug companies into producing birth control pills for women. The pills themselves were not an impressive piece of scientific discovery, hormonally influencing fertility had been common knowledge since ancient times and used with livestock. What was impressive were the women who demanded that science deliver.

  15. Comrade PhysioProf

    For example, here at the lab at Spinster HQ we’re working on an anti-patchouli ray which we fully expect will change the way we smell public spaces forever more.

    Thank fucking god; that patchouli shit is fucking narshty.

  16. Saphire

    True, women’s intuition is a load of crap, we’re no better than men at empathising, or being intuitive. This has been proven in numerous stereotype studies. But this rigorous ‘must have proof! Testable proof!’ is twoddle (imvho).

    I’m sorry but I just don’t buy that science is the answer to everything. Not because ‘men did it’, but because to assume worthy knowledge is only what ‘systemising’ can prove in a test lab is limiting and restricting. There’s also a tiny element of elitism.

    Not everyone who questions science runs around dancing naked when the full moon comes out!

  17. Comrade PhysioProf

    Not because ‘men did it’, but because to assume worthy knowledge is only what ’systemising’ can prove in a test lab is limiting and restricting.

    Neither “systemising” nor “prov[ing] in a test lab”–whatever the fuck a “test lab” is–are necessary elements of scientific approaches to discerning the nature of objective reality.

  18. Saphire

    My point was, I don’t always think a scientific approach is the best approach. Much wiser people than me have said the same thing. Even Newton himself.

  19. Science

    Dismissing science for its patriarchal origins is like dismissing theories of equality and liberty for their patriarchal origins!

    An idea of how to use science from Haraway’s ‘Animal Sociology, Part II’ (pg. 38-39)

    “This paper is about the debate since approximately 1930 in primate studies and physical anthropology about human nature-in male bodies and female ones. The debate has been bounded by the rules of ordinary scientific discourse. This highly regulated space makes room for technical papers; grant applications; informal networks of students, teachers, and laboratories; official symposia to promote methods and interpretations; and finally, textbooks to socialize new scientists. The space considered in this paper does not provide room for outsiders and amateurs.

    One of the peculiar characteristics of science is thought to be that by knowing past regularities and processes we can predict events and thereby control them. That is, with our sciences, historical, disciplined forms of theorizing about our experience-we both understand and construct our place in the world and develop strategies for shaping the future.

    How can feminism, a political position about love and power, have anything to do with science as I have described it? Feminism, I suggest, can draw from a basic insight of critical theory. The starting point of critical theory-as we have learned it from Marx, the Frankfurt school, and others-is that the social and economic means of human liberation are within our grasp. Nevertheless, we continue to live out relations of domination and scarcity. There is the possibility of overturning that order of things. The study of this contradiction may be applied to all of our knowledge, including natural science. The critical tradition insists that we analyze relations of dominance in consciousness as well as material interests, that we see domination as a derivative of theory, not of
    nature.

    A feminist history of science, which must be a collective achievement, could examine that part of biosocial science in which our alleged evolutionary biology is traced and supposedly inevitable patterns of order based on domination are legitimated. The examination should play seriously with the rich ambiguity and metaphorical possibilities of both technical and ordinary words.

    Feminists reappropriate science in order to discover and to define what is “natural” for ourselves. A human past and future would be placed in our hands. This avowedly interested approach to science promises to take seriously the rules of scientific discourse without worshipping the fetish of scientific objectivity.”

  20. ivyleaves

    For example, here at the lab at Spinster HQ we’re working on an anti-patchouli ray which we fully expect will change the way we smell public spaces forever more.

    This could be the means of financing the anti-p revolution. I know I want one.

  21. Eileen

    Newton was a sadistic bully. That said, I agree with both points: science is rad, but the approach does have real limits (like that whole quantum uncertainty principle — if you can measure any one thing very accurately, that means all your other measurements are likely inaccurate) and often it seems that people forget that limits of observation methods do not necessarily reflect limits in the universe itself.

  22. Blind Horse

    As a tree-hugging nature worshiper with a degree in engineering, the problem is not the scientific method, and the problem is not intuition. Patchouli is part of the problem. I find it well-nigh impossible to focus on what anyone says/feels/thinks/believes/studies/theorizes when suffering from patchouli-induced olfactory overload.

    The scientific method is valid. Intuition is also valid, the issue arises when people (of any gender) forget that intuition is one’s mind processing myriad subtle signals so constantly and quickly as to be subconcious. Intuition as such is a powerful evolutionary gift and we would all be wise to heed it. While we cannot credit scientific breakthroughs purely to intuition in the “it came to me out of nowhere” sense, I do suggest that scientific “a-ha” moments can be born of intuition, in that our minds process reams of data with out us being aware of it and come to a logical conclusion before our concious mind does, thereby short-circuiting the “pure” scientific method.

  23. nails

    “Yes, we need to jettison that whole women’s intuition idea. But we also need to be aware that the scientific method itself is not god-given.”

    The beauty of the scientific method is that it is self correcting. The flaws inherent in human systems are weeded out over time. Things change when new information becomes available, and there are many eyes on the entire process. That is what is redeeming about the whole thing. Even a determined effort to fuck it all up would be difficult, long term (See: Andrew Wakefield, creationists, cold fusion, etc). Bullshit sexism and racism in biology did not stand up the way the theory of evolution did. Evidence is being constantly accumulated and measured up against what was found, and people really enjoy finding evidence that something previously believed was completely wrong.

    “…and often it seems that people forget that limits of observation methods do not necessarily reflect limits in the universe itself.”

    This is a perfect example of a strawman argument. I have never heard anyone make the assertion you are arguing against here. I don’t think most scientists are ignorant of the fact that limitations exist.

    I didn’t really get to say this in my last thread but I wanted to- a shit load of the oppression in the world has been a result of a bunch of wanky d00ds sitting around and pondering shit while everyone else did hardcore labor. Figuring out something new about the world or mastering a piece of scientific material really is rewarding and important, and the underprivileged were kept from it for far too long, and that is what is still going on in my opinion. Science has transformed our world in positive ways in a very short period of time (compared to things like religion). Science works. It is something that people in general should strive to understand, it is the only reliable source of information regarding the nature of the universe that humans have.

    Does anyone think it is really a coincidence that we score so low in science and math in the US? We have countless other countries to model our approach off of that outscore us consistently and by a lot. The solutions are obvious and abundant. Why hasn’t anything changed? The internet has made much more available to those who are interested, but the level of understanding in the general population hasn’t been helped by the powers that be. The truth is that science teaches critical thinking skills and can be a powerful tool in the hands of the public, so it is only given to people who demonstrate a serious allegiance to the status quo. Anyone who has taken college classes knows that I am telling the truth- you jump through many bullshit hoops in order to do what you *really* want to be doing. You learn things that have no meaning outside of demonstrating that you have been to college (the formats for citations are one example that is seen early on, when footnoting serves the same purpose). People who are extremely creative or do not care about pleasing others based on meaningless tasks are weeded out in every phase of education in america. The educated class is one of the most crucial groups of people for those who are in power- maintaining the social consent of those folks is absolutely necessary in a country like ours that practices so much unwarranted aggression in the world. Educated people could potentially understand and do something about the condition of things, so they are propagandized and processed more heavily than most of the other people. It isn’t a secret exactly, the people involved in making education what it is today said as much pudlicly. Our presidents made public comments like “We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks” (woodrow wilson). Framers of our country said elitist shit right out in the open too, about “protecting the opulent minority from the majority” being the role of government (Madison). The point of it all is that proles don’t need to know that the earth is older than 6,000 years old to serve their purpose. In fact, if you can rile them up by saying a politician thinks the earth is older than that, then you have an easy way to exclude honest people from politics and an easy way to gain a deep allegiance among the ignorant. Conservatives get people to vote against their own interests all the time by manipulating people based on the imposed ignorance. The majority of people are to do the same menial task every day and then spend the money they earn from renting their labor out to companies- that is the role that we are trained for. The people who own everything would prefer that the majority of people stay ignorant. It is hard to run a consumer culture when people have a curiosity about the world around them. The questions that critical thinking leads to are uncomfortable and anti corporate- like if you are shopping and thinking “I wonder where this stuff came from, where it goes when I am done with it, and how long we can reasonably produce it.” If people thought things like that and decided to look into it, they would buy a lot less shit. Or they may start asking questions like “why does our boss hire us? We do all the work, and he gets paid more for doing less.” Independent thought fucks things up in corporate systems, which have tyrannical policies and structures. Having an excellent education in science and math isn’t just about trying to make people get into the sciences as a career, it is a life skill that is applicable to a million situations. No one knows anything about their health here because it isn’t taught in school, which has terrible consequences. People do not have a grasp on how global warming could be real if it is cold where they live. What can’t politicians sell to a group of people like that? We may not have a planet for too much longer if perpetual ignorance of the sciences keeps going at this rate. I sincerely think that is why you can go through all of school getting A’s and live a whole life without really thinking anything through. People who pull the strings benefit enormously from it, so it is perpetuated. I also think that is why kids who question things too much get reprimanded and marked immediately, it makes it harder for them to pull up through the ranks to get into the class that does important shit in the world.

    This whole anti science mess is extremely new (for people trying to resist oppression, anyway). Old school anarchists used to run what were called ‘free schools’, collaborative places of learning without authority figures or strict structure. Back then science was something that activists believed everyone should be able to learn, and that it was bullshit to keep it only to the privileged classes. It takes generations of painful ignorance to reach the level of discourse where the usefulness of science and math are debated in a general sense, where people tell me that crystals and magic water can cure any disease. I actually was turned off by the spiritual new agey bullshit I heard from a lot of feminists, and the misognist sexism I heard from a lot of skeptics. Thank you jill for posting this. I feel less out of place.

  24. shopstewardess

    Saphire says “I’m sorry but I just don’t buy that science is the answer to everything.”

    My understanding of science is that it is about questioning everything. That is, that a scientist starts with something for which there isn’t an explanation, and tries to find one.

    If science had the answer to everything, there wouldn’t be any more science, just knowledge and engineering.

    If this understanding is right, then all scientists would agree with Saphire and we can all go back to blaming the Patriarchy – which infects science just as it infects everything else.

  25. CassieC

    Please, pretty please with patchouli on top: can people stop using phrases like “quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle teaches us you can’t really measure anything, so there, science!” and “according to Einstein, everything was relative anyway” and “Newton’s misguided religiosity negates his scientific work” ? Please?

    1. the uncertainty principle deals with REALLY SMALL STUFF: electrons and shit like that. If you have larger objects, it just does not ever apply. It’s called the classical limit, look it up. So unless you are talking about subatomic particles, can you spare us with the uncertainty principle crap? Thank you.

    2. “everything is relative” does NOT sum up Einstein’s work. Einstein’s work relates to the conserved quantities when things are moving very fast, like light. The normal laws of classical mechanics get modified in mathematically simple yet mind-blowing ways, and I recommend you go learn special relativity, otherwise shut up. Again, thank you.

    3. Newton’s religion was possibly the motivation for his scientific endeavors, but the whole point was that he was exploring his understanding of the world around him with his mind and his mind only, not taking belief or anything else at face value. And he came up with lots of cool math and better physics, and was most definitely a genius. He was also an upper class twit with privilege and time on his hands, but at least he did something with it.

    In summary, please, unless you actually KNOW the science you are speaking of, don’t. Learning is cool, spouting bullshit is not. So if you don’t know this science, go learn it! There are awesome resources out there, and it will blow your mind. For real, in a good way.

  26. nails

    “There is no anecdote. Both science and reason are constantly defined and redefined by the patriarchy. For example it was quite rational and well reasoned to remove uteruses since they have been scientifically proven to cause hysteria. Science did not create birth control and IUD’s, farmers did. They used to put rocks into the wombs of animals to prevent pregnancy. Science did not come up with birth control pills out of reason or logic. ”

    I refuse to blame science for public policy decisions like refusing to give women birth control. The reason that was forbidden was cultural and religious. Scientists were not the ones writing laws against any of this crap, and its not fair to blame them for it.

    I also take exception to the fact that you think that people who researched and created birth control pills did not accomplish the task using reason and logic- they absolutely did, in addition to the work of everyone else before them who did work pertinent to that issue. How poorly the resulting product was implemented does not diminish the accomplishment of making birth control pills. You ignored that in the past 100 years science has revolutionized our lives by reducing diseases via vaccination and increased the life span of people tremendously and decided to discuss only one pill. Why didn’t you pick penicilin?

    I don’t know why you think the farmers experimenting on animals and noting what worked wassn’t science- it absolutely was. Selective breeding is something that used scientific principles that has been around for thousands of years as well. You don’t need a white coat or a degree to run an experiment. Hell, my unschooled step spawn runs her own little experiments all the time, and I learn stuff from it because she asks interesting questions about her surroundings that I never would have thought of. She labels stuff and makes controls because it means that she can be more certain of the results, and finding out what is actually going on is what is important to her. That is the key. The countless mistakes made by scientists are removed and accounted for all the time.

    There aren’t things called reason and logic floating around for the patriarchy to modify for humanity. Patriarchy cannot make 2+2 equal 5, they could only say it was so, and perhaps take away your freedom to declare them wrong. All evidence shows that it is incorrect, and it is self evidently incorrect to anyone who tries to understand it. Our minds have the machinery of reason inside them, and when doing something like reading the history of science (how they knew what is taught now) it is very very hard to argue against the reasoning used in well established theories for the same was it is hard to argue that 2+2=5. Your mind understands that there is not a square circle for the same reason. I cannot under emphasize the usefulness of this tool to the human population, and the people who would benefit the most from access to it are kept away.

  27. yttik

    “..discerning the nature of objective reality.”

    Reality is actually very subjective. If you don’t believe me, there are some political groups I could link to.

    Under patriarchy, objective reality really means male dominated versions of reality. Many women are familiar with being told they are not being objective, that they are perceiving reality wrong. We are either being hormonal, squishy brained, or failing to properly appreciate the superior intellect of the one mansplaining reality.

    For science to have value, it is crucial that we do not worship it, that we do not limit ourselves with concepts like objective reality, and that we do not deny the importance of human intuition. Even to the vastly superior male scientific eyeball, atoms are invisible. They played a hunch and used their imagination, no doubt inspired by the observations of some woman in 500 BC who over cooked the vegies and pointed out that plants were made up of many tiny parts.

  28. Jill

    “There is no anecdote.”

    Would it were so, alas.

    – Twisty, anti-anecdotite

  29. hero

    Nails, you are once again on fire. CassieC, thank you. It is a sad commentary on the patriarchy’s ability to use confusion and diversion (Nails: smokin’, seriously) to divide and conquer when so many are so willing to comment based on popular notions of things like “science” and “faith,” without knowing what the field-specific understandings of those concepts are. This happens frequently in America, and the past few threads on IBTP are drifting that way. Among my favorite abuses: the everyday use of the word “theory” to mean its exact opposite–”hunch”–and the everyday use of the word “significant” to mean “something I care about very much but cannot be bothered to measure.” On the flip side are those who believe that because they have not personally experienced a phenomenon outside of the reproducible, such phenomena do not exist and those who claim such are insane or stupid or deluded. Human life is complicated; not all modes of thought are commensurate with all other modes of thought, which is ok; HOWEVER, language, science (clearly understood) and other (IDEALLY) SHARED endeavors are our only ways of cutting through purely subjective stuff to get to the less-purely-subjective stuff and have a chance at connection with each other, and maybe connection to truth-n-beauty.

  30. Andrea

    You cannot appreciate or worship nature without science. I am envious of the people who “intuitively understand” math because they can be a lot more appreciative of a snail shell or branching patterns than I can. How could you possibly separate science from nature or nature from science? They’re not mutually exclusive.

    Regardless, my Utopian fantasies require both witches and atheists.

  31. ivyleaves

    I caught that one the second time around myself, Jill. Wish there were an antidote to the patriarchy, however.

    Nails, your essay was absolutely brilliant and on the mark.

  32. vitaminC

    Twisty, this is totally off-topic, but is it possible (or even desirable) for you to move the comments link to the bottom of the article, rather than the top? Then readers (mostly lazybones like myself) won’t have to scroll back up to click.

    This concludes my critique. Blame on!

  33. minervaK

    The scientific method is valid. Intuition is also valid, the issue arises when people (of any gender) forget that intuition is one’s mind processing myriad subtle signals so constantly and quickly as to be subconcious. Intuition as such is a powerful evolutionary gift and we would all be wise to heed it. While we cannot credit scientific breakthroughs purely to intuition in the “it came to me out of nowhere” sense, I do suggest that scientific “a-ha” moments can be born of intuition, in that our minds process reams of data with out us being aware of it and come to a logical conclusion before our concious mind does, thereby short-circuiting the “pure” scientific method.

    I will go you one step further on the above: after the ‘aha!’ moment, the scientist retraces her steps to find those subtle pieces of information that brought it on (and if she’s smart, she does so before taking any life-changing course of action). The Sehkmet worshiper assigns the ‘aha!’ to divine sources and carries on, unenlightened (oh, the irony).

  34. nails

    “Saphire says “I’m sorry but I just don’t buy that science is the answer to everything.”

    My understanding of science is that it is about questioning everything. That is, that a scientist starts with something for which there isn’t an explanation, and tries to find one.

    If science had the answer to everything, there wouldn’t be any more science, just knowledge and engineering.”

    This comment, like many others here, treats science like a factory. A factory where questions go in, and useful shit comes out of the other side. It works the exact opposite way of that. A lot of people all over the place are basically playing around with things that interest them in a very organized way, and useful things may or may not be discovered. Predicting who will uncover something with extremely useful applications is very very difficult. Many things are discovered by accident, or the testing of a hypothesis leads to more questions rather than any concrete answer. It may take many generations of research before anything good comes out (computers are a good example of that). The applications of a seemingly useless discovery may not be known until later when a different branch of science can make use of it.
    The discovery of the x-ray is a really interesting case- people produced them a whole lot before anyone could figure out what the fuck it was. The dude who finally did was not the same guy who (crazily, imo) volunteered to stick his hand under one, and revealed the medical applications of the x-rays. The true nature of x rays and radiation were not known until later, based on the work of other people. Tons of people ran the original experiment that produced x-rays, no doubt learning other things that became useful in the future when the medical x-ray machines were being engineered. It isn’t as though anyone was saying “I am going to research medical technology, and hopefully develop some, and answer questions about the body”, it was literally “how did this glowy crap get on the inside of a vacuum tube? what is this stuff?”.

    As for the part about how science should be ‘done’ by now- our understanding of many important concepts are new. The past 200 years or so revolutionized science and society. There are no doubt some important concepts we do not have and need to know to advance our understanding of the world- like how studying disease was much more mysterious and difficult before microorganisms were discovered. I don’t doubt that some really cool discoveries lie ahead.

    Microorganisms are another case, aren’t they? It took people messing around with lenses and looking at things through newly powerful microscopes to discover them. There isn’t much of a clue or a reason to think that there is a landscape of invisible life forms all around us, constantly trying to invade our bodies and sickening us. It would sound crazy before the evidence was found. There wasn’t any way to predict the kind of world changing research that would occur because there were people who wanted to look at very tiny things, and experimented with lenses in order to accomplish that.

  35. janicen

    @allhellsloose, I’m not going to hijack the thread with a discussion of the pill, but it’s not just anti-choice wingnuts who have issues with the current pill being prescribed to women. A simple web search will show you that there are some very serious side effects to the third generation pills being prescribed these days. I wish there was more “science” in the form of valid, updated studies, and more rigorous testing and follow-up by the FDA, but there is not enough of it to convince doctors to stop prescribing them. The anecdotal evidence is mounting, and in my case, where side effects such as death and a stroke have happened to two sixteen year old women whom I know, the anecdotal evidence is enough. Call me “unscientific” if you will, but I’m telling everyone I know to do tons of research, avoid generics, and know the symptoms of blood clots before you take the pill.

  36. Tree

    While we cannot credit scientific breakthroughs purely to intuition in the “it came to me out of nowhere” sense, I do suggest that scientific “a-ha” moments can be born of intuition, in that our minds process reams of data with out us being aware of it and come to a logical conclusion before our concious mind does, thereby short-circuiting the “pure” scientific method.

    Mathematics is probably the cleanest example of this. Public perception and published proofs suggest that math research is ultra-rational, but when you talk to or work with professors, etc. you see that they are making stuff up and using their intuition. Pure logic comes in after the fact. (An advisor once described to me that the purpose of a math degree was “to try to build your intuition.”)

  37. Tigs

    “The starting point of critical theory-as we have learned it from Marx, the Frankfurt school, and others-is that the social and economic means of human liberation are within our grasp.”

    That’s an exceptionally selective and/or optimistic reading of the Frankfurt School. However, I think that in suggesting that via a more materialist science we can move toward a revolutionary moment, that quote’s got something.

  38. ladysquires

    I’m pretty sure it was intuition that told Jenny McCarthy that vaccination caused her son’s autism. Then it told her that she cured him with a diet of magic bean sprouts or something, and now it’s telling her that he didn’t have autism in the first place. But, of course, the whole MMR vaccine/autism link was put out there in a fallacious article written for Lancet was written by a dude, a dude who was deep in the pocket of some dude lawyers.

    My current research project is on Christian Science, of all things, which was led from the 1860′s to 1910 by a woman. There have been attempts in the past few decades to put a positive light on the nineteenth century practice Christian Science (who refused medical treatment) by positioning it was a more “nurturing, domestically centered” alternative to patriarchal modern medicine. Of course, this is conveniently similar to the anti-Christian Scientist screeds against all those nutty women and sort of obscured the fact that the intellectual/religious forbears of CS were all dudes and that the vast majority of the church leadership in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were dudes as well.

    So this woman’s intuition/patriarchal science rigid dichotomy bullshit becomes another way of blaming ladies for reactionary, anti-science hogwash.

  39. Comrade PhysioProf

    My point was, I don’t always think a scientific approach is the best approach.

    This statement is completely meaningless in the absence of a specification of what you are contemplating as being approached. If what is being sought is a valid description of the nature of objective reality, then scientific approaches are the *only* useful ones and thus, by necessity, the best.

  40. Isabel

    Nice description of intuition Blind Horse!

    “would all be wise to heed it.”

    and foolish to ignore it. Intuition is based on information that you are not consciously aware of at that moment. It is a valuable tool in science.

    Newton endured unimaginable cruelty as a young child. His father died and his mother, who he was very attached to, remarried but her new husband rejected the three-year-old boy. So he lived with servants or other relatives while his mother started her new family – right across the way where he could see them all the time.

    Much is made of the fact that as a boy he once threatened to burn down his mother and step father’s house, or that he just wanted to do it or something, but I don’t really blame him. There’s no evidence that he ever tried to do it, but he was damaged for sure.

  41. yttik

    “If what is being sought is a valid description of the nature of objective reality, then scientific approaches are the *only* useful ones..”

    Except “objective reality” is all to often entirely male defined. Who has not been told that simply by virtue of being female, you’re likely to be incapable of being objective?

  42. Comrade PhysioProf

    The fact that there are plenty of bullshit descriptions of objective reality being promulgated doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And if you want to find out what it’s like, your only option is science.

  43. JBT

    I’m with Blind Horse. Science is merely a tool whose applicability is limited (and should be further limited by ethical constraints) to questions of a testable nature. Subjective states, like intuition, are very difficult to quantify, although data can be collected about these subjective states and statistically analyzed. Maybe some conclusions could be drawn about how to make people feel more intuitive, if that idea floated someone’s boat. I only notice intuitive states when I ask myself, “Damnit! Why didn’t I listen to me?” I could study that feeling scientifically, but it would be too depressing.

    What is strange to me is how science is being presented in a triumphalist fashion, as though it must obliterate other ways of knowing and come out on top. This strikes me as incredibly silly. Science is not a zero-sum game, whereby it is diminished by the non-quantifiable. I think there are deeper, mushy, human motivations at work, particularly those which cause us to perceive the world dialectically- as opposites and as one-up, one-down. I don’t happen to subscribe to the Egyptian pantheon, but like Vera, I could sure get my groove on at a par-tay drum circle. I don’t believe it would let the scientific side down if I did so.

    What I find most unpleasant about these discussions is the holier-than-thou-ism and the accusations of stupidity that follow-on. Each “side” puts aside its own experience of living as a human being. We know very well that mental processes are all a-jumble, sometimes leading to amazing intuitive leaps. We also know very well that science can be used to test our hypotheses; it gives us a tool for directing the chaos of the brain. These processes work in tandem, they are interdependent.

    Like it or not, however, patriarchy sides with whatever promises power, domination, control and ownership, while denigrating the very critical, mushy, non-quantifiable bodily experience. Patriarchy also preaches a narrative of transcendence associated with purity. I don’t know how many scientific papers I have read that use these very terms, holding up science as some kind of pure, “only of the mind” achievement that will “free” us. There is disgust for the merely human, and as I can attest, in medical science there is tremendous disgust for women, who are always associated with the body. It is suggested that science will free us from rank illogic and will lead us to the promised land, but this is patently nonsense, considering that logic arises from a stew of rationality and irrationality within. The problem with patriarchy is its disgust for the human condition and the positing of “higher,” more rational thought as approximating some idea of purity. I use imperfect science in my work, to the best of my and its ability, but I refuse to be caught in patriarchy’s purity trap. Quite simply, it is contrary to messy reality, of which I’m quite fond.

  44. Cactus Sally

    Bah! Who needs book smarts when you can add a little powdered cosmic debris to your morning oatmeal and instantly know everything, or like some in my family who “know” things because of built in genetic memory.

  45. kristinc

    The beauty of the scientific method is that it is self correcting. The flaws inherent in human systems are weeded out over time. Things change when new information becomes available, and there are many eyes on the entire process. That is what is redeeming about the whole thing.

    Or as someone I know once said, the cure for bad science is more science.

    Think the patriarchy is fucking up on the whole science thing? DO SCIENCE. Show that they’re wrong. I mean it, sincerely. One of the reasons the p is trying so hard to keep women and people of color — or even men who respect women and people of color — out of science is that the more of us who do science the sooner patriarchal bullshit can be exposed and dismantled.

  46. Pinko Punko

    Science is not useful for the study of untestable phenomena like magic, if the magic is defined as unknowable and mysterious. If the magic is predicted to have specific outcomes, then science is available to provide the harsh, unblinking light of crushing magic’s hopes and dreams, to current date.

  47. KJB

    yttik:

    Except “objective reality” is all to often entirely male defined. Who has not been told that simply by virtue of being female, you’re likely to be incapable of being objective?

    Oooh! Me! Me! I’ve been – both IRL by my Nigel (believe that he lived to regret it deeply) and online. I don’t however blame science for this. If you read around a bit more, you’ll find that it’s not so much science as philosophy which tends to make grand claims about ‘objective reality.’ Good scientists tend to remember that objectivity is an ideal, not an actual working condition.

    Also, in response to Sapphire’s original comment: who said that science was ‘the answer to everything’? I see this line (and variants of it) appearing more and more, and I just don’t understand it. Oh would you look at that, JBT is doing the same thing above!

    What is strange to me is how science is being presented in a triumphalist fashion, as though it must obliterate other ways of knowing and come out on top.

    Please refrain from being dishonest. Nobody has said anything of the sort.

    What I find most unpleasant about these discussions is the holier-than-thou-ism and the accusations of stupidity that follow-on

    Again, where are these accusations of stupidity? There is a great deal of unwarranted defensiveness in what you and other posters claim. Nails and others have actually taken a very patient attitude, occasionally expressing some frustration, which is fair because they are typing a great deal which seems to be going unread.

    Nails and others have pointed out that the scientific method is the best we have for understanding the world around us, which is not at all the same as ‘the answer to everything.’ The only system I can think of that purports to offer ‘an answer for everything’ is religion.

    I am not even a scientist – I absolutely cannot get my head around maths either. Bizarrely enough, I gained my deep respect of science through history, because one of the compulsory units was ‘Medicine through time.’ Ironically, that very subject which I felt no real interest in beforehand turned out to be an eye-opener. It rewrote the story of science to include the non-white world. It gave women credit for their contributions.

    Certainly as a non-white woman, I should be more suspicious than most of the commenters here about the claims of science. Scientific racism was used against people like me, in tandem with gender essentialism. Yet I find blaming science to be nonsensical, and if I’m honest, something of a privileged position. Science is highly prized in Asia, it is the field in which most people want to study precisely because they understand how empowering it can be for them.

    Scientists and doctors like Ben Goldacre, James Flynn, Einstein, Petra Boynton, Ann Robinson and Pandita Ramabai have routinely combated racism and sexism

  48. KJB

    and therefore I will maintain a deep respect for science, even as I understand that scientists are human and much of it will go over my head. Not sure what happened there – I seem to be cursed on IBTP.

    Oh yes, and Twisty, I love you. You are like a one-woman feminist primer in yourself! Thank you!

  49. Comrade PhysioProf

    If you read around a bit more, you’ll find that it’s not so much science as philosophy which tends to make grand claims about ‘objective reality.’ Good scientists tend to remember that objectivity is an ideal, not an actual working condition.

    Thoughtful scientists don’t consider objectivity to be achievable as a practical matter; the idea is to be as aware as possible of the limitations of one’s subjective perspectives. However, the conviction is that there is an objective reality out there, and that we can figure out how it fucking works by carefully deploying experimental approaches.

  50. Tigs

    [quote]If you read around a bit more, you’ll find that it’s not so much science as philosophy which tends to make grand claims about ‘objective reality.’ Good scientists tend to remember that objectivity is an ideal, not an actual working condition.
    [/quote]

    Since Kant (or hell, Hume, but I don’t care for him), halfway decent philosophy has acknowledged that any ability to be 100% certain about anything is impossible. The rest is crap (though I suppose there is plenty of crap).
    Also since Kant do we have the assertion of the structural reality of subjectivity on knowing.

    I would also argue that any science without a philosophy is crap, so a false divide between them isn’t useful.

  51. yttik

    “..the more of us who do science the sooner patriarchal bullshit can be exposed and dismantled.”

    We’re going to use reason, logic, and evidence to convince the patriarchy that it is full of shit? I think it’s a great idea but I am far too cynical. Science at the moment has worth, it is respected and valued because it is male dominated and controlled. When women begin to use it against the patriarchy it will be rejected as no longer relevant. The problem is not a lack of evidence in which to disprove craziness, the problem is power and the patriarchy’s unwillingness to share it.

    I become concerned when people believe that science is the solution to societal problems. People do not engage in crazy behavior because they are unaware of the evidence that proves they are being irrational, they engage in it because they reap a benefit.

  52. Jill

    Also since Kant do we have the assertion of the structural reality of subjectivity on knowing.

    What a coincidence! That’s just what I was telling my 6-year-old niece Ro-Tel this morning! She argued, of course, that one must choose between subtextual rationalism and postconceptual capitalism, and that a true neofeminist reading of ‘knowing’ deappropriates art from consciousness. We left it at that, but my blood is still boiling.

  53. Larkspur

    A million years ago when I was a wee pup and all of a sudden found myself enrolled as a freshman at the University of Michigan – and I cannot over-emphasize how unprepared I was, especially since it was during wartime and everything was insane – I foreclosed on my own future because I could not make sense of science. I liked rocks. Geologically, I coulda been a contender. Also, I’d have made an awesome epidemiologist.

    But here were some of my fatal errors: there was a lot of math involved, and math frightened me. In high school I’d found algebra hard but thrilling, but then I had a sub-standard geometry class (I realized this much later) and subsequently I had no further math requirements before graduation. Plus there was this whole anti-geek thing that portrayed math as cold and intuition as anti-math, which of course was a lie.

    So I was both mathophobic and math-deficient. And there was the war, see, plus there was going to be a revolution. So why on this green and threatened earth would I want to do science? To devise more efficient methods for strip-mining? To invent something more horrific but cheaper than napalm? To make a better living for myself through chemistry? Because I was convinced that the only other thing I could do with science (other than destroy the world) was to teach it. Well, to make a long story a little less long, it was a quandary from which there was no extricatin’ me.

    I blamed the patriarchy, but I blamed it in a wrong way. Science and the scientific method can be wielded as a cudgel by the patriarchy, but science cares not about the patriarchy. Had I figured out things differently, or if I’d had some help or guidance along the way, or if I’d been graced with a spectacularly epiphanic blast of intellectual clarity, well damn, I might now be an elder geologist to whom supplicants would lately flock, in the hope that I might have an idea about how to cap a freakin mile deep oil gusher. Or maybe I’d have been one of the scientists who convinced powerful folks that it was just too dangerous to drill way down yonder.

    To summarize: do not worry about science. Just do it. I coulda been a contender. Those of you in your teens, 20s, 30s or whatever, you can be a contender.

    PS: I am available (for a modest fee) to appear at school Career Day activities as a walking talking Cautionary Tale.

  54. Bushfire

    Nails, I am so incredibly impressed by what you wrote in comment #23. Although you were writing about science and knowledge, you described exactly why I couldn’t stand being a teacher and now I feel compelled to write a completely off-topic post about how you validated me.

    I was teaching in a public elementary school and I had some kids who wanted to learn the curriculum and some who did not. The ones who did not were disruptive to the intention of the classroom but also enjoyable people who just weren’t interested in the content of the curriculum and prefered to do something else. I had to constantly give out punishments to people for the crime of deciding not to blindly swallow whatever crap happens to be in the curriculum. I, as a thinking person, realized that they did not in fact need to accomplish the goals of the curriculum and that voluntarily opting out of classwork was not going to cause them any harm. I hated what I had to do more and more until I quit.

    It’s true, Nails, but not just at the college level- education is about learning a bunch of skills that only serve the purpose of proving you’ve had an education. True learning comes from experience, experimentation and thought. Hardly any of that goes on in educational institutions.

    The way commenters describe science here is so wonderful, because it’s about better understanding our world by using experiments to build practical knowlege for solving real problems. What happens in public education is just “read the book, answer the questions”. WTF.

    Nails, you described anarchists providing free education and it sounded like the way public education SHOULD be. I really love the idea of public education which is why I became a teacher in the first place. But it really is just expensive babysitting, and the sorting of people of different classes into their “rightful” place. I think public education should be a building where people of any age can go on their own time, as they see fit. There would be classrooms for different subject areas and you would walk around looking at whatever interests you. You could observe a science experiment, hear a story, play an instrument, hear a foreign language being spoken, use the library to read books, play sports, engage in debates about society, or solve problems using math. When you got tired of one subject you would just go somewhere else. Formal evaluations would be unecessary, unless you needed one to become a professional in a field requiring certification, in which case you could request to take a test when the time is right. (No need to mention private Montessori schools- they are still not anarchist enough for me!)

    That could never happen in a capitalist world, because it would not produce a workforce of people willing to be exploited. It would not teach the next generation that domination and submission are necessary. It would completely destroy the idea that its a good idea to invent a consumer product that no one needs, create a brainwashing campaign to lower self esteem and convince people to buy it, and then sell it in ridiculous quantities, by discouraging people to share anything with each other. It would, however, create a world where education is truly “free”, meaning, accessible to all people equally and something that frees the mind to think critically, creatively and constructively.

    BTW- someone upthread said that this blog is a great “primer” and that struck me as ironic since Twisty states that “this blog is not a feminist primer”. I think it can be an excellent primer for people with an open mind. It’s only “not a primer” for people who are completely enraptured by the dominant culture. I started reading this blog around 3-4 years ago and I’ve been constantly amazed and challenged. I think this (and other blogs) have been a sort of anarchist consciousness-raising for me and this consciousness grows all the time. This is one of the most important things in my life- to learn to think critically about the world I live in- and I thank Goddess for bloggers like Twisty and blamers like all of you folks for being my consciousness-raising group.

    Thank you all. When’s the drum circle?

  55. nails

    Would any of the people who are not so keen on science be willing to insert the word ‘math’ in its place of ‘science’ in their posts? If not, why not?

  56. JBT

    In answer to KJB, you don’t see science presented in triumphalist fashion, perhaps, but *I* do (and I am writing in general here, not related to specific posts). I don’t think you understand what I’m driving at, but thanks for calling me dishonest. I was not being in the slightest disingenuous, and I will do you the courtesy of respecting that you meant what you wrote. Still, you did not understand what I’m saying and you have assigned me to an anti-science camp, which is ridiculous. I am both a physician and a toxicologist; I know more than a thing or two about science and the scientific method, thanks. Don’t bother to play the race and privilege card – I ain’t white, either.

    I think patriarchy is a totalist system – it even shapes the way we argue about it, and it shapes the way we argue about science. If I can quote myself, I use imperfect (as are all human endeavors, especially under patriarchy) science to the best of my and its ability. Still, I want to understand and be aware of the ways in which patriarchy corrupts science, because, as far as I can tell, patriarchy is anti-life and driven toward power, control and domination. I want to blame patriarchy here, not accuse people of being dishonest or stupid (I have a blog upon which this topic bled over from the wiki thread – and believe me, epithets were hurled, stupid probably being the kindest. Why do people do this?). Unlike you, I perceive that the science camp is equally defensive, but to quote myself again, I said *both* sides put aside their own experiences of living as human beings. I say this because, from what we know, uh, scientifically, about how the brain constructs reality (See The User Illusion/Tor Norretranders for a popularization of this science), both logical and illogical thought processes work in chaotic tandem. My point was that it is not either/or and secondarily, that there is more to the derision for the non-quantifiable, mushy aspects of life than meets the eye (and this is because I work as a scientist and I see this derision *all* the time). You are free to accept this or not, as you choose.

    Anyway, I have exceeded my comment allotment (but I don’t like being called a liar) and I have exceeded my interest in talking about the subject (please don’t visit my blog to tell me what a poopy-head I am. Thanks).

  57. Hedgepig

    It’s gasp-worthy that KJB just informed JBT that she is being dishonest, then explained to her that no one has been at all rude while exercising the unenviable and extremely long-winded task of explaining to us how we must experience the world.
    My impression is that this thread has been full of people presenting science in a triumphalist fashion (nice expression, JBT) and brow-beating those who don’t want to join the cheer-squad. But I guess that’s just another of my incorrect subjective impressions, the correct subjective impression (or the objective impression, perhaps?)being that the scientific minds have been jolly patient with us dim folk and not at all insulting.
    Golly, I wish I was capable of such objectivity, it must make life a lot simpler.

  58. KJB

    Tigs – yup!

    Hedgepig – Oh, do grow up.

    JBT –

    Still, you did not understand what I’m saying and you have assigned me to an anti-science camp, which is ridiculous. I am both a physician and a toxicologist; I know more than a thing or two about science and the scientific method, thanks.

    And? What exactly is your point? I haven’t ‘assigned you to anything,’ I simply called you on your claim that science is being presented in a triumphalist manner. I thought you made some perfectly reasonable points. However, seeing as how we’re talking about the thread at hand, please point me to some triumphalism. If you meant that there is generally among some scientists a triumphalist attitude, then yes, I agree. On this thread though, I don’t really see it. I do see people defending science against grand claims being made.

    Don’t bother to play the race and privilege card – I ain’t white, either.

    Yes, but the entirety of my reply was not addressed to you. Furthermore, you do have privilege which affects the way you think (as do I) – class privilege.

    Unlike you, I perceive that the science camp is equally defensive

    Well given that people (including Sapphire above!) make claims such as they do (i.e. that science sees itself as ‘the answer to everything’), I don’t find it surprising that ‘the science camp’ is defensive. Science encompasses so many fields, so to talk about it as if it is some monolithic entity is unwise (although I’ve been guilty of that too), and it has never claimed to be moral. No, it does not have to be “either/or” but the post which this thread was based on WAS taking the either/or approach of rejecting science in favour of intuition. Hence why Blamers are defending the scientific method. I have seen no disrespect of religion, no dismissal of intuition (apart from perhaps one person) which is why I asked for evidence.

  59. speedbudget

    I am reminded constantly that our scientific education in this country is really just totally inadequate. We have ideas about what science is, but no real knowledge. It’s just the search for answers to questions done in a systematic way that someone else could come along and perform the same search and get the same results. Or not. And that’s where science starts, I think. In the replicating or not of experiments. Why didn’t the second guy get the same results? Let’s look in minutia at what the first guy did. More revelations and discoveries and breakthroughs have come about in the looking at minutia than the actual experimenting because we are curious beings. Like someone said upthread, in a totally unrelated experiment, some goo got on the inside of a vacuum tube, and a curious person said, “WTF is this shit?” and set about trying to explain what it was. Through a long series of other people building on previous knowledge and discoveries, we can now use x-rays to diagnose.

    Science is a process, but it is creative in that the end-user really has no idea where they are going to end up at the end of the day. They might have an idea, but if they are true to the scientific process, they aren’t married to their original hypothesis and are willing to adapt and look into why they were wrong. This is what separates science from religion and touchy-feely “it just feels right” endeavors and beliefs. Because yeah, “it just feels right” that some people went in for vaccinations and suddenly their kid exhibited autism-spectrum disorder traits. After some nifty science was employed (demographic studies, controls using various kind of injections, etc.), it was found that the injections didn’t cause the autism. Since the injections come around the time when symptoms first start to appear, it seemed so. But what feels right isn’t always right, and science is a process whereby one can separate the wheat from the chaff and make reasonably truthful claims.

    The proof with science, however, is in the pudding. If somebody else can’t replicate or support your results, you were probably wrong.

  60. Blind Horse

    I learned to think of intuition in that way when I read the book “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. I had a stalker at the time (whole ‘nother story, but that and the aftermath is what started me down the IBTP path) and someone gave me the book to read and it was eye-opening. de Becker speaks of learning to trust your intuition/instincts/inner voice/whatever and puts it in perspective thusly (and I’m paraphrasing, it’s been years since I’ve read the book): you’re driving, at 80mph on a crowded freeway. You KNOW the car in front of you is about to change lanes. They haven’t put on their blinker, they haven’t swerved or given any other indication of imminent lane-changing, but you know. And you’re right. How did you know? And if we trust our instincts when hurtling along in tons of steel at speeds approaching 100mph, inches away from other projectiles, why don’t we trust ourselves in other, more mundane situations? Because the patriarchy has trained us not too!

  61. Jill

    “I think public education should be a building where people of any age can go on their own time, as they see fit. There would be classrooms for different subject areas and you would walk around looking at whatever interests you. You could observe a science experiment, hear a story, play an instrument, hear a foreign language being spoken, use the library to read books, play sports, engage in debates about society, or solve problems using math. When you got tired of one subject you would just go somewhere else. Formal evaluations would be unecessary, unless you needed one to become a professional in a field requiring certification, in which case you could request to take a test when the time is right.

    You’ve just invented the Internet!

  62. Bushfire

    You’ve just invented the Internet!

    In teacher’s college, during a discussion of the future of education, someone proposed simply providing a laptop to everyone and let them get whatever education they need. Maybe there’s a number of people thinking of this.

    I don’t think there’s any substitute for actual human contact, so I still like the idea of a physical community centre.

  63. SargassoSea

    Nails -

    That you drop “unschool” so naturally is fucking far out!

    Larkspur –

    I’m cross-stiching your entire post as we speak!

    Jill -

    Ro-Tel is still spouting that rubbish? When’s she gunna grow up already?!

  64. Tigs

    “What a coincidence! [...] boiling.” — My bad, I don’t get out much.

  65. shopstewardess

    Bushfire: “In teacher’s college, during a discussion of the future of education, someone proposed simply providing a laptop to everyone and let them get whatever education they need.”

    Sadly, a proposal along these lines assumes -

    1. a level of privilege (eg ability to read, type and do basic arithmetic, ability to use laptop, electricity to power laptop, safe/quiet place to use laptop, time and energy to use laptop) which has not been achieved by a large proportion of the population of even “advanced” “western” countries,

    2. that people who do have this level of privilege are aware of the level of education they “need” and are self-motivated to get it, and

    3. that everything people “need” to learn is on the internet, or obtainable through it.

    Mostly, and with exceptions, governments do what they do because they think, sometimes even on reasonable evidence, that not doing it is worse. This applies even to compulsory education, with its attendant horrors.

    In a democracy, over time, governments are usually more right than wrong. Which is why, for many of us, our lives have been getting better over time rather than worse. (This improvement applies on an individual level – ie the level of the elector – even though there is a general deterioration in the state of the planet and there is still a patriarchy to blame.)

  66. yttik

    Nails asked if people not so keen on science would exchange the word “math” and feel the same.

    Being “not so keen on science” is good way to put it because I’m not anti-science, I just don’t put any faith in the people interpreting the data. I can substitute the word “math” and feel the same in terms of economics and the government, whether it’s trickle down economics or voodoo economics, or a panel of our finest economic intellectuals who “never could have predicted” just about every financial crisis we’ve ever had. There is that saying, there are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies, and statistics.

    People, women especially, should be careful about putting science and intellectualism on a pedestal as if it had more validity then anything else. I understand the fear about resorting to faith healers over sound medical advice and yet if your doctor with all his advanced degrees and all his science is trying to kill you, listen to your gut and fuck all those letters after his name. It can save your life. If you’re sick, I don’t care how many tests come back saying you’re not or that it’s all in your head. It simply means that science has not yet caught up with what your gut has been telling you all along.

  67. Gayle

    “We’re going to use reason, logic, and evidence to convince the patriarchy that it is full of shit? I think it’s a great idea but I am far too cynical.”

    And rightfully so. Sexism is illogical at its core yet I don’t see too many scientists out there fighting it. Quite the opposite actually.

    I’m an agnostic myself but I’ll take the Nature Worshipers over the War God Zealots any day of the week.

  68. Comrade PhysioProf

    In teacher’s college, during a discussion of the future of education, someone proposed simply providing a laptop to everyone and let them get whatever education they need.

    Independent of the privilege this assumes, it also conflates information with knowledge. I teach medical physiology to MD students who are among the most educationally privileged and highly motivated young people in the world. Between the Internet, textbooks, and the peer-reviewed research literature, they have free access to all of the physiology information they could ever possibly need. Nevertheless, they still need expert faculty to guide them through the process of developing knowledge of medical physiology that can apply as they transition from the basic science curriculum to the clinics.

    In fact, I would argue further that even the didactic lecture form of teaching is closer to the information side of the ledger than the knowledge side. The context in which our students most effectively achieve knowledge of physiology is in our small-group discussion-based tutorials, not in the lectures.

  69. ma'am

    Science is a systematic way of observing the observable, and manipulating the system to try to understand the observable. It is a way of looking at the evidence and drawing conclusions based upon it, and being aware when no conclusions can be drawn from the evidence. It is needed in every person’s life, every day, for every decision they make. So no doubt the powers that be do not want folks using logic to make their decisions.

    Science gets into trouble, however, because humans are capable of constructing almost any conceivable scenario (eg, Nazi Germany, Iraq war) and mis-interpreting the evidence in favor of pre-conceived notions. Stephen J Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” describes the history of misusing science to prove the inferiority of women, people of color, etc. What is really interesting about the book is that Gould did enough research to make clear that some scientists were aware of their misinterpretations, and continued to promulgate them anyway because of their agenda; while others were so blinded by their intuitions that they could not interpret the evidence that their experiments were accumulating.

    Hence, the problem with science is humans.

    As a scientist, I must constantly ask and re-ask myself if my conclusions are supported by the evidence, and if I have done all the necessary tests. Objectivity is the goal, but it requires brutal honesty and constant introspection. In other words, it is hard.

  70. ma'am

    PS, Larkspur, I am a geologist. Wish you were here.

  71. Larkspur

    SargassoSea I love the idea of cross-stitch, plus it’s subversively math-y, also thank you.

    ma’am, spectacular post. Your first paragraph is awesomely succinct and inspiring. I can anthropomorphize anything, anywhere, under any circumstances, and I am imagining science beckoning and saying something like, “Come on! You’re in the universe and the universe is in you. Plus some of these guys are really annoying me. So come on!” And a bunch of other stuff, possibly with music.

    And yeah, I wish I was in the geology-verse too. But here’s a good thing: as an adult, I took a for-credit geology class (night school!) at my very good local community college. It included a lab section, plus a field trip or two. It was scientifically magical. I still find geologisms sneaking into my everyday language. “If that keeps up much longer, I’m gonna go pyroclastic on his ass.” Like that.

    And of course, any time I fall down or drop something, I intone: “Gravitational transfer: the downslope movement of unconsolidated regolith, primarily due to the force of gravity.” Then I pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep going.

    I love you all. Cranky, contentious, generous, funny, I just love you all.

  72. Keri

    Nice. Let people be inspired! I didn’t post it to be right.

  73. smmo

    . I understand the fear about resorting to faith healers over sound medical advice

    “Faith healers” is a paradox. Faith don’t do shit.

    My nigel’s “alternative” (cough) doctor messed around with aloe juice and flax for 6 months while a tumor grew in his colon, ignoring his perfectly obvious anemia and weight loss. The greenest HMO hack would have caught it, and probably spared him chemotherapy. Your doctors aren’t trying to kill you any more than your midwife or your aromatherapist.

  74. CassieC

    @smmo: midwives, who are talented and trained medical professionals, in no way deserve to be put in the same sentence as aromatherapists.

  75. minervaK

    Here’s what I think is REALLY being discussed here: the freedom to ‘know’ something without having to explain it in terms that are ‘acceptable’ to some Big Brother entity.

    Example: female person intuits that turning left is a bad idea. Male person demands that female person explain to him rationally why turning left is a bad idea, because ‘rational’ is the currency that he considers acceptable. Female, having reached her conclusion intuitively (i.e., grokked fact through subconscious understanding of reality), does not wish to participate in male person’s construct, and refuses. Male person then deems female person ‘irrational,’ and turns left. Male and female person then die in fiery crash as car plummets off bridge.

    ‘Science’ here is standing in for rationalism, and rationalism, like it or not, is the landscape of the Patriarchy. It is so bound up with the Patriarchy in modern discourse that women who participate in it are frequently viewed as ‘geeks’ (i.e., not ‘feminine’ — that is, not women). So I think that part of the rebellion here against ‘science’ (i.e., rationalism) is a (somewhat legitimate) rebellion against Patriarchy.

  76. smmo

    @CassieC Yes, I agree wrt midwives. My intention wasn’t to compare them, simply to talk about a variety of medical providers, but my syntax was poor. Apologies.

  77. ma'am

    minervaK,

    Please, please, please, don’t shut me, or anyone else, out of the rationale universe! Science is not BB and science is not P.

    The patriarchial mindset is, in fact, one which is based on poor science; ie, the inability to observe evidence and discern logical conclusions from said evidence.

    P is based on men’s intuition (“men are better than women at (insert desirable object/occupation, etc here)”). This intuition is presented to both men and women as “fact” and because expectations from others impart a good deal of influence on how we behave and what choices we make, both men and women tend to buy into these incorrect conclusions. Studies for years, as I noted above, were constructed to prove pre-existing intuitions. But now there are many women (and probably men) that are busily debunking years of poor science about, for example, how men are better at math than women.

    Also, your example is bunk. If you can’t explain your “intuitions” to someone else, then they may as well not exist. A good portion of science does involve explaining your objectives, your hypotheses, and your results in a fashion that is comprehensible to others. Self defense, and offense, are based on good solid communication skills.

    Larkspur, Love “If that keeps up much longer, I’m gonna go pyroclastic on his ass.” Keep up the geology for fun; sometimes, a job can rip all the fun out of something anyway.

  78. Ames

    Beautifully said, JBT.

    The flavor of my participation in the discussion about science comes from my experience on the skeptic blogs, many of which are as full of true believers as any pentecostal revival meeting (and just as entertaining). Ideally, doing science is a humbling experience. Instead, in the pursuit of objective reality, many humans puff themselves up and proclaim they know things they don’t. And just who does that sound like? It’s why the male skeptics with science degrees/jobs sound just like the liberal dudes who claim to be feminists – it’s the same smug, self-satisfaction that one’s world view is the one true way. When I see the same type of behavior in the comments here at IBTP, well, in the words of Jill Psmith, it just chaps my hide.

    Calling out the smug patriarchs and their enablers doesn’t mean I think science is bad (it would be hard to make a living at it if I did). It’s just that there’s no such thing as “science” as a pure pursuit, because, at the risk of redundancy, it’s part of the patriarchy! That is, until the Firestone revolution.

  79. Helen Huntingdon

    I’m baffled by those who think science is something “other” people do. It’s fundamental to human nature.

    I’ve watched my niece perform science when she was a pre-verbal infant. I’ve never seen the pursuit of rational inquiry more perfectly distilled. Lacking a common language with her mother, she formulated a hypothesis as to what a given rule was (when placed on a chair, you must sit, not stand), and proceeded to test it systematically. Is this a temporary rule? Are there any variations that create an exception? What if I pose like this? What if I face this way? My sister responded to every move with either a beaming smile or an amused frown, with the baby clearly noting the results and hunting for corner cases to test.

    The baby exhibited the heart of science: Refusing to draw a conclusion that cannot be verified. It seems like part of schooling is training people to make certain assumptions in certain cases, and believe them to be fact, not assumption.

  80. mayya

    Back in the day, Gloria Steinem wrote a humorous (wryly humorous) article called “What if Men Could Menstruate.” It listed the countless ways in which men will frame any attribute that belongs to them as being important and desirable (along with the assumption that only they possessed said attribute). One of the items was along the lines of “If men could menstruate, they would claim that women could never be scientists or mathematicians because they lacked the innate understanding of nature’s rhythms and patterns.”

  81. Saphire

    When you put science in that ‘nature; is all around us context’ then I’m sold.

    CPP – My problem is first of all the idea everything has to be falsifiable.

    Second, if science is everything, the answer to our objective reality, then what causes those causes? What is the unmoved mover?

    For instance, there’s a definite social realm where things get weird. Sexism doesn’t make sense, bullying doesn’t make sense. Social psychology has a million terms to basically say, ‘because humans are that way’. Why are we? Who decided that? Why are we apparently linked in attitudes – why do our attitudes change at the same time? Why do we all gain insight into what’s fashionable as the days go by?

    Giving terms to everything isn’t explaining causes. And a ‘test lab with its test tubes and falsifiability’ can only present us the norms, it can’t go beneath or beyond that. It can’t reach the sea of the unknown Newton described, as compared to his playing around with a few pebbles on the beach next to it. Newton also said:

    “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”

    (Isaac Newton: Inventor, Scientist and Teacher)

    All these great mathematicians and scientists who were still religious or ‘believed in something’.

  82. Helen Huntingdon

    All these great mathematicians and scientists who were still religious or ‘believed in something’.

    Er, well, for anyone who lived in a time and place where not at least pretending to have religious faith would cause them major grief, we can’t know whether they believed or were just trying to survive.

  83. rubysecret

    “midwives, who are talented and trained medical professionals, in no way deserve to be put in the same sentence as aromatherapists.”

    There are good midwives and bad, just like any other profession. My best friend nearly died due to an irresponsibly ‘let nature take its course’ philosophizing midwife, so we learned the hard way and got her to a hospital just in time.

  84. Saphire

    True point, but many of them risked their lives for other reasons!

  85. Bushfire

    @Shopstewardess
    @Physioprof

    Yes, I agree with you both. The laptop idea wouldn’t actually work. I just thought it was interesting that Twisty compared what I described to the internet, and it reminded me of the laptop idea.

    Carry on!

  86. CassieC

    @Saphire: please see point 3. above: “Newton’s misguided religiosity [DOES NOT] negate his scientific work”

    Currently, no astrophysicist has a hard time explaining “how the planets were set in motion”. That part’s easy (big bang, anisotropies, coalescence of gravitationally bound stuff). There are new question, but most scientists don’t pull a cheap trick by expecting God to answer the next question: they try to answer it themselves, or better yet, get a grant to pay their grad students so they can answer it.

    Science says this: the stuff you don’t understand yet? THAT RIGHT THERE IS WHERE THERE IS INTERESTING SCIENCE! GO DO IT! FIGURE IT OUT USING YOUR BRAIN! DON’T TRY CHEAP COP OUTS LIKE RELIGION OR MAGIC OR FEMALE INTUITION! STOP BEING SO GODDAMN LAZY! GET TO WORK THINKING!

    (Sorry for the caps, but science tends to speak in caps. To me at least.)

  87. rootlesscosmo

    @larkspur:

    And a bunch of other stuff, possibly with music.

    A suggestion for the music:

    http://tinyurl.com/367mm6m

  88. nails

    “Second, if science is everything, the answer to our objective reality, then what causes those causes? What is the unmoved mover? ”

    We may not be able to answer some things. It isn’t the answer to everything, but it is our best shot at figuring many things out. Being able to admit that is important to me. I feel that I have integrity for being able to say I don’t know something and may never know. Deciding something *must* be there because of any personal discomfort I have is not acceptable to me. I have no reason to assume anything of that sort. Why pretend?

  89. nails

    Bushfire- I am glad my post meant something to you. That is why I write.

    I know of a few private schools that are student run, where adults facilitate learning and without grades and all the nonsense. It shouldn’t just be for the privileged, but hey, it’s something. There is one in Utah of all places, so there is hope for the future. Stuff like this is inspiring to me. Sometimes anarchists do what are called ‘skill swaps’ which are the same kind of voluntary and authority free events of learning, where people all talk about skills they have and teach others, and then are taught, etc.

    I unschool by sharing the responsibility between a bunch of adults. I think that with adequate interest many people could get together and do this with groups of kids in their free time.

    I think you would find “Dumbing Us Down” by John Taylor Gatto to be really validating. He was a teacher for many years (won awards and everything) and feels the same way you do. I learned a lot from his writing about the way that individual difference making is impossible in schools because of the inherent structure. He talks about long ago when education was a community responsibility, where people taught kids stuff just because the kids were around and wanted to.

  90. nails

    yytik-
    ” I can substitute the word “math” and feel the same in terms of economics and the government, whether it’s trickle down economics or voodoo economics, or a panel of our finest economic intellectuals who “never could have predicted” just about every financial crisis we’ve ever had. There is that saying, there are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

    No, I mean like, actual math. I would not economics as math at all. It involves math in the same way that evolutionary psychology involves counting the numbers of participants in a study, and I do not consider EP to be scientific at all. An economist can say “Here is my math that shows that the market will do ___ tomorrow”, and they are wrong a damn lot, but it isn’t as though the value of the numbers was incorrect or that the actual math itself was wrong. It is a bit like when ghost hunters measure magnetism- the meters are most certainly working, but saying that they detect ghosts is the folly, just like saying “here, I have made a perfect model of human behavior and resource allocation, although it is absolutely impossible to factor in externalities that will most definately become important at some point”. The only reason math is used as a tool to assert proof of stupid statistics and economic theories is that once again, the public is so ignorant of math that they don’t know how to go about testing it out or thinking about it mathematically. The reason people accept the numbers is because people have enough experience with numbers and math in school that they cannot deny the precision of what math describes, and the usefullness of math in describing certain things. That is kinda what I was drivin at here, actually. What an economist or a statistician says dishonestly does not change what actual numbers represent, does it?

    I am trying very hard to understand how people who know how to do things like addition and subtraction can have such an aversion to a logic based approach to exploring the world. Most of us cannot do things like long division or multiplication of multi digit numbers in our heads, but we feel confident in our results (maybe checking them twice) because the method makes sense and the truth can be tested. Classes on math proofs (which provide the same kind of certainty for more difficult math) can be comprehended by people without a ton of math education, but they wait until calculus to make it available to people here. This agrees with the concept of important knowledge being reserved for the most indoctrinated that I mentioned earlier. The confidence people are expressing in science here isn’t because of faith, it is the same kind of faith you have that multiplication tables are accurate and of use. These are things that are extremely hard to deny once they are well understood.

  91. Larkspur

    rootlesscosmo, many many thanks for the Bartok link! Totally on the Primal Playlist now.

  92. jael

    Nails, I want to write you a love song, but Daivd Byrne did it first, and better.

    Hold tight wait till the party’s over
    Hold tight we’re in for nasty weather
    There has got to be a way
    [You're]
    Burning down the house.

  93. Kali

    Dismissing science for its patriarchal origins is like dismissing theories of equality and liberty for their patriarchal origins!

    Neither science nor the theories of equality and liberty have patriarchal origins. It would be more accurate to say that patriarchs have (mis)used both to advance their unscientific ideas and agendas of inequality and repression.

  94. Sammy

    Oh my…this is so fucking awesome! You hit the nail on the head with this post! I agree with everything you said. It was such a relief to read this post because I couldn’t tell if you were one of those anti-science fruit-baskets. I definitely overreacted beforehand Jill,; I’m just really jumpy as a result from speaking with too many religious asshats and encountering far too many new-age, science-hating morons. I jumped to conclusions. I shouldn’t have been so hasty in my other comments Jill, your views on science are definitely awesome and insightful.

    I saw somebody comment on this blog once and she said something like “women’s intuition is more far more effective and useful than science”, so I (erroneously) assumed that was the general consensus around here…thank goodness I was wrong.

    I’m glad you mentioned that whole “new-age Goddess cult” thing. I really despise that shit. Yes, patriarchal religions are idiotic, destructive and irrational, but why does that mean we should start investing faith into some invisible-magic-sky-lady? Isn’t it terribly myopic to assume that the creator of the universe has a gender or sex? And how long does it take humans to realise that unfounded superstition in any form is useless and dangerous? Superstition must be one of the most counter-productive elements of humanity (along with hedonism, sadism, communal reinforcement and all of that stupid shit).

    I can only agree with everything in this post – yes, science has been horribly misused by agenda-driven slime-balls before, but the cure to bad science is *good* science (and more science). And from reading the comments I now see why some people are sceptical of science; they see the hocus-pocus crap that is evolutionary psychology and that obviously jades their view of science, which is understandable. Evolutionary psychology is indeed a load of speculative crap most of the time and that sullies the credibility of REAL science, which is such a shame. But I so agree that throwing the baby out with the bath water and declaring science “oppressive” is a totally irrational non sequitur. Science isn’t an oppressor.

    Sorry, I’m just rambling now; but once I start thinking about new-age science-haters, I just descend into a frenzy of hate. I really like your perspective on science, Jill. Love it.

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