Sunday, August 10, 2008

Guardians at the Gates are GONE - Freedom of the Press!!!

There have always been "guardians at the gates" preventing free access to the "press" - until now!

Prior to the invention of printing, books were manually copied by scribes and only the established church or kings or writers with rich patrons could afford to publish their books in multiple copies.

The first printed books had their letters manually carved into blocks of wood, a very labor-intensive and therefore expensive process. That effectively blocked most writers from publishing in multiple copies.

Even after the invention of movable type around 1450 by Gutenberg books were still quite expensive and limited in quantity. For example, fewer than 200 copies of the famous Gutenberg Bible were ever printed.

Since then, printing has become less and less expensive and the quantity of books published has greatly expanded.


However, Freedom of the Press was more a goal than a reality. Many governments own and control all newspapers and other media or impose various restrictions and censorship on privately-owned media. Most of these repressive governments restrict the distribution of publications from abroad.

Even in countries where the media is free, there are economic and ideological barriers to publication of unpopular viewpoints and/or new, unproven authors.

Until recently, the cost of setting a book in type was prohibitive. Publishers would not invest the tens- or hundreds of thousands of dollars required to set up, print, distribute, and publicize a new book unless they were sure they could sell thousands or tens of thousands of copies. To get a book published via the normal route you must first find an established agent, which is not an easy task. Then, the agent must find a publisher who is willing to invest the cash required up front.

Even self-publishing has been expensive until recently. For example, my brother self-published a book about public speaking about ten years ago and he had to front nearly ten-thousand dollars for his first run of a few thousand books. Fortunately for him, his book was eventually picked up by Random House and is now available on Amazon and other major bookseller websites. But, that is not the norm at all. Most self-published books go nowhere and the authors are left with boxes of unsold books.

Indeed even the yet-to-be famous Henry David Thoreau had this experience in 1853. In his journal he "brags" that he has "a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself." Those 700 were copies of his "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers" that he published at his own expense. Fewer than 300 of the original 1000 printed had been sold or given away and he was stuck with the remainder.

Ideological bias by the journalistic and publishing industry is also a factor preventing "freedom of the press" from being actualized. People who go into these professions tend to have leftist biases and may therefore not recognize, or not want to popularize, views that may differ from their own. Most media are concentrated in a few large cities and many who work there are totally unaware of how the rest of us think.


The advent of the Internet has leveled the playing field to a large extent. Certainly fewer people will read this TVPClub Blog than will read the Drudge Report or the New York Times, but, at least, anyone in the free world can easily click and read either.

And, remember the Drudge Report started in the kitchen of a strange guy Keith Olbermann called "an idiot with a modem". It is now viewed by three MILLION visitors a month and earns massive advertizing bucks for Matt Drudge! (I look at it almost every day, sometimes multiple times per day.)


Modern technology has only recently allowed a drastic change in the economics of book publishing.

The first change occurred about a decade ago and I call it "the Kinko' Book". I wanted to have copies of my PhD Dissertation to give to family members and friends and students. So, since it was already a word-processor document on my PC, I printed it out and took it to Kinkos where they copied and spiral-bound it into a nice booklet for about $20 a copy for a couple-dozen copies. A few years later, after my dad passsed away, I also made Kinko Books of two sets of his writings to give to our children and his friends and relatives.

Kinko Books make sense if you are only going to need a few dozen copies. The books I made were letter-size and had color front and back covers with black and white insides. Although a Kinko Book cannot be confused with a professionally-published book, they cost about the same or more.

The second change is more exciting. With modern digital technology it is now almost as inexpensive to print a single copy of a professionally-bound book as it is per copy for a larger run. The new technology is called "print on demand" and there are several companies competing in this marketplace.

As many of you know, I published a free online novel a few months ago. Several of my friends and relatives expressed a desire for a printed version. I looked into it and found Lulu "Print on Demand" and have recently published my novel 2052-The Hawking Plan there. (The printed version is a much more tightly edited version of the online book.)

The economics are amazing! There is absolutely no set-up or up-front charge for the Author, no monthy charge for the Lulu "storefront" and no cost at all except for a per-copy charge, and, of course, shipping and handling (less than $4 for a single copy via USPS Media mail).

Right now, printed copies are available at 2052-The Hawking Plan. Within a couple of months, Lulu may be able to get Amazon and other major online sellers to list the book as well. (If you live in The Villages, FL area and would like to buy a copy, you can get one from me for the list price. $18 - "chai", and you won't have to pay the shipping and handling.)

If you have written anything, such as a family history, your personal journal, poetry, fiction or what-have-you, this is a great way to get a couple dozen professional-looking copies for your friends and family for a very reasonable price.

The "guardians at the gate" are gone! You do not need an agent. You do not need to find a publisher to put up the money for up-front costs. You do not need to pay those expenses yourself. You do not need to get the approval of the literary profession. You can DO IT YOURSELF and only pay for the copies you need.

Ira Glickstein


Howard Pattee said...

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press originated to allow criticism of the government and to prevent government control of information. People have always been free to talk to their trusted friends. However, just as important for a democracy is freedom of information about the government. What good is freedom of speech when the government acts in secret and you can’t find out what’s going on? Our present government is a case in point.

I also do not believe in totally unlimited freedom of any form. There is always too much of a good thing. Inscribed over the Temple of Apollo are gnothi seauton or "know thyself" and meden agan or "nothing in excess." Aristotle and many great men through the ages have tried to propagate these conservative values, but have generally failed, as is evident in current American values.

The existence of humans with a brain that can speak and write came about only because of strong and inexorable natural selection. Freedom of speech today, largely because of technology, is becoming less and less selective. Anyone can write anything and it is spread worldwide willy-nilly in the media and on the Internet. As a result our selectively valued information is increasingly being ignored as well as corrupted.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard laments: "Anyone can write anything and it is spread worldwide willy-nilly in the media and on the Internet. As a result our selectively valued information is increasingly being ignored as well as corrupted."

So, it would seem, you favor prior censorship or vetting by authorities who can recognize "selectively valued information"?

Selected by whom? Valued by whom?

Certainly not the government that you say "... acts in secret and you can’t find out what’s going on ...".

Who then will curtail the "willy nilly" spreading of "anything"? The academic establishment? The established (corporate-owned :^) media? Who exactly ???

I really believe in democracy! Let each flower bloom and freely cast its seeds to the wind and see which of them take root and survive and multiply.

I do not think competent adults require anyone to filter all available communications. I think most of us can be trusted to take what we read and see on the Internet or media with a large "grain of salt". I think most of us will check suspicious stories out on" or other outlets we judge to be trustworthy. I think most people respect the rational statements of those of us with academic credentials more than the ravings of uneducated lunatics. (Of course, we've all met some highly credentialed academics who are lunatics. :^)

It is true that some of what passes for information on the Internet is misleading, downright false, or inane. That has always been true of kingly decrees, government pronouncements, church doctrine, the blathering of the "yellow journalism" press, the "vast wasteland" of TV -- and even some of what has been published in the name of science and academic scholaship.

The great advantage of the Internet is that misleading or false information can be challenged almost instantly.

There are many jewels strewn within the dross. I think it is less risky to remove the "guardians at the gates" and allow ordinary people access to the printing presses and the Internet rather than permit anyone to restrict it.

There are libel laws and the courts to ajudicate false publication that seriously injures anyone.

As we know from our experience with this Blog, not everything that is available to the billions of people with Internet access is actually accessed by billions or millions or even thousands.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, you are sounding like a true liberal with your emotional appeal against all kinds of censorship. I agree with you about bad types of censorship, but the word is a liberal’s “hot button” pusher. I thought conservatives believed in evaluating ideas before spreading them indiscriminately. The Latin root censere means “to tax, to value or to judge. Of course, taxes, valuation, and judgement can all be good or bad.

Clearly, there is good and bad censorship of many kinds in business, government, and education. I’m sure that you are a good type of censor. When you teach, you do not allow students to get too far off the subject. I hope you will censor any crackpot who gets on this blog. I imagine that most parents at least tried to censor some of their children’s speech. Today parents try, with little success, to censor their childrens’ access to pornography and other sites.

My conservative evolutionary principle is that no action should be totally free of any cost (tax) or any valuation or judgement. Nothing in life is totally free. Communication is no exception. You pay postage, you pay for your phone, and you pay for printed material, and you pay to travel.

It is only because of technology that memory storage and transfer has become practically cost free and consequently non-selective. That technology leads to valueless information or garbage, which is what the media and the Internet are producing at an alarming rate. The malignant growth rate of YouTube and pornography are prime examples. (See e.g., and Google “growth of pornography”.)

I don’t have the answer, but I am not as optimistic as you are that the problem will solve itself.

joel said...

Ira said: I really believe in democracy! Let each flower bloom and freely cast its seeds to the wind and see which of them take root and survive and multiply.

Joel responds: I don't see how this qualifies as democracy. That sounds like anarchy. My thoughts are more like Howards'. A blind faith in technology and a totally unfettered flow of information and disinformation is more like a religion. It seems to me that the emotional response we have to the word "censorship" prevents us from having a full and fair discussion of the possibilities. Even the foremost advocate of a totally free press (Thomas Jefferson) lost faith late in his life. His advocacy was tempered with the supposition that there were sufficient laws at the state level to prevent newspapers from straying too far from the truth. That turned out not to be the case. I think we should ask ourselves how technology might be used to regulate information flow in order to optimize the average citizens access to truth. For example, Thomas Jefferson, humorously suggested that newspapers be required to label pages with "truth" and "rumor." The level of liability associated with these labels would be different. The free flow of information includes information about the biases of the news source. Let's leave the "censorship" hot button to the side in our discussion. With respect -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard and Joel: I knew my use of the word "censorship" would strike a hot button!

Yes, there is good censorship. If someone tried to post material I thought was unsuitable on this Blog I would take it down. In my online classes at the University of Maryland I critique postings with wrong information. These are valid roles for a teacher or a website administrator.

Recently some idiot posted his wish (on a far-left loon website) that all right-wingers would get brain tumors like Robert Novak. That website eventually took the posting down. That was good censorship.

There are some websites and writers I avoid because they do not self-censor themselves sufficiently.

The key to me is to depend on self-censorship in most cases and then just avoid those websites that are outrageous. There are several websites I have come to trust because they have effective fact-checking policies and a history of truthfulness. I also cross-check between sites. If FoxNews and MSNBC report the same facts, they are almost certainy true!

Although I am generally identified as a "conserative" on most social and political issues I believe I am more of a CLASSICAL LIBERAL than anything else when it comes to ideas and free communication of opinions.

Yes Howard, as you wrote "I thought conservatives believed in evaluating ideas before spreading them indiscriminately. But, how can we evaluate the ideas if they cannot be freely communicated? The key is not to restrict the free communication of ideas, but to consider and evaluate the consequences before we implement the ideas!

Some "solutions" are counter-productive. For example, the guy who had square wheels on his car and noticed it was very bumpy. So, he got triangular wheels to get rid of one of the bumps. We all know the right solution is to increase the number of bumps until there are so many on the wheel that each bump is so tiny you get a smooth ride. It is counter-intuitive to increase the number of the "bad" things you are trying to get rid of, but that is sometimes the right solution.

In the case we are considering, the problem is websites and media that are misleading or downright false. The "bumps" in this case are the bits of bad information. The simple solution is to impose "guardians at the gates" restrictions such that only well-connected and well-financed websites and media can publish. That would reduce the number of "bumps".

The obvious problem with this restrictive scheme is that it prevents the spread of ideas and opinions of those who are not well-connected or financed. Also, due to the march of technology, as Howard notes "memory storage and transfer has become practically cost free and consequently non-selective," so cost is no longer a major hurdle. So, the only viable restrictions are government-imposed taxes or licensing of websites, or direct government control. I think these would make the problem worse because whole classes of ideas and opinions would be excluded (i.e., those of the poor and/or unpopular).

As for Joel's idea from Jefferson's humorous suggestion to require labels of "truth" and "rumor" I think that is great - most quality newspapers and news programs on TV already distinguish between 'straight news" and "opinion" or "commentary". The problem is, quoting Pontius Pilot WHAT IS TRUTH? (Jesus said to Pilate that he is a king and "came into the world ... to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice", to which Pilate famously replied, "What is truth?" - John 18:38)

Who among us would want either the Roman governor or the Christian church telling us "What is truth"?

Until you Howard and Joel tell me who will do the "regulation", I would rather increase the number of "bumps" (information sources on the Internet and media) in hopes of having them cancel each other out and give us a smoother ride.

The L-mind always seeks change and (to me) seems to have some cokeyed scheme to fix every current problem (usually involving increasing the role of government). The intelligent C-mind (like me, for example :^) is open to change if and when it has been evaluated and proven in some test cases.

Until Joel or Howard or someone else comes up with a practical way to restrict the new Internet technology, and things like inexpensive "Print on Demand" and reduce the amount of misinformation without unduely restricting the amount of truth, I will continue to say "let each flower bloom ...".

Ira Glickstein

PS: Unlike Communist China's Chairman Mao Zedong's 1957 proclamation "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend", I don't intend to use this as a way to flush out the dissident intelligencia and then have them executed.

Howard Pattee said...

As an example for discussion of restricted freedom of expression, I suggest scientific and professional standards in education, conferencing, and publishing.

First, you need to pass some examinations or get a degree. Then to present your ideas at a conference or publish them they must pass an editorial board or peer review. I still review papers and I try to be a very sympathetic reviewer, but most of the papers I reject, usually in agreement with the other reviewers.

Often, the reasons for rejection would not be obvious to a non-expert. Consequently, without these restrictions how could the layperson recognize an expert from a persuasive novice or an intelligent fake?

The freedom of the media and the Internet only make matters worse (as in Gore’s media crusade). This is not a perfect system (a few frauds still pass and a few novel ideas are rejected), but without it science would degenerate into a TV celebrity contest.

Ira says, “The L-mind always seeks change and (to me) seems to have some cokeyed scheme” Unfortunately, it is the C-minds that have cockeyed schemes to pervert science. These values of scientific objectivity have been eroded, first, by religious conservatives, largely because of evolution theory; and second, by the current administration, largely because of the lobbying of business interests.

joel said...

In order to solve the problem of too much information and inaccurate information, while not creating an all too powerful government agency, I think we have to start the process with even more information. The cure for abuses of free speech may be "forced speech." First of all, people are entitled to know more about the source. For example, a law requiring that references to surveys must contain information about the specific questions asked and the sampling techniques, would not constitute censorship. Also, there has been a tendency for reporters to write stories which use what I'll call hidden parenthetical remarks, to bias what at first appears to be a pure news story. For example we have all seen, "Obama or McCain or Clinton or Bush (in order to appease those in their base), stated today that "blah, blah."" The parentheses are mine. In other words, within a statement of fact, the reporter renders an opinion concerning the sincerity of the speaker. The reader is entitled to know that opinion and fact are being mixed. The solution is entirely technological. I'm sure that there are I.T. people out there who are capable of writing a computer program that can identify adjectival and adverbial phrases fitting the pattern and to place those words in parentheses with the abbreviation "ed." Readers would know that this means an editorial comment. When readers see too many of these markups on the front page of a newspaper, I think the "magic of the marketplace" will come into play and news sources will reform. I think there are many technological solutions such as this. With respect -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

As the holder of an advanced degree (mostly thanks to Howard :^) and as the author of over a dozen published technical papers, I am 100% in favor of strict academic credentialing and formal paper reviews for scientific and professional journals and conferences.

I am also more likely to buy or read a book published by an established company and to believe what I read in large newspapers and on major TV networks. I do not want to eliminate these "guardians at the gates" and I appreciate their service to the purity of nearly all of the information they pass on to we consumers.

Howard is concerned that: "values of scientific objectivity have been eroded ... by religious conservatives, ... and lobbying of business interests." I cannot think of any time in the history of western civilization when the church has had less influence on the scientific establishment nor when business interests were more dependent upon technology and scientific breakthroughs. Sure, they create lots of chatter, amplified by the media megaphone, but if the science establishment cannot refute the doctrinaire twaddle of the church or business interests in the free marketplace of ideas then it is the fault of science.

As for "Gore's media crusade" I assume Howard means the overly pessimistic "the tipping point is near" fear-mongering about human contribution to global warming. Much of the science establishment (especially non-meteriologists :^) has jumped aboard that crusade and credentialed scientists who downplay the contribution of human activity have had their papers and funding denied. (I am not a global warming denier, see my views at Definitive Guide to Global Warning Issues. I think human activity contributes a substantial amount towards the problem, but not to the extent claimed by the Gore activists.)

Joel has some good ideas that do not involve larger government. Most polls and surveys published by major media do include margins of error, and other statistical information, but it is not enough. I would like some media organization to establish a monitoring agency that would certify polling organizations and require full disclosure of the exact questions, sample size and composition, statistics, and so on. (Lack of space in publications and time on TV would require this detailed data to be linked to on the Internet.)

I would also like to see a computer program that exposes what Joel calls "hidden parenthetical remarks" in published reports. Such a program could be made available on a website where users would point the program at text on any other website and have questionable phrases highlighted in bold or in colors. I think advts could support such a venture!

Perhaps, sometime in the future, a computer program could evaluate the vocal tone and facial expressions of journalists as they interview liberals and conservatives to expose possible bias. Also, have you noticed how conservatives are often shown on TV with tight focus on their eyes, mouths, and chins, making them look mean and even bald? Liberals seem to get a much kinder camera.

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

Continuing in the vein that "censorship" can take the form of information for the consumer rather than inhibition of the creator: I disagree with Howard concerning the establishment of an elite who will determine the truth of a news story. I believe we can improve quality without a censoring elite. Many problems can be solved "mechanically." We already do this sort of thing when we clearly mark a work as fiction and provide a disclaimer concerning the characters in order to avoid lawsuits. The public is thus forewarned. Another situation in which improvement can be made without disrupting free speech or freedom of the press is the use of unidentified sources. We have had sufficient examples in the past few years of journalists thought to be reputable who faked their stories. We all recognize a need for reform, but are unsure how to accomplish it without tramping on free speech. I suggest that no journalist be allowed to quote an unnamed source without a certification by a judge as to the existence and quality of the source. For a journalist to get such a certification is no more burdensome or unreasonable than for the state to get a warrant before a search. The journalist should show cause why damage would be done to the source and show that the source is indeed who he claims. The public could thus be assured as to the existence and calibre of the source without any elite judging. Note that the judge is not called upon to verify the source's claims but only the sources existence.

We also need to ask ourselves if we can't restrain the press in the interest of justice. The English system doesn't permit the media to publish material concerning a crime until the accused is brought to trial. We may be the freest people in the world, but that isn't necessarily a claim to fame. The Brits aren't any slouches either, but they are perhaps a bit more rational on the subject. With respect -Joel

Howard Pattee said...

Ira apparently believes the Bush Administration is a free marketplace for science. Ira says, “If the science establishment cannot refute the doctrinaire twaddle of the church or business interests in the free marketplace of ideas then it is the fault of science.” Here is another opinion that differs from Ira’s.

On February 18, 2004, leading scientists–Nobel laureates, leading medical experts, former federal agency directors, and university chairs and presidents–signed a statement (abstracted below) about the misuse of science by the Bush administration. Over 15,000 U.S.scientists added their names in support of restoring scientific integrity to the governement. Here are selected parts of their statement:

“When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions. This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice.

“Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.

“Across a broad range of policy areas, the administration has undermined the quality and independence of the scientific advisory system and the morale of the government’s outstanding scientific personnel.

“Highly qualified scientists have been dropped from advisory committees dealing with childhood lead poisoning, environmental and reproductive health, and drug abuse, while individuals associated with or working for industries subject to regulation have been appointed to these bodies.

“Censorship and political oversight of government scientists is not restricted to the EPA, but has also occurred at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Interior, when scientific findings are in conflict with the administration's policies or with the views of its political supporters.

‘The administration is supporting revisions to the Endangered Species Act that would greatly constrain scientific input into the process of identifying endangered species and critical habitats for their protection.

“Existing scientific advisory committees to the Department of Energy on nuclear weapons, and to the State Department on arms control, have been disbanded.

“In making the invalid claim that Iraq had sought to acquire aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment centrifuges, the administration disregarded the contrary assessment by experts at Livermore, Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

“The distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends must cease if the public is to be properly informed about issues central to its well being, and the nation is to benefit fully from its heavy investment in scientific research and education.”

Ira Glickstein said...

I'd like to keep partisan political comments out of this Blog when possible and stick to general political and scientific philosophies.

Howard wrote: "Ira apparently believes the Bush Administration is a free marketplace for science."

Nope! I do not believe ANY government can be a "free marketplace for science" or anything else. If the government was put in charge of the Sahara Desert, within six months there would be a shortage of sand :^)

That is why I favor reduction in almost all non-essential government activities. (The only essentials at the federal level are: "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity".)

So, what did I mean when I wrote: “If the science establishment cannot refute the doctrinaire twaddle of the church or business interests in the free marketplace of ideas then it is the fault of science.”? I meant that fact-based science has such strong arguments that we should be able to refute non-fact-based "twaddle" in the general media, Internet, and so on. Special interests in any government administration or business or labor union or professional organization will (and should) do what they can to argue for their side. That is the whole idea of a free marketplace of ideas.

Howard did not provide a source for his quote. It is Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Citizens and Scientists for Environmental Solutions.

How representative of scientists is the UCS? In their Global Warming report, under "Setting a Reasonable Target" they say "... the world’s industrialized nations will have to reduce their [carbon] emissions an average of 70 to 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050. IMHO, the only way to achieve such a reduction will be to decimate the population by 50% or more. I hope I am wrong.

According to the UCS website they have opposed carbon-free nuclear energy "Since well before the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant ..." Under Renewable Energy they list only "movement of wind and water, the heat and light of the sun, heat in the ground, the carbohydrates in plants ..."

Is there any scientific basis for believing industrialized countries can reduce carbon emissions by 70% to 80% in the next few decades without substantial nuclear? As for "movement of wind" the liberal establishment in New England has opposed a major windpower installation off of Nantucket because some birds might get killed! The only "movement of wind" they seem to favor is the "hot air" these academics generate.

Look at the list of what the UCS calls "prominent signatories" to the statement Howard posted. I recognized only a few and it seems nearly all are theoretical academics who I doubt could rub two sticks together if their lives (and ours) depended upon it! How many of them have produced a successful commercial product or service? How many have met a payroll to keep common workers employed?

Ira Glickstein

PS: How many of them drive a hybrid car (my wife and I have shared our only car for four years, a Prius that gets 45 to 54 MPG)? We have an electric golf cart and I ride 40-60 miles per week by bicycle. Our house was built with the most efficient insulation and e-glass windows and heating/air conditioning and I installed a programmable thermostat that allows temperatures up to 78 degrees and down to 66 degrees. Some people talk a good "green" game but do not follow through. For example, says it is true that "Al Gore's Nashville mansion is something of the energy-gobbler ... while President Bush's Crawford ranch is more the model of responsible resource use ..."

Howard Pattee said...

IRA says, “I cannot think of any time in the history of western civilization when the church has had less influence on the scientific establishment.”

HOWARD responds: Of course I agree if you are thinking about the last 2000 years. On the other hand, if you look at the last 50 years and reach the same conclusion, I would say you haven’t been paying attention.

In the 1950s after WWII science was generally respected and there was no organized opposition to teaching evolution or any interference with science teaching. For example, evolutionary speculations, like Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man, were popular topics and were often discussed in sermons. Even some Catholics found Chardin interesting, even thought he was suppressed by the Roman Curia. Continental drift (plate tectonics) was finally accepted, and the discovery of background radiation made the Big Bang the most promising theory of the origin of the universe. There was no organized attempt by religious organizations to influence science teaching.

I know this because I was teaching science those 50 years, and also paying attention to religion, largely because I married into a family of theologians and ministers who were also paying attention to science. You can also find interesting statistics from the Pew Trust polls.

Today all of these scientific theories are under well-organized attack by religious groups and conservative legislatures. Over 25 states have introduced laws to limit the teaching of these theories and to introduce intelligent design as a science. Even our President supports teaching intelligent design. School boards are being packed with conservatives so that teachers have had to go to court to teach their science. If you think that is not influencing science, think again!

IRA says, “If the science establishment cannot refute the doctrinaire twaddle of the church or business interests in the free marketplace of ideas then it is the fault of science.”

HOWARD responded by pointing out that there can’t be a free market place when the government has a policy of actively suppressing scientific information. That is not the fault of science. Ira now implies that he agrees.

IRA says, “I'd like to keep partisan political comments out of this Blog.”

HOWARD responds: It is difficult to talk about partisan political suppression of scientific advice without mentioning politics!

IRA says, “I recognized only a few [signatures on the 15,000 UCS letter] and it seems nearly all are theoretical academics who I doubt could rub two sticks together if their lives (and ours) depended upon it!”

HOWARD responds: I would like to keep gratuitous opinions of scientist that you don’t recognize out of this blog. You shoot (and insult) these 15,000 messengers and don’t respond to the issues they raise: Are their specific criticisms of the administration anti-science behavior accurate or not?

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, I actually wrote: "I'd like to keep partisan political comments out of this Blog when possible and stick to general political and scientific philosophies." [Emphasis added.] You only quoted the part before the "when posible".

You also wrote: "IRA says, 'I recognized only a few [signatures on the 15,000 UCS letter] and it seems nearly all are theoretical academics who I doubt could rub two sticks together if their lives (and ours) depended upon it!'”

I did not say I reviewed all 15,000 names. I actually wrote: "Look at the list of what the UCS calls "prominent signatories" to the statement Howard posted. I recognized only a few and it seems nearly all are theoretical academics who I doubt could rub two sticks together if their lives (and ours) depended upon it!"

The list I linked to has only a couple-hundred-odd names on it. UCS picked these people as "prominent" so I assume the remaining 13,000 signatories are not. All but a couple were listed as from academic institutions. I recognized Richard Garwin, Murray Gell-Mann, Lynn Margulis, and E. O. Wilson. Howard will probably recognize more. Garwin is from IBM (like me) and I remember he had some interesting schemes for nuclear disarmament and was paid by IBM while he worked for the US government. Lynn Margulis co-authored the Gaia Hypothesis stuff with Lovelock. I am attracted to the Gaia Hypothesis but I don't think it is exactly mainstream science (yet :^).

OK, let me address the misuse of science by the current GOP Administration.

The most eggregious to me was the Schiavo case, not mentioned because it came to a head in 2005, and the UCS statement was issued in 2004. I spoke out against the ridiculous religion-based actions of our GOP Florida Governor and GOP Florida Legislature and GOP Congress and the GOP President at the time. Senate GOP Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician, definitely knew the medical situation and it was disgraceful that he went along with the GOP mob action. (The Senate and House passed the Schiavo compromise bill by unanimous consent, which means all the Democrats also went along.)

The first four paragraphs Howard quotes from the UCS statement have absolutely no specifics, just general complaints about sometimes misrepresenting scientific knowledge, disbanding some unnamed advisory groups and replacing some unnamed scientists on some boards with other unnamed persons who committed the crime of being "associated with or working for industries subject to regulation...".

If you know any particulars, let me know and I will comment if I have anything to add. Every new administation starts new advisory boards and discontinues others, hires new science advisors and so on. So what else is new?

The fifth paragraph is about the Endangered Species Act, again with no specifics. How many alternative energy projects to reduce carbon footprints (like hydroelectric and wind power) have been derailed by concern for the poor snail darter or migrating birds and so on? If the current administration has limited scientific input to further alternative energy, I say more power for us!

The sixth paragraph has to do with disbanding science advisory committies on nuclear weapons and arms control. I cannot reply because I don't know the specifics. I do know this administration frightened Lybia's Ghadafi into ending his secret nuclear weapons program. It also seems to be making some progress, with China's help, with the nuke program in North Korea (which broke its 1994 agreement with the Clinton administration before the ink was dry). I don't know if the disbanded science board had anything to do with these developments. It does not appear we will be able to do anything about Iran's nuke program anytime soon.

The seventh paragraph has to do with Saddam Hussein's acquisition of aluminum tubes which turned out not to have anything to do with uranium enrichment. I agree the administration was too trusting of US intelligence agencies and intelligence from friendly governments. They were all wrong about the supposed WMD programs.

The final paragraph is a general denunciation of "distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends". I agree this administration is guilty of distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan purposes and I wish it, and all political and business and academic organizations would stop the distortion.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

OOPS, I made a math error in my previous Comment. 15,000 - 200 = 14,800 (not 13,000 :^). So, nearly 14,800 signatories of the UCS statement quoted by Howard are, by UCS accounting, not "prominent scientists".

Although I am personally attracted to their scientific views and accomplishments, NONE of the four people I recognized on the UCS "prominent" list, could be said to represent "mainstream" science.

The point I am making is that, even if the UCS statement represents the consensus view of mainstream scientists (and I am not sure it does), history shows us that even mainstream scientists are often wrong, even on pure scientific matters -- and especially when they venture out of their expertise into political issues.

E. O. Wilson, one of the 200-odd designated "prominent" signatories of the UCS statement is known for his work on SOCIOBIOLOGY, which I find attractive but which is not (yet :^) mainstream science. According to Wikipedia "The controversy of sociobiological research is in how it applies to humans. The theory established a scientific argument for rejecting the common doctrine of tabula rasa, which holds that human beings are born without any innate mental content and that culture functions to increase human knowledge and aid in survival and success. In the final chapter of the book Sociobiology and in the full text of his Pulitzer Prize-winning On Human Nature, Wilson argues that the human mind is shaped as much by genetic inheritance as it is by culture (if not more). There are limits on just how much influence social and environmental factors can have in altering human behavior."

Murray Gell-Mann is given credit for keeping "string theory" alive in the 1970's when it was unpopular with other scientists. I am also attracted to string theory, but it is still, in 2008, not (yet :^) mainstream science.

Richard Garwin, another "prominent" signatory I recognized, was an IBM employee while on Advisory Committees for three presidents and various Science Boards which seems like "clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees" [paragraph one of Howard's summary of the UCS statement] and one of the "individuals associated with or working for industries subject to regulation have been appointed to these bodies." [paragraph four].

According to "the father of the H-Bomb" Edward Teller, Dr. Garwin invented the first test based on the principles of the hydrogen bomb, so he bears partial responsibility for this weapon if you happen to be opposed to it (I am not opposed to it :^). In this 1983 speech Garwin opposed President Reagan's "Star Wars" program on scientific grounds and also signed on to Carl Sagan's "nuclear winter" theories (the flip side to global warming? :^) Please click the above link and read his speech. It is scientifically true, but absolutely wrong-headed when it comes to "realpolitic" and the actual accomplishments of the Reagan adminisration is setting the stage for the breakup of the Soviet Union.

However, unlike most of the others on the UCS "prominent" list, Garwin is not just an academic. He has great practical engineering accomplishments at Los Alamos and at IBM.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, why are you still trying to discredit the UCS signers as non-mainstream, theoretical academic scientists? You agree that, “this administration is guilty of distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan purposes.” That’s all the UCS signers were trying to correct. (They failed.)

Your antagonism toward “theoretical academics” and liberals as a class is all too obvious, but we already know that. You say about wind farms, “The only "movement of wind" [liberals] seem to favor is the "hot air" these academics generate.” Why do you single out liberal academics? The conservative non-academic farmers in Texas don’t like wind farms in their backyard either!

You ask us to, “Look at the list of what the UCS calls ‘prominent signatories’.” You recognized only a few names and conclude that, “nearly all are theoretical academics who I doubt could rub two sticks together if their lives (and ours) depended upon it!” As a theoretical academic I’m not persuaded by insults.

About one third of the UCS signatories were my contemporaries. Some were teachers, some were colleagues. Their competence has been judged by their peers from massive arrays of accomplishments. Their many awards are not meaningless. They are held in high regard, both as scientists and citizens. You label the 14,800 non-listed signatories as “not prominent” when you haven’t a clue about their accomplishments. That’s bad logic as well as lack of evidence. Also, what special expertise have you acquired to judge who is not “mainstream”?

You mention Lynn Margulis and the Gaia theory. Gaia is irrelevant. Lynn is known for her theory on the origin of eukaryotic cells (See Wiki). For this she has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. I knew her when she began this work and was still married to Carl Sagan. We still occasionally reference each other, and I know her history.

I agree wholeheartedly with Richard Dawkins’ assessment of her work: “I greatly admire Lynn Margulis's sheer courage and stamina in sticking by the endosymbiosis theory [the theory that the eukaryotic cell is a symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells], and carrying it through from being an unorthodoxy to an orthodoxy. This is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century evolutionary biology, and I greatly admire her for it.”

Contrary to your opinion, her peers consider Lynn as eminently competent and mainstream. The same is the case for E. O. Wilson and Gell-Mann. Why do you pick up only on their controversial ideas? I’ll give you a clue: mainstream scientists have many ideas, some are well established, others are controversial.

You first remembered that Richard Garwin was “paid by IBM while he worked for the US government” (which did irritate some colleagues), but as you discovered, Garwin is better remembered as the designer of the H-bomb. This was somewhat more difficult than rubbing two sticks together.

Edward Teller described Garwin’s contribution in 1981: "In the early 1950's when I had the first crude design of the hydrogen bomb, Dick Garwin came to Los Alamos and asked me how he could help. Actually the design I had in mind was not that of a real bomb but of a model for an experiment. I asked Garwin to change this crude design into something approximating a blueprint. He did so in a short time -- a week or two.”

Garwin has an amazing record. He has been a leader in the JASON Defense Advisory Group (See Wiki) and the Strategic Military Panel (SMP) through all administrations since WWII. SMP had the task of assessing the state-of-the-art and capability of ballistic missile offense and defense, on both the U.S. and the Soviet sides. These members were some of the most highly competent and respected scientists in the US.

Your criticisms of Garwin carry little weight compared to the mass of archived information about him. Your charge of conflict of interest has been thoroughly reviewed and dismissed. See, and

You also ask skeptically, “How many [UCS signatories] have produced a successful commercial product or service?” Well, many have, but what has that to do with science? Anyway, I should not have to do your research. Start by looking up Carl Djerassi on Wiki and Carl’s personal website:

Then for homework here are a dozen names that I happen to know something about. You’ll have to look them up yourself (they are probably on Wiki). I suggest that rather than complaining if you think they are liberal, theoretical, academic, or not mainstream, you follow their links and try to learn something from them.

Francisco J. Ayala
Philip W. Anderson
Paul Berg
Paul D. Boyer
Donald A. Glaser
Marshall Nirenberg
Wolfgang Panofsky
Stuart A. Rice
Steven Weinberg
Charles Yanofsky
Herbert F. York
Bruno Zumino

joel said...

I think that Howard and Ira have illustrated what I don't like about "appeal to authority" or relying on the judgment of an elite. Neither an appeal to the words of Jesus or Buddha or the Committee of Concerned Scientists mean anything special to me. No one is infallible. Too often quoting authority leads to questioning credentials (as we have seen) and obscuring the real issues. It's a waste of mental energy. I'd rather deal with arguments themselves. An argument which tries to take on the stature of the speaker is nothing but a rhetorical trick. The fact that Aristotle in "Rhetoric" made this point, has nothing to do with its truth. Either you accept its logic or not. The fact that Aristotle said it is irrelevant except to underscore the fact that it's an age-old concern. This is not to say that it is inappropriate for the Union of Concerned Scientists of any other group from privately communicating their concerns to the President. The Constitution gives us all that right. It's the use of such communication as a publicity trick or partisan ploy that concerns me. With respect-Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

I'm sorry to have raised your ire with my comments. I wrote that you would know the accomplishments of more of the signatories designated by the UCS as "prominent signatories" than the mere four I recognized. I also noted Garwin's critical and practical contribution to the H-bomb and Teller's commendation of him and I also wrote "...Garwin is not just an academic. He has great practical engineering accomplishments at Los Alamos and at IBM."

I noted that Garwin was paid by IBM while he advised three Presidents and participated in Science Boards to highlight the contradiction between his valued service and the two paragraphs you quoted from the UCS statement that mention "clear conflicts of interest" and "working for industries subject to regulation". As you know, I welcome participation by experienced corporate employees, like Garwin, on governmental advisory boards. It is the UCS that seems to have a problem in this area, not me. I think that experts with industry experience and accomplishments are more likely to know the practical aspects than theoretical scientists without such experience.

In most controversial cases the risks and rewards must both be considered, as well as the alternatives. There are usually strong science-based arguments on both sides. For example, nuclear power poses many risks. However the achievement of France currently obtaining some 80% of its electricity from nuclear with no significant accidents, and the alternative being further release of carbon from oil and coal, is a strong fact-based argument for nuclear. (I saw French nuclear power first-hand last year.)

As for the 14,800 signatories, it was the UCS, not me, who left them off the list of 200-odd "prominent signatories".

The four "prominent signatories" I recognized have some scientific ideas that are not yet mainstream and that it is those very ideas that I happen to find attractive. That was not meant to denegrate those four or their ideas, just to illustrate that every idea of even recognized prominent scientists does not get accepted by the mainstream right away, and that some acceptance or rejections by the mainstream later turn out to be wrong.

I have no problem with theoretical scientists - indeed I may have a tiny claim in that area myself. The problem I have is the idea that theory neatly translates into the practical world of "realpolitic". As I wrote, Garwin's objections to President Reagan's "Star Wars" were scientifically justified, but that turned out to be as irrelevant to the breakup of the Soviet Union as Carl's Sagan's scientifically correct ideas on "nuclear winter" are to Global Warming.

Yes, I did write "I agree this administration is guilty of distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan purposes and I wish it, and all political and business and academic organizations would stop the distortion."

Perhaps this administration has distorted scientific knowledge more than others in the recent past, I'll grant you that.

As for wind farms, I too would scream like a stuck pig if they tried to put one in my backyard. However, the proposed "Cape Wind" project in Nantucket Sound will be over five miles from the closest point on Cape Cod and even further from Martha's Vinyard and Nantucket. They will be tiny posts on the horizon (Simulated View).

Ira Glickstein said...

I agree with Joel about the limitations of "appeal to authority". No one is infallible!

On the other hand, I agree with the Union of Concerned Scientists (and Howard) that scientists are generally in a better position to evaluate the consequences of science-based technology than are non-scientists. They at least understand the scientific method and evaluation of complex data and have demonstrated their ability to think logically.

On the other hand (I'm running out of hands :^), when they get out of the science and technology domains, some (not all, just some) scientists make the erroneous assumption that logic and reason apply to economics and commerce and politics and warfare.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard and Joel and ALL: This discussion has gotten a bit off the track intended when I posted the main Topic.

My point was that the Internet and Print on Demand technology have given access to "the press" to far more people than ever before.

I am not arguing against academic credentialing or major media outlets or publishers vetting writers and their works before broadcasting or publishing them. I and most other people will continue to give more respect to those with proper academic credentials and/or practical experience for the domain of knowledge they are writing about. We will trust the major media and book publishers more than unknown groups and indepedent writers.

Almost every person in the free world now has very low cost access to the Internet. They can express their opinions and ideas freely to a potentially worldwide audience. Each of us also has the ability to publish a professionally printed and bound book for a per-copy cost competitive with book-store prices.

Of course, our (almost) free access to "the press" does not guarantee that anyone will read our writings.

However, it seems to me that this new-found access of each of us to "the press", while not replacing the established media or professional journals, is a major advance for individual freedom and should be welcomed.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Joel thinks, “ that Howard and Ira have illustrated what I don't like about ‘appeal to authority’ or relying on the judgment of an elite.”

Let’s get this straight. My response to Ira was not appealing to an elite infallible authority. I was expressing my anger (I thought quite moderately) at Ira for his gratuitous derogatory statement. It was an obvious attempt to discredit the objection of 200 great scientists to government censorship rather than address the issue. I am even angrier at his dismissive (“not mainstream”) and ignorant judgment of a few friends or colleagues. My anger has nothing to do with elites and infallibility. It has to do with “courteous discussion of serious topics,” as Ira advertises his blog.

I agree completely with Joel that I'd rather deal with arguments themselves! The original arguments were about “free speech.” Ira mentioned censorship, and I mentioned government suppression of science, and gave the scientists’ documented evidence of the censorship and their arguments against it.

What irritates me is Ira’s lack of argument. He just states a prejudiced and ignorant opinion of an entire class of people for whom I have the greatest respect, some of whose work is related to my own.

Let me quote exactly what Ira said referring to the 200 scientists: “I recognized only a few and it seems nearly all are theoretical academics who I doubt could rub two sticks together if their lives (and ours) depended upon it!”

That is not dealing with an argument. That is just a rude, and ignorant statement. I’m also embarrassed that it was made by one of my intelligent ex-students, and through the wonders of technology it will be available to my friends, colleagues, and the entire world of the Internet forever.

I think my response to Joel’s view of authority requires a lot of elaboration and should start a New Topic. Authority is a big word with strong context dependency. Can you make a rational statement without depending on some kind of authority like syntax, logic, texts, laws, rules, etc?

Ira Glickstein said...

Let me apologize for my "two sticks" attempt at humor, which was an unfortunate and unjustified caricature of theoretical scientists who are sometimes portrayed, erroneously, as hopelessly out of touch with the real world. I agree it has no place in "courteous discussion of serious topics".

I would like to see a new Topic by Howard on the proper place of authority in academics, government, and technology in response to Joel's Comment on "appeal to authority".

Howard is one of my top two or three teachers and I still consider myself to be one of his students, with alot more to learn!

Ira Glickstein

PS: I did write in my previous Comment "I agree with the Union of Concerned Scientists (and Howard) that scientists are generally in a better position to evaluate the consequences of science-based technology than are non-scientists. They at least understand the scientific method and evaluation of complex data and have demonstrated their ability to think logically."

joel said...

The way in which many news organizations bias the news is by preferential filtering, not outright lies. The public can be made to believe anything using this method. There is much more news or background available than the media can possibly report, so filtering is essential. That filtering can be biased or simply unintelligent.

An example is the current Russian incursion into Georgia. Every news network is reporting the movement of the Russian troops and the possible risk to Georgia and her democratically elected president. I've seen almost nothing about South Ossetia and the long standing violence problems between ethnic Russians and ethnic Georgians in the various villages of South Ossetia. Neither have I seen anything about the democratically elected Georgian president's election being based upon a promise to force South Ossetia back into Georgia. I don't know who's right or wrong, but I certainly don't get a global view in the media. The background information is right there in Wikipedia, but reporters are either too lazy or perhaps yearn for the days of the cold war when good and evil made easy stories for them to write.

I was going to make a corrective suggestion, but I realize now that money is at the root of the problem. I was going to suggest that NBC for example, could use its MSNBC arm to present the background information. I immediately realized that background is much more expensive than news. Background requires research, digging up historical footage and intensive production that straight news does not require. Footage of a reporter standing in front of a tank is cheap or bombed out building is cheap. Perhaps we could pull government funds out of Sesame Street and use them to provide scrolling Wikipedia copy beneath the news anchors. With respect -Joel

Howard Pattee said...

Your apology is gratefully accepted. I'm probably getting crotchety in my old age.

I find checking with foreign news sources helps, like BBC and Al Jazeera.

Of course every source has biases.


Ira Glickstein said...

Remember our discussion back in August about "Guardians at the Gates are Gone" that touched on peer review of scientific papers?

Well, I was reading The Economist today (my wife Vi had some unusable airline miles and traded them in for a bunch of magazines, including The Economist), and found the following that will be of particular interest to Howard:

"[The formal paper review] process is likely to be shorter for the LHC [large hadron Collider] than it is for most scientific papers because the convention in physics is, increasingly, to to do without peer review and post papers online, where all and sundry can tear them to shreds if they do not measure up." Full text available online.

Any comments?

Ira Glickstein