A Precious Narrative By Cedar Sanderson

From a 1909 speech “Le libre examen en matière scientifique”  (Free inquiry in matters of science) by the mathematician, physicist, and philosopher of science Henri Poincaré:

Thought must never submit, neither to a dogma, nor to a party, nor to a passion, nor to an interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to anything whatsoever but the facts themselves—since for thought, surrendering means ceasing to exist.

[La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni à un dogme, ni à un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un interêt, ni à une idée préconcue, ni à quoique ce soit, si ce n’est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d’être.]

 

According To Hoyt

A Precious Narrative

By Cedar Sanderson

Storytelling is woven into human DNA. Even the discovery of DNA’s shape is enrobed in a thrilling tale of deceit and betrayal – with a sexist twist, of course. We tell our stories every single day. Some of us are very clearly aware of the delineations between fact and fantasy, and make our living spinning narratives others enjoy reading for the fun of it. Other people lose the boundaries between fiction and their own desires, and that’s where it starts to get, for lack of a better word, problematic.

I would argue that in order to exist in this world full of contradictions, some people must create an insulting narrative to keep them from confronting the harsh realities that surround them. Without that precious blanket (and you may also envision a thumb firmly inserted for sucking on) they might have to face truths they…

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Climatologist Judith Curry saying farewell to academia

Judith Curry, the Georgia Tech climatology professor vilified by her peers for trying to have a meaningful dialogue with CAGW skeptics, is taking early retirement from academia to focus on a startup company dealing with long-term climate forecasting. http://www.cfanclimate.net/

The moneygraf from her letter:
“[…] I started to realize that academia and universities nationwide were undergoing substantial changes. I came across a recent article that expresses part of what is wrong: Universities are becoming like mechanical nightingales. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/universities-are-becoming-mechanical-nightingales

“The reward system that is in place for university faculty members is becoming increasingly counterproductive to actually educating students to be able to think and cope in the real world, and in expanding the frontiers of knowledge in a meaningful way[…]”

It is always sad to see the departure of any academic who is truly committed to the spirit of free inquiry. Here’s wishing her the very best in her new venture and I hope to be hearing more of her!

Climate Etc.

by Judith Curry

Effective January 1, I have resigned my tenured faculty position at Georgia Tech.

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Reflections on the Harvard “Emailgate” controversy

The Volokh Conspiracy has been covering at length [link leads to subject tag] an “emailgate” at Harvard that is really getting my goat.

Executive summary: a Harvard law student sends a private Email (relevant passages reproduced here) in which she basically says she is “not 100% sure” that the intellectual achievement gap between ethnic groups might not contain a genetic component somewhere. Months later, without her permission, somebody forwards her email to the discussion list of the Black Law Students Association, where it (as expected) unleashes a firestorm. The student has been censored by the Dean of the Law School, has abjectly apologized in public, and is subject to calls for her expulsion.

Eugene Volokh (himself a law prof at UCLA), while not sympathetic to the content of what she said, says the whole incident reminds him of the former Soviet Union where he was born. He goes at great length into what he terms “the practical costs of condemning openness to distressing answers on factual questions“. David Bernstein gives a catalog of outrageous public statements that apparently are not taboo at elite universities, but happen to fit the prevailing PC, post-Marxist, Third-Worldist orthodoxy.

Personally, I think we understand as little about the mechanisms of heredity of intelligence as we understand about global climate, possibly even less. Thomas Sowell — whom I admire greatly — makes a strong case for an “all-nurture” origin of differences between groups. If this were a lecturer or professor having made a statement in public, this would be one thing: “Scholars, heed your words, lest you lead your students to a place of evil waters, and they drink from it and die” (Pirkei Avot 1:11).

But the idea that a student could be expelled for expressing in private even openness to an answer that runs counter to the politically correct orthodoxy — even on such a “third-rail” subject, but where we don’t really know what’s going on  — is truly chilling. Squatch at C2 quotes:

Thoughtcrime is death. Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death. I have committed even before setting pen to paper the essential crime that contains all others unto itself.

And indeed, the whole incident reminds me more of George Orwell’s “1984” than of the principle of academic free inquiry as I’ve always understood it, and as best expressed by the Poincaré Declaration:

La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni à un dogme, ni à un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un intérêt, ni à une idée préconçue, ni à quoi que ce soit, si ce n’est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que, pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d’être. (Henri Poincaré, Fêtes du LXXVe anniversaire, 21 novembre 1909).

[My free translation:] “Thought must never submit, neither to dogma, nor to partisanship, nor to passion, nor to interests, nor to preconceptions — nor to anything but the facts themselves — since for thought, submission would mean ceasing to exist.” (Henri Poincaré, remarks at the 75th anniversary celebration of Brussels Free University, November 21, 1909)

UPDATE: Taxprof has a roundup.

UPDATE 2: Some good verbal ju-jitsu from Ann Althouse. See also Neo-Neocon.