About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Massimo's picks

* A rare display of balls by the Democrats: (former comedian) Al Franken shuts down Joe Lieberman for having rumbled on too long on the Senate floor.

* Another serious comedian (no oxymoron there!) takes a shot at Lieberman: Jon Stewart.

* And speaking of intelligent comedy: the Onion's take on evolution. It's slow going...

* Done with your career as a scientist? Become a comedian!

* This must be the Comedy Edition of Massimo's Picks: another pearl from Jon Stewart, on the global warming summit in Copenhagen.

* Interesting finding in philosophy of science: specialists are more likely to endorse esoteric views than generalists.

* The Washington Post publishes garbage by Sarah Palin without fact checking. When are they going out of business, again?

* Insightful article in The Guardian about the climate denial industry.


  1. Interesting choices. I find the one on the philosophy of science the most interesting personally. Though, I'm not sure I get the complete gist for some reason to where I feel comfortable discussing it. Maybe it's because it's connected to Chalmer's that my brain balks, perhaps you could explain a bit if you get a chance and feel like it, Massimo.

    If with how this was viewed, I suppose this result should be expected:

    ~ "God: theism or atheism?
    Accept or lean toward:
    atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
    Accept or lean toward:
    theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)
    Other 117 / 931 (12.5%)"

  2. I thought I clicked preview, didn't mean to post yet.

    Anyway, back to my thoughts on the philosophy of science link - for some reason I'm reminded of Wilson's "Factual and practical realism", do you see a connection there?

    The poll I showed above and how I'm seeing this, perhaps Wilson is on to something deeper, don't know.

    Also, Jerry Coyne has an interesting blog up I thought might interest you and your readers if you haven't seen.

    It relates to this story here:


    "Italy Science Agency Helps Publish Creationism Book"

    I'm sure you might have something to say on that one? :)

  3. One more then I'll shut up.

    I wanted to share this one from Edge.org.


    A Talk by Stanislas Dehaene"

    I thought the talk was extremely interesting as well as the comments. Harris chimes in, in a way I might expect given his views. I'm still waiting for him to write something more deeply explanatory of his ideas on consciousness, meditation etc.

    Studies related to Dehaene's work I found accessible on the net.

  4. My first post survey results are from "target faculty" and "all respondents". Starting at "target" and working down we find a correlation to answering "atheist" or "theist", with a strange, in some areas, opposite (in my opinion) correlation to "scientific realism". Taking one I'd thought would cut to the chase - "Target" compared to "no philosophy" there is 77% reporting "atheism" (3% "theism") to "no affiliation" at 64% (and 20% "theism") - though "no affiliation" favors "scientific realism", 80%, higher than "target" at 66.6%. PhD's match "target" in this instance (both graduate and undergraduate for "scientific realism" is around 60%).

    In some of the discussion on philpapers there's some conversation on how the questions are asked, especially what "other" could mean.

  5. The - "Taking one I'd thought would cut to the chase" - I mention above is "Philosophy of physical science". Now I'm wondering if there's a possible "anchoring effect" to how people answer in some instances outside of the "target" and PhD's. For example, in the way I thought I was cutting to the chase, one could relate a question on "physical science" directly to "scientific realism" as apposed to "anti-realism" simply since they appear to go together better (to put it simply).

  6. I've come to a tentative conclusion with the Chalmers survey. The option of "other" between "extremes" and a partial "anchoring effect" makes this survey nearly useless (on the important aspect of how Contessa and others are reporting the results). When PhD's are answering "other" to the tune of 22% and 15.5% in the "science" question (yes, only question directly related to science that includes "scientific anti-realism", "anti"!) in "GPoS" and "PoPS" respectively, we may have just *to* much ambiguity. Chalemers admits to the problem of ambiguity but begs for participants to answer directly between the choices, meh.

    I'm having a difficult time deciphering "other" on the two issues that interest me ("atheism" and "scientific realism") in the results across the board (that I've looked at). It would seem they are real numbers - such as for "GPoS" and the "science" question, "other" give us 33 out of 150 respondents saying "other" - putting it together we have 69 out of 150 respondents going for "anti-realism" and "other". We are at nearly 50% here answering what appears illogically (IMO, especially when put together with answers on "atheism" and "theism" and of course "other").

    Questions suddenly appear to loom large, such as:

    -What are "other" options?
    -What is "scientific anti-realism" (especially in connection to GPoS, PoPS etc.)?

  7. I apologize for my "flooding", though I'm learning quite a bit and I will from hence forth refrain from posting on this thread.

    I've done a little searching around to test my ideas (oddly I've found myself also creeping further to the possibility of a kind of "file drawer effect" in conjunction with domain specificity, and also to a potential importance of how one may view David Wilson's ideas on "factual and practical realism", which may transcend religious discourse).

    On Wikipedia they give a break down of "scientific anti-realism" which is pretty good (unless I start quoting from academic papers which are more or less confusing or are simply nutty).

    ~ "In philosophy of science, anti-realism applies chiefly to claims about the non-reality of "unobservable" entities such as electrons or DNA, which are not detectable with human senses.[snip]One prominent anti-realist position in the philosophy of science is instrumentalism, which takes a purely agnostic view towards the existence of unobservable entities:[snip]Some scientific anti-realists argue further, however, and deny that unobservables exist even as non-truth conditioned instruments."

    This is a hard pill to swallow when considering the answers to the "atheism"/"theism"/"other" question. Is this an argument "for" atheism? As an unobservable, God then can not exist, clearly philosophical, but not informed by science in any way, it would appear. It is also a denial of scientific understanding also, we could lose our grip on understanding the fossil record for instance (lets not forget what we need to infer. Which is part of Gould's argument that the dearth of fossil's in the record at certain levels actually points a supporting theory. Here then perhaps the absence of evidence is evidence of evidence).

  8. suggestion: David Brooks/NYT confronts ontology

    Wow, Simulated Universe! Too bad I'm in Oregon. ...isn't that the point of ontological levels... where we live is a higher-level "epiphenomenal" simulation over a stack of (something like) chemistry/ quantum mechanics/ ??? ... a video game that plays itself... well, have fun.


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