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Saturday, July 1, 2023

Great Man's Disease

Recently I quoted biologist P. Z. Myers talking about the problem with physicists, in this case Sabine Hossenfelder:

But then (Hossenfelder) did the stereotypical physicist thing: she studies the fundamental building blocks of the universe, energy and matter and mathematics, so she decided to slide over into a field she knows nothing about and explain it to us. That’s why people were pestering me to critique her recent video, titled Is being trans a social fad among teenagers? I guess having a Ph.D. in physics makes you an expert in psychology and sociology as well as biology.

I don't know if this happens more with physicists than other types of scientists, but it's been a named phenomenon since before 1996, as I discovered via Paul Krugman - from whom I also discovered the term "wingnut welfare."

Back in 1996, Krugman wrote:

In the scientific world, the syndrome known as “great man’s disease” happens when a famous researcher in one field develops strong opinions about another field that he or she does not understand, such as a chemist who decides that he is an expert in medicine or a physicist who decides that he is an expert in cognitive science. The same syndrome is apparent in some business leaders who have been promoted to economic advisers: They have trouble accepting that they must go back to school before they can make pronouncements in a new field.

This is an obvious issue for the scientists associated with the Intellectual Dark Web. Steven Pinker, a psychologist, Anna Krylov, a quantum chemist, Richard Dawkins and James Watson are all victims of great man's disease, which obviously can afflict women too.

In the case of Anna Krylov, for example, it is truly amazing that she can be so accomplished in her field and yet be an utter failure at reasoning, as I discuss on this blog

Her argument on the catastrophic dangers of "cancel culture," when examined for more than a minute, is incoherent: first she stacks the deck by declaring, seemingly at random, a wide range of things as examples of cancel culture, like 17th century murder by the Catholic Church; then she (and Pinker) mock anyone who thinks the names of science terms are important, while simultaneously claiming that changing those names is a threat to our very future; and then Krylov calls the rescinding of honors from murderous dictators an example of "cancelling" - which completely refutes her position that anything dubbed "cancellation" is pure evil.

And there are plenty more examples, most perniciously when Pinker, Dawkins and Watson support the seriously flawed claims of sociobiology.

One reason why it's hard to cure Great Man's Disease is because our idiot media accepts the high self-opinions of these scientists without question, turning the race pseudoscience-loving mediocrity Steven Pinker into a "celebrity intellectual." 

One of the symptoms of Great Man's Disease is the belief that you don't have opinions, only pure objective conclusions, based on perfect rationality, unpolluted by self-interest, while those who disagree with you are driven exclusively by politics and ideology. A good example is the conviction of Steven Pinker and his sociobiology gang that their critics have no actual arguments against their claims but rather are
People who belong or want to belong to a social group, whether centered around political views, or a country or school, ethnic or gender identity, can signal their loyalty to the group and its values by demonstrating their "moral purity."

And then Pinker ensures that he never hears any arguments from his critics by shutting out all but his most groveling fans. And the gullible, feckless media.

P. Z. Myers has an excellent post on this topic, about the case of Skeptical Inquirer and Coyne and Maroja:
Do they seriously think Coyne & Maroja’s BS is not ideological, and is entirely objective and empirical? Its conservative bias is naked and flapping in the wind, but apparently conservatism and prejudice and blind defenses of the status quo are not a subjective presentation of an ideology.

It’s only a must-read for anti-“woke” bigots who want their biases reaffirmed.

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