Home > Science > Public funding for phlogiston ?

Public funding for phlogiston ?

December 18th, 2015

According to the Oz, Queensland LNP Senator Matt Canavan has called for public funding for research promoting his belief that scientists since Arrhenius have been wrong about climate change. He makes this claim on the basis that the overwhelming body of evidence amassed by mainstream science means that “only one side of the debate is heard” (there’s also something about witches). Oddly enough, Canavan goes on to cite some (presumably publicly funded) research on aerosols from the Max Planck Institute which he thinks supports his arguments. The fact that such research gets undertaken and published suggests that there is no problem with the scientific process as regards climate change.

Still, there’s an interesting question here. To what extent should research funding seek to promote research approaches that are regarded by most experts in the relevant field as wrong or discredited?

In fields like economics, the ebb and flow of opinion is such that any temporary appearance of consensus is illusory. When I started studying economics, the dominant Keynesian/market failure school regarded classical economics as a collection of exploded fallacies. Within a decade or so, the position had reversed. Free market microeconomics and New Classical microeconomics became dominant and remained so until the Global Financial Crisis. The position now is best described as confused. Something similar could be said of fields like psychology (another example where plenty of non-specialists have strongly held views)

In the natural sciences, there are a lot more firmly established conclusions, which nonetheless run against the prejudices of many (obviously including Senator Canavan). I don’t see any merit in funding the pet theories and tribal prejudices of politicians. But at the frontiers, there are lots of instances where some particular approach (such as string theory in particle physics) seem to be dominant, at least in part, for sociological reasons. Here it would be desirable to ensure that alternative approaches get a hearing.

Any thoughts?

Categories: Science Tags:
  1. Geoff Edwards
    December 18th, 2015 at 11:26 | #1

    Prof John

    Reducing your enquiry to the question of how research should be funded, I suggest several fundamental principles:

    1. The process by which useful ideas arise is too erratic and unpredictable to be entirely amenable to rational sieving criteria. The best way to advance knowledge is to nourish the people who are capable of new ideas and allow their imagination to take knowledge where they will. However, public funding requires some rational sieving criteria.

    Politics is not the forum to fund investigating research; and yes, disciplines get taken over by disserviceable enthusiasms from time to time that can best be broken down by funding researchers to do non-mainstream work.

    This is perhaps more of a risk in the social sciences because humans learn from experience.

    2. Obliging researchers to spend half their time chasing funds to survive; and obliging researchers to partner with industry so that their research can be channelled to practical outcomes, are two sopping wet blankets upon creation of new knowledge, whether mainstream or outside mainstream.

    3. So the primary research institutions (universities, CSIRO, CRCs) should have base research funding that is long-term stable and sufficiently comfortable to cover basic maintenance and capital renewal costs as well as giving a core cohort of researchers secure tenure.

    This should allow curiosity-led research and pure research, and should allow researchers with non-mainstream ideas to find a niche (so long as they have sufficient scholarly skill and can demonstrate results from time to time).

    4. Researchers should then be able to bid for project funding from ARC for special projects, capital and recurrent, where they can justify that a line of enquiry will require particular extra resources. Necessarily, any such system is going to have an eye to practical results so this is always going to be less suitable for pure or basic research.

    5. The ARC must have stable funding and reasonably generous funding allocated at least twice a year. Researchers should have at least a 30% prospect of success, a ratio which should weed out the inadequate applications.

    The ARC must be non-political and multidisciplinary. Further, the ministerial department in which the ARC is housed must be cleansed of the managerialist mindset that sees only business-friendly research or research with demonstrable short-term outputs as being worthwhile.

  2. Geoff Edwards
    December 18th, 2015 at 11:28 | #2


    By “results” In item 3 I meant “outputs” – results may not be measurable for decades.

  3. Newtownian
    December 18th, 2015 at 11:46 | #3

    Fab. A new mutation of the climate denial meme virus. Its not dead! Told you so John. But seriously thanks for the Xmas laugh.

    This story reminds me of PM Turnbull’s largesse toward that Rainmaking company with its secret Russian technology located at the outpost of Queensland Byron Bay. UQ didnt question that humbug but took the money to do the review rather than bursting out laughing. Then there was Jo’s water powered car. I might have suspected there was something in the water there (or not in the case of Fluoride) except that other great scam Firepower with its defiance of thermodynamics was more a Sydney scam. Now all we need is the Lavoisier Society to get mixed up which seems appropriate.

    It never ceases to amaze me how the physics gets compartmentatized. On one hand fossil fuel usage is utterly grounded in the theory of thermodynamics and heat exchange and the deniers are perfectly comfortable with the science in this instance – indeed they profit from it. But then exactly the same theory and methods and number crunching are applied to another system revealing some inconvenient truths and they try and adjust the science to fit their world view instead.

    What is the explanation? All this I suggest is delightfully post modern so they must be followers of Foucault…..which has been interpreted as saying all perspectives are of equal value…which is not scientific but is very democratic

    On subsidiary musing 1.

    Free market microeconomics and New Classical microeconomics became dominant and remained so until the Global Financial Crisis. The position now is best described as confused.

    Maybe, but when I read Steve Keens recent story of economists with real power
    itt supported my concern that among those who determine economic policy there is much denialism still .

    On subsidiary musing 2.

    (another example where plenty of non-specialists have strongly held views)

    The blogosphere is indeed somewhere you can find any view you wish with contentions supported or rejected in the best bush lawyer style. However there are important exceptions. Said non-specialists may in fact be specialists in another discipline/ideology/science. One reason specialist academics such as economists get a lot of flak is that their musings, theories etc. make claims, (or at least they have to reduce their arguments to), conclusions or assertions which are to other well established and credible disciplines, to be plain wrong. A classic example here is the idea that we can have infinite economic growth. Another intersection was the dispute between chemists who saw no problems with pesticides v. ecologists who specialized in studying the effects but were generally not specialist chemists. The latter conflicts are amenable to resolution provides people remain civilized.

    A more difficult problem arises between “applied” specialists v. chatterers especially when the former are embedded in government or business. The latter environments have a way of conflicting specialists to the point where they sell out, take a narrow view or self censor.

    Because of this I am personally wary of depracating the ‘non-specialists’ I encounter as too often they see the emperor has no clothes and his specialist advisors have serious problems clearer than I do.

  4. Ken_L
    December 18th, 2015 at 11:53 | #4

    It’s remarkable how little faith these roosters have in the market and the private sector when their pet causes are in trouble. The good senator should know that any avenue of research that promised to debunk mainstream climate change theory would have already had millions of dollars thrown at it by the fossil fuel industry.

    As far as the general question is concerned, it’s quite misconceived to talk of research intended to “promote” one finding or another. It’s not the function of research to promote anything at all. If climate change research is grounded in flawed theory, that will become obvious over time when data doesn’t match the predictions of theory (as indeed has already happened, resulting in modifications to the theory).

    What Canavan really wants is for public money to be spent on the kind of “analysis” already engaged in by the IPA and the Heartland Institute, to keep the denialist movement on life support for another year or three.

  5. Newtownian
    December 18th, 2015 at 11:54 | #5

    @Geoff Edwards
    Any comments on the Canadian model where I believe much less money is waste on grant swinging and administration. I understand each academic gets a significant base stipend which is sufficient for free inquiry as against our system which is oriented to recycling the beliefs of dominant players and established interests.

  6. Pete Moran
    December 18th, 2015 at 12:05 | #6

    What IS wrong with QLD?

  7. David
    December 18th, 2015 at 12:10 | #7

    And we do have an organisation that funds and promotes a contrarian take on AGW. Its called News Limited.

  8. Geoff Edwards
    December 18th, 2015 at 12:16 | #8

    Sorry, Newtonian. I don’t know enough about the comparative arrangements in different countries to answer your question. However, I can’t imagine that any developed country sitting within the Enlightenment tradition could fund scientific research as badly or inefficiently as Australia does.

  9. Donald Oats
    December 18th, 2015 at 13:37 | #9

    We’ve only heard one side of the debate that gravity makes things fall. What about the other side of the debate, where gravity makes things fly? Look at birds, they fly. Why aren’t scientists studying this? They tell us gravity makes things fall, but look, planes, birds, superman: why are they fudging the figures? What are they hiding?

    Meanwhile, in the reality based world, 2015 has smashed the previous record for the increase in global average temperature anomaly, giving us the hottest year of the instrumental record. The Met Office in the UK are predicting that 2016 is going to be substantially hotter than 2015, with only a 5% probability of being cooler than 2015. Place yer bets. In the Met Office’s words:

    The Met Office forecast indicates the global average temperature in 2016 will be 1.14C above pre-industrial temperatures, showing how challenging it will be to meet the 1.5C goal. The Met Office said there was just a 5% chance the global average temperature in 2016 would be below that in 2015.

    “The vast majority of the warming is global warming, but the icing on the cake is the big El Niño event,” said Prof Adam Scaife, head of monthly to decadal prediction at the Met Office.

    The time for being polite about the arrant nonsense coming from our political “representatives” is over.

  10. Donald Oats
    December 18th, 2015 at 13:50 | #10

    Actually, thinking about this a bit more, I think one of the key confusions in the noggin of the senator is a conflating of searching for evidence to back your pre-conceived position with searching for answers to the question of what happens. Scientific research is aimed at discovery of the how and why of things; scientists, at an individual level, may have strong views as to what they think the answers might be, but in the end the evidence found is what it is, and it trumps individual opinion. In the political arena, the more cognitively challenged of our elected officials think that the only evidence of note is that which supports their beliefs/prior position on something, and they dismiss anything that might counter the narrative they are running.

    There are some excellent books on critical thinking. Perhaps we should band together and purchase a few to send to elected officials who have demonstrated a clear need of such a book; it would make a nice Xmas gift for them. Perhaps we could bundle it with a “Where’s Wally” book as well.

  11. Chris O’Neill
    December 18th, 2015 at 14:56 | #11

    The NSW government uses public funding to insure economic rent-seeking (in the form of taxi licences), so why shouldn’t there be public funding for all sorts of interests?

  12. bjb
    December 18th, 2015 at 15:06 | #12

    I came across this the other dayHow to become a GOOD Theoretical Physicist by Nobel Laureate Gerard ‘t Hooft, in which he says

    It so often happens that I receive mail – well-intended but totally useless – by amateur physicists who believe to have solved the world. They believe this, only because they understand totally nothing about the real way problems are solved in Modern Physics.

    I think this may be applicable to Matt Canavan.

  13. GrueBleen
    December 18th, 2015 at 15:59 | #13

    Hmm. It seems you’ve actually set two separate questions to be answered, ProfQ.

    1. How to fund “science” (whatever it is we mean by “science”) to maximize the ‘new and different’ knowledge we unleash upon our species.

    2. What to do about the Canavans of our species.

    Now question 1 has very different aspects depending on whether we are talking ‘pure’ or ‘applied’ science. There is, after all, nothing particularly ‘applicable’ about String Theory – it will probably (unlike Quantum Physics) never lead us to a better computer. But then again, how would I know ?

    As to question 2, if we knew what to do about Canavan, we might know what to do about all the other ‘radicalised’ human beings – including Abbott, Turnbull and Shorten inter alia.

    But I guess all we can do is continue to educate as many people as we can as far as they can go and then hope for the best. Or do you think somebody will eventually come up with a recipe to solve both questions ?

  14. John Goss
    December 18th, 2015 at 19:46 | #14

    An extract from Mathew Canavan’s bio on his website.
    ‘Matthew grew up in Logan just south of Brisbane. After achieving a First Class Honours Degree in Economics at the University of Queensland, Matthew worked at the Productivity Commission where he eventually rose to the level of Director.

    During that time Matthew worked on projects ranging from competition laws, housing affordability to counting the number of policies that Australian governments have introduced to tackle climate change (the answer was 244).

    Becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of coherent economic policy by the Rudd Government, Matthew went to work for Barnaby Joyce as his Chief-of-Staff ahead of the 2010 election’.

  15. John Goss
    December 18th, 2015 at 19:59 | #15

    Senator Canavan spoke at an Endeavour Forum meeting with Senator Joe Bullock recently. Bird brains of a feather flock together!

    ‘Senator Matt Canavan has spoken and written about this inequality – and called for ‘Family based taxation’ to be introduced. ..
    Senator Canavan will be one of the Guest Speakers at a public meeting held by Endeavour Forum on Saturday 15 August.
    Endeavour Forum meeting: “Taxation Justice for Families”
    Speakers: Senator Matthew Canavan (LNP-Qld) and Senator Joseph Bullock (ALP-WA)
    Date and time: Saturday 15 August, 2.30 pm’.

    ‘Welcome to Endeavour Forum Inc.
    Our organisation is a Christian, pro-life, pro-family Australian Non-Government Organisation (NGO) which has special consultative status with the Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. We were founded to counter feminism, to defend the right to life of the unborn, and to support marriage and the natural family. We have links with similar organisations both local and overseas’.

  16. James Wimberley
    December 18th, 2015 at 22:09 | #16

    Contrarian ideas deserve more consideration when there are observations that don’t fit into the prevailing paradigm without kludges.

  17. wmmbb
    December 19th, 2015 at 00:01 | #17

    Dear Senator Canavan

    Sorry to pile on. it was immediately possible to find a purported statement of the author of the study on aerosols, Bjorn Stevens, who expressly rejects the interpretation quoted by you.

    When science rejects your world view, it must be wrong. I agree. However, I am at a loss to reject the science of Joseph Fourier, whose logic from this distance in time still seems impeccable. Surely, when the sun stops shinning, you might expect the temperature to fall precipitously if there was no intervening means to retain heat (as apparently is the case on other planets). Admittedly his experimental apparatus for the study of heat flows was not flash. About fifty to sixty years later, John Tyndale identified how some familiar atmospheric gases, such water vapour, operate as a atmospheric “semi-permeable membrane”, effected by the differences in wavelengths of radiated and reflected energy. Now that Tyndale apparatus was awesome. It seems that Arrhenius was pretty much on the money (a market metaphor, I am sure you appreciate), but it took some time for that to be realized.

    It is a remaining mystery as to how water gets into the sky, stay there, and then fall as rain (but that might be a whole other story). I note in passing the Sky Father became very angry recently at Kurnell, so it is nice to have the Earth Mother to turn to for solace.

    What has shocked me, and I find highly suspicious – I am calling conspiracy – is the statistical study that found 114 climate models have accurately predicted the temperatures during the 21st Century.

    Since this should not be happening: it cannot be happening. If we look diligently we must be able to find one climate-related variable that will call into question the whole construct and disprove this state of affairs. I am thinking animal migrations, including the flight paths of birds. What is your research proposal?

    Keep the faith Senator

  18. Luke Elford
    December 19th, 2015 at 00:56 | #18

    “Oddly enough, Canavan goes on to cite some (presumably publicly funded) research on aerosols from the Max Planck Institute which he thinks supports his arguments.”

    Unsurprisingly, the author of the work begs to differ:

    “In my new paper I did not speculate as to the implications of my findings for estimates of Earth’s Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity, which is perhaps the simplest measure of the response of the Earth System to a change in concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. However others have used my findings to suggest that Earth’s surface temperatures are rather insensitive to the concentration of atmospheric CO2. I do not believe that my work supports these suggestions, or inferences.

    “As fond as I am of my own ideas, one should resist concluding too much, too soon, from a single study. In the long run I certainly hope that my findings will help constrain the climate’s sensitivity to CO2 but they do not, on their own, relieve society of the threat of dangerous warming arising from anthropogenic emissions of CO2. Indeed, even a warming of only 2ºC from a doubling of CO2 poses considerable risks for society. Many scientists (myself included) believe that a warming of more than 2ºC from a doubling of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is consistent with both my new study and our best understanding.”


    So you can see why Canavan is still not satisfied.

    When Canavan writes “We need red team funding of scientists who take a different view on climate change”, he clearly means we should give special funding to researchers who think there is low (ideally zero) climate sensitivity to CO2. Somebody truly worried about groupthink amongst climate scientists would of course be interested in ensuring that fringe positions on both the low and high sides weren’t frozen out.

  19. jrkrideau
    December 19th, 2015 at 01:11 | #19

    There can be good reasons for funding research in ‘dissenting’ ways but it seems to me that one needs at least a small problem with existing theory before this makes sense.

    No expert in any theory mentioned below>
    The current theory of continental drift – plate tectonics seems an example. Earlier theories seems to have so many land bridges that they were becoming ridiculous. The helio-centric theory evolved to handle known problems with earlier theories. Germ theory handled various problems better than whatever. (Spontaneous something or other? Or am I thinking of witches? )

    As far as I can see a) climate change does not show these problems, and perhaps more importantly climate change is not one science. Some rather nasty problems in several areas of scientific research from basic chemistry to paleontology would have to occur. Not impossible but I’d not bet on it.

    Canavan’s “only one side of the debate is heard” argument sounds a lot like the American religious fundamentalists “teach the controversy” argument against evolutin; in both cases there is no other side or controversy.

  20. rog
    December 19th, 2015 at 06:00 | #20

    “Free market microeconomics and New Classical microeconomics became dominant and remained so until the Global Financial Crisis. The position now is best described as confused.”


    “In the case of markets, it is frightening because there are so many people of great brilliance and extraordinary greed who work there. They don’t understand the market, but they understand the numbers.”?

  21. John Turner
    December 19th, 2015 at 06:51 | #21

    I guess the problem is how do we encourage people who challenge the main stream or dominant theories without giving sustenance to the likes of Canavan. There are often examples in the natural sciences where a seemingly outlandish theory has eventually been shown to explain a phenonemom yet initially Was regarded by the leading scientists of the day as absurd.

    For example, the link between Helicobacter Pylori and stomach ulcers was rejected time and time again despite strong evidence. I am unsure if Marshall and Warren’s research was publicly funded but I seem to recall that they had difficulty funding their research and then after firmly establishing the correctness of their theory they had great difficulty getting it published by the scientif journals. Their peers were very slow to acknowledge that the theory had been demonstrated and even slower adopting the suggested treatment.

    I am sure that any ‘sieving’ procedure in the hands of the leading scientists of the time would not have supported Marshall and Warren’s research.

  22. Geoff Edwards
    December 19th, 2015 at 08:02 | #22


    I suspect that the current enthusiasm for ERA rankings is regressive in this respect. The mainstream journals are more likely to publish mainstream stuff, or expressed in other words, are so inundated with mainstream stuff that they don’t need to select maverick stuff to publish. Unusual results are more likely to get a run in a less conspicuous journal. So long as this is peer-reviewed faithfully and is indexed, it should then come into attention and attract momentum.

    As I understand the situation now, academics are under significant pressure to go for the top journals first. I can’t imagine how this elitist approach necessarily tracks good scholarship.

  23. Ivor
    December 19th, 2015 at 08:48 | #23

    @John Turner

    An excellent example. However, in general, if people do not base themselves on “strong evidence” w.r.t. more potent issues such as crisis tendencies within capitalism or greenhouse gasses, then catastrophe looms.

    Instead of adhering to evidence, some institutionalised academics seem very partial to a lot of theoretical hand-waving and reveling in what can only be viewed as unreasonable doubts. Windschuttle is the classic example of the latter.

    Kenyesian capitalism is built on unreasonable beliefs and hand-waving.

  24. Ikonoclast
    December 19th, 2015 at 09:38 | #24

    J.Q. has outlined a “wicked problem” for which there is no precise solution. We will continue to bumble along.

    In the hard sciences at least, one would think that research proposals would be based on accepting well-established basic science. Thus a proposal to do climate modelling by rejecting the established laws of thermodynamics would not get funding. Proposals to re-research the laws of thermodynamics in whatever manner would have to be evaluated on their (probably unlikely) merits by the “gatekeepers”.

    With the soft sciences, we keep discovering that we cannot make much progress. There may be no way to avoid intellectual fashions in this arena. So failed research programs that last as long as a generation or two of academics are quite possible; indeed they seem to have been the norm.

    Our faith in deterministic science and inevitable progress is much shaken since the Victorian Era. The “laws of the universe” turn out to be indeterminate and probabilistic rather than determinate. Ontologically, there are no explanations for anything. There are no reasons, no causes which we can detect. There are observable laws as probability distributions. Laws, even those which permit good predictions, are not strictly equatable to causes. As an every day shorthand we talk about causes and the concept is useful at that level but strictly speaking “cause” is an unprovable metaphysical assumption.

    In my opinion, economics would benefit from being divided into two arenas namely thermoeconomics and social-economics. The latter would include agent theory, game theory,institutional economics and political economy in order of ascending importance; political economy being the most important. There is a need to first study these two arenas in a segregated fashion and then attempt to link them by a complex system theory which sought to integrate an understanding of how real systems and formal systems interact. The interaction would need to be understood via information theory among other factors.

  25. Henry George
    December 19th, 2015 at 09:41 | #25

    Given the amount of money spent in the US by climate deniers it is ludicrous to spend more money on this question. Now, of course if the Senator wanted to spend money arguing that the earth is flat. well…

    Apart from the innovation opportunities for tax lawyers and accountants I see little merit in the PM’s innovation push. There are lots of ways of using current techniques to evaluate investment proposals but the results are ignored, e.g. the East West link proposed by the Napthine Government (benefit/cost ratio of 0.3!). By the way. how is the NBN going? An extra $15 billion when Turnbull was the minister and f*** all to show for it. What we have done wrong to get such leaders?

  26. Mpower
    December 19th, 2015 at 10:53 | #26

    Part of the answer is researchers do a lot more than they officially get funded to do. It is their risk management strategy – they do a lot underground. Note they are thankfully not required to fill out time sheets every 6 minutes. They get to spend a lot of useful time looking out the window . I actually knew one prominent researcher who was always a project ahead – in other words the researcher only put up a project where enough had already been done to know it was a winner. All this partly explains why researchers don’t seem to have enough failures – as Woody Allan commented on that KPI, it means they are not trying hard enough! The system rewards success so failures stay underground and unpublished. Canavan would not know how fiercely competitive researchers are within their discipline although they may be united in public on some key findings. As premier Jo might have said, if Senator Canavan has the answer it must have been a funny question!

  27. BilB
    December 19th, 2015 at 11:45 | #27

    As I understand it, in science the funding of research is not whimsical or accidental. There is body that plans the areas of science where more knowledge is needed and the available funds are shared in a rational manner. Canavan’s proposal would need to be processed by the scientific regulatory community.

    The other path is to appeal to whatever bunch of idiots it was that assigned hundreds of millions of dollars to CCS “research”. Peter Beaty might be able to help him find such people. Am I right in recalling that PB handed 500 million to the coal producers for CCS research before quitting politics? Canavan could ask them for some of yhat money back for his shonkey research interest.

  28. Ernestine Gross
    December 19th, 2015 at 11:56 | #28

    Love your heading, JQ.

    As for economics, it is not a science, not a natural science in any case. The shifting consensus and the confusion, which you say exists now, is, I believe, a description of the policy arm of economics.

    For quite a long time now, from the mid-1980s onward I’d say, there has been external and internal pressure at local universities to produce ‘relevant’ research in economics and it should be empirical. This research policy has, in my opinion, allowed the shifting of consensus in the policy arm of economics. The young researchers (relative to my age) were encouraged to acquire training in methods, empirical methods, without being encouraged to study the theoretical conditions under which these methods make any sense. They were kept busy. Examples: The Fama-Fisher-Jensen efficient market hypothesis; Baumol’s contestable markets (privatisation, new public sector management); M Friedman’s his belief in ‘Walrasian system’ and monetarism; Modigliani’s life-cycle hypotheis (private insurance); Samuelson’s revealed preference (eg hedonic pricing).

    Methods can be learned without understanding – one does what had been done before, except using a different data sample. Surely you know of a lot of papers of this kind. Usually they involve a long list of references and a long section on possible explanations as to why the numbers come out a bit different. To get into this literature is, in my experience, a rather risky venture because there is the danger of forgetting the original research question due to growth in uncertainty about what is going on – being unable to see the forest because of the trees.

    I am not sure the Global Financial Crisis has been sufficient to turn to boat around. I finished my submission in response the Environmental Impact Statement for the Western Sydney Airport. Ernst & Young had been hired to do an economic analysis. They used a computable general equilibrium model and several submodels, the output of which entered as input into the CGE model. EY were clearly not aware that their model makes sense if and only if ‘the market is complete’. But much of the EIS is concerned with negative externalities. If nothing convinces you of my arguments in the foregoing paragraph, surely this one will.

  29. Ikonoclast
    December 19th, 2015 at 12:26 | #29

    In the arena of welfare policy (as opposed to welfare research), I noticed that funding formulas gave the answer required. That is to say, the administrators knew the allowable spend and jigged variables to get that answer. This is probably a trivial and obvious observation. At the same time, this general approach “bleeds backwards” into the area of justification for all projects public or private.

    I assume with the Western Sydney Airport, the answer desired by corporate money is “the airport must be built”. I would then assume that the corporate and official pro-corporate formulas, equations, reports and models are in turn designed to give this answer. Or else they take that answer as virtually given and as many likely opposing factors as possible (existence or not of complete markets, negative externalities etc. are ruled to be outside the ambit of the assessment process.

  30. paul walter
    December 19th, 2015 at 14:05 | #30

    Interesting. Don’t the curent investigations as to dark matter tend to confirm in some way the Phlogiston theory.

    Just sayin’..

  31. BilB
    December 19th, 2015 at 14:35 | #31
  32. Kel Young
    December 19th, 2015 at 22:55 | #32

    @James Wimberley
    I agree and I would have thought that our scientists had enough integrity to actually report data that totally contradicted CC that has been recorded as accelerating for decades.

  33. GrueBleen
    December 20th, 2015 at 01:42 | #33

    @James Wimberley

    Well maybe, James, maybe. But then any half-way decent theory always has its grey areas. That’s why scientists spend so much time and money articulating their paradigms.

    But the main issue, of course, is which contrarian ideas ? So, if there are still unresolved aspects of evolution theory, does that mean that “Intelligent Design” should get government funding ?

  34. rog
    December 20th, 2015 at 04:54 | #34

    Coca Cola felt that their product has been unfairly treated so they hired their own science and scientists

  35. BilB
    December 20th, 2015 at 09:26 | #35

    Good find, Rog. How long will it be before we can drink “Clean Coke” as we stoke our stoves with “Clean Coal” to cook our “Safe GM food” while listening to Donald Trump’s innauguraton speech. The world is safe in corpirate hands.

  36. Mercurial
    December 20th, 2015 at 10:45 | #36

    Progress in the natural sciences is, I believe, much more based on what’s gone on before than in economics or psychology, there is much less of a firm basis on which new research is undertaken.

    For example, would I be correct in saying that the frequency of revolutionary change in economics and psychology is much more frequent than natural sciences? And even when revolutionary changes occur there, for example Einstien’s Theory of Relativity, it’s usually a ‘great leap forward’ rather than a destruction of thoughts held to be correct previously.

    I would place mathematics in the same category as economics (sorry, I am much more familiar with natural sciences, and mathematics seems to me to be a most ‘unnatural’ science, but it is closely linked with physics and chemistry). Sometimes new mathematical theories come along that completely debunk the existing understanding, moving it sideways and forward; but from my experience and knowledge, this happens to nowhere near the same extent in chemistry, for example, where new findings tend to move knowledge upwards and forwards.

  37. Mercurial
    December 20th, 2015 at 10:52 | #37

    Sorry I should have added: in economics it is valid to try and move sideways to revolutionise the theory, but in climate change, to move sideways would require an entire new paradigm, and we don’t have time for that.

    I guess we also see the results and benefits of existing research into the natural sciences much more quickly and definably, therefore we tend to build on that rather than knock it down.

    Wind farms are an interesting point: do we consider further delving into the ‘possible’ adverse health effects of wind farms, or do we spend our money on more research into harnessing the power of wind? Given the likelihood that we will ever find the leprechaun that causes wind turbine syndrome, I think it’s a better bet to fund wind power.

  38. Geoff Edwards
    December 20th, 2015 at 11:27 | #38


    1. Mathematics is a science (the most fundamental one), because it adheres to scientific method (testable hypotheses, reproducibility, high explanatory and predictive power).

    2. Economics is not a science because its basic assumptions are not considered to be falsifiable. Try to convince an orthodox economist that humans are not rational self-interested beings whose behaviour can be aggregated upwards to explain society. Yet if humans are not rational self-interested beings but beings with erratic judgement and both self-interested and civic dimensions, then a large body of economics collapses.

    3. Because humans learn from and change their behaviour, strong predictability is probably not possible in economics. The mistake is not in failure to predict, but in assuming that economic models can indeed predict.

    4. Because the foundation is insufficiently robust to deliver strong explanatory and predictive power, economics is subject to enthusiasms and fragmentation. Individuals’ enthusiasms in the real sciences do not disturb the core foundation and are based on specialisation rather than arguments about the core. Prof John can correct me if I’m wrong in this.

    5. The term “natural sciences” is a loose one used to differentiate the biological sciences from the physical sciences such as mathematics, physics and chemistry.

    6. Yes, in the true sciences revolutionary advances such as relativity tend to reveal that previous orthodoxy (in that case Newtonian mechanics) was a subset or special case of the new explanation rather than being false. Mathematics belongs with the other true sciences in this feature.

    6. Climate science is not a single science but a cluster of branches of science with different methods and different foundations. This lends considerable robustness and a vanishing likelihood that the core consensus conclusions will be invalidated.

    7. Your question about wind farms is partly a political one. For reasons of sound public policy, research both into the side effects and into improving their efficiency is required. It is entirely appropriate for governments to fund research aimed at answering specific policy questions. However, referring back to Prof John’s question, there also needs to be adequate, secure funding for research that has no such necessary short-term practical outcome so that innovation can proceed at the margins and orthodoxy can be questioned by blue sky thinkers in their niches.

  39. Geoff Edwards
    December 20th, 2015 at 11:41 | #39

    Afterthought Mercurial:

    Where science does fall down and branches of science produce disserviceable conclusions, the reason is often reductionism, or concentration on narrow specialties. Specialists who are unaware of knowledge in other disciplines can produce conclusions that are not universally correct or that don’t support practical application.

    For example, specialists trained in pharmacology can ignore evidence from herbal or vitamin therapy. Geologists with a geologically extended time frame of reference can ignore evidence from contemporary climatologists. Gene technologists can ignore evidence from ecologists of the risks of genetic modification to the environment. These unintended consequences do not invalidate the basic findings of the specialists. They warn against accepting enthusiasms in the sciences just as in any other body of knowledge.

  40. Mercurial
    December 20th, 2015 at 13:09 | #40

    THanks Geoff. Re your 1, I guess I was referring to the fact that mathematical equations sometimes seem to be removed from the natural world. This is, of course, an illusion.

  41. Mercurial
    December 20th, 2015 at 13:10 | #41

    And thank you for your lucid clarifications.

  42. Ikonoclast
    December 20th, 2015 at 13:21 | #42

    @Geoff Edwards

    I guess applied maths is the science of quantity and equation. There are other types of maths which form internally consistent but empirically impossible systems. I don’t see how that part of maths could be called an empirical science. Maths and the real world do have an interface but that does not exhaust maths or the real world. But these are amateur guesses on my part.

  43. Mercurial
    December 20th, 2015 at 13:40 | #43

    What about the ‘sceptics’ who deny axiomatic mathematics? Non-Euclidean geometry does have its applications, no?

  44. Mercurial
    December 20th, 2015 at 13:41 | #44

    I seem to remember ‘i’ from my high school Level 1 maths, all those years ago.

  45. Geoff Edwards
    December 20th, 2015 at 14:19 | #45

    Dear Mercurial

    There are relativists who deny the reality of science, claiming that nothing is objective. Knowledge that relies upon mathematics rather than language-based narrative should be immune to this type of fundamental criticism, but isn’t entirely. Personally I don’t think that relativism carried to this degree is a fruitful field of enquiry. If you hold that nothing is absolute, then there is no basis on which to take steps to improve society. If you don’t accept fundamentals such as the first and second laws of thermodynamics, then you have no foundations for any systematic knowledge and your thinking is reduced to personal speculation.

    I hold that mainstream economics is a particularly pernicious manifestation of relativism. With the self-interested individual at its core, the discipline is self-referential and dismissive of the system-wide attributes of a society. John Howard famously denigrated post-modernists who don’t believe in anything; and the modern commentators in the Murdoch press who rail against “leftist elites” lie in this tradition. But those who place their faith in the anonymous, individualistic, materialistic market are the worst postmodern relativists of all.

  46. GrueBleen
    December 20th, 2015 at 15:04 | #46


    Before you get too thankful to Ernestine, Mercurial, perhaps you should be aware of the errors in his exposition.

    The first one being “mathematics as a science”. Let’s be clear about this, mathematics is only peripherally connected with the universe, there are no circles or straight lines in the real actual universe. Our geometries, whether Euclidean or otherwise are merely convenient approximations that, sometimes anyway, allow us to represent the regularities of what we think we observe.

    For instance, the geometry of multiple dimensions tells us that knots are impossible in spaces of 4 or more physical dimensions (ie not including temporal dimensions). How exactly could we subject that “prediction” of mathematics to empirical test ?

    Many of the theories of economics are actually scientific and are coming under increasing empirical verification (or falsification as the case may be). However, economics is just a little bit like archaeology: we can’t often, if at all, run laboratory tests. Economists can’t just start up a recession on demand to examine how it works (other than Volker and his conquest of American inflation, of course). All we can do is observe what has happened and try to work out the how and the why.

    Prediction in economics is, though, a very interesting aspect and I tend to agree with Ernestine as to its precarious nature. But we shall see. If enough people are involved in an economic activity, then many differences can be ‘averaged out’ over the whole behavioral aspect.

    But yes, again agreeing with Ernestine, ideology is rampant in economic “theories”, in part at least because of the non-laboratory property of the field. But also because human beings love to believe what they love to believe. Taking archaeology for instance, how many didn’t believe in continental drift ? Until, that is, the irrefutable observation of plate tectonics put the matter beyond dispute. But nobody could put a bunch of continents into an earth-like planet in the laboratory to see if they drifted.

    The term “natural sciences” as anybody prepared to spend a moment looking up a dictionary will find actually means: “a branch of science that deals with the physical world, e.g., physics, chemistry, geology, and biology.” Where Ernestine got his idiosyncratic definition of “natural sciences” I know not.

    Revolutions in science actually do completely destroy what they replace: Newtonian physics is not a “subset” of relativity. Just for instance, Newtonian physics requires a fixed Euclidean space and an invariant time (why do you think that the Einsteinian inter-related ‘spacetime’ was such a revolution ?). Newtonian physics also requires an invariant event sequence. Relativity on the other hand requires a Riemann space and shows that the shape of spacetime and the sequence of events is relative to the position, speed and acceleration of the observer (how strange that “Relativity” should require so many relativities). Besides, Newtonian physics is simply observably wrong within our solar system: it miscalculates the orbit of Mercury which requires a relativistic precession because it is acted upon by the massive gravitational force of the sun.

    Besides, as Einstein himself had so much trouble accepting, Quantum Physics completely overthrew the classical notion of a ‘deterministic’ universe, forever (maybe 🙂 replacing it with a probabilistic universe.

    So I don’t know what Ernestine’s profession is, but I hope it isn’t any form of teacher.

  47. Geoff Edwards
    December 20th, 2015 at 15:57 | #47



    Best to blame me, not Ernestine, for my Newtonian approximation to reality.

  48. Donald Oats
    December 20th, 2015 at 15:58 | #48

    Mathematics is a logical construct. While many concepts within mathematics could be framed in different ways, indeed splitting of concepts into smaller chunks (conceptlets?) is a standard trick in the toolkit of a mathematician, there are rules which these concepts must obey—or they are not part of mathematics, whatever else they may be.

    1+1 = 2.
    1+3 2.
    There are rules, however we care to name the objects (i.e. “1” is one and only one; we could have called it “watermelon”, but the concept it represents is still one), the rules determine truth from falsehood. [Unless you do a Kurt Goedel…].

    The universe, while inscrutable on some level, does follow some rules. We can observe certain things about the universe, and, since these things follow rules, we can often capture the essential logic as a mathematical construct. If we are fortunate, that construct is simple enough for us to exploit, making predictions about how the universe (or that part we are examining) behaves. The correspondence between things in the universe, and a mathematical representation of these things and their relationships, permits us to use solutions to the mathematical constructs—typically sets of equations and conditions—to make predictions about how real things behave.

    If the universe were entirely random in the purest sense of the word, there would be no rules or relationships within it, so nothing at all would be predictable in the first place. Quantum physics embodies stochastic behaviour, but it isn’t without rules: we can still make the observation that of a thousand electrons shot at a target, they scattered according to a probability distribution, a very solid mathematical construct. When I said random, I meant a universe for which there are no rules at all, probabilistic or otherwise. Our very existence depends upon physical laws of nature, chemistry, physics, etc; in a universe without laws (i.e. rules), it’s unlikely there would be humans around and in circumstances conducive to studying such a universe 🙂

  49. GrueBleen
    December 20th, 2015 at 16:31 | #49

    @Geoff Edwards

    No, Geoff, I took my critique of Newtonian physics directly from Ernestine. I hadn’t even (he confesses shamefacedly) read your post. But I will do so.

    Unfortunately the “Newton as a subset of Relativity’ trope is widespread – but not amongst real physicists for it is just so totally wrong. What Newtonian physics is, is a computationally convenient way of calculating certain simple problems, eg the path of a Soyuz to the ISS. But even in quite simple cases – eg satellites orbiting Earth it is inadequate. For instance, the GPS satellites have to have relativistic corrections applied to their timekeeping to get sufficient accuracy – Newtonian physics is grossly mistaken in this circumstance.

  50. GrueBleen
    December 20th, 2015 at 16:42 | #50

    @Donald Oats

    Quite well put, Mr Oats.

    But regarding totally “random” universes, I have always had this desire to ask “Isn’t it just amazing how mathematics applies to the Universe” types (especially Paul Davies) that if it is so amazing how mathematics applies to the universe then they’d have absolutely no difficulty describing for us a universe to which mathematics doesn’t/can’t apply.

    However, I do appreciate one of the universal rules of mathematics: that all moderately complex axiom systems are subject to the Goedel Theorem. Which, as far as I can tell, includes (at least analogously) all deontological morality systems.

  51. December 20th, 2015 at 19:12 | #51

    The conservatives may have to be a bit more careful raising issued of balance in future. An inquiry into left wing bias on Q&A (no doubt set up because of the bleatings of an ex-pm) failed to find any left wing bias. But it did find that women were underrepresented on Q&A, and that when they were there, less questions were directed to them.

    I’m sure it never even occurred to Tony and his ilk that an inquiry into bias might include gender in its investigations.

  52. Ernestine Gross
    December 20th, 2015 at 19:20 | #52

    Ha, ha, ha, we’ve got a version of a ‘Grue Bleen’ [1] here who creates a male character, called Ernestine, and then communicates agreement or disagreement with this character to third parties.

    Quite entertaining, particularly to all those with the name Ernestine, who are quite sure they are female – as theiir name suggests.

    Question: Do GrueBleens go to bed with the chooks (before it gets dark) and stay in bed with curtains drawn when it rains?

    [1] Re ‘grue bleen’ see: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674290716.

  53. Ikonoclast
    December 20th, 2015 at 20:19 | #53

    The “what is maths” question is OT but I can’t resist it.

    Maths is a language. It’s a specialised form of language with many dialects. The reason that modern formal systems (like maths or English) apply to the world in many useful ways is that with them we can acquire, store, manipulate and communicate information by symbolic correspondence but also by a process I call “analogical correspondence”. I don’t know what academics call the latter. Languages have been both adventitiously evolved and expressly designed by us to perform the above tasks. If a proto-language doesn’t possess some or enough useful forms of symbolic correspondence or “analogical correspondence” it doesn’t survive and propagate as a useful formal system. We evolved our useful languages. By a process analogous to natural selection, only very useful formal systems survived and expanded successfully precisely because they allowed us to interact with external, objective reality successfully. That is why languages (word based or maths-symbol based) work.

    By “analogical correspondence” I mean something something more than just formal symbolic correspondence. Items like maps, circuit diagrams and flow charts, if accurate, show some analogical correspondence with real phenomena. Languages can begin with analogical correspondence, typically then move to symbolic correspondence and then build in operators and rules which redevelop analogical correspondence at a higher functioning level.

    For example, three strokes /// bear a basic analogical correspondence with any three discrete items. However, the numeral 3 no longer bears any clear analogical correspondence. When maths uses symbols and operators as in 3 + 3 = 6, it assigns rules to the operators which essentially restore analogical correspondence at a higher functional level. Although it is a symbol string, the symbols and the rule set it uses encapsulate rigorous forms of analogical correspondence which do relate to the real world. But the symbol string only makes sense when interpreted by a human brain trained in the necessary operations and which can translate the symbolic information back to information of a nature with real world analogical correspondence.

  54. Ernestine Gross
    December 20th, 2015 at 21:26 | #54

    “…does that mean that “Intelligent Design” should get government funding ?”

    I suppose a precondition for implementing the affirmative is that Mr Morrison would have to introduce a new expenditure item in the budget, called ‘intelligent design’. If he were to do so, my best guess is that the Australian public would LOL all over the place and very loud.

  55. sunshine
    December 20th, 2015 at 21:43 | #55


    “analogical correspondence” — philosophers of language working on a very general level, wanting to speak of the nature of (all) sign systems, sometimes use the word/concept of ‘metaphor’ there if I am reading you correctly . So we never know anything (including ourselves) ‘directly’ by thinking/writing/feeling/saying/calculating ,only by comparison with something else ,the parts of which are in turn only known by metaphor etc, etc all the way down. Hence Derridas typically provocative statement that ‘there is nothing outside the text’ .Wittgenstein wrote well ,and a lot, about the concept of metaphor but I’m not sure he used the word itself .I’d bet Foucault and Derrida used it . ‘Metaphor’ was in common usage when I studied philosophy of language at undergrad level ,that was 15+ yrs ago .Most (but not all) of the dudes in this long long lineage ,even up to fairly recently, had very heavy (often history making) backgrounds in maths and logic.

    Wiki has a rundown of ‘metaphor in Continental philosophy ‘ that accords pleasingly with my (not guaranteed) musing. Apparently Nietzsche said truth was ‘a movable host of metaphors’ ! – surely they are just trying to wind us up !

  56. Ikonoclast
    December 20th, 2015 at 23:24 | #56


    My philosophising is entirely naive outside of some autodidact reading of Bacon, Berkeley and Hume. I don’t presume to read anyone in translation in philosophy and I can only read English.

    I don’t think my “analogical congruence” is exactly equivalent to those Continental ideas of “metaphors” but I might be wrong. My analogical congruence thesis is expressly based on the notion that some objective information can be successfully transferred both ways. We can make accurate maps and these maps can be used to get to real places. Of course the word “maps” means maps, plans, models, mathematical models etc. etc.

    All of this should be understood to include the basic fact that “the map is not the territory”. The model is not the original material phenomenon but it is a material phenomenon in its own right. An accurate map or model is a material artifact. It can be a book or a set of ideations in the brain for example. The book is material. The brain is material. The ideations are material; dynamic patterns of material-energy. There is no immateriality implied at any stage. Analogical congruence simply describes the phenomenon of successful transfer, storage, processing and re-transmission of information to real effect between different categories of material structures.

    Reality looked at from this perspective is not metaphors “all the way down”. My perspective posits one objective material holistic (monist) existence which consciousness detects as information through the senses. Any such consciousness so detecting is in fact a material sub-system of the whole material system. A thorough-going material monism must posit that consciousness itself is a material phenomenon. The material interacts with the material. That is all we can investigate. Otherwise one gets into an infinite regression problem. By even positing subject-object dualism we already start on the path of the regression problem.

    “How can we satisfy ourselves without going on in infinitum? And, after all, what satisfaction is there in that infinite progression? Let us remember the story of the Indian philosopher and his elephant. It was never more applicable than to the present subject. If the material world rests upon a similar ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other; and so on, without end. It were better, therefore, never to look beyond the present material world. -?Hume, 1779[8]

    I align myself with Hume in calling for a strict materialist perspective. The material is all we can investigate and we must rigorously do so without any postulates essentially invoking dualism or idealism. To say consciousness is anything but a material phenomenon immediately introduces an unnecessary postulate. Reverse the question, and ask why consciousness cannot be a wholly material phenomenon? Try to prove consciousness is not a material phenomenon. If you do this rigorously you will get the result that George Berkeley got. Namely that the material cannot exist. I greatly admire Berkeley’s work. It is beautifully consistent and remarkably empirical in its own way which of course must seem odd when one is talking about idealism.

    Materialism and Idealism are reverse “swichens”. See Ernest Gellner for a discussion of “swichens”. Pure materialism and pure idealism are both fully internally consistent philosophical systems. However, my argument would be that idealism, of the Berkeleyan variety, posits a kind of deception by deity. But this will get too long if I go into that. Materialism posits no deception but does posit “extensiveness”, “inaccessibility” and “unknowability” as limits on consciousness knowledge. These limits come from the limits and imperfections of information transfer.

  57. GrueBleen
    December 21st, 2015 at 00:10 | #57

    @Ernestine Gross

    I do apologize, Ernestine. My only defense is that I thought that somebody as ‘Grossly’ erroneous as you would have to be a male. Ha ha ha.

    No, really, I didn’t give any thought at all as to your gender or whether your nom is actually your name or is supposed to be indicative of your name or whatever. I’m really just not that much into you.

    But I do thank you for your entertaining question regarding my bedroom habits – is your question taken from your own life experience ?

    However, I am pleased that you took the time to research GrueBleen and to find Goodman’s book. May it inspire you to work at being less erroneous in your future postings.

  58. GrueBleen
    December 21st, 2015 at 00:20 | #58

    @Geoff Edwards

    Oops. Now I have read your post and yes it was you and not Ernestine. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear mea maxima culpa. No wonder Ernestine wasn’t impressed by my tenuous grasp of reality.

    Oh well, at least it did get a very perceptive question about sleeping with chooks into the discussion. But otherwise, my profound apologies, Ernestine.

  59. Ernestine Gross
    December 21st, 2015 at 05:38 | #59


    To save Geoff Edwards forwarding your apologies to me, I copy your text below:

    ‘Oops. Now I have read your post and yes it was you and not Ernestine. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear mea maxima culpa. No wonder Ernestine wasn’t impressed by my tenuous grasp of reality.

    Oh well, at least it did get a very perceptive question about sleeping with chooks into the discussion. But otherwise, my profound apologies, Ernestine” [GrueBleen @58]

  60. James Wimberley
    December 21st, 2015 at 06:23 | #60

    @Kel Young
    The opposite is the case. The contrarians have been quite unable to come up with data that can’t be easily fitted into the standard physics and chemistry of the models. It;s like challenging electromagnetism.

  61. James Wimberley
    December 21st, 2015 at 06:38 | #61

    “Intelligent design” isn’t a scientific theory at all but a theological one. Things were different between Paley and Darwin, but Chapter 6 in The Origin of Species provided a satisfactory selectionist account of the emergence of “organs of extreme perfection” like the eye – in fact in multiple ways, a difficulty for the IDers. (Octopus eyes are different from ours, and have the optic nerve sensibly leading from the back of the retina not the front, IIRC). There is no deep puzzle left. The big difficulty that Darwin did recognize was that the fossil record does not show gradual changes in lineages. Species pop up suddenly, survive for a greater or lesser timespan, then disappear. This puzzle was solved recently by “punctuated equilibrium”. What major difficulties are left? The origins of sex, eukaryotic cells, and life itself, perhaps.

    I would hope that philosophers, theologians and cosmologists continue to think about the anthropic principle and the apparent fine-tuning of fundamental constants. They should, like other academics, have sufficient time to pursue such inquiries. What specific funding could be needed?

  62. December 21st, 2015 at 07:22 | #62

    Professor Quiggin

    One interesting field that is controversial but related to this topic is Chinese Medicine. In the recent decades, the medical field has accepted certain forms of Chinese Medicine, such as major public hospitals in Australia (NSW) and US offering Acupuncture as the preferred method of pain management instead of Aspirin or other forms of treatment. However this acceptance of Chinese Acupuncture is more in forms of evidence based approach instead of “scientifically explainable” approach (the public hospitals are actual offering acupuncture as a treatment without even understanding how it works, e.g. look for the ABC article that described major public hospitals accepting Acupuncture as a form of pain management treatment).

    Acupuncture is also theoretically closely related to another major arm of Chinese Medicine which is herbal medicine that is also labelled as not scientifically proven theory. There is quite a disconnection as to why should the medical field accept part of a major theory but not another, when the part of the theory they accepted (Acupuncture) also works in conjunction to herbal medicine as a full treatment.

    I do not think Chinese Medicine should be disregarded as a myth nor placebo effect, however should Chinese Medicine research get public funding when it is hardly scientifically provable currently?

  63. Ikonoclast
    December 21st, 2015 at 08:16 | #63


    Western medicine is an interesting case. There is a considerable amount of Western medicine that is science based and thus evidence based. Yet there is also a not inconsiderable amount of Western medical practice which has not been evidence based and/or has been based on invalid evidence or incorrectly derived by induction from evidence.

    Freudian psychoanalysis for example is now completely discredited. There is no evidence for any of its central tenets. Ernest Gellner’s book “The Cunning of Unreason” is worth reading in this context. It has now also been established that very little of physiotherapy is evidence based. People might or might not find these contentions controversial but if they examine the literature they will find them so. Thus Western Medicine was (and still is to some extent) a broad church which went well beyond what was empirically justified in developing and prescribing treatments. By the same token, much of Chinese medicine has been shown to not be evidence based. Acupuncture is a case in point.

    Footnote: While Freudian psychoanalysis is now completely discredited as science, one cannot say it has been wholly useless as a research project, as a proto-science. While the “talking cure” leads to “analysis interminable” (i.e it gets exactly nowhere) it has had a value. There is considerable good evidence that while people are kept talking they are not jumping off high ledges. This positive treatment judgement however probably only holds for post-Freudian psychotherapy. Freud and his early analytical descendants like Melanie Klein demonstrably did a lot of damage in practice. Freud in his non-evidence based fundamentalism and Svengali-like control of disciples and acolytes reminds me somewhat of Ayn Rand. Read “Why Freud was Wrong” by Richard Webster. This a large tome BTW. It is also worth reading “Why Freud Still Matters, When He Was Wrong About Almost Everything” by George Dvorsky. This latter is a short essay available online.

  64. sunshine
    December 21st, 2015 at 09:39 | #64


    ‘ I don’t think my “analogical congruence” is exactly equivalent to those Continental ideas of “metaphors” ‘ .Yes ,my mistake ,I see it is not ;- ** although you sometimes show a somewhat Continental sentiment **. I think you want to reside more in the tradition of Analytic philosophy as described by wiki ,where our maps can sometimes potentially be knowably accurate representations of reality. The Continental mob dont deny an independently existing real world ,but they dont assert one either. They dont deny that our conceptions of the world might be accurate ,just that we can never really know when they are.

    Also ,the worrying doubt associated with infinite progression of metaphor never actually prevents action in the real world as it is not possible to avoid being in such a world anyway. Non-action is a kind of action. For everyday living doubt should merely be taken into account .

    Your analogical congruence feels to me like it might be a matter of degree – not either present or absent. Does /// have more congruence with 3 oranges or with 3 sticks lying side by side ? Does 3 have more with one eel arranged into the shape of 3 or with 3 eels swimming about? How much does Marxism have ? Newton thought he had it all but was wrong. Also it may not help if thought is physical like the world ,even if that meant there might be rules in common. Those rules might be able to know their own limits.

  65. December 21st, 2015 at 10:15 | #65


    “By the same token, much of Chinese medicine has been shown to not be evidence based. Acupuncture is a case in point.”

    Hmm, Acupuncture is actually accepted because of evidence based research instead of theory based. Acupuncture has only been accepted in public hospitals in Australia because hospital and clinical trials shows that it works just as good if not better than conventional Western Medicine treatments. However the reason why Acupuncture works cannot yet be explained by modern scientific reasoning. So it’s the theory that is problematic not the evidence.

  66. jrkrideau
    December 21st, 2015 at 10:47 | #66
  67. Ikonoclast
    December 21st, 2015 at 11:22 | #67


    Karl Popper wrote, IIRC, something like this “Our progressive correction of error indicates the existence of (at least some) objective truth.” I basically agree with this statement although it might need further caveats. And maybe Popper gives those caveats.

    Your final paragraph of criticism of my basic idea of the origin or provenance of analogical congruence is valid. We would have to delineate a spectrum from the analogically congruent to the nominally symbolic at this basic level. But as I said before or implied; complex formal system models based on symbols (which symbols are no longer in themselves analogically congruent) can still demonstrate analogical congruence at the system to system level.

    I think there is a test for practical congruence at the systems level. The test is successful transmission of information and thence successful performance in the real system(s); successful in the sense that positive real (planned or predicted) effects can be obtained or observed.

    I see genuinely important (non-trivial) analogical congruence as existing at the complex systems level. It links formal systems to real systems and when successful and valid allows transmission of useful information both ways. A further elucidation of the theory holds that formal systems always exist as material artifacts in their own right. Yet there is still a qualitative and quantitative difference between formal systems and real systems. Formal systems essentially require far less materials and energy to get their results (to put it crudely). That’s the quantitative difference.

    The qualitative difference goes deeper and I am still working on it (in my totally amateur manner it must be said). I suspect it relates to dimensions (and forces) in the sense of relativities. There is a formalisation of dimensions (to wit the space dimensions and time though you can talk of space-time if you wish) in formal systems which allows dimension manipulations which cannot be performed in the real world. In formal systems, the dimensions can be distorted, compressed, (relative both to each other in the formal system and also by comparison with the real system) omitted, rendered in different manners, added to or multiplied and so on. In many ways, I think it is these dimension manipulations which allow creation and testing of ideas at the formal system level.

    Time seems to present special issues. It can be run backwards in some models. It can be run over and over in some models. In other models, the linearity and arrow of time is crucial to the model’s analogical congruence validity with real systems (if I can say it like that). In some kinds of models the issue with time is precisely that it cannot be distorted and yet still get valid (analogically congruent) results.

    Of course this might be all nonsense and I might be a crank. Some days I am honestly not sure. 🙂

  68. Tim Macknay
    December 21st, 2015 at 11:23 | #68


    There is quite a disconnection as to why should the medical field accept part of a major theory but not another, when the part of the theory they accepted (Acupuncture) also works in conjunction to herbal medicine as a full treatment.

    Where’s the disconnection?

  69. December 21st, 2015 at 11:41 | #69

    @Tim Macknay

    The disconnection (to me) is that both Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine explains how the human body works under the same theory but different to Western Medicine. I understand the need for the science and medical profession to be cautious regarding (most of the time) pseudoscience nature of ancient knowledge. However if the Western medical profession (who are well known to be scientific most of the time) came to the conclusion of something like “Ok, we can’t explain why Acupuncture works but based on hospital and clinic results, it works, so we should introduce it into the hospitals and as proper alternate forms of treatment”; then that’s already accepting a part of a major theory. If so, then why not also research/test the other parts of the same theory (besides political reasons) and potentially introduce the other parts too IF the other parts of the theory are also proven to work? As far as I know, although hospitals has done a substantial amount of trials for acupuncture in the past before introducing acupuncture, the same has not been done for herbal medicine of the same theory (although admittedly it’s difficult to prove when it’s difficult to explain it scientifically). That’s why it seems like a disconnection to me.

  70. Ikonoclast
    December 21st, 2015 at 11:47 | #70


    Mayo Clinic (whose opinions I regard as a gold standard for evidence based medicine) say in brief;

    “The benefits of acupuncture are sometimes difficult to measure, but many people find it helpful as a means to control a variety of painful conditions.

    Several studies, however, indicate that some types of simulated acupuncture appear to work just as well as real acupuncture. There’s also evidence that acupuncture works best in people who expect it to work.

    Since acupuncture has few side effects, it may be worth a try if you’re having trouble controlling pain with more-conventional methods.”

    I suspect from this that most effects are placebo effects.

    The Science Based Medicine site declares that “Acupuncture does not work”. It’s worth looking at that article.

    “What David and I have convincingly argued, in my opinion, is that after decades of research and more than 3000 trials, acupuncture researchers have failed to reject the null hypothesis, and any remaining possible specific effect from acupuncture is so tiny as to be clinically insignificant.

    In layman’s terms, acupuncture does not work – for anything.

    This has profound clinical, ethical, scientific, and practical implications. In my opinion humanity should not waste another penny, another moment, another patient – any further resources on this dead end. We should consider this a lesson learned, cut our losses, and move on.

    I suspect, however, human nature being what it is, that this will not happen anytime soon.”

    The actual meat and potatoes article then printed in full is “Acupuncture Is Theatrical Placebo”. There are plenty of references to reputable studies.

  71. tony lynch
    December 21st, 2015 at 12:17 | #71

    You get Berkeley exactly backwards.

  72. December 21st, 2015 at 12:25 | #72


    You should therefore advise public hospitals to not use acupuncture as the main pain management treatment or in emergency rooms as this is the direction they are going.

  73. Tim Macknay
    December 21st, 2015 at 13:04 | #73

    Fair enough. I guess I’d take the view that accepting, on the basis of clinical evidence, that acupuncture is a useful treatment for certain conditions doesn’t necessarily entail accepting any part of the tradition TCM explanation for how it works.

    It’s possible, I think, to make a public interest case for research into ‘alternative’ medical practices as, given that they are in quite wide use, it would be beneficial to get a clearer picture of how effective (or ineffective) the various practices are. Of course, to counter that, there is the view that users of alternative health practices are not actually concerned with whether there is scientific evidence to support the treatments. Homeopathy, for example, has been studied exhaustively enough to reasonably say that it has been proven not to work, but that hasn’t stopped many people from continuing to use it.

  74. December 21st, 2015 at 13:14 | #74

    @Tim Macknay

    I agree, there are many alternate treatment which the patients may not be concerned whether if it’s useful or not. These exists in Chinese Medicine, Western Medicine or any other alternate forms of treatment. However, there is a difference when major hospitals which were and still are pre-dominantly Western Medicine based, considering, offering and using a particular alternate treatment such as Acupuncture for pain management to even emergency departments, such hospitals include The Alfred, Northern, Cabrini, Epworth Hospitals etc. and much more prominent in the US hospitals. Laymans such as us have no effects to change that unless the medical profession themselves are convinced acupuncture is useless.

  75. Tim Macknay
    December 21st, 2015 at 13:16 | #75

    .. I meant a public interest case for publicly funded research into alternative medical practices.

  76. GrueBleen
    December 21st, 2015 at 13:19 | #76

    @Ernestine Gross

    Ah, so if I actually reply to somebody, then I shouldn’t expect anybody else to read my comment unless the respondee passes it on to them. Ok.

    Anyway, I’m glad you were able to pass my heartfelt apology on to yourself.

    However, just in case it’s of any interest to you or anybody else, I didn’t find out about GrueBleen and BleenGrue from Goodman’s book. I wasn’t truly aware of the existence of that until years later (until Google and the Web, in fact). I encountered it in William Poundstone’s ‘Labyrinths of Reason’ – one of his many publications but a jolly good read nonetheless. Goodman was mentioned in ‘Labyrinths’ but basically just in passing.

  77. December 21st, 2015 at 13:33 | #77

    @Tim Macknay

    Understood, I’ve only raised the topic of Chinese Medicine because of the topic Professor Quiggin raised, that should research about alternate views to the mainstream view of particular knowledge be publicly funded so that the alternate views can be proved/disproved.

  78. GrueBleen
    December 21st, 2015 at 13:39 | #78

    @James Wimberley

    If you think that Intelligent Design is theological, not scientific, then you might like to visit this site: http://www.intelligentdesign.org/ wherein you will find many people just waiting for your total demolition of their beliefs. Good luck.

    As to whether there are any problems left in evolutionary theory, well … You have, for instance, resolved all the controversies surrounding Neutral Theory and Random Genetic Drift, I take it. Well gooodo then, but you may want to look up the Sandwalk site ( http://sandwalk.blogspot.com.au/ ) just to confirm that.

    Otherwise, well I haven’t heard much mention of the Anthropic Principle for some time – do I understand rightly that you are a proponent ? Of the Strong Anthropic Principle, I expect. So, what work remains to be done to prove this “theory” and how much financing will the work require ?

  79. Donald Oats
    December 21st, 2015 at 13:48 | #79

    @Ernestine Gross
    ID does get government funding in Australia. The Howard government, through the push by a certain group of theo-neocons, smoothed the way for ID to use CDs and DVDs in publicly funded schools (in Qld). This occurred under the radar for a while, but surfaced when some leftwing-biased journalist went “Hang on a minute…”. I reckon it was 2004/2005 when the news articles about it finally popped up. The whole thing recurred in 2010, and again 2013. The Queensland Studies Authority has several statements concerning ID and/or Creationism. A quick search online shows it to be an on-again, off-again, topic of discussion in Qld education circles.

    I believe it is part of the Qld phenomenon of “when it suits me” libertarianism, an assertion of individuality against the Guvm’nt in Canberra. Anti-vax, Anti-fluoridisation of water supplies, Anti-Windmill Anti-Climate Science, etc. There are pockets of this around the country, but Qld does appear particularly blessed.

  80. GrueBleen
    December 21st, 2015 at 13:52 | #80

    @Ernestine Gross

    You think so, Ernestine ? Maybe, but probably only because almost nobody in Ozland knows what ‘Intelligent Design’ means – they probably think it’s weasel words invented by pollies.

    But of the relative few who do have an idea what it means, I’d expect the majority to deliver a rat’s fart of indifference and for the remainder to be passionate supporters of government funding.

    Not much different in the USA, I suspect, except that the passionate proponents would be more numerous, more noisy and have a lot of say in the conduct of the Republican Party.

    You may enjoy this quote from the Wikipedia entry on “Intelligent Design in politics”:

    “According to the Center for Science and Culture’s weblog,[8] at least 10 state legislatures are now considering legislation reconsidering how evolution is taught. Many of these initiatives benefit from significant legal assistance from a number of conservative legal foundations including the Thomas More Law Center, the Alliance Defense Fund, and Quality Science Education for All (QSEA). All have litigated extensively on behalf of the movement.”

  81. Ikonoclast
    December 21st, 2015 at 13:55 | #81

    @tony lynch

    You mean Berkeley’s philosophy is materialism? Surely not. So you need to expand.

    Alternatively, you might mean I was wrong in saying this. “Try to prove consciousness is not a material phenomenon. If you do this rigorously you will get the result that George Berkeley got. Namely that the material cannot exist.” This was not Berkeley’s method (or it’s a bad caricature of it). I understand that. However, the outcome will be the same in my admittedly lightweight opinion: a set of proofs that the material does not exist given certain a priori assumptions.

    If you are Tony Lynch of UNE then I have picked an argument well out of my intellectual weight class. In that case, if I lose badly as seems probable, then we can both hope that I learn something. 🙂

  82. Ikonoclast
    December 21st, 2015 at 14:08 | #82


    It’s not up to me. I have no medical or scientific qualifications. However, if I was a politician or an administrator with powers in that arena, that is exactly what I would be doing. I would be listening to the experts in medicine and science but only the ones who were without a direct conflict of interest in the matter. The Medical profession can be both pragmatic and money hungry. Either or both can explain the acceptance of acupuncture. Plenty of MDs get fed up with scientifically ignorant patients who demand quack treatments. A relatively harmless placebo can be both a harm minimisation and a time-saving maneuver. It’s called the Crank Placebo maneuver. I made that term up.

    Tony Lynch may yet have to perform the philosophical version of that maneuver on me. Maybe he already has and I am not even smart enough to realise it. 😉

  83. December 21st, 2015 at 14:23 | #83


    The situations which you describe, that ignorant patients demanding placebo treatments does certainly exists. While the conflict of interest is complex in this case and potentially harmful to Western Medicine doctors (especially private) or drugs industry by accepting Acupuncture as it exists as a treatment to replace more expensive (thus more profitable) types of treatment. In most cases, however, things such as acute lower back pain caused by bone displacement or other serious issues are not usually something ignorant patients demanding placebo treatment could help, emergency departments is even more implausible.

  84. December 21st, 2015 at 14:25 | #84


    In most cases, however, things such as acute lower back pain caused by bone displacement or other serious issues are not usually something ignorant patients demanding placebo treatment could help, emergency departments is even more implausible.

    Grammar mess. Should have been:

    In most cases, however, ignorant patients demanding placebo treatments is unlikely to exist when they face acute lower back pain or other serious pain conditions; emergency departments is even more implausible.

  85. John Foster
    December 21st, 2015 at 14:48 | #85

    Politicians, in the main, operate on beliefs, much like members of religious groups, or they engage in political rhetoric in support of a vested interest. What they say about scientific findings must always be looked upon from these perspectives. Undermining a scientific consensus that challenges either is what we might expect and, therefore, should be ignored. If such politicians succeed in influencing the views of the public, it is a political, not a scientific, problem that is faced and should be dealt with in a political arena.

    We know from religious contexts, for example, that no amount of factual information about evolution will change the mind of a creationist, therefore there is no point in running an argument based upon fact when faced by belief. If scientific findings are repressed or distorted by politicians, it is due to weaknesses in the political process, not to poor communication by scientists, as is often stated. Scientists are in the business of scientific inquiry, not political advocacy and never should be. Regrettably, because their discipline is barely a science, many economists do not seem to understand this.

  86. Ikonoclast
    December 21st, 2015 at 16:07 | #86

    @John Foster

    I agree with all of what you say there. I have some considerable sympathy for economists except for those I might term clearly neocon or neoclassical. Not that economists need my sympathy of course. It’s just that, if done properly and comprehensively, economics (as political economy and thermoeconomics combined) would perforce be massively multi-disciplinary. In turn, I mean “political economy” as all of national economy, macroeconomics, institutional economics, economic history and comparative economic ideology.

    The above is why I advocate an approach which seeks a unified theory of formal system – real system interactions. We need to be able to identify as many points as possible where extant, operating economic-financial theory (the formal system theory and models) is incongruent/incompatible with real systems. Endless growth ideology versus the real, finite earth biosphere system is a clear and obvious example. I believe many more subtle examples could be found in a thorough and methodical search.

    Bear in mind that humans and human societies are real systems also. How much economic ideology and economic modelling (of various ilks) is inconsistent with what can be asserted as reliably known from the soft sciences like psychology and sociology, for example? Pointing out the need for a unified theory of formal system – real system interactions is my amateur hobby horse. How do they interact? How is information transmitted between the two categories of systems and acted on in each system set? Etc. Clearly it’s beyond me but I think it needs looking at. Maybe some group somewhere are already working on it.

  87. nick j
    December 21st, 2015 at 23:09 | #87

    http://www.emqm15.org/ may be of interest.

  88. Ken Fabian
    December 22nd, 2015 at 09:06 | #88

    Will there be any censure, criticism or even statement that he might be wrong for Mr Canavan from with the LNP – which supposedly accepts mainstream climate science?

    I don’t think the LNP does accept the science on climate and it’s a matter of Party loyalty and unity to tolerate climate science denial by their comrades and avoid any clear ‘contrary’ statements that unequivocally support the mainstream science based view that it’s real, serious and urgent.

    Worse – and unlike the US Republicans – a politically expedient dishonest pretence of acceptance overlays that rejection; ie lying to the public is embedded into their response to the climate issue. I think that is tactical, as a way to dodge being called to task and be explicit, by mainstream journalism that has shown itself pathetically incapable of acting as the community’s informers and their means of ensuring accountability.

  89. Ikonoclast
    December 22nd, 2015 at 09:13 | #89

    @Ken Fabian

    Well put. I think this in particular was brilliantly expressed, accurate and concise.

    “a politically expedient dishonest pretence of acceptance overlays that rejection; ie lying to the public is embedded into their response to the climate issue.”

  90. Peter Rickwood
    December 22nd, 2015 at 09:13 | #90

    I think it of it as a simple tradeoff that comes up in most optimization — you want to choose to fund ‘good’ research/researchers, but you also want some randomness in the search to step you getting stuck in local minima.

    So the ideal approach is to have some filters for quality, but also some randomness to allow for unconventional research/researchers. How to make this seem fair, and how to tell whether you are at an optimal point between completely random and academic cartel is left as an exercise for the reader 🙂 I think we’re too far down the cartel end of the spectrum myself.

  91. jrkrideau
    December 23rd, 2015 at 00:03 | #91


    I’ve only raised the topic of Chinese Medicine because of the topic Professor Quiggin raised, that should research about alternate views to the mainstream view of particular knowledge be publicly funded so that the alternate views can be proved/disproved.

    It has, pretty well exhaustively and at considerable expense. Charitably one can say the results have not been positive. https://nccih.nih.gov/

    This is not to say that some traditional herbal remedies may not have valuable active ingredients or uses, just that as is there is very little to no evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture in particular and “Traditional Chinese Medicine” —which is rumoured to be more of an invention of Chairman Mao than anything—in general.

    How what we know as TCM compares to the real historically documented Chinese medicine and medical theory is unclear to me but there seems to be some discrepancies, not to mention Chinese medical history spans two or three thousand years so things may have changed just a bit in that time and “traditional” may be something of a moving target.

    For more info on this you might want to have a look at The Science and Civilization in China : Vo. IV, Pt. 6. Medicine. Joseph Needham and Lu Gwei-djen, edited by Nathan Sivin (2000) http://www.nri.org.uk/science.html which I, unfortunately, have never managed to get my hands on. The few peripheral documents I have read makes it clear that Chinese medicine was much more complicated than what is currently purveyed in the West.

  92. December 23rd, 2015 at 07:46 | #92


    Thanks for the info. Regarding discrepancies of TCM to historically documented Chinese Medicine, it is understandable. Chinese Medicine has never been a really well organised discipline in the sense that some doctors may know certain knowledge which other doctors may not know and choose to keep it to themselves as trade secret. The system of acupuncture and Chinese medicine is complex enough that a little trade secrets changes the treatment and its effectiveness, therefore creating discrepancies.

    “This is not to say that some traditional herbal remedies may not have valuable active ingredients or uses, just that as is there is very little to no evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture in particular and “Traditional Chinese Medicine” —which is rumoured to be more of an invention of Chairman Mao than anything—in general.”

    I don’t know where the rumour that acupuncture is invented by Chairman Mao comes from, but acupuncture has quite a long history which can be found not only in documented Chinese history but also Korean (which is also heavily influenced by ancient Chinese culture).

  93. Troy Prideaux
    December 23rd, 2015 at 07:46 | #93

    jrkrideau :
    It has, pretty well exhaustively and at considerable expense. Charitably one can say the results have not been positive. https://nccih.nih.gov/
    This is not to say that some traditional herbal remedies may not have valuable active ingredients or uses, just that as is there is very little to no evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture in particular and “Traditional Chinese Medicine” —which is rumoured to be more of an invention of Chairman Mao than anything—in general.

    Is that link suppose to provide me with the view that “there is very little to no evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture”? Because I struggled to find it?

  94. December 23rd, 2015 at 08:31 | #94

    To further my comment above #92, many medical reviews has produced inconsistent conclusions on the effectiveness of acupuncture, after disregarding biased publications which occurs in Asia region. To some extent, the knowledge discrepancies of the acupuncture doctor has also caused a lot of inconsistencies in the outcomes, such as certain reports suggests the inconsistencies in outcomes depending on which doctor is delivering the treatment. If the Cochrane Review is to be considered as a reputable study, then it’s conclusion is also inconsistent on certain conditions and across their own studies.

    Copying from Wikipedia:

    For pain conditions: “A 2009 overview of Cochrane reviews found acupuncture is not effective for a wide range of conditions, and they suggest it may be effective for only chemotherapy-induced nausea/vomiting, postoperative nausea/vomiting, and idiopathic headache.[13] A 2011 overview of high-quality Cochrane reviews suggests that acupuncture is effective for certain types of pain.[14]”

    For lower back pain: “A 2011 overview of Cochrane reviews found inconclusive evidence regarding acupuncture efficacy in treating low back pain.[14]”

    For headache and migraines: “A 2009 Cochrane review of the use of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis treatment concluded that “true” acupuncture was no more efficient than sham acupuncture, but “true” acupuncture appeared to be as effective as, or possibly more effective than routine care in the treatment of migraines, with fewer adverse effects than prophylactic drug treatment.[100]”

    For osteoarthritis: “A 2010 Cochrane review found that acupuncture shows statistically significant benefit over sham acupuncture in the treatment of peripheral joint osteoarthritis; however, these benefits were found to be so small that their clinical significance was doubtful, and “probably due at least partially to placebo effects from incomplete blinding”.[105]”

    For shoulder pain and lateral elbow pain: “A 2011 overview of Cochrane reviews found inconclusive evidence regarding acupuncture efficacy in treating shoulder pain and lateral elbow pain.[14]”

    For nausea and vomiting and post-operative pain: “A 2009 Cochrane review found that stimulation of the P6 acupoint on the wrist was as effective (or ineffective) as antiemetic drugs and was associated with minimal side effects.[109][111] The same review found “no reliable evidence for differences in risks of postoperative nausea or vomiting after P6 acupoint stimulation compared to antiemetic drugs.”[111]”

    For cancer-related conditions: “A 2015 Cochrane review found that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether acupuncture is an effective treatment for cancer pain in adults.[120]”

    For fertility and childbirth: “A 2013 Cochrane review found no evidence of acupuncture for improving the success of in vitro fertilization (IVF).[128]”

    For rheumatological conditions: “A 2013 Cochrane review found low to moderate evidence that acupuncture improves pain and stiffness in treating people with fibromyalgia compared with no treatment and standard care.[134]”

    For stroke: “A 2008 Cochrane review found that evidence was insufficient to draw any conclusion about the effect of acupuncture on dysphagia after acute stroke.[142]”

  95. Ikonoclast
    December 23rd, 2015 at 09:09 | #95


    Those quotes essentially destroy any case for acupuncture so what is your point?

    From another report:

    “The best controlled studies show a clear pattern, with acupuncture the outcome does not depend on needle location or even needle insertion. Since these variables are those that define acupuncture, the only sensible conclusion is that acupuncture does not work. Everything else is the expected noise of clinical trials, and this noise seems particularly high with acupuncture research. The most parsimonious conclusion is that with acupuncture there is no signal, only noise.” – Acupuncture is Theatrical Placebo – Colquhoun, Novella.

  96. December 23rd, 2015 at 09:46 | #96


    I don’t think those quote states acupuncture is Placebo. For certain conditions the Cochrane Review has found positive effects whilst for certain other conditions it is either moderate to low evidence, inconclusive and no evidence. This is somewhat expected because I don’t think anybody is expecting a treatment to work for everything; as well as what I have stated before the outcomes is also inconsistent depending on the skill and knowledge of the acupuncture doctor delivering the treatment (it has been stated above that acupuncture and Chinese Medicine field itself contains discrepancies).

  97. Ikonoclast
    December 23rd, 2015 at 11:17 | #97


    Only a person clutching at straws could find any positive message in that. But if you want to believe in magic I guess that is your prerogative. There is no simply no real evidence for acupuncture. All claimed evidence is explained by regression to mean, incomplete blinds, placebo effects and random noise.

  98. December 23rd, 2015 at 11:32 | #98


    Hmm I find it difficult to imagine the Cochrane Review & the likes of British NHS to be clutching at straws to prove acupuncture effect at certain conditions… Perhaps you can point out to me their private interests in introducing acupuncture in hospitals to potentially replace/in addition to other types of treatments (note that NHS already funds acupuncture and publicly advocate acupuncture as a viable alternate treatment).

    As mentioned above, there are a lot of treatments for certain conditions which results in inconclusive (uncertain) results instead of no evidence of benefit (Placebo). I can hardly point to any other organisation that is more reputation and trustworthy than the Cochrane Collaboration for medical research and reviews in terms of quality and quantity.

  99. guthrie
    December 25th, 2015 at 02:11 | #99

    Wait, there’s someone pushing ID/ creationism upthread?

    Gruebleen quote in italics:

    If you think that Intelligent Design is theological, not scientific, then you might like to visit this site: http://www.intelligentdesign.org/ wherein you will find many people just waiting for your total demolition of their beliefs. Good luck.
    By comparison with modern science, the ID people you link to aren’t actually doing science. They’ve formulated a number of hypotheses, ignored the evidence against them, and continue to claim to have won despite nobody at all agreeing with them.
    So, not science.

    As to whether there are any problems left in evolutionary theory, well … You have, for instance, resolved all the controversies surrounding Neutral Theory and Random Genetic Drift, I take it. Well gooodo then, but you may want to look up the Sandwalk site ( http://sandwalk.blogspot.com.au/ ) just to confirm that.
    Just because there are gaps in knowledge of evolutionary biology doesn’t mean that ID/creationism is correct. This is a well known logical fallacy that these useless people trot out at every opportunity.

  100. tony lynch
    December 26th, 2015 at 09:34 | #100

    Sorry for such a late response Ikonoclast. Just caught up with things. Your identification skills are spot on.

    My short comment re Berkeley really begins with Hume. Hume was not a materialist, he was a skeptic and one thing he was skeptical about is the existence of “external objects”. This is because his empiricism is embedded in a Cartesian conception of consciousness. So all we know empirically are “impressions and ideas” and these are mental states. We might want or like to think that “out there” behind that which we know (impressions etc.) is some “material substance”, but this is an inference without empirical support, so wishful thinking. In short, Hume is more idealist than materialist, and this is demanded by his Caretsianism about consciousness and his empiricism about data.

    The originality (and beauty) of Berkeley is that he sees exactly what it is that pushes Hume towards what is, ultimately, a solipsistic idealism. It is the Cartesian view that all we know are states of our own consciousness, not objects “out there”. So Berkeley rejects this view. He holds that we can and do – as common sense insists – have direct (“empirical”) knowledge of objects in themselves. He has a direct perceptual realist account of knowledge of material objects.

    Of course these objects are not – and can’t be – the utterly mind external things Hume both suggests are there and is ultimately skeptical about. The idea that this is what “material objects” have to be is not common-sense but a shadow cast by an intrinsically skeptical dualist metaphysics.

    Rather objects are – as common-sense takes it – just those things we perceive. And note the “WE” here. For Berkeley is no solipsist idealist. Objects are those things we WE (me and others) can perceive. Those things only I can “perceive” and not others, are precisely those things which are illusions – and certainly not the empirical data for any kind of knowledge as Hume hoped. And, of course, as we all know (again, it is common-sense) “10,000” Frenchmen CAN be wrong (we can be subject to collective delusions), and so we are committed to the idea that objects may exist even when none of us perceive it, or not exist when we all think we perceive it. How can this be, except that we are presupposing that there is a perceiver there all the time, and a perceiver with greater powers of discernment than us humans? That being is God. So the final beauty of Berkeley, he shows, he thinks, that common sense realism rests on and expresses an absolute Divine idealism.

Comment pages
1 2 13646
Comments are closed.