Honesty’s Brief Reign and Imminent Revival

Deception, i.e. various forms of lying, is a widely employed strategy across the kingdom of life and in all human cultures, which see the extent and nature of the practice vary considerably from one to another. We also come with considerable capacity to believe our own lies.

The most notable exception to the normalcy of lying has been the development of modern science, which, above all else, has been a search for truth and a brake on our willingness to believe nonsense. This has entailed an acceptance of the pre-eminence of empirical evidence and logical consistency plus an overt recognition of uncertainty with an obligation to recognise error and to alter belief in accord with new evidence and/or a fuller explanation.  In essence, the aim and success of science has simply been an attempt at a scrupulous honesty unprecedented in human affairs; and, the result has been remarkable.

Although the development of the modern idea of science began with study of the natural world, or natural philosophy as it was then called, the method of its success soon led to an expansion into human affairs, an era we now refer to as the enlightenment.  The result was a flood of new knowledge leading to an accelerating rate of technological and cultural development.  This provided a quantum leap for Western Culture, propelling it to world dominance for several centuries and now being adopted and adapted to varying degrees by all the others.     

Although all cultures still have a long way to go in the pursuit of truth in public affairs there is, nevertheless, a noticeable degree of difference in the attitude to truth in different nations and cultures.  In general, the more successful societies at least pay lip service to truth, tend to expose lying and condemn it.  By contrast, the leaders and governments of the more backward of nations in terms of social and economic development appear to have little regard for honesty and routinely express this with blatant lying which goes unchallenged in their political systems.

That there is a significant correlation between a regard for honesty in public affairs and the social, economic and political success of nations is not surprising.  Governance which is widely at variance with reality is unlikely to be very successful.

Unfortunately, the regard for truth now appears to be in a period of decline in Western Culture. Ironically, this began with the peak of regard for science following the Second World War, when the humanities and social studies attempted to also become more scientific.  However, it soon became apparent that to do so was going to require abandoning too much of the established reputations, authority and canons of belief. The response was a rejection of the very notion of truth and even the idea of any objective reality, which was deemed to be entirely subjective. Thus was born a new, postmodern philosophy.  In it, a search for truth subject to reason and evidence was displaced by the notion of a political correctness which was deemed to be certain, self-evident to all right thinkers and unethical to question or subject to critical examination.

Amazingly, this self-serving pseudointellectual twaddle has come to predominate in academia and, thence, to prevail in the ruling classes now almost universally university-educated and thoroughly indoctrinated in this new faith.  To an increasing extent postmodernism has also infiltrated the natural sciences to varying degrees, being especially prominent in the environmental sciences.

In the matter of climate change, its political correctness has overwhelmingly supplanted all conflicting evidence and uncertainty with computer models, claims of authority and an overwhelming weight of credence accorded the consensus of “expert” opinion. The consequence, we are tirelessly told, is a high level of purported certainty that disaster is imminent. Now, well into the fourth decade of failed predictions and ongoing exposures of false claims and malpractices, the charade continues with fulsome acceptance by the chattering classes but increasing doubt in a growing majority of the populace.  Ironically, the claims of high-level scientific certainty employed to lend authority to the proclamations of the alarmists has done little to increase their credibility but much to depreciate the credibility of science itself.

While this corruption of science and the denigration of the scientific method of understanding has been unfolding, the advent of computers and the Internet has also presented a cornucopia of readily accessible knowledge, together with a deluge of misinformation, plus a vast cloud of low value noise.  Now, more than ever, we need the scientific method to sort out what is real and useful. Fortunately, this  is now developing rapidly in the form of artificial intelligence.  

After a several decades of very limited success in trying to develop AI by codifying huge sets of rules, simply searching for patterns in large masses of data has been discovered to be a far simpler and more powerful methodology.  Recently, this approach has boomed with startling success and is now set to bring massive changes across the whole of society. In just the next decade this will have major impacts on health and medicine, decoding the genome, self-driving vehicles, robotics, numerous areas of science, finance, business and economic management, politics and government. For example, as MIT Technology Review recently reported:

In 2015, a research group at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York was inspired to apply deep learning to the hospital’s vast database of patient records. This data set features hundreds of variables on patients, drawn from their test results, doctor visits, and so on. The resulting program, which the researchers named Deep Patient, was trained using data from about 700,000 individuals, and when tested on new records, it proved incredibly good at predicting disease.

Without any expert instruction, Deep Patient had discovered patterns hidden in the hospital data that seemed to indicate when people were on the way to a wide range of ailments, including cancer of the liver. There are a lot of methods that are “pretty good” at predicting disease from a patient’s records, says Joel Dudley, who leads the Mount Sinai team. But, he adds, “this was just way better.”

FALSE news and lying generally is going to become much more readily exposed when all that is needed to do so is to just ask an online digital assistant AI service for a summary of the supporting and conflicting evidence.  Numerous areas of current belief will simply be inundated by a tidal wave of conflicting evidence that cannot be refuted. In a replay of the Luddite movement, refusing to accept the findings of AI will undoubtedly be attempted, but will have little effect against the vast advantages afforded to the adopters.

Unlike the distant highly speculative predictions of climate change, these changes are well under development and starting to be adopted. Within the next few years some major changes will start to become manifest.

Repeated experience says there is an objective reality independent of anything we may choose to believe. It also indicates that when our beliefs accord with that reality we generally enjoy a better life than if we hold beliefs that diverge from it.  While untruths can sometimes gain a temporary advantage, in the longer term truth always seems to prevail.  The scientific method has proven to be our best tool for the discovery of truth and avoiding commitment to false belief; it has yielded more amazing results in the past few hundred years of human history than faith, revelation, authority and all other modalities of knowledge have achieved over the previous several million years.

However, the power that science has provided also makes possible some very bad mistakes. Being honest with ourselves and guarding our best tool for truth-finding against corruption is more important than ever.  This cannot be achieved by regulation or legislation.  It is going to require changes in attitude like those that have led to changes in freedom of religion, slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, gay rights and other major social concerns.  As a society we are going to need to be more vigilant in exposing lying in public affairs and less tolerant in voting for dishonesty, doing business with it and otherwise accepting untruth.

In science especially, uncertainties, conflicting evidence and verification of results need greater attention, while the pseudo-scientific claims of authority and consensus must be recognised and dismissed as irrelevant.  Modelling also needs to be recognised as a tool that may be precise, crude or irrelevant — it is not evidence in and of itself, requiring verification without which it is just an opinion of the modeller.  Data adjustment without clear disclosure of its employment and method amounts to fraud, as does the ignoring of conflicting data and the “cherry picking” of data.  All these sorely require attention and if identifiable as deliberately misleading, any formally published studies should be withdrawn as should be all public funding for the researchers responsible.

A career in science is a privilege.  It is not a right.  Honesty should be demanded. 

Note: The Rand Corporation thinktank in the U.S. has instituted an ongoing examination of what it terms Truth Decay in public affairs. A variety of interesting information from this initiative is available online at: https://www.rand.org/research/projects/truth-decay.html

15 thoughts on “Honesty’s Brief Reign and Imminent Revival

  • en passant says:

    Unfortunately the next step is entirely predictable as the universities and political elites at the Ministry of Truth will get out their Orwellian Manual and ensure that all evidence that conflicts with the accepted ‘truth’ is excised from the internet, corrupted by altering the data, or banned by filters. Despite Climategate the juggernaut marches on, fully funded and without a pause.

  • ianl says:

    > ” … all evidence that conflicts with the accepted ‘truth’ is excised from the internet, corrupted by altering the data, or banned by filters”

    Yes. This has already been occurring for some time.

    So sayeth:

    #Sleeping Giants #deplorables don’t matter #because they’re poor and dumb

    #”extreme” weather IS climate #unless we say it isn’t

    and so on, and on, and …

  • mgkile@bigpond.com says:

    en passant is right. The “juggernaut marches on”:


    Another year, another climate conference, this one in Poland from 2-14 December 2018.

    “After a quarter of a century of trying to find a way to justify the greatest wealth transfer in human history, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change still wants to impose a “climate reparations” regime on the world to underwrite its sustainability ideology; despite increasing skepticism from researchers outside the UN echo chamber about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest alarmist report and related claims.”.

    “Thousands of delegates and activists are expected to descend on the city for another annual ritual. Controlling human influence on the planet’s climate, however improbable, remains for them the most urgent task of our time.

    So expect more than a whiff of millenarianism in the Upper Silesian air, a commitment to transforming society into a sustainable utopia.”

    There will always be a market for catastrophism and the promise of redemption, whether spiritual or banal (political promises, solar battery subsidies, “affordable, reliable, secure” power, etc.).

  • Biggles says:

    Fear not, my friends. The debunking of the AGW scam is coming courtesy of the Grand Solar Minimum. This Northern winter should be a ‘heads-up’, but the winter of 20/21 will be the clincher. For those with science/engineering qualifications, this link to a recent presentation by Valentina Zharakova is most instructive; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEJ2bBpy7pk. (A longer presentation to the GWPF has been taken down from UTube; I wonder why.)

    We can only hope that Gore and Co., the IPCC and the host of scammers in the universities and ‘scientific’ institutions’ will get their just deserts in due course.

  • Biggles says:

    My apologies, friends. I have found the link to the original Zharkova presentation to the GWPF. Here it is; an improvement on the previous link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_yqIj38UmY

  • Stephen Due says:

    The idea that the rise of science led to a respect for truth cannot be sustained along with the idea that respect for truth led to the rise of science. Obviously the latter is the correct sequence of events. Scientists did not invent truthfulness. Christianity did.
    If you study the history of science you will see that science flourished in Christian countries.
    Scientists who reject Christianity, but claim the moral high ground, often end up with egg on their faces. Look at Richard Dawkins, whose irrational and unempirical ravings against Christianity have made him a laughing-stock, except among the howling teenage banshees who are his hapless followers.
    And of course we now find that the culture of science worldwide is rapidly turning rotten, as respect for truth disintegrates in the amoral morass that atheistic scientists have created for themselves. After all, if you really believe that only the physical universe exists, and that everything can be reduced to physics, then obviously morality cannot actually have any meaning for you.

  • mgkile@bigpond.com says:

    Scientism, n., an excessive trust in the methods of natural science and the integrity of scientists; e.g., putting too high a value on the practice of climate-craft.

    It is one thing to celebrate science for its achievements and remarkable ability to explain a wide variety of phenomena in the natural world. But to claim there is nothing knowable outside the scope of science would be similar to a successful fisherman saying that whatever he can’t catch in his nets does not exist. Once you accept that science is the only source of human knowledge, you have adopted a philosophical position (scientism) that cannot be verified, or falsified, by science itself. It is, in a word, unscientific. (T Burnett, The Biologos Foundation, 2009)

    Reference: The Devil’s Dictionary of Climate Change (2018)

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    Science & “truth”:

    Indeed, we have not any organ at all for knowledge or for “truth”: we “know” (or believe, or imagine) just as much as may be of use in the interest of the human herd, the species; and even what is here called “usefulness” is ultimately only a belief, something fanciful and perhaps precisely the most fatal stupidity by which we shall one day perish. (F Nietzsche, philosopher, The Gay Science, 1882)

  • Biggles says:

    Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts – Richard Feynman

  • Rob Brighton says:

    To suggest Richard Dawkins is a laughing stock is to ignore the strides he made in Darwinian science.
    His book, the selfish gene introduced us to “memes” he changed public discourse and finally, he changed culture.
    His new atheism might reasonably be challenged but to say he is a laughing stock is plain ignorant.

  • pgang says:

    I see we have yet another commentator on science who hasn’t the slightest understanding of its underlying philosophy. The second paragraph is in fact an inversion of what science is. It was not the pursuit of abstract truth but an attempt to partially rediscover an understanding of God’s will, which had been lost to mankind. Part of that was the realisation that Hellenist thinking wasn’t the path to understanding (as in the Reformation). The effort to avoid nonsense was, and remains, a theological problem, and natural philosophy was part of the solution. While empiricism is an attempt at pre-eminence (which fails), empirical evidence is merely a formalised method of observation which is interpreted within a philosophical and theological framework. It overly rejects the the Greek dialectic of form and substance, and acknowledges that the created reality is exactly that: real and discernible.

    The ‘enlightenment’ was a period during which the ultimacy of God was replaced with the ultimacy of man (humanism). ‘Natural’ investigation changed accordingly, giving us social-scientific constructs such as Darwinism and Communism, modelled so as to replace the sovereignty of God with that of man. Today that model consists in progressive political correctness, environmental ideology, the ‘big bang’ cosmogeny, neo-Marxism, Darwinism (still), and the appeal to the ‘consensus’ of the authority of human thinking. Are any of these things of any use to us? We are in fact a long way down the road away from enlightenment in the pursuit of humanist nonsense.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    Richard Feynman, “Cargo Cult Science”, adapted from a 1974 Caltech commencement address

  • Wyndham Dix says:

    It is not for me to judge whether Prof. Dawkins has become a laughing stock, but he does seem to hold two contradictory opinions simultaneously: (1) a universe without design and (2) it is as though they (many Cambrian invertebrate groups) were just planted there without any evolutionary history.

    “The Cambrian strata of rocks, vintage 600 million years, are the oldest ones in which we find most of the major invertebrate groups. And we find many of them already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.”

    Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), 229; cited in Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home, BakerBooks, 2016, 177, (together with quotations of the same kind from three other evolutionary biologists and one zoologist).

    Unlikely as it may seem, perhaps stratigraphy has yet to reveal the ancestors of Cambrian fossils to which he alludes. Or less likely still, perhaps nature obliterated every skerrick of their existence.

  • canhippi says:

    The truth is coming via the extreme cold in the northern parts of the northern hemisphere, in autumn, and the coldest spring on record in the southern parts of the Southern Hemisphere.

    Of course the Managerial Elites in the bureaucracy, media, academia and politicians are focusing on the bushfires in California( which now evidence is showing were greatly excabated by the years of accumulated fuel and mismanagement of the forests)
    the high temps (daytime) in the tropics and subtropical and central Australia.

    Oh and where of where are those mysterious sinking Pacific islands?
    Not a photo anywhere.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    Alice Thermopolis – 25th November 2018:

    Once you accept that science is the only source of human knowledge, you have adopted a philosophical position (scientism) that cannot be verified, or falsified, by science itself. It is, in a word, unscientific.

    ‘Science’, however defined, is inevitably included in philosophy. And philosophy itself is the product of reason, and gives primacy to reason.
    ‘Knowledge’ can include one helluva lot: from the whole of philosophy and science to folk tales, legends and religious beliefs from all cultures and continents. But the simple fact is that such knowledge varies widely, from say animism to polytheism to monotheism, and the contradictions amongst religious doctrines indicate that they cannot all be right, and conceivably are all wrong: every last one of them.
    Following upon the work of the Classical Greeks in the field of thinking about thinking and codifying thought and logic, the Schoolmen in the Middle Ages illustrated the primacy of reason by making an understandable attempt to justify their variant of Christianity by it, to prove the existence of God, and to add Reason to the foundations of Christian morality.
    Though they failed in that project, they made important contributions to human knowledge nonetheless. But they left the clerics and believers of all religions with nothing to appeal to but faith.
    And the trouble is that ‘faith’ can support anything: from Jehovah to the Green-eyed Cookie Monster.
    ‘Scientism’ may or may not be supported by reason, but reason itself is. You could not have written what you have written above without it.

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