Response to report on worldview of Indian scientists
#1
http://cruller.cc.trincoll.edu/NR/rdonly...Report.pdf

I happened to run into a 'journalistic response' to the above mentioned study. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opin...158319.cms

The journalist puts a spin on the findings, ignoring all the damnable things revealing superstition, and picking up a couple of points, and then writing some drivel about them. I wonder if there are any logical fallacies in there.

Quote:Commenting on the findings, the chairman of the Centre for Inquiry, Narisetti Innaiah said: “Our scientists aren’t applying the scientific temper in all fields of life to provide an ethical alternative to religious and paranormal worldviews.”

But, really, what kind of ethical alternatives are we talking about here, when an amazing 64% of scientists also said they would refuse to design biological weapons because of their beliefs, while 54% said they will not work on nuclear weapons for the same reasons? Compare that with atheists and agnostics like J Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller who built the atom and hydrogen bombs which have in the past ended entire cities and in the future have the potential to end the whole world. If sensible people had a choice between them, religious extremists making mass destruction devices and the majority of Indian scientists surveyed, who should they choose?

The author has dragged into the argument couple of apparent atheists who built a bomb, and then religious extremists making mass destruction devices and then portraying the Indian scientists as good compared to these adversaries. Isnt this a False Dilemma?

Quote:That’s not all. As many as 93% scientists defined secularism as tolerance for other religions and beliefs, while only a minority said it meant atheism. A majority of scientists thought of themselves as being spiritual, which according to two-thirds of them was either “commitment to higher human ideals, such as peace, harmony or well being” (34%), or “a higher level of human consciousness or awareness” (31%). Are these convictions less important than merely possessing a scientific temper? What if one had such a temper and wasn’t committed to the discovery of a higher ideal? Which would be preferable in interpersonal relationships or to society?

Isn't this a red Herring argument, by dragging in and misappropriating "higher ideals" to deflect from the actual point of looking at the individual issues separately?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has - Margaret Mead
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#2
Yes, the article does seem to bristle with fallacies. Here are some more:

- Package-deal fallacy:

Quote:Compare that with atheists and agnostics like J Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller who built the atom and hydrogen bombs which have in the past ended entire cities and in the future have the potential to end the whole world.

('Atheism/agnosticism' is packaged with 'propensity for bomb-making' based on two cherry-picked Manhattan project participants, among whose ranks believers may well have been present or even have been in majority. By the same token can we also say that since Einstein the atheist was a pacifist, that atheism implies pacifism?)

Quote:As for the 7% of scientists who believed in ghosts, a Harris poll in 2003 found 51% of lay Americans believed in them too. And that’s an advanced country. In India the figure would be much higher.

(Here, 'advancement' (based on undefined criteria) is packaged with 'scientific temper'. Advancement as measured by material prosperity does not necessarily imply a pre-requisite of scientific advancement. The petro-dollar-fueled oil-rich states are an immediate counter-example of how economic advancement can occur due to such accidents of nature as presence of oil, and have nothing to do with scientific advancement or for that matter scientific literacy in their societes.)

- Fallacy of necessity

Quote:A majority of scientists thought of themselves as being spiritual, which according to two-thirds of them was either “commitment to higher human ideals, such as peace, harmony or well being” (34%), or “a higher level of human consciousness or awareness” (31%). Are these convictions less important than merely possessing a scientific temper? What if one had such a temper and wasn’t committed to the discovery of a higher ideal? Which would be preferable in interpersonal relationships or to society?

This amounts to saying (i) Interpersonal relationships matter. (ii) 'Being spiritual' can improve interpersonal relationships. (iii) 'Being spiritual' is therefore mandatory. This article sets ups 'being spiritual' as the only possible solution to the need for 'interpersonal relationships' and brazenly ignores the other plausible alternatives which Dr. Innaiah seeks, by dismissively asking 'What kind of ethical alternatives are we talking about here?'

- Equivocation fallacy / Fallacy of four terms

In the quote above, the scarcely disguised equivocation is in the use of the term 'higher level of consciousness' which could well mean simply a deepened understanding of the natural world, but is hijacked midway to mean instead the quest for a 'higher ideal', implying slyly that 'higher' means 'supernatural' and hence beyond Science.

- Base rate fallacy

Variables like 'destructive capacity' and 'altruistic tendency', perhaps tend to be distributed in society in such a manner, that extreme off-the-chart values of these quantities occur extremely rarely. In other words, the 'prior probability' of finding a selfless altruist or a murderous psychopath are extremely low. However, the 'prior probability' of an individual identifying as a 'believer' or 'atheist' is much higher, like that of 'alarm bell going off' in the example. Therefore, using labels like 'believer' or 'atheist' as predictors of altruistic or destructive tendencies leads to a misleadingly exaggerated assessment of the prevalence of these traits in social groups.


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#3
That report is by far the most depressing report I've read. And its a scientific survey. It just put a nail on the reality we have to deal with! When 50% of the scientists approve of homeopathy, I know we have a tough mountain to climb :(
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#4
I enjoyed reading Arvind's fallacectomy(!) above. The problem I have is, I can never remember these fallacies other than the most common ones. I'm certain that a week from now, I will not be able to explain what the base rate fallacy is. I wonder if the reason is I don't have any grounding in logic - what is a premise etc. Any advice from the more experienced fallacy-spotters here? Should one attempt to understand the basics of logic first (and what are the good resources for doing so)?
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#5
(17-Dec-2010, 10:46 PM)unsorted Wrote: I enjoyed reading Arvind's fallacectomy(!) above. The problem I have is, I can never remember these fallacies other than the most common ones. I'm certain that a week from now, I will not be able to explain what the base rate fallacy is. I wonder if the reason is I don't have any grounding in logic - what is a premise etc. Any advice from the more experienced fallacy-spotters here? Should one attempt to understand the basics of logic first (and what are the good resources for doing so)?

I think having a grounding in logic will make a difference in terms of how you present the fallacies discovered, but I also feel that interest, internal makeup and frequent practice are powerful factors. Personally, I do not remember or even know the formally recognized forms of most of the less-known fallacies that I pick out. I usually identify the fallacy first by thinking about the argument, and then look for what the fallacy is called and how it is characterized. If I'm right, usually the formal fallacy is much better defined, and often more broadly imagined.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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