Friday, February 23, 2018

Fatal flaws of our enlightenment?

I post this heading out the door to speak tonight at the California Democratic Party Convention, in San Diego. And yes, they even invite registered Republicans, when they have important ideas to share. Or at least vital questions. For example....

Is our Great Experiment in danger of coming to an end? Certainly, the world seems filled with forces pushing for Government of the people, by the people, for the people to perish from the Earth.

Ezra Klein summarizes the book: “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. Klein’s appraisal is cogent and very important reading in its own right. I urge you to find time for it, even if (like me) you lack time for the source material. As you might guess, I agree that Donald Trump is “not the disease” but a symptom, top-to-bottom. Here’s an excerpt:

‘“2017 was the best year for conservatives in the 30 years that I’ve been here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week. “The best year on all fronts. And a lot of people were shocked because we didn’t know what we were getting with Donald Trump.”

"‘The best year on all fronts.' Think about that for a moment. If you want to know why congressional Republicans are opening an assault on the FBI in order to protect Trump, it can be found in that comment. This was a year in which Trump undermined the press, fired the director of the FBI, cozied up to Russia, baselessly alleged he was wiretapped, threatened to jail his political opponents, publicly humiliated his attorney general for recusing himself from an investigation, repeatedly claimed massive voter fraud against him, appointed a raft of unqualified and occasionally ridiculous candidates to key positions, mishandled the aftermath of the Puerto Rico hurricane, and threatened to use antitrust and libel laws against his enemies.

‘And yet McConnell surveyed the tax cuts he passed and the regulations he repealed and called this not a mixed year for his political movement, not a good year for his political movement, but the best year he’d ever seen.’

I also agree that we face an existential moment in our experiment in Democracy. Every generation of Americans have experienced attempts by the oligarchs of that era to suborn our institutions and laws and cheat, in order to restore the standard human pattern of feudalism. These attempts correlate with phases of our recurring Civil War. 

But never before has a large share of the wealth elite chosen to foster open war against every single knowledge or fact-using profession, from science, teaching, medicine and journalism to the "deep state" FBI, intel agencies and military officer corps. This time it is all-or-nothing. Perhaps because the gnome families behind this putsch know that the Enlightenment Experiment is on the verge of its greatest-ever successes.

Klein – and the authors of  “How Democracies Die do suffer, however, from myopia. They give examples like 1930s Germany and more-recent Venezuela, for how democracies can fail amid whimpers, or else cheers of either right wing or left-wing populism. But this ignores the failure modes that ended earlier trial-runs, such as Periclean Athens and the Florentine Republic.

The lesson overall is that experiments in flat-open-fair -- or diamond-shaped --civilizations always result in spectacular creativity, fecundity, error-correction, science, art and unleashing of talent... but they are also unstable. Beset by oligarchic attacks and by cyclical waves of citizen immaturity-impulsiveness, they have always -- in the past -- succumbed and collapsed back into classic, pyramidal hierarchies of power. That, certainly, is the lesson -- to give up on any hope of wise democracy -- being pushed in confederate media and by world despots, allied in the cause of bringing down the West. 

It is the preaching of despair and demigod worship conveyed within science fiction by authors like Orson Scott Card. And by cyclical history buffs of both the mad far-left and the treasonous entire-right. 

Only... isn't 250 years a record for such an experiment to last? And, having restored it and re-invigorated it many times -- e.g. during the "Greatest Generation" -- can't we confidently imagine doing it again?

== Lift the banner of the Union ==

Even more biting – for those of you who weren’t angry and riled-up enough – is this essay in The Atlantic - Boycott the Republican Party, by Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes -- asserting that the only way to save American Conservatism… and possibly the Republican Party … is to burn their political power to the ground, so that perhaps a phoenix of adult-sane conservatism can rise from the ashes. “The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period.” 

Of course the gnomes and their servant-shills wage war against all fact-using professions because those are the “elites” who stand in the way of return to aristocratic rule by… well, imbeciles, of course. Because exactly what do these people think will happen when they make enemies of all the folks who know stuff and can invent and build everything from lasers to nukes to genetic codes to AI? How, exactly, is this supposed to work out for you?

In my novel Existence, I portray a much smarter aristocracy trying to forge a deal, instead, with the “boffin elites.” But, of course, just like the inventor-entrepreneur billionaires like Musk, Bezos, and Gates, the fact-folks will likely have no part of such treason.

See (below) how great new candidates are rising from the "fact communities" -- from science and from the military officer corps. But first...


== An alternative view… called “optimism” ==

Let's swing to a different tome that Bill Gates has gone all-out about, calling Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, by Steven Pinker, “My new favorite book of all time.”  

Enlightenment Now is the follow-up to Steven Pinker’s groundbreaking The Better Angels of Our Nature, which angered both the far-left and the entire-mad-right by showing how especially violence - but also other metrics of progress - have improved everywhere that the overall progressive agenda has taken hold. Here, Prof Pinker presents the big picture of human progress: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? “Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.” review in Kurzweil News.

== And optimism mixed with paranoia? ==

Edward Snowden pushing a new privacy-sousveillance tech called “Haven” that lets folks with cell-phones to apply transparency at the powerful while protected against being discovered. The good news: this Haven thing is open source, offering some small hope that it might not turn into a snake that bites the user. Maybe. The bad news? This is really vague!  For example, only at the very beginning of the video, when Snowden says “spare android phone,” do we get a hint that this is not an app for your regular pocket-robot, but rather something you can use your old phone for, outside of the tightly controlled “networks.”

Also, philosophically, while I am a big believer in sousveillance and deem this likely to be helpful, especially in states and regions where power oppresses, it is nevertheless based upon an assumption and desire to counter asymmetries of transparency with your own asymmetries of transparency.  That is a dangerous game and not what I personally have fought for. Moreover, it's a game that’s unlikely the little guy will ever win for very long. Still, I hope some of you will join this Haven community and report back, from time to time.  I’d rather it were tried, than not.

== Fact people volunteers ==

Many of you recall my  essay calling for a "Year of Colonels". Well, Conor Lamb is everything (it seems) that I asked for, when I said we must run sane, pro-science and fact, purple ex-officers in every red district in America. Every State Assembly seat. Every State Senate, City Council and dogcatcher position.  This 33 year old retired Marine officer, federal prosecutor and devout Catholic has a chance to win a special election vs the GOP candidate (who's proclaiming "I'm more Trump than Trump!") in a solid-red district in Pennsylvania, where the former Republican rep had to resign... caught ordering his mistress to get an abortion.

If that means liberals in all those places will then have to negotiate with sane, decent, calm, science-respecting, rights-progressive, environmentally-responsible -- but temperamentally conservative crewcut types who sometimes go hunting -- instead of confronting today's insane, fact-hating traitor-shills of Rupert Murdoch... then live with that!

American conservatism won't die, but it can be shaken out of its current, nightmare fever or jibbering lunacy. Each of us must find one "ostrich" who might be wakened, and make him or her our mission.

A broad front... a Big Tent... and the intelligence to run the right people in each district... that's how the Union will win this phase (number 8) of the American Civil War against a risen Confederacy that's absolutely (as always) treason.

And here's a Mississippi biochemist who's also showing that fact folks can fight back.  

Step back from your suicidal putsch, oligarchs! If you succeed in bringing down the enlightenment experiment and "government by the people," you will reap ashes. We fact people know how to make and do stuff. As Bruce Banner put it:

"You won't like us when we're angry."

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Looking upward...and inward to your brain! Plus "the Bell Curve" is baaack. And science misc

A science potpourri today. 

== Looking in and looking up! ==

Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere is a collection of fiction, illustrations, and speculative timelines exploring the near future of near space. Very near space. It is available here to download, entirely free and available in EPUB and MOBI formats, and through the Apple iBooks store. (I collaborated on a little adventure story.)

Cosmic-ray muon radiography allows us to visualize the interiors of large, stony objects. Researchers report using it to study the known and potentially unknown voids in the Great Pyramid in a non-invasive way. They report the discovery of a large void (with a cross section similar to the Grand Gallery and a length of 30 m minimum) above the Grand Gallery, which constitutes the first major inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the 19th century. 

At NASA NIAC we funded a study to use this method to map the interiors of asteroids. Wow. 

== The METI cult, at it again ==

Okay, until now, these “messaging to ET" stunts were mostly harmless. When Frank Drake sent the “Arecibo Message” in 1974 — a brief blip to the Hercules Cluster, decades ago, he chose an objective 24,000 light years away, in order not to commit humanity to a fait accompli it might regret.  But the “METI cult” has now declared open war upon us and on our children: The San Francisco-based METI Institute sent its message toward the red dwarf star GJ 273 (also known as Luyten's Star), 12 light-years away from Earth. The message was sent in October from the Eiscat transmitter in Tromsø.”

Now to be clear, I like Doug Vakoch, the METI-I head.  A nice fellow… and now a cultist, who has declared his intention to perform sneak attacks like this one, avoiding all proper scientific vetting, discussion or process, gambling our future based on questionable assumptions and assertions. Some of these nostgrums he repeats, despite knowing them to be utterly disproved.

== This is your brain on the spotlight ==

The idea of “brain hacking,” or using technology to augment brain function and human intelligence, is controversial, but is taking off, nevertheless. In 2017, Tesla CEO and founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, launched a venture called Neuralink. 

Facebook has also said it is developing technology that can read brain waves. In November, Microsoft founder Bill Gates committed $100 million of his own money to boost research and fund start-ups working on Alzheimer’s R&D. 

Peter Diamandis’s recent  “Visioneers Summit” gave its highest honors this year to the team tackling Alzheimer’s disease.

And yet… as research advances, we keep finding ways in which the problem is larger than we ever imagined. Twenty years ago, some thought we might model mentation (and thus maybe create AI) when our computers matched the number of “processors” in a human brain – about 100 billion neurons.  Despite its recent decay, Moore’s Law has surpassed that goal now, and quite then some.  

Okay then, folks cried: “Aha! The processor analog isn’t cells, but the ten to a thousand flashy synapses for every neuron, that trigger and flash like elements of a computer!” There are perhaps 100 trillion of those. Until recently, the dogma was that a compact box containing that many silicon flip flops would just have to come aware.

Only now we are learning ever-more about intracellular and intercellular computation. It happens that each neuron appears to have a great many sub-components that work together or against each other in murky, nonlinear ways, determining whether and when each synapse will flash! (I was among those predicting this, 20 years ago.) For example, each neuronal dendrite seems to feed into a chain of support structures, each of which plays some complex and poorly understood part in this decision-making cascade. 

And it goes on! The surrounding glial and astrocyte cells are no longer seen as just support units, but appear to interact with the neurons in sophisticated ways. 

So, Moore’s law might require us to make compact boxes with quadrillions or circuit elements. Nor does it stop there. Because now we get to… quantum.

Yes, there are the incredible speculations of Roger Penrose and his colleagues, who suggest that the tiny microtubule organelles within neurons engage in some degree of quantum entanglement -- (we've already seen there's some entanglement in chloroplasts) -- that helps to create consciousness in ways that go beyond just computation. Woof!

I had several opportunities, lately, to ask Sir Roger about these concepts and many others. Then lunch a couple of weeks ago with Freeman Dyson. And I hang with Larry Smarr and Vint Cerf. What, me brag and name drop? No. Not me.

== The “Bell Curve” rears its ugly head ==

Some members of our blog comment community raised the issue of “The Bell Curve” or whether there might be some systematic differences between races, genders etc. that it would be dishonest to suppress. Here's the assertion:

1. Population studies of various distinct social groups clearly do show there are differences in intelligence, and research shows that a significant fraction is nature.

2. If social policies are based on the assumption that differences in achievements between groups is all nurture, no nature, then these social policies are likely to be sub optimal.

Logically, true, so far. Alas, though, Bell Curve defenders utterly miss the point.

1. The “differences in averages” (DIA) that might be found in comparisons of bell curves have always diminished over time, with the application social resources to eliminate disadvantages, prejudices and discouragements.  Given that blatant history, the only useful policy application of comparison of bell curves is to call attention to a likely need for investment! 

(Yes, the rate of narrowing of DIAs may diminish, over time, settling on some “natural” DIA. So? Read on.)

2. It is clear that the top motive behind “The Bell Curve” and its zealots is racism, sexism and desperate need for confederate-style solace in symbolic superiority. Yes, let us admit that some are attracted to the topic out of intellectual orneriness. The latter group should make strenuous efforts to distinguish themselves from the racists… as I describe legitimate climate skeptics distinguishing themselves from members of the insane denialist cult.

3. What if there truly are some systematic differences in width or center of bell curves among groups? There's a clear example: while ending stupid assumptions shifted the distribution of women capable of military service -- and the military is ecstatic over the quality of its female service members -- it did not change the inherent difference in average physical height from the average for men. 

But even such residual, systematic differences do not mean what the racists and sexists think it means. Which brings us to our most important rebuttal point.

4. The blatant fact of human individual diversity - plus 250 years of the American Experiment - show that it is both immoral and impractical to apply group stereotypes upon individuals in ways that restrict any individual’s right or ability to say “I am different from that average.”

It is #4 that proves the despicable core of the Bell Curve zealots.  Even if some remnant of observed differences in averages (DIA) did not decline with the application of resources and justice, there would be no justification for the racist-sexist-bigoted application of DIA upon any individual who is seeking to prove herself or himself.

Even if a person cannot parse the intellectual arguments I have made here, there is a basic conclusion: if that person seeks to restrict another person’s individual ambition, based upon membership in an involuntary classification like race or gender, then that bigot is a nasty, degraded person who did voluntarily join a classification group! One we should all treat with great contempt.


== Surprises of science ==

This Alaskan city is warming so fast, algorithms removed the data because it seemed unreal. And yes, freakishly strong snow in the U.S. southeast is a symptom of warming! Attend a community college science class.

Amazing. Greenland sharks reach maturity at about 150 years of age and some have been measured (by pulsing Carbon 14 in their eye lenses) at 400+ years old.

And while we’re in the Arctic: Want cognitive dissonance?  Trump's newly signed National Defense Authorization Act includes a significant discussion of the effects of climate change -- going so far as to call it a “direct threat to the national security of the United States.”

We’ve know this for years. The U.S. military is a fact-centered profession, and thus unable to screech denialist incantations, while the Russians build 12 new major naval and marine bases on the Arctic Ocean. Of course, this is one reason why the War on Science and All Fact-using Professions has now expanded to include the FBI, Intel Agencies and the US military officer corpse… now denounced by confederate loonies as “deep state” traitors.

Oh, BTW... we'll be in the Arctic in one month.... brrrr....

== Miscellaneous items ==

There’s serious talk of wild polio (not caused by the Sabin vaccine itself) being wiped out by June. Wow.

Ford employees are using exoskeletons, and they may change manual labor forever. Ford’s exoskeletons protect employees from repetitive motion injuries and decrease fatigue. Watch the video!


Under the category of Things We Should Be Doing Anyway – or TWODA. “In Africa, Geneticists Are Hunting Poachers.” 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Tribal echo chambers - can we (can you) break out?

Before launching into the general problem, let's start with the very worst example of echo-chamber thinking: the absolute unwillingness of major political factions in America to negotiate, or even talk to each other, about gun violence in America.  

Fatigued by the lunacy, I present, yet again, my own proposed compromise that might offer a win-win. It would license and register all the weapons used for very bad things... while setting aside permanently our right to own - without registration or interference, ever - the one personal weapon that could serve us if we had to rebel. 

More importantly, my proposal demonstrates how to seek the deepest root of your opponent's fear -- the thing that propels and justifies his intransigence. There can be logic - of a sort - under the obstinacy. And you are supposed to be the logical ones.

Do not mistake the disease for the symptom. It is this sickness of obstinate intransigence that our enemies most wanted to instill. It is how civilizations fall.

== Our greatest talent -- self-delusion -- now weaponized ==

In Earth (1989), I made one of the earliest forecasts that our then-new public Internet would lead to millions creating echo chambers of self-reinforcing opinion — bubbles of online tribalism — that could even verge onto veritable e-nuremberg rallies, exploited by dark powers. In that novel, I proposed that the solution might come via tools of transparency, a concept that evolved into The Transparent Society.

Now we see that the Web - which was supposed to be our immune system against lies and error - has been turned against us, much like a deliberately induced auto-immune disease

This is well and terrifyingly described at Berit Anderson’s SCOUT site. There, she appraises the way enemies of the Enlightenment have deployed against us “AI weaponized propaganda.”

It’s a complex dilemma, much as AIDS was. Only, as I also described in EARTH, there are powerfully smart and creative forces who seek solutions. Some are doing so out of survival self-interest, e.g. Facebook is now vetting news sources that feed their customers’ biases.

(Full disclosure: I consulted with Facebook's teams about this, last summer, when the extent of the calamity was just becoming clear. I'm told that some of my ideas were "influential" but I'm not clear yet on which ones. There are definitely ways to alert users to refutation of rumor, without making the surfing/posting experience less pleasant.)

Other efforts are described by Nathan Gardels of the World Post:

In fact, we are already seeing evidence of a “flight to quality” in the wake of the dominance of peer-driven social media that is populated with hate speech, fake news and alternative facts. Online subscriptions to The Washington Post — The WorldPost’s publishing partner — have tripled during the first year of the Trump presidency.

“Even so, the Internet remains the battleground of tribal warfare, where a cacophony of voices contends to establish the consensual truths that are the essential foundation of democratic discourse. The global “anti-tribe tribe” claims authority through the impartial methods and universal standards of reason it employs in the pursuit of an objective social consensus. Ideological, religious or nativist adherents embrace allegiance to the solidity of belonging against what they regard as the rootlessness of a cosmopolitan caste....

“As the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk noted, the eruption of tribalism in our global age is a response to the “liquidized” identities that have supplanted the territorial patriotism that was culturally ingrained during the long history of agricultural societies. New assertions of identity, he argues in an interview, also mark a “return of plurality” in the face of “helpless universalism.” ...

“Similarly, David Goodhardt writes that reconciling tribal attachment and the notion of a “common good” is the great challenge. “Moderate nationalism,” Goodhardt notes paradoxically, is “an important glue for liberal societies” — in short, a home between the globalist “anywhere” and the local “somewhere.””

Okay, maybe that's a bit hifalutin and arcane. I prefer pragmatism, pointing out to today's confederates -- and ISIS nostalgists and other romantics -- that there are zero measures by which their prescriptions work. When was "America Great"? Presumably under the "Greatest Generation"... who invested heavily in our shared infrastructure and major projects, under a social contract fashioned by their favorite living human. Franklin Roosevelt. 

== ...and from one of Earth's worst humans ==

In contrast, George F. Will is at it again. Openly admitting that U.S. Conservatism has gone insane, Will refuses to take any responsibility for his open-eyed and knowing choice to foster the movement’s capture by feudalist enemies of the Western Enlightenment Experiment. Enemies not just of democracy but competitive-fair market capitalism, as well -- the very this that (lying) he claims to revere. 

Rather, he keeps waving hypnotic baubles and incantations in front of millions of gullible readers: “Yes, our side has gone corrupt, treasonous and crazy… but… but lib’ruls are worse!”

In this latest version of the magic spell, I carefully looked for any paragraph that was not essentially a lie — either directly or through verbal legerdemain. I found three!  Just three paragraphs, in which the core was not: “Listen to how smoothly and confidently I spin out erudite-sounding citations! Never mind that almost nothing that I am saying is actually true!”

And I mean it literally. Only three out of thirty paragraphs did not contain an open and bald-faced lie. Shame on the Post and anyone else who does not follow this traitor around, calling him what he is.

== Are you taxed more for income you sweated for? ==

Listen to this brilliant economist all the way through... Dambisa Moyo interviewed about automation, investment, demographics and helping to keep capitalism healthy.

Nothing better distills Republican philosophy better than this: “The House tax overhaul raises taxes on high-income earners who make their money through labor, but delivers a huge tax cut to passive business owners."

This is classic. Adam Smith described how elites of any society adjust the rules to benefit passive “rent-seeking,” so the owner caste won’t have to innovate, build factories, take risks or lift a finger, just collect dividends, interest, rents or stock rises at low tax rates. (Rates were ZERO for nobles in Smith’s day, leading to revolution in America and France.)

Adam Smith denounced this cheating, which warps markets and demolishes genuine competition by those aiming to create goods and services. Smith knew this kind of lordly cheating ruined free and creative-competitive markets in every civilization. In comparison, socialism and “bureaucrats” can be threats to markets -- but historical examples of lethality are far, far more rare than the prevalent danger. Oligarchy.

Again, our parents in the Greatest Generation (GG) knew this. Watch movies from that era! Just as the U.S. Founders rebelled against the King and his caste of cheaters, and the Union overcame the cheating plantation lords, the WWII generation tamed -- without killing or ruining -- its own oligarchs who plotted to revive feudalism. Only, led by FDR, the GGs did it with mild reforms, not revolution, tilting the balance to favor honest labor and entrepreneurial creativity, instead of passive rent-seeking.

But the GG revolution has been chipped away. The Cheater Caste is back. The top 0.1% owns more than the bottom 90%, yet they have 40% of Americans convinced that the only threat to freedom and markets is “bureaucrats.” Since Reagan, the incantation has been to slash taxes on the rich, in promise that the rich will then do what the vast majority of them have never, ever done in the history of our species… investing their gusher of tax gifts in productive innovation or “supply.”

To be clear, not one prediction for “Supply Side (Voodoo) Economics” (SSVE) has ever come true, ever. Once. Even once. At all. Ever. Demand that your crazy-confederate uncle come up with one example.

Oh, their hired shills offer lines like “The Inheritance Tax is a DEATH TAX!” In fact, the heirs who receive money are U.S. citizens RECEIVING MONEY, and our social contract is that you get taxed when you receive money! You pay 25%+ on money you receive for working hard. The Republicans want pampered scions to pay nothing for wealth they receive by doing nothing.

== Put it starkly ==

Passive income is preferred over money earned through labor? Or from creativity, or active investment? How did we get talked into such an outrageously monstrous cheat? Your taxes are higher precisely because the Rentier Caste pays at low rates that have allowed them to amass nearly all of the nation’s wealth.

Make no mistake, this betrayal of fair competition leads to revolution, as it did in Adam Smith’s day. The smartest of the rich - those who actually invest in R&D and innovations and products — know this, and want their own class to be taxed higher!

They want this because it’s fair and will help us to thrive.

They want this to avoid pushing a spectacularly skilled and educated middle class into torches, pitchforks and tumbrels.

The tech zillionaires are not like the ones financing the GOP’s oligarchic putsch - the gambling kingpins, Wall Street parasites, inheritance lordlings, and those who bribed their way into cushy resource extraction boons.

The smart ones, who can see, are like JFK’s father, who supported FDR, saying: “I’d rather give up half my fortune, helping make a healthy middle class, than lose it all to revolution.” (paraphrased)

And finally....

Passed along by Russ Daggatt: "Thanks to Trump, Democrats now have a more favorable view of the FBI than Republicans do. In the last month, Republicans have gone from 65% favorable to 38% favorable. Trump has already caused a radical shift in Republican opinion on Putin and Russia (more positive) and the NFL (more negative)."

Fascinating. The very same poli- tburo plotters who the US right despised and feared, became best-buds due to... a change of symbolism. From communist lapel pins to oligarch/orthodox pins. The same guys (wearing better suits), pursuing similar methods with the same aim - bringing Pax Americana and American world leadership to an end - are suddenly great pals of the US right... because Rupert Murdoch says so. 


And the FBI that has always opposed those agents - many of them the very same people - are now villains.

The... Confederacy... is... treason. Always was. Always will be.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Another sly trick: the Quibble Method - and cornering reality

Last time, I appraised three of the magical incantations that are used in the War on Science -- and against every fact-using profession -- in order to discredit all the folks who actually know stuff, while pretending to sound logical. We need to understand these cheats at their most basic level, in order to fight back against weapons-of-darkness.

An example from last time: we all know that: "Just being smart and knowing stuff doesn't automatically make you wise."

Alas, the extrapolation -- never spoken explicitly, but slyly and relentlessly implied on Fox and every confederate medium -- is: "Being smart and knowing stuff makes you unwise." 

Scratch the surface, and you'll find this lunatic catechism, whose purpose is to generate distrust of any "smartypants elite" that might compete with oligarchy. thwarting feudalism's return.

== More sneaky messages... or Trouble with Quibbles... ==

 Okay then, here's another I've mentioned before. The Quibble Method lets manipulative gasbags neutralize anyone who actually knows something, about any topic. 

Again, you start by asserting something that's obviously true! Like: 

"None of us - even scientists - can directly perceive objective reality. Everything passes through flawed senses.” 

This, too, is blatantly true!  In fact, science itself taught the hard lesson to us, after millennia of being told by earlier elites - kings and feudal lords and priests, that they did have perfect knowledge of Truth with a capital "T." 

Only now comes the sneaky trick, after saying a true thing aloud. With a sly wink, the implied general extension is:

"Therefore, scientists can't be trusted! 

"Sure they try to make models of the world that edge ever-closer to objective reality, disproving those that are clearly and decisively farther. But ignore all that. Just assume they are like priests, of old! A priesthood is a priesthood. And science is just another religion - or 'community standard' - like any other and no better."

Let's pause and be clear; there are elements of the far-fringe, postmodernist left who incant this "all is subjective" nonsense, as volubly and vigorously as happens on the entire, mad right. (Note, though, the difference between "far-fringe" and "entire.")

It's an insidious pattern. Take an obviously true particular, and use it to imply an obviously crazy generality! Of course it leads to madness, like a recent missive from Donald Trump's appointed CDC head, declaring that biomedical scientists must adjust their judgements based upon "community standards."

In fact, science is not about community standards of truth.  It is about a community standard for processes that we've learned - from hard experience - best enable competitive researchers to falsify any rival's model that proves farther away from objective reality than their own. Indeed, there are few more-competitive entities on the planet than scientists.

Those rival theories and models that survive this process are not raised up as gods or holy writ! Nor are they called "objective reality." If they survive this process of incessant testing, it is only for this round, because successful theories or models undergo mitosis -- they simply split into daughters, that then repeat the creative endeavor of ceaseless testing.

If we cannot directly perceive objective reality, then at least we can corner it!  And we are doing this daily (I believe with His blessing) to God.

== Learn to refute the quibbles ==

Amid the terrific, elevated discussions that take place in the Contrary Brin comments section, one doubtful skeptic-of-science said: 

But I don’t think science leads us to the Truth it leads us to the useful. I consider that to be a very important difference.”

Alas, dear valued member of this community, that statement is somewhat wrong.  Hence, I will reiterate.

Science is not about achieving the useful, any more than it is about proving perfected Truth. Sure, a cornucopia of useful things fall out naturally.  But science is about carving away what’s not true. 

When I look at a chair and fondle it and smell it and measure it with instruments, I still cannot know what the chair is, with objective-Platonic certainty.  But I can eliminate one hell of a lot of things that the chair is not.

We corner objective reality by allowing less and less room for it to fool us.  And since humans are delusional beings, that means using reciprocal-competitive processes to pierce each others’ delusions, using ever-more exacting evidence.

Let other priesthoods declare Truth! We … do… not… pretend to!  They hate and fear us, because we can demolish their “Truths” the way we enjoy and thrill at demolishing each others’ theories!  And when a theory proves to not be falsified by all experiments and attacks, sure, it gets temporary glory as our current model of the world. 

But that only means it will spin off sub-variants in finer detail, and we’ll smash most of those!

I have likened it to the Dance of Shiva, in which the god leaps upon a part of the world and destroys it… so that something better immediately pops up when he hops away. And he smiles, beats his drum, and says “I’ll be back!”

So it is with theories and models. When we smash some part of our current paradigm -- say of gas-liquid dynamics laws in fine-grained computer-simulations of meteorology and climate science -- that's not an invalidation. (Not usually, that is; though sometimes that happens, too.) Generally, the result is an incremental improvement that often gets validated quickly, with another 5% or so better predictive capacity. 

Look, those who repeat these silly, anti-science calumnies and Fox-isms aren't all bad people, or agents of darkness. We have to understand these ways they have been tricked  into joining an anti-science, anti-enlightenment cult. We have to fight it, not only because it is all about proto-feudalism and wrecking everything we've created. Or because if it wins, our grandchildren are doomed.

We must fight it also because it is so joyless! It's the reason there weren't riots of joy in the streets (think Philadelphia, after the Eagles won) when Curiosity landed on Mars! Or when the Falcon Heavy launch showed us how wonderfully competent we humans can be!  (See me rant about the importance of bragging and joy!)

We must get our neighbors to grasp how much we relish this forward movement of creative destruction, for its own sake. The competitive creativity that underlies most human progress, that can only happen - ironically - when we cooperate to regulate and eliminate cheating. (The central lesson of Adam Smith.)

We do this knowing that the thing we chase – whether it's successful innovation, or objective reality, or God – will keep escaping, giggling, into the remaining fractal, diminishing and yet never-ending shadows. And we – learning every Godlike skill – give chase.