B*gg*r, we have to Brexit.

It’s very annoying when someone on Facebook makes a point from the other side of the Brexit/Remain argument which is not only valid but blows your argument out of the water. For the avoidance of doubt he was a Brexiteer but I’ll keep his name out of this until he gives me permission to use it.

I was banging on about parliamentary sovereignty, which I happen to believe in strongly. It was the only thing that tempted me to vote Brexit in the teeth of Farage, Boris and Gove (for people reading this in 2018, they were prominent politicians who lied their way through the campaign on the side of Brexit. Yes, I do mean Boris Johnson, the reality show star). Parliamentary sovereignty was being steadily watered down by the EU and the highest appeal court in the land was no longer in the land but in Luxemburg. I don’t like that.

My Facebook interlocutor (friend would be a bit strong) basically said, paraphrased: Cameron delegated parliamentary sovereignty to the referendum, making no mention of a two-thirds majority, which he should have, nor that it was advisory. In fact, he said it would be binding. He is the PM, or he was (2018ers, you can look him up). In the UK we live in what is really an elective dictatorship so he could do that, however stupid it was in retrospect. Obviously he thought that Remain would win.

This blew my argument about a general election and a vote in Parliament on grounds of Parliamentary sovereignty out of the water. Even the constitutional lawyers (Mishcon Reya) riding to the rescue of Remain are going to have trouble with that, especially if the Brexiteers get their own constitutional lawyers saddled up and galloping out.

I still think that a general election on the subject would be a very good idea but it’s no longer possible to say it’s essential.

Bugger.

So we are now going to have to crash out of the EU somehow, a vast change that will take years and billions of quid to achieve. The EU MEPs are saying “Goodbye, don’t let the door hit you in the ass,” only a bit politer. We’ve always been the awkward squad and as a result we probably had the best deal of anyone in the EU, but hey! What does it matter when you’ve now got that extra 350 million quid a week to spend on the NHS?

Oh we don’t. Oh dear.

There is also the nasty sight of English xenophobia crawling out from under its rock. I suspect that many ardent Brexiteers genuinely though that by voting “Leave” they were voting against horrid brown and yellow people and people who don’t speak English but insist on rudely speaking their nonsense garble where proper English people can hear them. They thought this because Farage told them so. In fact I suspect quite a few of them thought that voting “Leave!” was an imperative addressed to the horrid foreigners – as in, Leave, you bloody foreigners!

Of course, the idiots are now wondering why the bloody foreigners won’t Leave immediately so they torch Polish homes and shout “Go home!” on buses to third generation Englishmen and women who happen to be brown.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so disgusting and tragic.

How was Cameron so stupid? Well, he’s sloppy, of course, always has been. But it’s mainly that he and all the other Remainers, including closet Remainers like Boris, simply forget the people who live in the rest of England. If he thought of them at all, it was as a distant noisy crowd of people, all watching TOWIE and necking beer and doners (traditional English food, that). The oiks, as he probably called them at Oxford. Rather awful people, in fact. And the old, of course. A bit set in their ways. Not many of them. Surely the nice people outnumber the poor and the old? Don’t they?

No, you twat, they don’t. Especially in a neoliberal extreme capitalist system, the Poor VASTLY outnumber the Nice. A lot of them are often ex-Nice themselves and extremely angry about it. They were the cohort who voted Leave as a way to kick you in the balls, by the way.

And so Cameron ran his referendum, no two-thirds majority, binding, and dropped us deep in the shit becase he’s sloppy and has lived in the Rich Bubble all his life. I’m sure he’ll be suffering terribly in his Dordogne/Provencal/Tuscan villa (can’t be bothered to look it up, there’s sloppy for you).

You may have noticed that my contempt for the man is epic, even exceeding my contempt for Tony Blair. He had a responsible position as Prime Minister and he had a duty of care to all the people of Britain, not just the Nice. He had a duty of care to the Poor as well, the people who are too busy coping with being poor to check out the clever arguments, weren’t sure what the EU is (but googled it afterwards), trusted Farage because he likes a pint, trusted Boris because he’s funny.

But the Brexiteers won and now we’re stuck with it. Well done, Cameron. Great job.

Hoo. Fracking. Ray.

The Bullshit Guide to Bullshit part 4

Stephen Law has taken the trouble to comment on my blogs and so I\’ll try and cut to the chase. These are the other things that really annoyed me in the article I\’ve been moaning about [New Scientist 11 June 2011, p 28].
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1. Here\’s one warning that puzzled me: \”You should be suspicious when people pile up anecdotes in favour of their pet theory…\” Why? Anecdotes are where you start. Anecdotes said that elephants could mysteriously find each other across hundreds of miles of savannah… woo woo. Many people dismissed these anecdotes as coincidence – but then investigation showed the elephants were communicating via infrasound. I like this because nobody had thought to check for sounds too low for us to hear. I suspect a lot of the things currently classed under whacky-woowoo-bullshit paranormal will eventually yield to this kind of imaginative investigation.
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They won\’t, of course, if the people who are most able to find out what\’s really going are so busy dismissing the anecdotes with shoddy old lawyer tricks that they never actually take a proper look at them.
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2. \”Of course… comments such as: \’Not being able to prove the existence of something does not disprove its existence. Much is yet to be discovered.\’… [this is] just a smokescreen…\”
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Or put more pithily, \’absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.\’ Absence of evidence is certainly a circumstantial hint that something may not exist. The fact that nobody found any evidence for the famous Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, is a heavy hint that they didn\’t exist.
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However it is not just a smokescreen to say \’much is yet to be discovered.\’ It\’s a painful truth. At the moment, astrophysicists have mislaid 96% of the universe. They\’ve taken to calling this missing 96% by exciting and romantic names like dark matter and dark energy, for which they have so far been unable to find any hard evidence whatsoever (but absence of evidence is not… Whoops. That\’s what heathen smokescreening New Agers say.)
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Tell you what. When you\’ve found the missing 96% of the universe, then you\’re entitled to tell me I\’m using mystery as a carpet under which to sweep inconvenient facts, thus laying myself open to deceit.
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I suspect that Stephen Law and I are essentially on the same side, but that while I have immense respect for the scientific method that shows us the empirically real world, I have none of his tolerance for the increasingly dogmatic scientism of the modern collective institution known as Science.
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The current scientific paradigm is effective and powerful and in deep theoretical dogshit. The two outstanding theories of physics, Quantum Physics and Relativity, both confirmed experimentally in hundreds of different ways, will not talk to each other. Anomalies are piling up, particle zoos proliferate, Higgs bosons behave like Boojums and 96% of the universe just won\’t.. um… appear. Theoretical physicists seem to be sunk in a cerebral multiverse of elaborate (untestable) mathematical theology.
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This is exactly the state the Aristotelian paradigm was in, epi-epicycles and all, when the Pope commissioned Copernicus to try and tidy it all up. The church then spent another 400 odd years trying to suppress his whacky solution.
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We need some whacky woo woo thinking, frankly, followed by hard-eyed rigorous experiment. Stephen Law may never have heard the ancient story of the Treasure in the Dungheap, but he should check it out. In the big heap of steaming bullshit that is New Age thinking, may lie the hidden jewels that will give an open-minded genius that vital clue to a revolutionary new paradigm.
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All of us – not just scientists and philosophers – desperately need it.

13 June 2011

The Bullshit Guide to Bullshit pt 3

\”Q: You identify some strategies people use to defend black hole beliefs. Tell me about one of them – \’playing the mystery card.\’
A: This involves appealing to mystery to get out of intellectual hot water when someone is, say, propounding paranormal beliefs. They might say something like: \’Ah but this is beyond the ability of science and reason to decide.You, Mr Clever Dick Scientist, are guilty of scientism, of assuming science can answer every question.\’ This is often followed by that quote from Shakespeare\’s Hamlet: \’There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy\’. When you hear that, alarm bells should go off.\”
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We\’re looking at another rhetorical trick here, apart from the ever-popular guilt by association (vide \’playing the mystery card\’ – ah, they\’re just card-sharps you see…) While he attributes childish insults to the wicked heathen propounders of the paranormal (Mr Clever Dick Scientist), Stephen Law is in a bit of trouble here. There are indeed questions science can\’t answer. It is indeed scientism to claim that it can.
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Famously, science can answer questions about \’what\’ and \’how?\’ Generally, it\’s much less good at answering the question \’why?\’ Normally philosophy does that.
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Most obviously, science really can\’t answer questions like \’why is there something rather than nothing?\’ or \’is there actually some kind of God?\’ These questions are not falsifiable. You can\’t run experiments. Any argument you can come up with that\’s pro-God can be answered by another one that\’s anti. And frankly these are boring questions in a scientific context. Science has more interesting and answerable questions to deal with such as \’what went on 13.4 billion years ago and how did galaxies happen?\’ – though as a slightly embarassed article in the same issue explains [Mystery of the Pristine Spirals p 32], everybody\’s suddenly got a bit less sure of the answer due to new data. But that\’s science for you. Always (and rightly) changing its collective mind in the light of new data.
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Rather than deal with the fact that these are perfectly reasonable points to make, Law swings the argument sideways into the question of how much does science as a philosophy actually know for sure. The answer to that is, happily, not as much as it likes to think. There are indeed more things in heaven and earth than we are currently dreaming of.
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By crashing together two separate points about what questions can science answer and how much do we actually know, Law is really avoiding both of them. That\’s what should make your alarm bells sound.

The Bullshit Guide to Bullshit cont\’d

\”Q: But isn\’t one person\’s claptrap another\’s truth?
A: There\’s a belief system about water to which we all sign up: it freezes at 0deg C and boils at 100 deg C. We are powerfully wedded to this but that doesn\’t make it an intellectual black hole. That\’s because these beliefs are genuinely reasonable. Beliefs at the core of intellectual black holes aren\’t reasonable. They merely appear so to those trapped inside.\”
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Those poor deluded people who got swallowed by the Demon – their beliefs are heresy. Ours are right and pure…
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Oh sainted Sir Isaac preserve me. Water (hydrogen dioxide), at a certain temperature, undergoes a very interesting, not completely understood phase transition and becomes solid. If you apply heat to it, eventually it will undergo a better understood transition to a gas. For convenience we call these temperatures 0 deg C – freezing – and 100 deg C – boiling. We could easily call them something else like 32 deg Fahrenheit for freezing or 250 deg Blarkx for boiling.
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That water does this is a fact not a belief system. What numbers we give the temperatures are conventions. We don\’t sign up to it because nobody is giving out forms. If you don\’t get the water hot enough it won\’t boil and that\’s that. We can test it any time we like and get totally unambiguous results.
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What\’s happening here is another ancient rhetorical dodge called Comparing Chalk and Cheese. The chemistry of water is quite well understood (though with some interesting holes). Homeopathy, psychic powers and alien abductions are (to put it mildly) ambiguous, hard to explore and prone to all sorts of self-deluding failures of thought and observation. Calling them both belief-systems is so thundering a category error it\’s got to be deliberate.
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With friends like this, science doesn\’t need enemies.