opioid crisis had several causes. The primary cause was the rampant
greed expressed by Big Pharma, as detailed in the cases against Johnson
& Johnson, and Purdue Pharma. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter,
supported by 48 other attorneys general, has taken on Big Pharma and
Even so, the people behind the corporations like the Sacklers are
twisting and turning to try to hold onto their billions of blood money.
The loud voices of the people must be heard saying, “That is enough!”
The deaths of thousands is enough! The suffering of hundreds of
thousands is enough!
Suckering the medical community into the role of shills for Big Pharma must stop!
Spreading addiction, destroying families, creating zombies of honest people must stop!
While opioids could have a place for alleviating suffering caused by
certain diseases, opioids and benzodiazepines have been unwittingly
prescribed for things like anxiety-related disorders. These are of the
mind, not the brain. The brain may be treated with invasive measures but
the mind should not be. That would be like taking a scalpel to a
thought. That is not the way it works. Books such as Anxiety: Debug It
Don’t Drug It, by Dr. Michael Catchpole explain the difference.
Send your support to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter by signing this petition. Help him carry on the fight for reason.
It was inspiring. It had drama. The audience truly were provoked to tears, and laughter. And there was some anger.
John Napier-Hemy read from his delightful memoir, Evacuee.
John is a young boy in the middle of WW2, in Victoria and far away from the action:
In addition to having my pockets stuffed with conkers, pellets, elastics, speargrass and blades of grass, I had a small bag of marbles. My best marbles had a red or yellow spiral embedded in the glass, but they were hard to get because of the war. Most of the time we had to put up with marbles that were a murky mixture of green, blue and brown. The worst marbles were called “doughboys”. They were made of baked clay and painted. They cracked almost as easily as our conkers did. The very best were the “steelies”. These were ball bearings that had been purloined from one of the shipyards. They had to be the right size. The small ones were practically useless. The big ones were impressive but impractical, but if you were lucky enough to have one just the right size you had an unbeatable shooter. I felt guilty when I had a steelie in my possession because they were supposed to be important to the War Effort. To play marbles you drew a circle in the dirt, put your marbles inside the circle, and then began by shooting from outside the circle. The boys who were really good at it knew just how to place a spin on their shooters so that they stayed exactly in place after hitting a marble out of the ring. If you knocked a marble out of the ring you were allowed to keep it. Try as I might I never learned how to place a spin on my shooter. Because I had to kneel to play marbles my knees were dirty and bleeding much of the time. This annoyed my mother who had to remove the gravel from my knees with a washcloth before she applied boracic acid and iodine. “For goodness sakes. Stay off your knees or you’ll wear them out altogether,” my mother said. “And don’t keep picking at your scabs. You’ll get an infection and anyway it’s disgusting.” I listened to my mother politely but I never changed my behaviour. How could I possibly play marbles without getting down onto my knees?
Evacuee, pp 63-65
Next, Ben Nuttall-Smith had the audience by the heart with his readings from Margot: Love in the Golden Age. The book is his homage to his partner of the past 16 years, “the best years of my life”. Here is a prescient poem by Margot called Kayaker:
Splashes near my feet. A half-crescent of sparkling sea. The webbed claw and feathered corpse of a sea bird whose spirit is here in the sea-smells.
Dried sea-weed mounds And lovely jeweled light shedding small waves revealing myriad colours on brightened stones. Sun warms my fleecy jacket – But the breeze is cool.
The lap/splash sounds get louder. The hollow woof of the curving water finds my attention. I love this moment. I treasure its fleetingness. I long to hold onto it. This is all I want!
A crab carapace rolls against the bird’s body. Seaweed wraps both dead things.
Not a bad place for a burial! I’m being splashed! I don’t want to move but the beach-space is being eaten by the incoming tide.
Stay here forever. Die here! Like the sea-bird and crab. Roll me in seaweed! Let the tide take me to the forever and ever. My spirit would be so grateful!
My bones rolling with currents My bones becoming sand – being swum over gracefully by fish.
Finally my minerals becoming the sea splashing on many shores, floating sea-birds, reflecting sunlight, being wind-blown into giant, roaring and crashing waves – thundering in praise of the beauty of the Earth.
Margot, pp 15-17
Dr. Michael Catchpole’s Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, was the serious part of the readings. He spoke of the inappropriate use of prescriptions for anxiety-related disorders. While anger was seething below, he professionally explained the causes of anxiety and PTSD, then gave two examples of the cure that is used by registered psychologists. Here is one of the examples of PTSD treatment he read from his book:
A recent (highly modified) example of the latter was, let’s say, a firefighter I had treated, successfully, for PTSD about 10 years ago. He had attended at a very bad fire that tragically included dead children being discovered at the scene. Recently this person came by to see me at my college office (I am retired from clinical practice but continue to teach university courses). He was concerned because his nightmares about the original incident had unexpectedly returned a couple of months ago. He had been to his family doctor who had prescribed Prazosin, an anti-hypertension medication also thought to help with nightmares. However the medication was not working and he wondered if I had any recommendations. My own view is that the nightmares were an effort by his mind (not his brain) to deal with what was a not unexpected re-flare up of his PTSD “mental malware”. I suggested that he might try backing off the medication under his physician’s guidance and instead re-do some of the exposure steps he and I had done when I saw him originally. Ultimately this would include re-visiting the location of the fire. We agreed that he would drive toward the fire site and when his anxiety got to a 7/10 level pull over and wait there for his anxiety response to drop. He would proceed with this series of steps, perhaps over a few days (each provoking anxiety in the 7/10 range) until he could actually stand at the fire scene and have his anxiety not rise above a 3/10. Subsequently, he reported back to me that the re-exposure was tough but that his nightmares had now resolved. While at the fire location, and not unexpectedly, he reported that he cried, which of course also is helpful. While people cannot always re-visit the locations where they acquired a trauma I do note with interest recent work with military combat veterans with PTSD indicating that “re-visiting” PTSD-inducing combat via virtual reality goggles also can replicate the therapeutic benefit of in vivo exposure.
Anxiety, pp 176-177
George Opacic spoke about the book he co-authored with Ron M. Craig, In a Cloud of Sails. He mentioned the series of remarkable adventures that the skipper and crew endured on their way across the Pacific to Australia. The one incident that had a few hairs rising on people’s necks was about Myrt, fortune-teller:
The day before the Consul General visited, and without any clue whatsoever of the existence of the Australian, Ron had, in some desperation, made a decision. He had handed Jeff $200 with instructions to purchase charts to Panama and into the Caribbean for at least as far as Jamaica. Jeff later said that he had no idea what possessed him that day. In a bit of a daze, Jeff had set off to buy the Caribbean charts as instructed. Carrying back his newly purchased charts, he realized in astonishment that what he was carrying was an armload of basic charts for the Pacific, out to Australia! With that realization, he stood on the sidewalk literally gobsmacked. Confusion rattled around his mind. His only rational explanation was to remember the time last year, between his initially shipping out on the Monte Cristo and later becoming skipper. Jeff was working on a dockside project called the Explorer:
In Bremerton, Washington, I had experienced the inexplicable. I had heard from the daughter of the Explorer’s owner that there was a fortune-teller in Bremerton who supposedly possessed amazing powers. I am not by nature a mystical or philosophical person and am certainly not superstitious, other than following the established seagoing customs of never, if possible, sailing on Fridays, always putting a gold piece under a mast before it is stepped, and never whistling up a wind. These rituals are kept more as tradition than from fear of consequences if defaulted. Cheryl, the owner’s daughter, convinced me that I might like having a reading from Myrt, the seer… Myrt invited me in and asked if I would like a cup of coffee. As soon as she said that, she corrected herself. “Oh yes, you drink tea, don’t you,” she stated. She returned presently with the cups on a tray and told me, “You’re a sailor, but not the type we have around here. You’re a real sailor. One who sails sailing ships.” I replied that I was not sailing on any sailing ship at the moment, but wanted to someday. “You will, within two months,” she predicted. “You are going on a long trip,” she said. Here we go, I thought. The next thing she will tell me is that I will meet a dark stranger who will make me wealthy. That should be in the script. I asked her to expand on this. I admitted that a ship I was interested in was planning to sail to the Caribbean to charter there. “No, it’s not going to the Caribbean. You are going to take her to Australia.” Australia? Nobody had mentioned Australia to me before. “You’ll be greeted by thousands of people including heads of state and royalty,” Myrt predicted. “You’ll have difficult times, naturally, but everything will be all right in the end.” I thought the prediction about heads of state and royalty a bit over the top, but it made a great way to spend the afternoon. If nothing else, I was getting my money’s worth… I thanked Myrt and said that maybe I would see her again. No, she told me. She had intimations of her own mortality… She died shortly after that. And her predictions about me were eerily correct, for reasons I cannot explain.
Perhaps Myrt had been instructed by Captain Cook. Indeed, the mysterious appearance of the Pacific charts were to become very useful.
“First, you have to be able to afford
to retire,” mumbles Ian, an almost-retired businessman.
Ian is seated on a lichen-encrusted rock
beside the trail that leads to Elk Falls Bridge. The chain-link sides of the suspension
bridge still glisten with dew in the morning. Rushing water from the river below
provides overpowering music for the idyllic area. Ian closes his eyes as he
takes in a deep lungful of pine forest air.
Ian is alerted by scuffling noises from up
the trail. He sees a thin eighty-year-old in light shorts, white tee-shirt with
a small pack bouncing on his back, using jogging sticks to propel himself toward
the bridge and past Ian’s rock. Giving a quick glance in Ian’s direction, without
slowing down the jogger holds his sticks up while striding down the bridge’s
slope. A lone woman tourist who has been standing quietly in the middle of the
bridge looks up in annoyance at the bouncing caused by the jogger. Then the
watcher is caught in fascination, seeing the athletic gent, older than the
watcher by at least ten years, bearing down on her until he squeezes past and
works his wiry legs quickly up the far side to disappear down the path.
The watcher stands with both hands gripping
the top of the chain-link barrier, staring at where the jogger had so briefly
A large plastic cup of fruit and a muffin
are half-consumed on the large rock next to Ian. Absently taking his metal fork
in hand, he keeps his eyes on the bridge: the jogger’s bounces have become slow
sways; the watcher turns her head to stare back down at the rushing water below
the bridge; a raven calls nearby; the watcher shakes her head slightly then
takes her blue baseball hat and tosses it into the water.
Without registering what he is actually
seeing, Ian continues taking in the scene as the watcher stretches a stiff leg
up to try to put it over the chain-link barrier. It won’t quite reach.
Ian suddenly finds himself beside the watcher.
The bridge is still bouncing from Ian’s headlong
Puffing a bit, Ian tries to be nonchalant. “Breathtaking
view, isn’t it?”
The watcher lets her inflexible leg back
down while holding on tightly because of the bouncing bridge.
“What view?” The watcher drops her gaze. “That
water is rushing almost as fast as time.” She shakes her head, “No time left…” She
leans against the hard chain-link, wanting to drop over.
Ian touches the watcher’s shoulder. “My
name is Ian…”
“Bugger off, Ian.” The watcher continues to
press against the metal fencing.
Just wanting to keep talking, Ian searches
for something to say. “Can’t bugger off, I’m afraid. Part of the human race… As
are you. Have to stick around. Part of the contract.”
The watcher half shakes her head but turns
annoyance into a polite retort. “Ian. I’m not with that bunch anymore. Not
human. Your contract doesn’t apply to me. Thank you anyway, but… bugger off.
They stare at each other for a quiet minute.
Ian sees a generation of yellow-tinged wrinkles that make up the watcher’s face;
hollow eyes that used be blue, perhaps, but are now corroded gun-metal grey;
salt-and-pepper hair that is uncombed and lies limply against her shoulders;
her clothes have been unwashed for months.
“I’m an addict. Used to be just a drunk.
There’s nothing left inside. Nothing to save… Leave me alone and go back to
your nice life.”
Still at a loss for words, “I can’t pretend
to know how you feel…”
“My god, I hope you never know how I feel,
Ian. It would kill you, too.” The watcher turns away to stare at the river
below. “Used to have a family, a house. No dog. Wanted one. He didn’t… Had a
car accident. Can’t even remember it much. They say I hit someone. I remember a
slice of a picture of me hitting the other car after that. Woke up in hospital
and they starting stuffing needles into my good arm and leg. It was a good blur
after that. For a few hours. Then I cried for more… Kicked me out and said I
should see a shrink. And a lawyer. She hated me. Said I killed…”
The watcher’s eyes well up and her face writhes
“The shrink gave me needles and then pills.
They made my mind into a tub of molasses, only not sweet. Just thick and grey.
But I needed more. More pills. Then more needles. Then everyone left me.” Her
now ugly face turns to Ian. “The human race walked away from me!”
She shakes the chain-link fence, cutting her hand on the sharp edges. She absently licks the blood.
Following an older minivan down a rough paved road in the northern part of Vancouver Island. We pass endless trees growing close to the road, held away by ditches on either side. The drive is marred by clearcuts and fire-kill that rape the low hills, scarring the land for generations.
The minivan driver’s head can be seen nodding aggressively to heavy metal that could be heard if I left my window open. I keep it closed to shut out that and the motorcycle’s racket from behind me. It has been following on my bumper for an hour, refusing to pass, just droning endlessly.
Heading toward a slight bend in the road, the minivan driver’s
nodding has become quiet. He wakes up just in time to lose control as he plummets
down the near bank, does a lovely pirouette along the far bank, then rolls back
down into the centre of the ditch, bouncing, and finally ending upside-down in
the wet weeds.
As I slam to a stop on the narrow shoulder ahead of the
minivan, the motorcycle screeches hard behind me and overcontrols, sending that
driver into a high flip over his bike which lands him half into the ditch ahead
I get out in a panic and decide to rush over to the motorcyclist. He is lying in a spread-out heap with his neck at a gut-wrenchingly weird angle. Not wanting to move his neck in case it is broken, I figure out how to carefully raise his helmet visor. Blood is dribbling from his mouth into his beard and his eyes are shut. His chest is not moving.
Since the motorcyclist is, at best, beyond my ability to
help him, I turn away to slip down the ditch to reach the overturned minivan.
Through the cracked windscreen I can see the back of a very corpulent
man sprawled out on the inside roof behind the front seats, incongruously collecting
things and putting them into a large kitbag.
As he sees me try to open the passenger door he violently waves me away. Confused, I back off. The driver continues, more quickly, to grab small pieces of paper from around him and stuff them into his kitbag. As he rolls over to reach across his bulbous chest, I see blood pouring down the side of his forehead. At this time, his head slumps fully against the floor, with his thick tattooed arm plopping off his chest to slide beside his body.
I grab the door handle and, after a couple hard pulls, yank it open. The strong smell of weed is even more prominent than it was outside. The driver remains still but I am encouraged to hear a low groan.
There are crumpled twenty and fifty dollar bills scattered everywhere inside the minivan. A pistol lies near the driver’s feet. Hairs begin to rise on the back of my neck. I think about just backing away from this scene.
Shaking my head, I take one of the bills and use it to wrap around the barrel of the pistol, tossing it out the door behind me. With several clean tissues I had stuffed into my pocket while getting out of my car, I gently wipe the blood from the driver’s eyes. He opens them and I can see that he is focusing on me. I don’t know why I notice that tissue bits have collected in his stubble.
“Take it easy – are you hurt anywhere else?”
He puts his free hand up to his head. It comes away with
blood all over his fat fingers. I give him the wad of tissues. He awkwardly
wipes away more blood.
“You should apply pressure to the cut… Hold the
tissues tightly against…”
He twists away but then slumps back down, out again.
I take the tissues from his hand to apply gentle
pressure to the head wound. A few minutes pass. He rolls his head away from my
pressure but I leave the tissues on the cut.
“Don’t pull the tissues off yet. It’ll start bleeding
The driver raises his hand up to the tissues then decides to
Twisting his head with difficulty, he stares directly at me. “Who are you? You a cop?”
Smiling, I shake my head, “No. I was driving behind you
when I saw you roll. It looks like the airbags stopped you from going through
the windshield. Are you ok, other than the cut on your forehead?”
The driver thinks for a bit, moving his free arm then his legs. “Help me turn over. I, ah, have a lot of cushioning.”
I pull on his shoulder and hip to get him flat on his
“Left arm. Feels… Shit. Something wrong with my
He lifts up his left arm and tries to flex his hand. “Goddamnit!
Can’t move my hand.” Then he remembers his kitbag and the bills. He grabs
my arm in a powerful grip with his right hand. “Put back everything you
took! Or I’ll…”
He looks around for his pistol.
Calmly, “Take it easy, friend. I didn’t touch your
money. Let me help you outside. Oh! There was a motorcyclist who flipped
right after you did. Let me help you out then I’ll see if he’s… He
didn’t look good.”
“Well, his neck looked broken…”
“Good. Leave the fucker there. Was tailing me.
Help me get to my knees. Have to…” With that, the driver’s eyes go blank
and he slumps back down.
Confused, I feel his grip on me release so I back out of
the minivan. The pistol is just outside the door. Making a decision, I
take a tissue from my back pocket, pick the pistol up with it, then, still
wrapped, I stuff the pistol into my back pocket with other tissues.
Waiting a minute to think, I see the driver wake up once
more. He touches the tissues on his wound but leaves them. With enormous
effort, he rolls onto his right side then uses his good arm to get to his
knees. Ignoring me, the driver once again starts collecting the loose bills
around him and pushes them into the kitbag with one arm. It gets
overflowing-stuffed. Absently watching the scene, I make up a number, mumbling
under my breath, “Two hundred thousand?”
The driver stops and grins at me. “Close. You’re a cop, right? No problem. With Shitface dead, I’ll give you some of this if you drive me to the ferry… No questions. No fuss. Just free money. I can disappear and you can do what you want with… shall we say, ten grand? Ten big ones and all you have to do is drop me off at the ferry. You can be my Uber driver.”
He resumes collecting bills then reaches for another bag.
The driver doesn’t raise his head as he adds, “Make up your mind
before someone else comes along.”
It is tempting. I pat the pistol in my pocket then shift it,
feeling through the cloth, so that the handle is up.
Slyly, “You got the gun. What’s to worry about. Here,
take this full bag and zip it for me while I finish off in here.
As he rises to swing the kitbag out awkwardly with his good
hand, he hits the ceiling/floor of the minivan. “OW! DAMNIT!”
The tissues fall off his forehead and the cut opens up
again. It doesn’t pour out as quickly as before but it still needs to be
staunched. With my last few tissues from around the pistol, I reach in to
help the driver. He tries to grab my arm again. I back off.
Throwing the tissues at him into the minivan, I back off. “Clean yourself off, this time. If you can’t trust me I guess I’ll have to go report the accident.”
“Wait!” The driver leans onto his left elbow
and holds his right hand toward me. More quietly, “Wait a minute. Not
in any shape to argue.” He smiles, “And here you are trying to
help a fat old accountant while I… Listen. You got all the cards. All I
got is some money. You say you’ll help me for twenty thou and that’s the
deal.” He bends his thick neck enough to look me in the eye.
“What do you say?”
What would YOU do?
(adapted from a narration of an incident by John Wilson)
The article starts with this paragraph: “Between 2006 and 2012, opioid drug makers and distributors flooded the country with 76 billion pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone—highly addictive opioid pain medications that sparked the epidemic of abuse and overdoses that killed nearly 100,000 people in that time period.”
Should these prescriptions even be given?
Any medication that punishes the body when one tries to stop taking it needs to be prescribed with extreme caution. The current and tragic opiate crisis is a direct result of such caution not being exercised. As I explain in my book Anxiety: Debug It, Don’t Drug It, published by Rutherford Press, the next shoe to drop will be the massive over-prescription of benzodiazepines (“tranquilizers”) for anxiety. Many people say these drugs are even harder to give up than opiates. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has a proven track record as being far more effective for treating anxiety than do these medications, especially over the long run. Both the rationale for CBT’s application as well as a step-by-step process for enacting it also are outlined in my book. :Dr. Michael Catchpole.
This brief comment to the article in The Intercept was one of several by “Art”. His other comments were a depressing, long list of scientific findings that he, as a climate scientist, offered to support his reasons for being so blunt.
To those who said it is too late, or that we, the people, have no power to make a change, Art replied, ” Your nihilism is duly noted but I refuse to give up.”
To which “mgr” wrote:
Art: Spot on! That’s really what it comes down to. We may win, or we may lose, but giving up is always defeat, from the inside out. It comes down to making a choice.
Where are we going?
For the sake of our children and their children, we have this choice: follow the platitudes of our current leaders as they follow the money dangled before their noses; or put your hand up and vote for a future that will include humanity. A future that will include breathable air, enough clean water to drink, sufficient vegetation and animals to maintain the only place, the ONLY place, in this universe where we can live.
The money being dangled before our noses cannot be breathed or eaten.
It is way past time to be nice. Our very lives are at stake.
There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew. Marshall McLuhan
– How science is being eroded as an objective agent for our species
I recently underwent a grueling exercise with an individual
who is exceptionally intelligent. I describe it as grueling because he clung
for the longest time to a perception of “science” that is, regrettably, common.
Nevertheless, that perception is not real science.
In a textbook, he was given three descriptions of science from which I asked him to choose the option that best matched his understanding of “science”. May I humbly suggest that only one option is worthy of that label.
Proposition A: a person of science will develop a
theory, then apply evidence that can be found that will support that theory.
Proposition B: observations will be seen to have
apparent relationships. A hypothesis is developed that encompasses those
observations with a possible explanation of why or how they relate to each
other. Evidence is gathered using observations and/or controlled experiments;
assessments are made as to whether the evidence supports or does not support
the hypothesis. If there is found to be sufficient support, a theory may be
developed. The theory is tested continually to determine if it is still
supported by new evidence.
Proposition C: an authoritative person pronounces on
a theory which may be based on common sense, long practice, or even logical
deduction or reasoning.
Prop C actually contains several distinct propositions. I
will refer to them a group.
Plato and many famous philosophers since have used logical deduction to explain the wonders of the world. Within the toolbox of science, this can be a useful method for arriving at possibilities. The main problem with that is, it may be useful but it often doesn’t use feedback from objective evidence. To offer a simple example, it is observed that a penguin is black and white. By logical deduction we know that snow is white and coal is black, so that must make a penguin equal to snowy coal. While an artificial intelligence (AI) program may produce that kind of logic, people understand it to be silly.
Another Prop C option: Aristotle was an admired and authoritative figure. Despite the prior writings of Pythagoras and others who came up with close approximations of the great size of planet Earth, Aristotle suggested with respect to the disappearance of a ship over the horizon, “…All of which goes to show not only that the Earth is circular in shape, but also that it is a sphere of no great size: for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be so quickly apparent.” (from Aristotle’s On the Heavens). No.
Prop A looks promising. This was chosen by my exceptionally intelligent friend (he is still a friend, by the way). It was also chosen by many other intelligent folks, such as Sigmund Freud (for personality development, in which he argued that personality is formed through conflicts among three fundamental structures – however, in testing that theory, the actual existence of his concepts has been fraught with partisan arguments, rather than objective evidence); John Locke (babies are born with a blank slate – which we now consider inaccurate); Aristotle (spontaneous generation of life, wherein he “observed” life starting from apparent nothingness). In essence, Prop A says that a smart person can come up with a theory and cherry-pick observations that may approximate what the theory suggests.
A theory, however, is never “proven” – merely supported by
evidence, or not. A theory must be able to make predictions that can be tested.
If we presume that penguins are snowy coal, observations and comparisons would
quickly invalidate that “theory”.
When we look around at some of the marvels of the modern age, most of them have something to do with, or are enhanced by, digital technology. When da Vinci sketched out his plans for a helicopter, the reality of building one was stymied by rudimentary materials technology and lack of an understanding of aerodynamics (each field having recently received considerable impetus via digital technology: “computers”).
A computer, however, is merely a tool. If digital technology is relied on to be the magic bullet, depending on it as if it were the final answer usually leads one far down a garden path. When proponents of instant language translators say that they are on the cusp of a perfect solution, one would be wise to read what a professional in the field of translation has to say:
Hofstadter is a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington. He is the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.
“I’ve recently seen bar graphs made by technophiles that claim to represent the “quality” of translations done by humans and by computers, and these graphs depict the latest translation engines as being within striking distance of human-level translation. To me, however, such quantification of the unquantifiable reeks of pseudoscience, or, if you prefer, of nerds trying to mathematize things whose intangible, subtle, artistic nature eludes them. To my mind, Google Translate’s output today ranges all the way from excellent to grotesque, but I can’t quantify my feelings about it. Think of my first example involving “his” and “her” items. The idealess program got nearly all the words right, but despite that slight success, it totally missed the point. How, in such a case, should one “quantify” the quality of the job? The use of scientific-looking bar graphs to represent translation quality is simply an abuse of the external trappings of science.”
We are inundated in the media with assertive pronouncements regarding the efficacy of certain products. Imprecise statements, cherry-picked observations, and outright fabrications are used without regard to the harm they cause. The harms extend beyond merely loss of money in buying worthless stuff. Purchasers may be conned into spending their meager resources and time on the worthless stuff to the detriment of using an approach that can be of actual value to them. This is particularly egregious in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. People who have become addicted to drugs such as opiates are dying in the thousands after being prescribed the drug and not being followed up properly, or where the prescription was for a symptom that should never have been treated with drugs in the first place. (See Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, Dr. Michael Catchpole 2019, Rutherford Press.)
One must ask, what harms are yet to be caused by AI in
charge of ground and air vehicles. Analysis of the recent Boeing 737 Max 8
plane crashes will take some further work, but we understand a lot at this time
Those tragic results cannot be placed solely at the feet of artificial intelligence
residing in the software, but it may turn out that a significant component
could possibly be attributed to a culture of hurried development and
over-dependence on the “magic bullet” of AI, as alleged by pilots and engineers
at recent Congressional hearings. Perhaps that culture has been fostered by a
subliminal dependence on, and shifting of responsibility to, the lines of code
on a silicon chip. Getting that shift wrong with a new laptop design is an entirely
different order of mistake than getting it wrong with a new airplane that can
carry over 200 lives on board. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/business/boeing-hearings.html)
Trust in Science
Is trust in science misplaced, or is it conveniently used as a
replacement for deeper understanding?
Considering the difference between denialism and skepticism,
a study found evidence, yet again, that presenting a denier with objective
facts was not an effective strategy:
Because this denialism springs from motivated reasoning, science advocates are scrambling to understand how to debunk misinformation in a way that motivates their target audience to accept it. [added emphasis]
Being “motivated” means that a denier is self-censoring anything
that does not conform to the way the topic is stored in their mind.
A recent study of 140,000 people worldwide proved
instructive. Here are the main highlights:
Trust in science and health
Globally, 18% of people have a ‘high’ level of trust in scientists, while 54% have a ‘medium’ level of trust, 14% have ‘low’ trust and 13% said ‘don’t know’. This ranges from a third of people having ‘high’ trust in Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe and Central Asia to around one in ten in Central and South America.
from: Gallup (2019) Wellcome Global Monitor – First Wave Findings
The study is both fascinating and frustrating. The breadth
of the study needs to be read to be fully appreciated. Any study that includes
140,000 subjects who answered such a range of questions is to be commended as a
May I humbly say, however, that frustration arises in those
numerous instances where the numbers being thrown at the reader elicit
questions of greater depth. Take this statement in Chapter 2’s Summary:
Worldwide, more than half the people aged 15–29 (53%) say they know ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ about science, compared to 40% of those aged 30–49 and 34% of those aged 50 and older.
Is age a causal variable, or correlational, or
coincidental. For instance, might it be that older folks have matured into the
realization that the more they know, the less they understand? And that
certainty is best left to the young blurs that pass by on their respective missions?
Is there a whiff of something like the subject of Douglas Hofstadter’s article
on translation: all the right words – absent depth?
The reason for my skepticism is outlined below.
Human Rights or Social Permission
Do humans have rights? Are they “inalienable”; or are they subject
to the will – or lack of will – displayed by a political community? This was
explored by Kenan Malik:
So, what should we do? Our starting point must be the recognition of rights neither as inalienably rooted in human nature, nor as gifts bestowed on citizens by the nation state, but as aspects of human social existence continually created through struggle and contestation. Rights are, as the political theorist Lida Maxwell has put it, ‘collective achievements rather than individual possessions’, and achievements that are ‘fragile’ and ‘imperfectly realised’.
How does the topic of human rights fit into this discussion? One way is that it shows the value of skepticism in approaching a subject for which so many people hold hard views.
The Science of Skepticism
For those who consider it “good science” to first develop a
theory and then try to prove it, the field is open to cherry-pick whichever
evidence can be shoehorned into the most compelling package. After all, the
right words are being employed by proponents of their pet theory: science, reasoning,
evidence, clinical, proven…
No. Science depends on skepticism: questioning the evidence
which supports or doesn’t support a hypothesis; constant review of evidence;
the belief that a belief is a blindfold…
Malik’s analysis of human rights, above, lists ideas and
their proponents who wish to bestow a conceptual construct into human genes.
They insist that the only way to combat discrimination is by saying that people
are “born with rights”. A corollary of this approach, however, allows some to
say that only certain humans have the “rights gene”, therefore
discrimination against the defective elements of the population is permitted.
The more difficult approach to fighting the many forms of
discrimination is to freely admit that rights originate in words; they are born
in the fire of social discourse. And there, the rights may be either eroded
away or strengthen for those who must depend on them the most. That fire may
wane or flare, so it is incumbent on the people of a political community to
keep feeding oxygen and, yes, fuel, into the fire.
Skepticism is one such fuel. A skeptic’s voice must be heard
by all who wish to contribute to the discussion.
Denialism is not, however, the same as skepticism. Denialism
is a soggy blob of retardant on the fire of social discourse.
The trick, then, is to find a method that distinguishes motivated
reasoning from healthy skepticism.