Suggested readings, #110

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Reductionism vs. emergence: Are you “nothing but” your atoms? Reductionism offers a narrow view of the universe that fails to explain reality. (Big Think)

How to take better notes for information retention. Educational psychologist Kenneth Kiewra has some advice to help you retain and remember more. (inc dot com)

Archaeology society blocks video of lecture arguing for more science-based research. Society for American Archaeology refuses to publish talk after Indigenous archaeologists call it racist and white supremacist. (The College Fix)

Anti-Anti-Anti-Science. A review of Science under Fire: Challenges to Scientific Authority in Modern America. (LA Review of Books)

If you’re reading Stoicism for life hacks, you’re missing the point. (New York Times)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

16 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #110”

  1. The anti-anti-anti-science book looks interesting, I’ll be reading it (if the fates allow). It was good timing for me as I just read an article about how the scientific community (assisted by the Lancet and other powerful forces) tried to shut down debate on the lab-leak hypothesis, marginalizing anyone who dared question the natural origins of COVID-19. The vested interests, gain-of-function research promoters, government officials, and “fact-check” organizations literally tried to shut down debate about the origins of the virus before it could begin, and the year delay before the lab-leak hypothesis could really be addressed may mean that we will never know the truth, leaving us in a much worse position for the next virus to come along (or be pushed along). This is modern politicized, incentivized, bureaucracized, governmentalized, globalized science. (not to mention the glaring fact that if the lab-leak following gain-of-function research hypothesis is true, then nearly 4 million people have died as a direct result of modern scientific efforts).

    As I’ve commented several times on your site Massimo, we can certainly criticize “science deniers” for their views, but until we “fix” how science is done in the modern world, we’re not addressing the core problem, and ultimately trying to convince people to believe in something that we know to be deeply flawed.

    The emperor has no clothes–let’s not be among those criticizing or mocking those who do not see the beauty of the garments.

    Those of us who have been listening to the Dark Horse podcast (Weinstein and Heying) have been aware of this problem (and many others associated with the modern scientific process) for a year.


    1. Montana, while science certainly has its flaws, I don’t think that’s why there are so many science-deniers. Those people are deeply motivated by ideological (religious, political) stands that give meaning to whom they are.

      As for the lab-leak hypothesis, don’t forget that there was a pandemic raging across the world for the past year (it’s still with us), so in-situ inspection were pretty much impossible. Also, the data we do have indicate a natural origin of the virus. That said, it is certainly a good idea to be skeptical of governments, particularly oligarchic ones like the Chinese government.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fair enough, although I wouldn’t even say that science per se has flaws (when done right, it does what it does better than anything else could), but I’m very bothered by it’s current incarnation and execution, tied as it is to politics, the elite ruling class, big grant money, and big tech (e.g., Bezos’s WP fact checkers declare the lab leak hypothesis a lie because “experts” on CNN declare it so, Zuckerberg’s FB uses that designation to block people from discussing it, and Bloomberg’s media thus turns everyone who wants to consider it into a tinfoil hat wearing white supremacist).

    But thank God we don’t live in an oligarchy ;-)

    I’m sure they exist, but I’ve been to 49 states, lived in 5 for more than 2 years (Midwest, Deep South, Cali, and the Pacific NW), and I’ve never met one of the science-denying fundamentalist Christians who thinks that the world is only 4,000 years old. I think it’s more of a caricature than a substantial portion of the population. And, even among those who may state fundamentalist beliefs, the number who would not have a brain tumor removed by scientists is really vanishingly small. I don’t think this is really why so many people are skeptical of “the science.”

    Now, progressives who think that science is racist and patriarchal, get books banned and videos taken down, burn books and cars to stop people from speaking, and, coincidentally, get archaeological societies to choose wokeness over science, yeah, I’ve even got some of them in my family ;-)


    1. You may have not visited the right states. I personally met a hell of a lot of fundamentalist Christians who precisely incarnated the stereotype. In Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and so forth.

      That said, nobody is anti-science in the abstract, they are only anti- certain specific scientific notions that conflict with their political or religious beliefs.

      Similarly, no progressive thinks that science in general is racist and patriarchal. They are critical of certain aspects of science, again because of their ideological commitments.

      Sometimes that skepticism is warranted. Many times it isn’t. As for funding, yes, I am skeptical when big tech or big Pharma gets in the game, but the overwhelming majority of funding for basic research, and a lot of funding for applied research, comes from federal granting organizations, not the private sector.


  3. No, Montana, science has NOT “tried to shut down debate on the lab-leak hypothesis.” Rather, there’s been a POLITICAL battle between MAGAts (sic on Twitter regularly) and others about whether this was deliberately engineered at WIV for more than viral “gain in research,” that is, for nefarious purposes. There’s been a related battle over whether or not the CDC funded gain in research work at WIV, and the MAGAts appear wrong on that, too. (Oh, and scientists get active in politics, too. See “Big Tobacco.”)

    I’ve wasted enough time with this, and probably won’t go looking for your Dark Horse podcast.

    Note to Massimo: Citing Kuhn is an updated version of citing Galileo and “I’ll eventually be proved right, isn’t it? Weirdly, Chomsky, who of course is purely a humanities guy, has cited Galileo claiming his ideas will be proven true even though massive modularity has already been refuted.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Massimo, in case you don’t remember? Heying and Weinstein are part of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web. Evergreen State. (And, no, Montana, I’m not saying I totally agree with Evergreen State, to IMMEDIATELY head you off at the pass.)

    And, a website with the URL “Unherd” gives up the game right away.

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  5. “TRUST THE SCIENCE, we’re told. Wear masks! Science says so!”

    Except were were told they didn’t work.

    —First, many health experts, including the surgeon general of the United States, told the public simultaneously that masks weren’t necessary for protecting the general public and that health care workers needed the dwindling supply. This contradiction confuses an ordinary listener. How do these masks magically protect the wearers only and only if they work in a particular field?

    Second, there were attempts to bolster the first message, that ordinary people didn’t need masks, by telling people that masks, especially medical-grade respirator masks (such as the N95 masks), needed proper fitting and that ordinary people without such fitting wouldn’t benefit. This message was also deeply counterproductive. Many people also wash their hands wrong, but we don’t respond to that by telling them not to bother. Instead, we provide instructions; we post signs in bathrooms; we help people sing songs that time their hand-washing. Telling people they can’t possibly figure out how to wear a mask properly isn’t a winning message. Besides, when you tell people that something works only if done right, they think they will be the person who does it right, even if everyone else doesn’t.—

    And then on herd immunity, Fauci lied again.
    —“In the pandemic’s early days, Dr. Fauci tended to cite the same 60 to 70 percent estimate that most experts did. About a month ago, he began saying “70, 75 percent” in television interviews. And last week, in an interview with CNBC News, he said “75, 80, 85 percent” and “75 to 80-plus percent.”
    In a telephone interview the next day, Dr. Fauci acknowledged that he had slowly but deliberately been moving the goal posts. He is doing so, he said, partly based on new science, and partly on his gut feeling that the country is finally ready to hear what he really thinks.”—

    My old favorite, Steven Weinberg. “Science and it’s Cultural Adversaries” Look at Chapter 15.



    1. There were good reasons to tell people not to buy masks that were in shortage and were needed by health care workers. Fauci didn’t lie, he simply updated his estimates with new information. That’s good science.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The government response was misleading, as Tufekci makes clear. I remember reading ‘they don’t work’ and ‘hospitals need them in’ two sentences, one after the other. It was cynical, and incompetent. Honesty would get more respect. And Fauci admitting to lying about anything until “the country is finally ready” is a bit much.

    Responding to Unherd. On the lab leak June 2020
    December in Taiwan
    There are more.
    Trumpers conflated lab leaks with man made pathogens/germ warfare, and they still do.
    On Covid, human failure and science, this is a good one:

    Unherd publishes defenses of the British empire and articles expressing earnest concern about “demographic threats” to Europe and Israel. It’s fascinating that the British Nation Party and the EDF now defend Israel. But the so does the AFD. and the Freedom Party of Austria, which was founded by former members of the SS.


  7. Massimo, have to disagree with you, and on straight philosophy grounds.

    That was Ye Olde Platonic Noble Lie. Now, whether the American public would have avoided panic buying of masks if Fauci had told the whole truth, as Zeynep Tufekci has claimed, or not, I don’t know.

    But, that’s what Fauci did. (And, he later doubled down with a second such lie.)


  8. “Reductionism vs. emergence”

    Massimo, keeping as short I’d say it’s both. I’m curious what you thought of the article?

    I’m not sure where he’s going and I can’t say I really say I agree or disagree with him so far.


    1. Marc, well, the point is that reductionism is a metaphysical position (not, as many scientists seem to think, an empirical result of scientific research) that fails to explain a lot. And so we need some concept of emergence. How “strong” such concept needs to be is open to question.


    2. “reductionism is a metaphysical position (not, as many scientists seem to think, an empirical result of scientific research) that fails to explain a lot…”

      Massimo, thanks for your reply, it helped me to consider things from a metaphysical perspective, I remember some of the commenters on your older blogs who definitely took their reductionism too far for me, so I agree for sure. I’m guessing you also see emergence from a metaphysical perspective.

      It’s all got me thinking about how reduction, emergence and downward causation are related.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Marc, yes emergence is a metaphysical concept, though it can also be meant as a methodological one (e.g., the physical properties of water are emergent from the quantum mechanical level, but we don’t really know how).

      There can be supervenient, or “weak” emergence, and strong emergence. The former is uncontroversial, the latter is highly debated.

      Downward causation is also highly debated. Usually physicists thinks it’s nonsense, while almost every other special science considers it an obvious reality.


    4. “yes emergence is a metaphysical concept, though it can also be meant as a methodological one (e.g., the physical properties of water are emergent from the quantum mechanical level, but we don’t really know how) … ”

      Massimo, very interesting, yes methodological, took me a while to respond because I had to follow up on so much of what you wrote. I think you’ve helped me get a clearer view, and I feel a lot less confused.

      On my way I was also really happy to find out it takes 6 molecules of H2O to form a 3D structure, or what can be called the smallest drop of water; and that the minimum number molecules needed to form the smallest ice crystal is 275

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