Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Planetariums Versus Their Supporters

First of all I have to say I like planetariums too, and I think they should be built. Since taxation is violence, I prefer a different method for funding them, but...

David Hume would be appalled.

"I think planetariums are awesome and therefore McCain is anti-science!" So the best reason you can think of to support planetariums is that you like them? Seriously? These people are supposed to be scientists. This is even worse than ought-from-is.* This commits is-from-ought. McCain ought to like planetariums and therefore he is anti-science.

*(It's totally worth reading Hume's original words on the subject. Summary: imperceptible change between talking about what is to talking about what ought to be in many of his contemporary's writings. No justification given during the transition.)

From the article:
"The science community is notoriously tight-knit, especially when rallying to a cause,"
Notoriously tight-knit...as if they have some coordination signal...as if dissent is not allowed, even outside the group. As if they have a creed, or something.

In individuals, this kind of behaviour smacks of insecurity. When you must attack anyone who disagrees with you, it usually means you fear something - being wrong, being ignored, or something like that. I seriously doubt this dynamic changes at the group level.

This is also an effective game of 'attack the outsider,' usually used to build insider cred. (Jump down to the part about "If it's any consolation to the nerds, it's nothing personal.")
"Planetariums are Bridges to the Future"
You can't learn a significant amount of astronomy at a planetarium. It's essentially an entertainment venue, as indeed is reflected in the article's comments; they all talk about enjoying the planetarium, and the article specifically says it's an "engrossing" and "gorgeous...visual." You'll note they carefully don't say 'educational,' or indeed try to link it back to research in any way. (This tactic hopes you will commit the generalized broken-window fallacy, get distracted by what they say and fail to notice what they don't say.)

Again. I like planetariums, and I wish there were more around. However, what's happening here is just that a modern church is being attacked, and the faith's adherent are rallying.

I also like this one. Someone unconsciously knows the implications! To test this idea, try to find one person in that thread that supports McCain, or indeed realized that liking planetariums is not a good reason to get tax money, even if you support the violence. Even if you find them, you'll see my point.


Michael said...

I think the issue is that McCain has no problem with federally-tax-funded-things in general, it was the planetarium that he singled out as nonsense.

If he was consistent it would not be a problem but the inconsistency does show him to be anti-science.

Alrenous said...

And my position is that he's well aware that planetariums are mostly there for entertainment, not education, which he regards as frivolous.

At least, I can make that interpretation, which means that given the evidence, we can't make a firm conclusion about McCain. You'd have to ask him - and he's a politician, he's probably going to misdirect.

Independently I might conclude McCain is probably ambivalent toward science at best. However, that's not the issue.

The issue is dishonest debating and flawed thinking. McCain can rot in hell for all I care.

For perspective, I suspect McCain says stupid things all the time; I can't be bothered to check. He doesn't claim to by a hyper-logical rationalist, so I don't much care either way.

And there's the further fact that Obama is an excessive spender, regardless of McCain's ability to forge good examples.

Michael said...

I guess my main point of difference is that I'd consider a planetarium to be a much better tool at getting schoolkids interested in astronomy and science than the mediocre science education that most of them are getting in school

Alrenous said...

Look, that was terrible.

It was for people exactly like you that I wrote the lines

First of all I have to say I like planetariums too, and I think they should be built.


Again. I like planetariums, and I wish there were more around.

because that's completely not the point.

But while we're not on the point, a better way to get them interested in astronomy would be to not send them to school at all, and in fact to treat school as a dangerous infection.

Further off the point, planetariums misrepresent what being an astronomer is like. Planetariums are entertaining, whereas being an astronomer is a job. Similar to ads for chemists (elephant toothpaste, for instance) versus what doing actual chemistry is like.

But wait, now I can bring it back on point. If you have to lie to people to get them interested in what is putatively the pursuit of truth, then there's a serious, serious problem. The kind of problem I would expect to cause people to be unable to legitimately defend planetariums.