Monday, October 29, 2018

How The High Priests Of Science Lost Their Status & Prestige

How The High Priests Of Science Lost Their Status & Prestige
John Horgan, The Wall Street Journal, October 19 2018

Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees recognize science’s declining status. But both authors fail to mention that science’s wounds are at least partially self-inflicted. I’m glad I witnessed science’s high priests at the height of their glory. But perhaps we are better off doubting all authorities, including scientific ones.


A high point of my career as a science journalist was a cosmology workshop I bulled my way into in 1990. Thirty luminaries of physics gathered in a rustic resort in northern Sweden to swap ideas about how our universe was born. Stephen Hawking, although almost entirely paralyzed, was the id of the meeting, a joker with a Mick Jagger smirk. Martin Rees, cool and elegant, was the superego, as was befitting for a future president of the Royal Society, one of science’s most venerable institutions.

Personalities aside, Hawking and Mr. Rees had much in common. Born in 1942, both became professors at the University of Cambridge, where Newton once taught. Both contributed to our modern understanding of the big bang, black holes, galaxies and other cosmic matters. Both were committed to telling the public about science’s astonishing revelations.

One afternoon everyone piled into a bus and drove to a local church to hear a concert. As the scientists proceeded down the center aisle of the packed church, led by Hawking in his wheelchair, parishioners stood and applauded. These churchgoers seemed to be acknowledging that science was displacing religion as the source of answers to the deepest mysteries, like why we exist.

That scene came to mind as I read two new books, “Brief Answers to the Big Questions,” by Hawking and “On the Future: Prospects for Humanity” by Mr. Rees. The authors’ styles differ—Hawking cocky, Mr. Rees sober—but the substance of their books overlaps. They offer brisk, lucid peeks into the future of science and of humanity. They evince a profound faith in science’s power to demystify nature and bend it to our ends.

Yet reading these books was a bittersweet experience, and not only because Hawking died last March, at 76. (His book was completed by colleagues and family members.) The works resemble relics from a long-gone golden age: The high priests of science no longer enjoy the prestige they did just a few decades ago.

Hawking in this book is less brash than he once was. In 1980 he proclaimed that, by the end of the 20th century, physicists would discover an “ultimate theory” that would solve the riddle of existence. It would tell us what reality is made of, where it came from and why it takes the form that it does. In “Brief Answers” Hawking concedes that “we are not there yet,” and he pushes back his prediction for a “theory of everything” to the end of thiscentury. But he continues to promote the same ideas that he has for decades. String theory remains his favorite “theory of everything.” Also called M-theory, it conjectures that reality is made of infinitesimal strings, loops or membranes wriggling in a hyperspace of 10 dimensions.

Noting that, according to quantum mechanics, empty space seethes with particles popping into and out of existence, Hawking suggests that the entire universe began as one of these virtual particles. The universe is “the ultimate free lunch,” he says. Our universe may also be just one of many. M-theory, quantum mechanics and inflation—a theory of cosmic creation—all suggest our cosmos is just a minuscule bubble in an infinite ocean, or “multiverse.”

To explain why we live in this universe rather than one with radically different laws, Hawking invokes the “anthropic principle”: If our universe were not as we observe it to be, we would not be here to observe it. Our scientific picture of the cosmos, Hawking proposes, is already so complete that it eliminates the need for God. “No one created the universe,” he declares, “and no one directs our fate.”

Science can save us, too, Hawking states. It gives us the means to establish colonies on Mars and elsewhere in case the Earth becomes unlivable—whether because of nuclear war, runaway warming, pandemics or an asteroid collision. “If humanity is to continue for another million years,” he states, “our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before.”

Mr. Rees’s worldview differs in a few respects from Hawking’s. He describes himself as a “practising but unbelieving Christian.” He respects believers, with whom he shares “a sense of wonder and mystery.” As for space-colonization, Mr. Rees asserts that it is “a dangerous delusion to think that space offers an escape from Earth’s problems.” He dwells more than Hawking on threats posed by climate change, nuclear weapons, bioterrorism, asteroid collisions and even economic inequality. He urges redistribution of the “enormous wealth” generated by the “digital revolution.”

Yet the Cambridge colleagues agree on major issues. That machines will inevitably become super-intelligent, capable of learning without human guidance and pursuing their own goals. That we can nonetheless harness these machines for our own ends, or even merge with them. That we need more science and technology to help us overcome challenges to our peace and prosperity. That science will eventually explain the origin of this universe and even confirm the existence of other universes.

“It’s highly speculative,” Mr. Rees says of multiverse theory. “But it’s exciting science. And it may be true.” Mr. Rees also shares Hawking’s vision of “post-human” cyborgs fanning out through the universe to colonize other star systems. Our bionic descendants might be smart enough to invent warp-drive spaceships and time machines, Mr. Rees suggests. They might even solve what many scientists and philosophers consider the greatest mystery of all, the mind-body problem. This puzzle asks, as Mr. Rees puts it, “how atoms can assemble into ‘grey matter’ that can become aware of itself and ponder its origins.”

Hawking and Mr. Rees recognize science’s declining status. They call for better science education to lure more young people into science and to counter public ignorance about vaccines, genetically modified foods, climate change, nuclear power, and evolution. “The low esteem in which science and scientists are held is having serious consequences,” Hawking complains.

Both authors fail to mention that science’s wounds are at least partially self-inflicted. In 2005 statistician John Ioannidis presented evidence that “most published research findings are wrong.” That is, the findings cannot be replicated by follow-up research. Many other scholars have now confirmed the work of Mr. Ioannidis. The so-called replication crisis is especially severe in fields with high financial stakes, such as oncology and psychopharmacology.

But physics, which should serve as the bedrock of science, is in some respects the most troubled field of all. Over the last few decades, physics in the grand mode practiced by Hawking and Mr. Rees has become increasingly disconnected from empirical evidence. Proponents of string and multiverse models tout their mathematical elegance, but strings are too small and multiverses too distant to be detected by any conceivable experiment.

In her new book “Lost in Math,” German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder offers a far more candid and compelling assessment of modern physics than her English elders. She fears that physicists working on strings and multiverses are not really practicing physics. “I’m not sure anymore that what we do here, in the foundations of physics, is science,” she confesses.

As I finished “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” and “On the Future,” a few questions of my own came to mind. Will science regain its luster? Will it earn back the public’s trust, or will its authority be permanently diminished? And what outcome should we prefer? I’m glad I witnessed science’s high priests at the height of their glory. But perhaps we are better off doubting all authorities, including scientific ones.

Pornography consumption was associated with an impersonal approach to sex among both men and women; among both adolescents and adults; and across countries, time, and methods

Pornography and Impersonal Sex. Robert S Tokunaga, Paul J Wright, Joseph E Roskos. Human Communication Research, hqy014,

Abstract: This paper presents meta-analytic findings on pornography consumption and impersonal sexual attitudes and behaviors. Results were based on more than 70 reports spanning over 40 years of research. Data from 13 countries were located, with attitudinal results from more than 45,000 participants and behavioral results from over 60,000 participants. Pornography consumption was associated with an impersonal approach to sex among both men and women; among both adolescents and adults; and across countries, time, and methods. Mediation results were consistent with the sexual script theory hypothesis that viewing pornography leads to more impersonal sexual attitudes, which in turn increase the likelihood of engaging in impersonal sexual behavior. Confounding analysis did not support the libertarian theory of pornography's hypothesis that the only reason why pornography consumption correlates with impersonal sexual behavior is because people who are already impersonal in their approach to sex are more likely to consume pornography and engage in impersonal sexual acts.

30 Pacific and Indian Ocean atolls including 709 islands: No atoll lost land area, 88.6% of islands were either stable or increased in area, while only 11.4% contracted; atolls affected by rapid sea‐level rise did not show a distinct behavior

A global assessment of atoll island planform changes over the past decades. Virginie K. E. Duvat. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change.

Abstract: Over the past decades, atoll islands exhibited no widespread sign of physical destabilization in the face of sea‐level rise. A reanalysis of available data, which cover 30 Pacific and Indian Ocean atolls including 709 islands, reveals that no atoll lost land area and that 88.6% of islands were either stable or increased in area, while only 11.4% contracted. Atoll islands affected by rapid sea‐level rise did not show a distinct behavior compared to islands on other atolls. Island behavior correlated with island size, and no island larger than 10 ha decreased in size. This threshold could be used to define the minimum island size required for human occupancy and to assess atoll countries and territories' vulnerability to climate change. Beyond emphasizing the major role of climate drivers in causing substantial changes in the configuration of islands, this reanalysis of available data indicates that these drivers explain subregional variations in atoll behavior and within‐atoll variations in island and shoreline (lagoon vs. ocean) behavior, following atoll‐specific patterns. Increasing human disturbances, especially land reclamation and human structure construction, operated on atoll‐to‐shoreline spatial scales, explaining marked within‐atoll variations in island and shoreline behavior. Collectively, these findings highlight the heterogeneity of atoll situations. Further research needs include addressing geographical gaps (Indian Ocean, Caribbean, north‐western Pacific atolls), using standardized protocols to allow comparative analyses of island and shoreline behavior across ocean regions, investigating the role of ecological drivers, and promoting interdisciplinary approaches. Such efforts would assist in anticipating potential future changes in the contributions and interactions of key drivers.

Assessing Impacts of Climate Change > Observed Impacts of Climate Change; Paleoclimates and Current Trends > Earth System Behavior

This evidence supports my claim that the threat of conventional retaliation is sufficient to deter a preventive strike against emerging nuclear state

Closing the Window of Vulnerability: Nuclear Proliferation and Conventional Retaliation. Jan Ludvik. Security Studies,

Abstract: Living with a nuclear-armed enemy is unattractive, but, strangely, states seldom use their military power to prevent the enemy’s entry into the nuclear club. It is puzzling why preventive strikes against nuclear programs have been quite rare. I address this puzzle by considering the role of conventional retaliation, a subfield of deterrence that so far has received scant attention in the literature. I theorize the concept of conventional retaliation and test its explanatory power. First, I explore all historical cases where states struck another state’s nuclear installations and find none occurring when the proliferator threatened conventional retaliation. Second, I explore two cases where a strike was most likely, but the would-be attacker balked and find smoking-gun evidence that the threat of conventional retaliation restrained the would-be attacker. This evidence supports my claim that the threat of conventional retaliation is sufficient to deter a preventive strike against emerging nuclear states.

From 2013, Secret Codes of Political Propaganda: The Unknown System of Writing Teams

From 2013, Secret Codes of Political Propaganda: The Unknown System of Writing Teams. Wen-Hsuan Tsai and Peng-Hsiang Kao. The China Quarterly, Volume 214, June 2013, pp. 394-410,

Abstract: Within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), some Party units have established a largely unknown network of writing teams which propagate the policies or perspectives of a particular unit by publishing feature articles in Party journals. These writing teams often make use of a pseudonym in the form of a person's name, leading outsiders to believe that the work is written by a journalist. In fact, the pseudonyms of the Party unit writing teams function as a form of secret code. Through this code, inner Party members can recognize which unit's views an article reflects. In order to reveal exactly which units the codes represent, we have collated the names of over 20 writing teams. In addition, we provide an introduction to the functioning of the writing teams and the manner in which articles are produced. Finally, we propose that the CCP's mechanism of “propaganda codes” is gradually undergoing the process of institutionalization.

Brain Tissue–Volume Changes in Cosmonauts: Gray-matter volume decreases, cerebrospinal fluid increases

Brain Tissue–Volume Changes in Cosmonauts. Angelique Van Ombergen et al. N Engl J Med 2018; 379:1678-1680, October 25, 2018, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1809011

Long-duration spaceflight has detrimental effects in several physiological systems. Several studies have shown an upward shift of the cerebral hemispheres, a decrease in frontotemporal volume, and an increase in ventricle size after spaceflight.1-3 However, information is limited about the effects of microgravity on brain volume, particularly regarding changes that are evident more than 1 month after spaceflight.

We prospectively studied data from T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that was performed in 10 male cosmonauts (mean age, 44 years; average space-mission duration, 189 days) at three time points: preflight (in 10 cosmonauts), short-term postflight (average, 9 days postflight; in 10), and long-term postflight follow-up (average, 209 days postflight; in 7). The volumes of gray matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) were analyzed with the use of voxel-based morphometry. [...]

The gray-matter volume postflight as compared with preflight showed a widespread decrease in the orbitofrontal and temporal cortexes; the maximal decrease was 3.3% in the right middle temporal gyrus. At long-term postflight follow-up, most reductions in gray-matter volume had recovered toward preflight levels (e.g., a 1.2% reduction in gray-matter volume persisted in the right temporal gyrus). The white-matter volume postflight as compared with preflight was reduced along a longitudinal tract of the left temporal lobe, but there was a global reduction of cerebral white-matter volume at long-term follow-up as compared with postflight. The ventral CSF spaces of the cerebral hemispheres and the ventricles had increased in volume postflight as compared with preflight (maximal increase, 12.9% in the third ventricle), while CSF volume below the vertex decreased. At long-term follow-up, the CSF volume in the ventricles had returned toward preflight values, while the CSF volume in the entire subarachnoid space around the brain had increased. Changes in the volumes of gray matter and CSF are shown in Figure 1.

Attributes associated with sexual attractiveness in female bodies (waist-to-hip ratio) are processed rapidly in the stream of visual processing

Waist‐to‐hip ratio affects female body attractiveness and modulates early brain responses. Marzia Del Zotto, David Framorando, Alan J. Pegna. European Journal of Neuroscience,

Abstract: This investigation examined the electrophysiological response underlying the visual processing of waist‐to‐hip ratio (WHR) in female bodies, a characteristic known to affect perceived attractiveness. WHRs of female bodies were artificially adjusted to values of 0.6, 0.7, 0.8 or 0.9. Behavioural ratings of attractiveness of the bodies revealed a preference for WHRs of 0.7 in the overall group of participants, which included both male and female heterosexual individuals. Event‐related potentials (ERPs) were then recorded while participants performed a selective attention task involving photographs of female models and scrambled images. Results showed that the P1 (80‐120 ms) and N1 (130‐170 ms) components situated over posterior brain regions were the earliest components to be modulated by attention and bodies. Interestingly, the VPP, a vertex‐positive potential occurring between 120‐180 ms, produced a greater positivity for WHRs of 0.7 compared to the other ratios. However, this increase was only observed when the body stimuli were attended, while no effect was observed for unattended bodies. These findings provide evidence of an early brain sensitivity to visual attributes that constitute secondary sexual characteristics. Although they are relatively discrete from the point of view of their physical quality, these signs possess strong behavioural significance, producing greater reported attractiveness, likely by conveying the biological meaning that signals good health and greater reproductive success. Our results therefore reveal that attributes associated with sexual attractiveness in female bodies are processed rapidly in the stream of visual processing.

Those paired with an opposite-sex partner exerciced a higher levels of intensity and traveled greater distances during their workouts; and even more if single

Going the distance, going for speed: Honest signaling and the benefits of exercising with an opposite-sex partner. Michael D. Baker et al. Evolution and Human Behavior,

When people are aware that potential mates are observing their performances, they may alter their behavior (consciously or unconsciously) in order to make themselves appear more desirable to these individuals. This is consistent with previous research showing that matingrelated display strategies may be situationally sensitive, such that people will only engage in these displays when they believe that their performance will be viewed by a desirable functionally-relevant target (Baker & Maner, 2008, 2009).

In general, the current research demonstrates the utility of applying an evolutionary perspective to generate and test specific predictions regarding how human performance varies depending upon both fundamental social motives and social context. A more general social psychological theory such as social facilitation theory would generate a prediction that performance would be similarly enhanced in the presence of any partner, regardless of individual differences in relationship status or mating motives. However, our results demonstrate that performance in the presence of another individual varies depending on the sex of the individuals in the situation as well as the motives of the actor. We argue that this finding is best interpreted as being a product of human mating strategies. More specifically, the pattern of observed results is consistent with predictions generated by costly signaling theory and the fundamental social motives perspective. Improvements in performance were observed only in the presence of a potential mate and only when the actor possessed personal characteristics associated with greater levels of motivation to seek a mate. Accounting for individual differences in fundamental social motives and functionally relevant social factors can lead to the generation of novel hypotheses about how these factors interact to impact performance. Although the current research focused on exercise performance, it is reasonable to speculate that fundamental social motives and social context might interact to influence performance of a range of different behaviors in functionally relevant ways.

The findings of the current work demonstrate how social context can affect performance in a manner consistent with a sexual display strategy. By tailoring one’s behaviors to the preferences of potential mates, these behaviors can serve as advertisements of desirable qualities, allowing people to market themselves as desirable romantic or sexual prospects. In order to better understand why people behave the way that they do in any given situation, it is helpful to take into account the opportunities afforded by the social context as well as the fundamental social goals that the actor is motivated to pursue. This work demonstrates that conceptualizing public behaviors as serving a social display function can lead to an improved understanding of the impact of social context on performance.

Endogenous Emotion Generation Abilities Support Adaptive Emotion Regulation & More Happiness

Engen, Haakon, Philipp Kanske, and Tania Singer. 2018. “Endogenous Emotion Generation Abilities Support Adaptive Emotion Management.” PsyArXiv. October 28. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Emotions are frequently thought of as reactions to events in the world. However, many of our emotional experiences are of our own making, coming from thoughts and memories. These different origins mean that these endogenous emotions are more controllable than exogenous emotions, making plausible a role of endogenous emotion in self-regulation and mental health. We tested this idea in a representative sample of 277 individuals (163 female, 20-55 years) who partook in an experiment measuring individual differences in endogenous emotion generation ability and a questionnaire battery measuring individual differences in trait affect and emotional self-regulation style. Two hypotheses for how endogenous emotion generation can facilitate mental health were tested:  By buffering negative stressors with self-generated positive emotion enabling use of emotion-focused regulation techniques, or by allowing effective simulation of the emotional consequences of future events, facilitating active and instrumental coping. Support for both hypotheses was found. Consistent with buffering, positive emotion generation ability mediated the relationship between emotion-focused regulation and trait affect, while the ability to generate emotions regardless of valence, was found to mediate the relationship between active and instrumental regulation and trait affect, supporting a simulation account. This suggests role of emotion generation in emotion regulation, a finding of both theoretical and practical implication for mental health interventions.