Scientists who give science a bad name


According to theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss, gravitational waves “may have been discovered!!”

The earlier rumor Krauss referred to was this:

LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory — a project involving more than 900 scientists. Krauss isn’t one of them.

Following Krauss’s tweet in September, LIGO spokesperson Gabriela González, a physicist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, told Davide Castelvecchi she was “upset at the possibility that someone in the LIGO team might have initiated the rumour, although Krauss and other researchers told me [DC] that they did not hear it directly from members of the LIGO collaboration. ‘I give it a 10–15% likelihood of being right,’ says Krauss, who works at Arizona State University in Tempe.”

Krauss has now boosted his confidence level to 60% — a surprisingly high level given that he says this:

“I don’t know if the rumour is solid,” Krauss told the Guardian. “If I don’t hear anything in the next two months, I’ll conclude it was false.”

González now tells Ian Sample at The Guardian:

“The LIGO instruments are still taking data today, and it takes us time to analyse, interpret and review results, so we don’t have any results to share yet.

“We take pride in reviewing our results carefully before submitting them for publication – and for important results, we plan to ask for our papers to be peer-reviewed before we announce the results – that takes time too!” she said.

At this point, it seems like the story might reveal more about Lawrence Krauss than it says about gravitational waves.

What makes Krauss’s excitement so uncontainable when the news will definitely come out — if and when there is news — without his help?

Scientists have a duty to fulfill a role as public educators and there has never before been a time when this need has been greater. To a degree this is an evangelical role, but as with every other individual who assumes such a position, each is at risk of becoming intoxicated by the reverential respect they receive from their audience as message and messenger become intertwined.

This may then lead to an over-extension of authority — exactly what Krauss and fellow scientists who dub themselves antitheists are guilty of when they make pronouncements about religion.

Here’s Krauss on religion and xenophobia:

Last night, The Guardian reports:

More than 200 far-right extremists have been arrested after they went on a rampage during a xenophobic rally in the German city of Leipzig, setting cars on fire and smashing windows.

Many of the extremists were already known to police as football hooligans and wrought chaos on Monday in an area known to be left-leaning, while thousands of supporters of the anti-migrant Pegida movement held an anti-refugee demonstration elsewhere in the city, authorities said.

A total of 211 arrests were made after the Connewitz district of the eastern city was attacked, police confirmed.

Are we to view this as a modern-day crusade in which German Christians purge their fatherland of the invading Muslim hordes?

On the contrary, I doubt very much that many (or perhaps even any) of those involved would be particularly ardent in expressing any religious faith. What is likely beyond doubt is that they were all white.

Xenophobia is generally a form of racism and the xenophobes don’t close ranks on the basis of theological quizzing — they can identify their cohorts and their enemies simply through the color of their skin.

When religion and racism intermingle, the underpinning of the racism is much less likely to be found in religious doctrine itself than it is on prevalent affiliations based on racial, national and cultural identity.

If as they claim, the antitheists want to rescue humanity from religion because of its irrationality, why focus on religion alone? There are many other forms of irrational behavior that are equally if not more destructive.

For instance, the religion in modernity which through advertising relentlessly promotes more widespread and unquestioning faith than that found in any conventional religion, is consumerism: the belief that the acquisition of material goods is the key to human happiness.

You are what you own — I know of no other idea that is more irrational and yet holds such a firm grip on so much of humanity.

This religion has grown more rapidly and more extensively than any other in human history and in the process now jeopardizes the future of life on Earth.

In terms of doctrine, most conventional religions oppose materialism. As the Bible says:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.

The antitheists are going to say this is a bad investment because heaven doesn’t exist, but in doing so they devalue the ecological wisdom contained in such religious efforts to rein in human avarice.

The core criticism of religion is directed at its appeal to beliefs that have no empirical foundation and yet what’s strange about focusing on doctrine is that it glosses over the gulf between belief and practice.

Arguably, the destructive impact of religion derives mostly from the fact that so many believers fail to practice what they profess. They situate the locus of meaning in the wrong place by thinking, this is who I am, rather than this is how I live. In so doing, they inhabit identity traps: static forms of self-definition that obscure the dynamic and interactive nature of human experience.

On this issue, Lawrence Krauss and others could learn a lot from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

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