Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
[flagged] We Must Defend Science in the Face of Political Attacks (scientificamerican.com)
78 points by areoform 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 118 comments





You have a group of people in Washington tasked with doling out money for research. By its very nature this federal funding has politicized science for a long time. Ask anyone who has been through a scientific PhD program whether or not their field has been politicized because of grants received or not received.

The trick this article plays is to argue in part that science needs to be politicized the right way. Diversity initiatives. Massive spending programs without clearly-defined revenue streams. Protecting scientists from "political interference," a term which is impossible to define without eliminating the ability to filter junk science. Everyone needs to sign off on this or the bad things will happen.

I'm sure the author's intentions were good, but restoring public confidence in science means that scientists themselves need to take a good look in the mirror.


Probably if you spend enough time and effort you can find something political in, say, the mathematics papers written by any given university research team on any given year. But if a politician advocates for teaching that Pi is exactly three, in my opinion that's on a whole different level.

Your post advocates for false equivalence, in a somewhat indirect manner. We get to "all science is politicized". And then the muddling of the waters is complete.


What value is in that mathematical papers though? Most of it is correct within itself, but useless for anything real world and always will be.

There is only so much labor we have as society. We need to make choices as to what we do. If everybody was willing we could dedicate society to just math. People can sleep under their desk at work, eat the mass produced cafeteria food, never watch sports, just work eat sleep. A lot of mathematicians could be funded with the leftover money (remember they are living the same life so their cost of living is tiny - more than half our population could produce more theorems).

The above is obviously Reductio ad Absurdum. However it brings out the point: we as a society have already decided math isn't the most valuable thing. We are already drawing limits, the only question is where.


It can be difficult to predict whether a given research topic will be useful or not in the future. It's easy when something is developed with an application in mind. It can be far more difficult for "pure math". There are plenty of examples of math that we don't have an application for today becoming very relevant in the future. For example:

- Fast Fourier transform (Gauss discovered and didn't publish it b/c he thought it wasn't very useful. Others rediscovered it later.) - Number theory was considered useless for a long time, now it's used for cryptography


Mathematics is surprisingly useful. You've used your credit card online -- where'd that encryption algorithm come from? "Useless" math. You've booked a flight online -- where'd that schedule come from? Uh, math again: all that optimization, those traveling salesman problems.

Right now I'm doing all sorts of work studying risk in financial networks, studying public health, all using math that was considered "pure" just 20 years ago. Actually, at the moment I'm looking up papers on the tropical geometry of deep learning.

Certainly I realize society has decided math is not the most valuable thing, which is why I'll be seeking to do "machine learning" instead in the next year or so, rather than education & research (useless for anything in the real world!). I'm sure I'll add more to humanity when I'm optimizing for ad clicks :)


I didn't argue all math is useless. I argued a lot of it is

Something may look useless now, but turn out not to be useless.

Something might be useless now, but further mathematics based on it might be worth billions.


> We get to "all science is politicized"

No, just the science that's fashionable to politicize. You can't pretend that this article isn't at least more biased than the people they're supposedly warning us about.


The Trump Interior Department abruptly canceled a study into coal mining's effects on the health of nearby residents. An Interior Department official explained the decision this way: "Science was a Democrat thing"

Academia is political too. Inherently relations between people are by definition political.

The point is to raise the role of epistemology in decision making where it is possible. That's all.


I think the parent comment was referring to "political" specifically in the sense of "dealing with the government", not the general (e.g. "office politics") sense.

Indeed, and I was saying that government politics is ultimately no different.

"Massive spending programs without clearly-defined revenue streams."

Science doesn't have "revenue streams". Basic research doesn't have "revenue streams".


> science needs to be politicized the right way. Diversity initiatives.

No thank you. I don't need the left telling me that there are 30 genders nor the right telling me that climate change doesn't exist. There is no "right" politicization.


Spot on. Science needs to be data-driven, accurate and absolutely without politics.

Anything otherwise, and we lose credibility and a good chunk of audience for political reasons.

Don't weaponize Science! Keep it pure, keep it true.


I do not think author of this piece has particularly good intentions at all.

Good intentions would have included self-reflection, non-partisan discussion of alternative views, and so on.

A simple review of the funding sources of The Union of Concerned scientists letters, this piece is based on, explains the motives (eg 20mln for linking man-made climate affects and hurricanes).

https://buyingbias.org/2017/09/20/457/


One of the problems with the “defend science” movement is that it’s often being (mis)-used to support philosophical positions that are fundamentally unanswerable by science: concepts like afterlife, gender, and when life begins. I’m not saying I disagree with the popular viewpoints, but science is the wrong tool for the job. (Does human life have inherent value? I don’t know, but better predictive models and more experimentation isn’t going to answer that question.)

Yes. I think it's an easy trap to use the word "Science" to defend political decisions. It seems an unassailable argument "Who would reject Science?"

Don't you believe. You won't convince people your politics are rational - you'll convince people science is arbitrary.


When life begins is clearly a scientific question. Perhaps you mean the question of when society should recognize and protect personhood?

Agreed. According to science, life began about 4 billion years ago, and has been going on without interruption ever since. Personhood is a completely different (but nonetheless very interesting) category.

I think your post clearly shows that it is a question of semantics.

Afterlife? You're talking nonsense.

This article is dog shit. "We must defend science against extremist political attacks by being political extremists." Their solution is to scream the loudest. People like this are incredibly tiring to deal with and offer nothing practical.

If you cannot see that the March for Science is part of the problem of the politicization of science, then you are lost all the same.

Calling the march a part of the problem is a cop-out excusing the real problems - the political response to science that spurred the march, the political response to the march itself, and mass-media's role in the politicization of science. If we say that the march is the problem, then we're saying that we should be taking at face-value anything the lobbyist talking heads of Fox News and CNN say about whatever they're pointing their fingers at.

Climate Science denialist PR campaigns by Koch Industries are politicization, and it feels filthy wrong that we're overwhelmingly pointing fingers at the scientists and grassroots actors responding to these campaigns instead of the groups publishing and hosting the lies.


I think we should be precise here.

Saying the march is part of the problem does not mean that the lobbyists are not also part of the problem. It also does not mean the march is a _root cause_ of the problem.

It just acknowledges that the march is a part of the politicization of science, which it is.


Science is inherently political because it is done by people.

And scientific knowledge has political implications because it tells us about the world around us, and politics is the process by which we decide how our laws will adapt to and affect that world.

None of that is inherently negative!

However, when political expedience and facts conflict, we should adapt the politics to the facts, and not the other way around.

That's what the "march for science" was about.


What action, with the objective of reducing the politicization of science, could be taken that could be construed as "non-political?"

One that does not serve the interests of any one political faction.

In that case it is impossible to do Climate Change, science, no? It serves the interest of the Democratic "agenda," as a side effect.

There are many ways around global warming, of which current Democrat policy is just one. Republicans are being silly by not proposing alternative approaches to this problem, agreed, but they absolutely can.

More specifically, to the republican party, climate change does not exist. Therefore, any climate change research is politically anti-republican (why would you research something that doesn't even exist?)

In the words of the leader of the republican party: "Climate Change is a Chinese hoax."

This isn't the fault of scientists in any way, shape, or form. This is a direct result of society, for some reason, organizing its political parties along "pro-intellectualism" vs "anti-intellectualism" lines. How can scientists fight back against this without being political? Should they just "deal with it?"


That can be construed as political but also as non-political.

Conducting scientific experiments and publishing their results absent government funding.

>it feels filthy wrong

Fortunately science is about facts, not feelings.


Spot on mate. Not only a sharp and valid point, but also made me laugh.

Text interpretation should also be valued, as well as the importance of "not completely twisting another person's comment to suit your own views". Your comment extrapolates wildly from the one you responded too, and thats AMAZINGLY POLITICAL AND ALSO DISHONEST.

*ps sorry for any English mistake, as it's not my first language.


> We need scientists from diverse backgrounds in all senses of the word—race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, geography, etc.

I note a diversity of politics isn’t included.


Well given that the article is about defending science from politics, I'd imagine it would extend to removing politics in all senses of the word from science.

Except the post explicitly asks to inject politics into science by listing a bunch of political talking points. How would you advocate for diversity in class without politics for instance (choosing the least controversial of the topics)?

The agenda here is very clearly left wing politics.


I'm personally rather confused as to how a diversity of ability is useful. A diversity of abilities perhaps, but I don't see how having an incompetent in the loop is supposed to help.

That stuck out to me as well, but reading it charitably I suppose it refers to people with disabilities, not to people who are rubbish at science.

> 47 percent of scientists at the National Park Service and 35 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency report they had been asked to omit the phrase "climate change" from their work.

I guess a certain percentage of those who asked scientists to do that did it for the same reason I dislike many (but certainly not all) blockchain initiatives: it has been bolted on a something where it didn't belong just to "profit" (or profit in the case of blockchains) from something that is hyped by the media.

Climate change is serious, but it detracts from important work when people are abusing those words to get funding for other unrelated research.


I have to say, parks and the environment are, ah, pretty impacted by climate... Why do you think that discussion of climate is "bolted on" to parks/environment unnecessarily?

If you read carefully you might notice that I don't say everyone does, but I fully expect scientists to be smart enough to add those magic words to anything they want to study.

Source: I'm an engineer, I fully expect scientists to outperform me in this ;-)


"I'm an engineer"

"I guess a certain percentage of those who asked scientists"

Is guessing what engineers do now? I hope I never use anything you worked on.


Fermi estimates are also known as "guessing with extra steps", but that doesn't mean they aren't useful.

So the solution to bias in the sciences is to double down on bias? Make sure only the bias you support is present?

> Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D. is a marine biologist and founder of Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm for conservation solutions grounded in social justice.

Literally a think tank trying to advance scientific policies based on politics.


There's a difference between choosing which areas of science to support based on non-scientific criteria such as your politics (which is what it sounds like she is doing), and trying to stop science from happening or supporting anti-science because your politics are not consistent with science.

Take conservation. There might be several ways to approach a given conservation problem, all of which are scientifically sound. It is then a political question which to use. Her answer to that question would presumably be one that advances social justice...but unless she would also falsely claim that others are not scientifically valid, or would also try to stop research into the other methods, her position and actions are not a political attack on science.


This discussion is a good example of why downvoting, graying comment text, and specifically, downvoting for disagreement, are bad.

The solution to the problem this story is about is robust, fearless discussion in pursuit of truth.

But what I see here are many thoughtful, reasoned comments being shamed and made hard-to-read by people who aren't able or willing to rebut them. It is cowardly and anti-intellectual.

It's effectively the downvoters saying, "I disagree with what you said, therefore I will make it harder for other people to hear you." It's antithetical to the stated purpose of this site: intellectual curiosity.


So one starts with 1 point. Someone clicks downvote, it goes to 0 and the comment disappears, right? That's too fast IMHO.

Perhaps a better system would be to upvote only? Then constructive comments would raise to the top and who really cares what's long way down?


> Perhaps a better system would be to upvote only? Then constructive comments would raise to the top and who really cares what's long way down?

I agree. That's one of the conclusions I've come to from having used different comment voting systems online. I think tildes.net works that way.

But HN specifically has the problem that its founder thinks downvoting for disagreement is good. It mystifies me that someone who ostensibly favors intellectual curiosity has a stated policy which creates a narrow-minded echo chamber (at least, for certain topics).


I have a feeling it is too late. The train has left the station on this one.

Forgive me for my ignorance- I was under the impression that scientific inquiry has always been strongly affected by politics. See: The argument on whether or not evolution is real. The discovery that the sun does not revolve around the earth. The entire controversy behind the discovery of and research into AIDS.

Is there something new I'm not understanding?


When someone else does it, it's Politics. When We do it, it's Science.

Science, and especially certain scientific conclusions have very obviously become politicized. Yes, that's unfortunate but it is the state of affairs.

Perhaps the problem is that scientists themselves are increasingly having to fight their own political battles because their elected politicians can not or will not.


>Diversity in science is not just for optics. We need scientists from diverse backgrounds in all senses of the word—race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, geography, etc

If you don't want science to be attacked politically, don't politicize science.

We don't need to make sure that our scientists represent every color of the skin spectrum with a representative range of disabilities. We need objective, competent workers, with a diversity of scientific, not cultural views.


I'm more concerned what they mean by diversity of ability. Is that just another term for physically disabled people, or are we seriously at the point where only having smart people in the sciences is offensive?

> We don't need to make sure that our scientists represent every color of the skin spectrum with a representative range of disabilities. We need objective, competent workers, with a diversity of scientific, not cultural views

In terms of getting science done, you are almost certainly right.

However, if we want the results of science to be applied, rather than just remaining of academic interest, diversity among scientists might be important because the members of the general public and the politicians that represent them are probably more likely to listen to scientists who are like them.


[flagged]


What would it take for you to falsify your stance? If nothing can make you falsify it, then that's not science, that's pseudoscience.

Unconscious bias entering AI is bad. But consider this scenario. Imagine for decades, there's been a chemical leak in Cleveland, which has been causing people there to become worse at math. An AI detects that people from Cleveland are worse at math. Do you just throw the data away because it must be subconscious human bias? If you do, you're throwing away a chance to discover the underlying cause (the leak)! Who knows what sort of things we've thrown away on the altar of "everyone must be equal, there can be no nuance"!


This is a straw man argument. It's easy to find examples of algorithms that are biased -- let's just look at facial recognition. Sure, there are situations like what you describe, but are you going to argue then that dark-skinned women really must be men, or more manly, or something, just because Amazon's facial recognition algorithm has trouble with dark-skinned women?

The parent is not making a "scientific" claim. They are making a workflow/process claim. It is not the case that all things are "science" or "pseudoscience". There are many other topics humans can discuss.


I'm not saying no biased algorithms exist. I'm just saying, we shouldn't throw away what initially appears to be discriminatory bias, we should instead ask, "what caused this?" And that goes no matter what color of skin is represented on the dev team.

>That have biases because Where are you pulling this causation from?

The problem with calling something biased is that it carries a connotation of racism. There is a difference between disparate impact and disparate treatment, to use Eric Holder's terminology. I don't think humans are "projecting their own experiences", I think that the dataset that is fed to algorithms over-represents whites because they constitute a larger portion of the population. It may also over-represent asians because they are a larger portion of the silicon valley labor force. This does not mean they are attempting to mis-treat blacks, hispanics, etc.

Maybe there is progress to be made, but it will be difficult to make a facial-recognition algorithm work as well on the 13% of the population that is black compared to 77% white. That is, until the third world becomes a market. Then, they will be tremendously biased to non-whites, though I don't consider either bad.


"Biased" still has real statistical meaning. It is unfortunate that people treat these problems with an aim to justifying their virtue rather than creating a product that works (not saying you are doing this, just commenting that often the reaction is about personal virtue rather than actual technical accuracy).

It is not more difficult to make a facial-recognition algorithm work on black people -- or Asian people, to pick another example in the news (iPhone & users in China). Just choose your input data appropriately. All it takes is some work and a model that wasn't trained on Caucasian faces.


It might actually be more difficult. There have been cases where soap dispensers didn't work on blacks because more infrared was absorbed. Not saying it's not solvable, but it's possibly harder. I guess you're right that you could make different models and use the correct one based on race. Correct me if I'm wrong, I'm no expert, but could this be solved by adding an extra layer to a neutral network?

For facial recognition I believe it's possible to use pre-trained networks and add extra layers for specific (visual) demographics. You're correct that for the engineering of soap dispensers an actually different method might be preferable. That however boosts a previous point; if the engineers behind the soap dispenser had a number of black members, would they have designed something that didn't work for them, or discarded it in the design stage?

>We are now finding algorithms that have implicit racial biases because the only people who worked on them were Asian and Caucasian

How do you know that these biases aren't just representative of actual biases in reality? More importantly, given the relatively small proportion of AI applications that operate on human data, indication of such a bias is a poor argument for the value of diversity across the industry.


>diversity of scientific, not cultural views

Your cultural views can affect your scientific work. The imagination of children in America vs. China is different, people have different dreams and experiences, etc. I am constantly baffled by people like yourself who don't understand that cultural diversity IS diversity of ideas. Whether that culture comes from your location, race, upbringing, wealth, religion, or something else, any sort of diversity is good in business or other organization as it helps you think of new ways to innovate within your area of expertise.


[flagged]


I believe the difference is the concept of "uplifting."

Given two people, one who had money and therefore lots of high-quality STEM education, and another who does not have money and struggling to acquire a STEM education while also dealing with poverty (and the poorer quality education that comes with it), yes, probably the rich kid will do better at their job sooner.

But there's nothing inherently preventing the poorer kid from doing just as good, if not better, a job. Get them on the job, help them deal with the obstacles, and they're just another person, and across populations that means equally likely to "perform" or "succeed." Meanwhile, you also have the advantage of their unique cultural perspectives.

You can have it both ways, the question is whether you take that information and say "fuck it, don't hire poors, they didn't get as good of an education and therefore will preform worse," or you say "if we invest time in this underrepresented culture, we may be exposed to markets we didn't even realize existed."


> But there's nothing inherently preventing the poorer kid from doing just as good, if not better, a job.

Maybe, maybe not. I say this as a poor person who often out competes people with much more privileged backgrounds. There are plenty of "stereotypical poor people" that will never be as good as those who grew up with healthy diets, education, parental supervision... Yes, I've done well but I was always in the top 1% of achievement, even when poor. People like me are already succeeding today and don't need any special "uplifting". Those that do will most likely never be at the level of their peers. If they could, they would already be there.


[flagged]


You did not refute any of my points. Do you really think lowering the barrier of entry for poor people then giving them on the job training will bring them to the level of people that are already high performing? Companies do not have the resources to make that happen as it would require decades of training, education, therapy, life adjustments... just to get to the same level as some people have coming through the door (including some poor people who were self driven).

> Companies do not have the resources to make that happen as it would require decades of training, education, therapy, life adjustments... just to get to the same level as some people have coming through the door (including some poor people who were self driven).

Well, then perhaps they'll be missing out on some of the advantages that you've listed as your own selling points - perhaps a stronger sense of entrepreneurship, problem solving, and hardiness?

In any case, I disagree that the burden on businesses would be that significant. I've seen coding bootcamps churn out pretty decent frontend engineers in 3 months. Make it 6 and who knows what a company could do.

Furthermore, I don't believe it is necessarily a company's job to solve, like, illiteracy. That would be the governments' job, and considering a higher literacy would drive a greater GDP (and make a better society), that should be an objective everyone strives for. To do that, we need people that have lived through those situations to find the best way to lift people out of bad situations. To do that, we need their perspective. To get their perspective, we need them working for us... which means we need diversity.


> Well, then perhaps they'll be missing out on some of the advantages that you've listed as your own selling points - perhaps a stronger sense of entrepreneurship, problem solving, and hardiness?

I don't think they miss out on this though. The people from disadvantaged backgrounds that have these traits will have leveraged them throughout their life to get in the door based on merit alone.

> In any case, I disagree that the burden on businesses would be that significant. I've seen coding bootcamps churn out pretty decent frontend engineers in 3 months. Make it 6 and who knows what a company could do.

My experience is the opposite of yours. I've done a lot of hiring, managing and mentoring and I can say without a doubt that businesses do not have the resources to grow people to the extent that you're suggesting and they certainly can't pass on people who already meet the requirements needed for a role in favor of someone who doesn't.

> To do that, we need people that have lived through those situations to find the best way to lift people out of bad situations.

As someone who has lived through these situations I can say that people who are capable and want out of poverty can get out today. If you can code, you can get a job and learning to code is within reach for any smart person with enough drive regardless of how poor they grew up. I couldn't afford a computer growing up and had to write code by hand on paper then type it into our school's 20 year old Apple IIe. Where there's a will there's a way.


>The people from disadvantaged backgrounds that have these traits will have leveraged them throughout their life to get in the door based on merit alone.

Generally speaking, diversity efforts are targeting those that were "missed" by this. That is, the people who life just threw too much at, and slipped through the cracks. "How many Einsteins died hungry in Africa?" is along the lines of what I mean.

> As someone who has lived through these situations I can say that people who are capable and want out of poverty can get out today.

Huh, disagree. I know people that are too ill from addiction or mental illness, but still quite smart. Or, they have a socially debilitating illness that means they have all the tools to crank out incredible code, but the social illness (high anxiety, autism at a level that makes them "uncomfortable to work with") prevents gainful employment, to no real "fault" of their own. When I was a recruiter, some people didn't get hired because they were of vaguely Arabic or Hispanic descent, and some oil and gas company owners were straight racist and simply wouldn't hire, merit be damned.

> I couldn't afford a computer growing up and had to write code by hand on paper then type it into our school's 20 year old Apple IIe. Where there's a will there's a way.

There's kids in America that are too hungry to do this. I've taught some. Smart, but too hungry. Or too sleepy, because of fighting at home.

I want to be perfectly clear - I am not knocking your achievements. I am sure you worked hard and I don't want to devalue that. I want to just highlight that there are people out there working as hard if not harder and yet don't "win," because we have built an unfair society. I don't think that's ok (i.e. the "life aint fair" argument won't hold water with me) and I think there's a lot we can do about it. I think we can increase "capability" to align with the "want" (desire) people have to get out of poverty.


I appreciate your response. I don't agree with all of it (I'm in the 'life ain't fair' camp) but certainly there are people whose latent ability is there but can't be utilized due to one reason or the other. The thing is though, that there's no way a company can correct for that. Let's take addiction as an example. A company most definitely should not be hiring addicts. Getting work done is difficult in the best of situations but having drug addicts as co-workers would make it impossible to succeed. Managing even mentally healthy individuals is a great challenge. I think you're expecting too much from organizations and managers as individuals if you can think they can repair drug addicts, people with mental illness...

Fair. I don't expect companies to manage drug addicts.

But what about ex-drug-addicts? Or convicted felons that have served their time? The government "fixes" the problem and them drops them into society and says "good luck!" (well, it actually doesn't, but for the sake of argument)

I'm saying in cases like this, these people can offer valuable insight due to their circumstances. Perhaps valuable enough to spend a couple extra months on upskilling an ex-felon on, I dunno, product design. You do it, then they turn around and create an educational product for inmates that you can sell to a state penitentiary system for millions, which you do for all 50 states. A silly example, but do you see my point?

I think we've gone way into the weeds here and I'm confusing myself at this point, but I appreciate the dialogue.


I actually practice this more than my argument probably leads on. Coming from an unorthodox background means that I don't really evaluate potential hires based on their school, upbringing... I look solely at ability to do the job. I don't have the liberty of gambling on unqualified people though. I personally would hire an ex-felon if they could demonstrate the ability to code at the level required for a position. That's a pretty personal choice though and I wouldn't fault someone for not being comfortable doing that.

What I won't do is hire someone who's unqualified. I've seen (and passed on) plenty of unqualified people with degrees from high end schools so this cuts both ways.


This reminds me of McNamara's Folly - during the Vietnam war, then Secretary-of-Defence Robert McNamara lowered mental standards for service in an effort to increase the size of the conscript pool. [0] (Gwern's review is a nice summary IMO [1]) They'd just need a little more training, right?

Suffice to say, this did not go well.

Might go a bit better without live weapons and people shooting at you, but it really should say something that there are people that the army literally cannot find a use for.

0: https://www.amazon.com/McNamaras-Folly-Hamilton-Gregory/dp/1...

1: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2333328079


[flagged]


This position hinges on the giant assumption that "genetic mutations" are effectively the only important factor in one's life outcomes.

It's a point of view I'm thoroughly familiar with as I've read/listened to plenty of material by Richard Dawkins et al, and spent a solid few years of my life subscribing to that deterministic/materialistic worldview.

But, both for reasons of curiosity and personal need, it's a worldview I ended up researching deeply enough to progress beyond, and it turns out there's plenty of evidence that factors beyond one's genetic code are at least as important, and quite possibly vastly more so.

Most importantly: genetic expression (epigenetics), which we already know can change during one's lifetime, and may be able to be changed far more significantly/rapidly, and have a far greater propensity to change one's life outcomes, than has been previously accepted.

> Are you suggesting the individual could reverse a detrimental inherited mutation in his own lifetime (as opposed to the lifetime of his distant descendants), if properly nurtured?

I don't suggest that but I think it's far less important than you assume.

However I do suggest that a person can reverse a detrimental genetic expression if properly nurtured.

I've spent about the last 8 years putting this hypothesis to the test and so far have been successful in overcoming multiple debilitating health conditions and dramatically improving my capabilities and outcomes in my professional and personal life.

And yes, I'm fully cognisant that I am an n=1 self-evaluated anecdote, so my case is at-best suggestive, not conclusive.

But I'm not alone in applying these theories and having these kinds of outcomes, and there is a growing body of scientific theory and research to provide a basis for these experiences/observations.


> How do you reconcile that with the notion of Darwinian evolution? Is it not true that individual organisms are born with small mutations which make them more or less suitable for an environment, and that over long time periods, the ones who are more suitable for an environment will flourish in that environment?

Very true. Nothing has changed about the facts of natural selection in biology. I'm not talking about biology, though, I'm talking about sociology, and I don't think the mechanisms that act on biology have much of anything to do with sociology. For example, we can demonstrate that natural selection can be totally annihilated by, for example, keeping people with birth defects alive with medicine. We can even develop entire industries around keeping these people "equal." One of these industries is Optometry.

> Are you suggesting the individual could reverse a detrimental inherited mutation in his own lifetime (as opposed to the lifetime of his distant descendants), if properly nurtured?

Since we are talking about sociology, the "mutation" is a result of society, not of biology (or anything to do with the individual, really), in which case yes, any aspect caused sociologically can be reversed/changed/altered sociologically.

People born poor and thus lacking education can be given education, which both solves the problem for new "people born poor" while also "reversing" the detrimental effects of a lacking education in existent individuals (through nurturing them).

I believe this method of nurturing or uplifting is not only morally superior to the concept of social darwinism (and I am happy to defend this point moralistically), but it is also better by all other traditional measures of society "success" - average happiness, productivity, technological advancement.


Thanks for the answer. I think you touch on something with the Optometry example, and that example helped me to articulate a proto-idea I've been trying to get a finger on and haven't been able to grasp until now.

To avoid unnecessary anguish, pretend there's a country called Foo.

Natives of Foo are much less intelligent than the average human, and racists point to them as an example validating their racism. But imagine what's really going on is, the natives of Foo are all genetically disposed to have terrible sleep apnea, and that's what's causing their reduced intelligence.

If we ask "Why on earth are natives of Foo less intelligent?", then we can follow that thread and eventually realize it's because they all have sleep apnea. Then we can give them CPAP machines and fix the problem.

But if we dogmatically put our fingers in our ears and scream "everyone is equal!", then we have no hope of sorting the mess out. It would be as ludicrous as condemning optometry because we're afraid of hurting the feelings of people born with poor eyes.

Thanks for the comments about sociology vs. biology. Pragmatically speaking, we need to figure out how we can change our society to legitimately incentivize this "uplifting" (it isn't free). Our current tactic seems to be to brainwash people about magic pixie dust qualities of diversity. This doesn't do anybody any favors, because the invisible hand of the market doesn't care about propaganda. Push it far enough and the whole job market will be made of shell company contracting agencies whose sole purpose is to take on "diversity liability".


I understand the point you're making - that we must not be afraid to talk about genetic differences between people.

While I respect the perspective, there's a couple critical "implementation issues":

1. I've never heard of a case like you used in your example, of everyone from an island having sleep apnea which leads to lower IQ. The obstacles are that we've never seen a universal population wide disease like that (before you bring up sickle cell or something hold on), we've never seen such a disease consistently lead to "employable" side effects (say, intelligence or charisma or something), and we've just never had such a homogeneous population anyway.

2. The CPAP issue is open to literally anyone, and so what's the point in trying to figure out whether a given population is genetically predisposed to sleep apnea? Just continue to treat at an individual level (by providing universal access to healthcare)

It boils down to: separating populations to find cause of "issue" doesn't actually generate any useful information but does create fantastic weapons for racists. Instead, just persuing socially liberal policies such as universal education and healthcare do a great job of evening the scales for us.


[flagged]


Please don't use foul language. I'm genuinely interested in komali2's answer. I'm not pulling some rhetorical trick or something. Please follow HN guidelines and give fellow commenters the benefit of the doubt. There are obviously many causes of under-representation of minorities, not least of which is that if they were more fully represented, then that would help them to pass their genes along and thus over a long period of time, they would cease to BE minorities to begin with.

[flagged]


[flagged]


>"people less genetically able to do certain jobs tend to become minorities"

This is a sidenote to my longer comment - I've never seen evidence, ever, of a genetic component to the ability to do a certain job, that surpasses a statistical margin of error.


That’s not true. Arguably all professional athletics require a very large genetic component. Good luck in the NBA if you’re 5’1” tall.

I think the ability to accurately identify tones is also largely genetic, so professional musicians are probably on the list as well.

My guess is that software development also has genetic mental requirements but there’s no definitive answer for that.

Probably a lot of jobs have genetic components whether that’s cognitive speed, athletic ability, ability to focus, fine motor control, a particular enhanced sense...


>Good luck in the NBA if you’re 5’1” tall.

Sure, you're not wrong, but you've just stated an individual trait, not a population one. Try now to make the argument that someone is more "likely" to be pro NBA if they're of some arbitrarily chosen genetic background. You will run into the fact that 1. You will be totally unable to create rigid constraints for your genetic background, and 2. Statistical variance will be so high that you won't actually be generating useful information anyway (i.e. an effective predictor).

So yea, maybe one couple of tall people could have a tall kid and of course the kid has a better chance at the NBA than a short kid (sort of maybe. He could end up a footsie god, it's happened before and we have no way of predicting when it will happen next), but they might have had a short kid despite their genetic factors so the point is moot.

>My guess is that software development also has genetic mental requirements but there’s no definitive answer for that

You may guess all you want but I carefully avoid any feelings that are not fact based and don't generate any useful planning or information for me so I disagree with this point. There's simply no evidence of this and I don't see how this information could be significant enough to have an effect on any decisions I make in life (for example, hiring decisions).


> No, I’ve stated a population trait. The population of professional athletes

Ok... but we've now left the field of genetics. Professional athletes are determined by whether they get hired to play sports professionally, not by genetic birthright.

> Not all tall people can be NBA stars but all NBA stars are tall.

Again, unsure the relation to genetics here, but this also isn't true. Muggsy was a god and is 5'3". Curry is 6'3" which is definitely tall, but among NBA players, not that tall... but his skill level is far, far, far higher than his height would indicate. The statistical variation between height and skill, even in the highly-artificially-selected-for population of NBA players, doesn't correlate perfectly enough to derive a good predictor. You just can't say "the taller the player, the better the player." Not even on average! So, it's not useful information.

AND! This doesn't even get into the sociological aspect of NBA - how many young Muggsys are out there not getting put in (or accepted) to basketball camps/programs because they're "too short?" How many 7 year old future Currys are too hungry to train?

> You’ve been advocating strongly for your position so I’m not sure it makes sense to just discount the opposition as useless.

I certainly don't intend to imply your position is useless, I'm trying to demonstrate that correlative "evidence" (i.e. that a certain population is better at xyz) is unable to overcome sociological noise, and therefore the information is useless.


> Again, unsure the relation to genetics here, but this also isn't true. Muggsy was a god and is 5'3". Curry is 6'3" which is definitely tall, but among NBA players, not that tall... but his skill level is far, far, far higher than his height would indicate. The statistical variation between height and skill, even in the highly-artificially-selected-for population of NBA players, doesn't correlate perfectly enough to derive a good predictor. You just can't say "the taller the player, the better the player." Not even on average! So, it's not useful information.

This is actually a common fallacy - height is a fantastic predictor of NBA skill, that's why something like 15% of everyone in the US over 7' tall will play in the NBA at some point in their life. But once you've limited the question to the set of people who play in the NBA, it won't be nearly as good of a predictor of skill - because you're measuring after a selection effect.


I admit I’m using height as a shorthand here. I’ll put it more simply: Do you think anyone can become a professional athlete with the right training?

I don’t. I think it’s a field where genetics determine who can succeed and who can’t. That isn’t to say that everyone who can become a professional athlete becomes one though.


Genetics can certainly determine success in athletics.

But, what genetics? Predictably? I argue, no, not predictably, and quite possibly never predictably across populations.

Hence my overarching argument which is that "these attempts to 'figure out' genetic predispositions across populations are pointless."


> Sure, you're not wrong, but you've just stated an individual trait, not a population one.

No, I’ve stated a population trait. The population of professional athletes. Not all tall people can be NBA stars but all NBA stars are tall. Being genetically athletic is a prerequisite to professional sports not a guarantee that one can become a professional athlete. Being genetically unathletic does disqualify you from the profession though.

> I don't see how this information could be significant enough to have an effect on any decisions I make in life (for example, hiring decisions).

You’ve been advocating strongly for your position so I’m not sure it makes sense to just discount the opposition as useless. At the very least this seems like a great field for further study.


Apparently I forgot how to use this website and accidentally replied to myself: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19914508

Is it really so outlandish to suggest that populations have diverged cognitively after tens-hundreds of thousands of years of separation? Or are you really that determined to pretend that all population differences just stop at the shoulders?

The consistently different outward expression of genetic variation among populations is obvious - skin color, height, weight, fat proportion, hair type, eye color, predisposition to disease - everything is influenced by our genes. But you don't think you're performing Olympic level mental gymnastics in pretending that a structure as complex as the brain isn't deeply influenced by heritable genes?

You cannot judge plausibility by convenience. Nature is cruel, and your outrage is inappropriate.


> Is it really so outlandish to suggest that populations have diverged cognitively after tens-hundreds of thousands of years of separation?

Yes, actually, because civilization is only (barely) 10,000 years old, which is not many generations to develop "cognitive" difference.

Take a newborn member of one population, plop it in one on the other side of the planet, and in 20 years they'll be indistinguishable from anyone else (minus whatever effects that society applies to the child due to differences in their appearance).

I disagree the genetic heritage of an individual affects their cognitive ability in a way to overcome statistical error, with all the cognitive "noise" of society existing.

It should therefore be disregarded.


Humans diverged long before the appearance of civilization. According to Wikipedia[1], the first homo sapien migration out of Africa began 300,000 years ago.

>Take a newborn member of one population, plop it in one on the other side of the planet, and in 20 years they'll be indistinguishable from anyone else (minus whatever effects that society applies to the child due to differences in their appearance).

Your point that all differences arise from societal treatment is debatable. There are adoptive population studies from the late 20th century where non-white infants adopted by white families were evaluated during adolescence and consistently showed measurable, significant differences SAT scores, for example. Of course, how much of that is still an effect of nurture neither of us can say.

Ultimately it is still an open question, but, appropos to the article, the current political climate of the scientific establishment will unlikely allow for an unbiased study, or any study, into the subject.


This seems like another case of the left being shortsighted like when the left cheers as bigtech purges conservatives never imagining that left voices can and will be next if they ever became a threat. In this case, they seem only focused on climate change, but they should consider that there may be other scientific facts that go counter to left narratives. I seem to remember James Damore's scandalous post riddled with citations of scientific studies. I'm sure he would agree science must be defended...

Defend science, unless you disagree with its outcome!

Exactly.

If you want to defend science, a good place to start would be to refrain from defending faith.

When these issues are raised, people tend to have two counter-productive reactions. The first is abject defeatism. The second anger at the messenger and accusations that they're a part of the problem. Or, in other words, talking about politicizing science is politicizing science. Both have justifiable viewpoints at their core but are harmful in the long-term nonetheless.

The first is harmful and wrong for a straightforward reason; the range of outcomes that emerge from defeatism are universally bad. The range of outcomes that arise from a worldview that everything can be fixed stem from the bad to the okay to the somewhat good. The range of results that are possible through action outweigh those of inaction. So what's the point in giving up?

The second bit is the science is being used in such and such ways bit. This reminds me of the debates I've had with people who have a hardline view of individual freedoms and clauses in the constitution. I often like to tell them that the constitution is a guiding document, not a suicide pact.

Ideally, we should live by the idealized impartiality and objectivity that Scientists should have while interacting with the world. The idea that Scientists should be in the ivory tower, away from the grime of humanity and refraining from commenting on matters that connect and are of import with the body politic. People will mention gender, sexuality, climate change, abortion etc as these pivotal points where science can't give the answers and therefore science must ixnay and look away.

But I would like to raise the idea of science Carl Sagan had. Science as a candle in the dark. Sagan would talk at length about the development of science in ancient societies, and how unconnected these developments were from the lives of the population. Heron of Alexandria created a steam engine in the ancient world, but he never applied to alleviate the burdens of humans. It was used as a curiosity for the powerful. To quote his immortal words, "The permanence of the stars was questioned; the justice of slavery was not."

Why shouldn't we use our insight into the human condition and the broader perspective science offers us to inform our moral choices? Why should scientists bind themselves into an idealized suicide pact when they're under assault? Why can't scientists bring down the fire from Olympus and share it with the populace?

Our problem stems from the fires of ignorance and the idea that someone's ignorance is equal to someone else's research or knowledge. Why can't scientists use the scientific method to investigate it and share their perspective with the world?

Science tends to give people something akin to the overseer effect; why shouldn't that be shared with the world, if it moves us just a bit in the right direction?

Is the potential for misuse great? Yes, but what's the alternative? Stagnation? An absence of the humanizing presence of science in the great moral debates? Why should that be the realm of charlatans and the working of mitochondria that of science? Why can't scientists connect the two and work to illuminate the darkness?


That's fine, as long as scientists are fully conscious of the cognitive biases induced by their politics. There is definitely a phenomenon of academia trying to pass off political conviction as empirical fact.

Given that the universe was not made for the enjoyment of humans, everyone needs to be prepared to accept their preferred policies may have no empirical backing.


Because that's not what science is. Science is the study of physical objects via empirical experiments. If you're talking about morality or ethics, those aren't physical objects and you can't make empirical experiments about them.

Kind of funny that many of the impassioned pleas to respect science are often pleading for support of things that are not scientific.

The benefits of diversity is the Left’s pseudoscience, so I can’t take an article seriously that so prominently features it. There is an unbelievable amount of grift involved in getting a government scientific grant these days - major awards must have a D&I component and I know from personal experience it’s largely wasted.

The author only wants conservatives purged. I want climate deniers and diversity sycophants alike purged from the scientific apparatus.


Science is the search for truth, not the truth. At one time 'science' was justifying eugenics, slavery, apartheid, racism and entire policies were rolled out on the basis of discredited pseudo science of brain size.

You can imagine racists and sexists at that time appealing to 'science' to maintain their privilege and worldview. You can see this now too, evidence free sweeping assertions based on some scientific study but not supported by that study and thus science, but presented as 'science'.

Large segments of the population have suffered grievously based on this kind of 'science'. Hitler used eugenics and science. Science is not some absolute truth, its a long drawn process to collect evidence, test assertions and arrive at some truth, and its always been used and co-opted by those in power to advance their objectives.


SciAm made the same battlecry (plea) back in the 90s. I supported it then as I support it now. But it didn't work then and won't work now.

Because we don't understand the enemy.

The remedy isn't messaging, framing, engagement, empathy, discussion, or whatever else rational people hope will induce irrationals to step into the light.

Trying to sneak science thru the infotainment propaganda blockade ain't gonna work. And is a waste of effort.

Perhaps the alternative is our own media empire.

Fox News was run at a loss its first decade. Something like $500m/yr is spent, at a loss, on the right wing noise machine. All those popular alt-right sites have patrons.

Does the left have anything comparable? In scale and gumption?

I don't know if it'd work. Reason ain't sexy. Versus the outrage and fear factory. But I'd like to try something new.

--

Also, impartiality and objectivity is a trap. Just tell your story sincerely, unapologetically. The opponents will blather regardless, so don't share your soapbox.


Do you seriously believe there is a dearth of left-wing mainstream media outlets? And the problem with the politicization of science is not a right-vs-left issue. The left has its own bag of anti-science positions (e.g., blank slatism, anti-GMO, implicit bias, etc).

EDIT: Do downvoters question that the majority of prominent news outlets are left-wing or that the left has anti-science positions?


Sputnik

My mentor's theory is that the assault on reason, America's proud tradition of anti-intellectualism, took a brief hiatus after WWII because the Cold War and the space race required rocket scientists and engineers. So a brief truce of sorts was maintained between the humanists and the know-nothings.

Sad to think we'll need an external existential threat like an alien invasion or imminent asteroid strike to pause the food fight.


I think it depends on how you define "left-wing". Some consider the "woke capitalism" of corporate media and SV to be "left", others consider only an explicitly anti-capitalist and pro-labor stance to be left.
75dvtwin 7 days ago [flagged]

If hacker news is to preserve its community of diverse, exceptionally technical, and well-articulating members -- the site moderators must stop publishing left-wing propaganda.

I appreciate that they are left-leaning, however they use aggressively use 'plausible deniability' to infest (and allow others to) this site with NYT, VOX, scientific-american, NPR and other US-centric left propaganda machines.

'Plausible deniability' used by HN moderators involves, letting through articles and opinions that are just touching 'technology' (that's where plausible comes in), while mostly reflecting the left agenda and talking points.

Then, when conservative positions are being argued in comments, they will be massively downvoted and flagged -- as (not technology relevant or offensive).

Same approach the HN moderators are applying to new posts.

My ask is for everybody who thinks this is a problem, to either not participate in these discussions, or simply move over to lobste.rs, where there is still a sense of sane.


For me it will forever be super weird to run across internet comments imagining my inner thought processes like this. I'm not sure what to tell you, other than that I don't recognize myself in what you say. Are you sure you're right?

Thanks for the reply.

I am often not correct in recognizing even my own cognitive biases. So, of course, I do not know what you think. To answer your question otherwise, would be pretentious.

But I am certain, that I feel the unfair bias and censorship against the conservative points of view. In both: what stories are allowed to be posted, and how the comments are moderated.

I am also certain, that would feel much happier with the quality of discussion -- if divisive topics with just a passing relation to modern technology and without substantial evidence based analysis -- would be left to other forums.

Again, thank you for your reply (I did not expect it, I only expected to be flagged again). And thank you for personal time and effort to moderate HN.


Perhaps look at it from the perspective of a software developer, Dan. A user files a bug report about bad output. The developer is mystified, because he definitely didn't intend for the code he wrote to work that way, and other users are happy with the program's output.

Now the developer has a choice: dismiss the bug report, thinking the user must be crazy, or accept that there is a problem with the software's output and fix it.


Would it were so easy! It's more like this. You get dozens of bug reports a day. Some report that XYZ are bugs while others report that no, those are features and you'd better add more, but ABC are bugs and you'd better fix those. If you change ABC or XYZ, there is scandal and outrage! Many new reports are filed.

The bug reports come with cartoons showing you secretly engineering the bugs owing to your thoughts and feelings against the bug reporters. Opposing reports have similar cartoons, with heroes and villains rotated, but there you are too, secretly engineering bugs. The cartoons don't match anything you remember thinking or feeling, but the bug reporters know better, publish daily, and accost passers-by with tales of how callously you oppress them for their bug-reporting service. The bug reporters tell similar stories about each other, too, and file bug reports about each other when they're not filing them about you. What should we do now? :)


> What should we do now? :)

I don't know what the solution is. I wish I did. My point is simply that there is definitely a bias on HN, and I think few people would seriously claim that it's right-leaning.

A multi-axis perspective would probably be more useful: one could say that the pro-business/pro-startup bias is right-leaning, but one could also say that it's libertarian, and libertarianism isn't necessarily on the right when compared to "conservatism" or other supposedly "right-leaning" political views.

Regardless, from looking at the articles that make the front page, and from reading comments on stories that have a political slant (e.g. anything environment-related), what I see flagged and downvoted into obscurity--excluding obvious guidelines violations--are not left-leaning comments, but right-leaning ones, including many thoughtful, reasonable ones.

At the same time, trite, left-leaning, talking point-style comments remain at #000.

This is plain to any observer who's been here a while.

So I don't know the answer. However, maybe a first step would be acknowledgement. I would love to see you and/or other mods openly admit the left-leaning bias on HN. Not an admission of guilt on your part for supposedly moderating unfairly, but an admission that the output of the HN "program," as it were--which includes the community, not just the actual code and staff--is left-leaning.

If nothing else, perhaps it would help certain outstanding members of the community recognize the problem and be more open-minded. I don't think anyone benefits when good comments are shamed into obscurity and their writers are driven away. That doesn't help the problem of polarization that our society is facing.


I'd like to see links to thoughtful, reasonable comments that have been flagged or downvoted into obscurity. As many such links as you (or anyone) can possibly come up with, I'd like to look at them. Best to email hn@ycombinator.com because this thread is sinking low in the feed now.

Let me ask you a question, though you don't have to answer it. Do you feel like HN is biased against the point of view you yourself favor? Because, in my experience, that's what everyone who feels that HN is biased actually feels. This is so reliable a phenomenon that I can predict someone's political orientation just from what they say about HN. I don't believe I've seen a single exception. That's shocking, and I'm pretty sure it's true.

I'm not saying it follows that things aren't biased—that would be a non sequitur. But I am saying that people's perceptions on this are unreliable across the political spectrum, and for the same reason: it's humans looking at it, and we all have the same wiring. Whatever that wiring is, it cuts much deeper than left vs. right divisions, because the behaviors are identical across that divide.


I think there are 4 categories of topics

1) ideological (including political (globa/local), or religious

2) technical

3) personal (meaning focus is, specifically, on subjective position)

4) moral (meaning, focus is on subjective, but relatable at a group/society/era level)

Problem is with ( 1 ), and may be ( 4 ).

My personal view, is that if HN is to allow new submissions where (1) and (4) are present. Those submissions should go through a different flow, than (2) and (3).

These submissions should be marked as such, then reviewed by a moderator, to see if it fits the broader category of HN-allowed submissions.

And then, if the submission passes moderation, the discussion on those posts cannot follow same upvote/downvote model as ( 2 ) or (3). Because regular upvote/downvote model puts at disadvantage minority view.

-- --

WRT your question > Let me ask you a question, though you don't have to answer it. Do you feel like HN is biased against the point of view you yourself favor

Yes, I think selection of submissions, downvotes and flags favors disproportionally to anti-Trump, anti-Brexit, anti-Kavanaugh, anti-male rhetoric.

I particular share a view of environment issues, though I favor non-global, trade-based solutions. So I, personally do remember incidents where my submissions or comments were downvoted on that topic.

Interestingly, on more political conservative forums, that I participate on -- when I argue a pro-environment position -- I get some pushback, sometime ridicule -- but my comments never 'grayed out' or flagged.

-- Sorry for a long, response. But yes. I favor particular ideology and moral stance. Everybody has those positions.

I also appreciate, particularly, flexibility of mind and personal ability to adjust to something different if circumstances or new information dictates that.

I have yet to find any discussion that would cause me a shift in my positions on (1) or (4). I suspect this is same with other people, but being tested by questions, or telling others what I think -- is engaging, nevertheless.

Another thing, I noticed, that I tend to use 'reciprocal' tone. So the actual tone would depend on some selection/aggregation of other folks tone.

My overall complaint, if I may call it that, is flagging/graying out expressions that are conservative-leaning.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: