RIP John Wheeler

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Nanuq

quote:


faster than you can say "Banting and Best

Er, you did know that Frederick Banting went into military research in the 1930s, right? It's how he died actually.

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Nanuq:
[b]

Er, you did know that Frederick Banting went into military research in the 1930s, right? It's how he died actually.[/b]


Not quite historically accurate.

quote:

When the Second World War broke out, he served as a liaison officer between the British and North American medical services and, while thus engaged, he was, in February 1941, killed in an air disaster in Newfoundland.

Could you link to where he went into military research?

Agent 204 Agent 204's picture

quote:


Originally posted by jrootham:
[b]Well, he did work on the H bomb. That says something.[/b]

Actually, yes, this counts for a lot more than the Manhattan project in my mind, as does this:

quote:

Leo Szilard and other physicists tried to stop the attacks on Japan. Wheeler was not in that group.

The fact that people signed on to the Manhattan project is forgiveable, in that at the time it was [i]seen[/i] as necessary to stop the Nazis. I still would like to think that I wouldn't sign on to such a project, but to someone who's politically unsophisticated it might seem like the right thing to do.

However, he seems not to have raised any objections to its use after it became apparent that it wasn't needed anymore, and furthermore he signed on to the hydrogen bomb project with the full knowledge of what a simple fission bomb could do (surely he'd seen the pictures!) so that's a lot harder to forgive. He was no Robert Oppenheimer.

But then, as others have said before, he also contributed vastly to our understanding of how the universe works, and that understanding is a great gift to humanity. Many people who have made great contributions were not what most of us would consider nice people. Isaac Newton was as unpleasant a person as you'd ever want to meet, but where would we be without him?

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Well, the OP had this: "There goes one of the top minds of the twentieth century." I don't think it's been shown that Wheeler, despite his remarkable accomplishments, belongs to the group of "greatest minds" if he lived at the same time as Einstein and was, nevertheless, unable to join him and Russell in 1955 in signing the following document:

quote:

[b]In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.[/b]

Max Born
Percy W. Bridgman
Albert Einstein
Leopold Infeld
Frederic Joliot-Curie
Herman J. Muller
Linus Pauling
Cecil F. Powell
Joseph Rotblat
Bertrand Russell
Hideki Yukawa


Next to these greats Wheeler is was an ethical lightweight. Sorry, that's how I see it.

[url=http://www.pugwash.org/about/manifesto.htm]Pugwash and the Russell-Einstein Manifesto[/url]

[ 15 April 2008: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]

jrootham

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Originally posted by N.R.KISSED:
[b]

What I asserted was that the Manhattan project did not stop Hitler nor was it integral in defeat of the Japaneese. So maybe you might wish to careful about jumping to conclusions before accusing people of "revisionist history".[/b]


That is a revision of your earlier post. The question about whether the Manhattan project should have been started (or whether an individual should have worked on it) must be considered in terms of what was known at the time. Noting that it was unnecessary after the fact is not a reasonable argument.

I line up with Szilard.

Agent 204 Agent 204's picture

quote:


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]Next to these greats Wheeler is was an ethical lightweight. Sorry, that's how I see it.[/b]

I'd agree that he was an ethical lightweight. The thing is, he was a scientific heavyweight. I don't see a problem with admiring one of the guy's traits while criticizing the other.

Now the people you list are indeed admirable, and some of them (Einstein and Russell stand out among them) may indeed be among the top minds of the century as well- but I tend to consider intellect and morality as distinct traits. Whether Wheeler was among the top minds of the century is perhaps debatable. He's not another Newton, but he's certainly had a significant impact on our understanding of the universe. But whether or not he was a good person is largely irrelevant to his impact on his field.

Nanuq

quote:


Could you link to where he went into military research?

[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Banting]Wikipedia entry[/url]

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

By adopting such a dualistic approach one can safely avoid addressing the global problems that we're faced with in our time, and the role that "the greatest minds" have in solving, or NOT solving, those problems. Einstein and Russell didn't just call for peaceful resolution of conflicts without nuclear weapons; they also joined others who called for scientists to cease being ethically indifferent to the consequences of their efforts and asserted that this ethical duty was inextricably connected to their merit as scientists.

500_Apples

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Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]By adopting such a dualistic approach one can safely avoid addressing the global problems that we're faced with in our time, and the role that "the greatest minds" have in solving, or NOT solving, those problems. Einstein and Russell didn't just call for peaceful resolution of conflicts without nuclear weapons; they also joined others who called for scientists to cease being ethically indifferent to the consequences of their efforts and asserted that this ethical duty was inextricably connected to their merit as scientists.[/b]

My personal ethics are very goal-oriented and empirically-motivated, as such I can't bring myself to agree with you.

The viewpoint that Mutual Assured Destruction is a godsend to the cause of world peace is a legitimate viewpoint, not only would I forgive someone for holding that view in the 1950s, I would commend them, as that viewpoint has been vindicated by history. The casualty fraction from armed conflict in the past fifty years is probably lower than at almost any point in human history, and possibly the lowest.

500_Apples

quote:


Originally posted by N.R.KISSED:
[b]What I asserted was that the Manhattan project did not stop Hitler nor was it integral in defeat of the Japaneese. So maybe you might wish to careful about jumping to conclusions before accusing people of "revisionist history".[/b]

The purpose of the Manhattan project was to get the nuclear bomb before the Germans did. If you study twentieth century science, you will see that Germans absolutely dominated physics in the first 20 or 30 years of the century. The fear they'd get to it first was a legitimate fear.

The following is some actual history:

quote:

In 1938 many people feared that Hitler would build an atomic bomb after word spread that German scientist had split the uranium atom (fission). However, one of Hitlers mistakes was his persecution of Jewish scientists. This persecution resulted in numerous scientists seeking asylum in the United States. One such scientist was Albert Einstein. Einstein, abandoning his belief in pacifism, urged then president Franklin Roosevelt to develop an atomic bomb before Hitler did. Eventually Roosevelt agreed and the United States attempt at building the atomic bomb was codenamed The Manhattan Project.

[url=http://gk12.rice.edu/trs/science/Atom/man.htm]http://gk12.rice.edu/trs/s...

500_Apples

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Originally posted by Agent 204:
[b]The fact that people signed on to the Manhattan project is forgiveable, in that at the time it was [i]seen[/i] as necessary to stop the Nazis. I still would like to think that I wouldn't sign on to such a project, but to someone who's politically unsophisticated it might seem like the right thing to do.[/b]

I think that's a really arrogant thing to say.

How was it politically unsophisticated to desire stopping the nazis? Their goal was to conquer the world with their allies and purify the races, to brainwash the masses and to have central command. When one is fighting for survival against such an enemy, one has more options available which pass the ethical test.

Here's an example, Britain was losing the air war in 1940 or 1941, very badly. They couldn't repair their radar towers and such fast enough. What did Winston Churchill do? He ordered a bombing of German cities. Why? So that Hitler would get angry and bomb English cities... which would give the people working at radar towers and such time to rebuild. He willed the deaths of some of his own people. Was it an ethical decision? Of course it was, because he didn't have a lot of choices, and the only other alternative was to surrender, a situation where way more people would have died.

*****

We have a great privilege, those of us who are alive in the 2000s and living in prosperous Canada. What is that great privilege? The freedom to behave as saints. The liberty to be good people, it's nice.

[ 15 April 2008: Message edited by: 500_Apples ]

500_Apples

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Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]Well, the OP had this: "There goes one of the top minds of the twentieth century." I don't think it's been shown that Wheeler, despite his remarkable accomplishments, belongs to the group of "greatest minds" if he lived at the same time as Einstein and was, nevertheless, unable to join him and Russell in 1955 in signing the following document[/b]

The singular qualification I use for top mind was spectacular contributions to a difficult field.

500_Apples

quote:


Originally posted by kropotkin1951:
[b]My view is that the ends do not justify the means. [/b]

That's just a bumper sticker slogan people say to feel good about themselves.

Every conscious action humans do in the real world is intended to achieve some goal. When I eat a cookie it's for the pleasure it gives me. When I shave in the morning it's to look more professional and be more confident. There is no exception really. Subconscious actions are different, but there are derived from evolution and are maintained because they fulfill a goal, i.e. breathing is a means to achieve the ends of having energy and surviving.

The ends justify the means whenever the (positives -negatives) of the ends outweigh the (negatives-positives) of the means, as can best be reasonably estimated when one performs the action.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Yea, that's obvious. However, I think I'll stick to using ethical criteria to evaluate "top minds" as it's more of a left-wing approach than that of capitulating to the "shut up and calculate" school of thought in Physics and other sciences.

martin dufresne

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I feel like I want to go boxing now, to wash away the fear we won't be able to match them.

Thanks for this strange insight, 500 Apples... the screenplay is at the development stage but it is just this kind of quirkiness I am after in the culture. I am taking for granted that this is NOT a non-sequitur.
Working on the Top Mind Championship belt design...

[ 15 April 2008: Message edited by: martin dufresne ]

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

By the way, did you have anything to remark on Wheeler's philosophy of Physics, 500_Apples?

martin dufresne

quote:


The casualty fraction from armed conflict in the past fifty years is probably lower than at almost any point in human history, and possibly the lowest.

I am sure that Cambodians, Irakis, Rwandans, the Congolese and the Vietnamese and too many other victims of mass slaughters we have had more than a hand into will be tickled pink by your vote of confidence for our culture.

[ 15 April 2008: Message edited by: martin dufresne ]

500_Apples

quote:


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]I must admit that I took a road less traveled and really stop studying Physics seriously after 2nd year Mechanics. Not that I didn't have the Math for it - I did - but I had other interests.

I violently objected to the injection of philosophical views that I held in contempt in the Physics classroom and now, looking over some internet descriptions of debates in the philosophy of physics, I am coming to see that even the most mathematical science is far from being immune to the ideological battles raging on in the world. I remember the disappointment I felt when I heard an interview with Fenymann, for example, and his schoolboy chatter about social problems. However, my admiration for someone like Einstein have only grown with time, whether by his joint Manifesto with Bertrand Russell, or his fending off attempts to recruit him to the Zionist cause, and so on.

There isn't much about Wheeler's philosophy of physics in the wiki entry, other than a stray remark about the Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP), or other versions of the anthropic principle, which can be taken to be supporting intelligent design or supporting multiple universes, etc.. It's not clear to me what Wheeler's philosophy of physics was, beyond obedience to the "shut up and calculate" school of "thought". I really hope I'm wrong here, BTW.

[b]Perhaps a fan of Wheeler can make a few intelligent remarks about Wheeler's philosophy of physics.[/b] It's clear he was an outstanding teacher of physics, and was an innovator in the science for which he received many richly deserved awards. However, my idea of a really great scientist is someone like Albert Einstein, or Paul Sweezy, or Marie Curie (who blazed a trail for women scientists), and so on. It is no longer enough to be a great mind to be really great. One has to be a great fighter for humanity as well, to get the highest accolades and honours in my view.

Humanity is at a precipice. Who can deny this? The greatest minds must work on the greatest problems, else they're not the greatest minds at all.[/b]


Hi N. Beltov,

I'm not denying that Wheeler held many conservative viewpoints. He was definitely to the right of his colleagues who were and are for the most part liberal. What I'm saying is that this doesn't matter. I do not judge William Shakespeare to be a non-great because people found one of his plays anti-semitic. Shakespeare was a brilliant writer, and the combination of his work and the King James Bible helped push the English language forward. His plays are still played and studied today. Gauss was a huge asshole but damn what a hero of humanity he's proven to be. I'd wager Beethoven was one as well. All that really matters to me is spectacular contribution to a challenging field. Shakespeare, Gauss, and Wheeler are such people. And yes even Feynman, with whom you disagree on politics. He got a nobel prize for QED, came up with Feynman diagrams, was responsible for the Challenger disaster review, he learnt mayan hieroglyphics, the Banjo and picked all the locks at los alamos.

You seem to object to the "shut up and calculate" school of thought. This was most likely not Wheeler's school as can be seen from some of the quotes in the page I linked to. But even if it were, since it's a very successful school, it's earned its place. The idea behind it is that sometimes you can't see twenty heads and so you should just calculate and see what happens.

I take exception with your perspective that social ethics is somehow a supreme field, that it is a veto field, and that if one is not expert in the leading views of social ethics one is not a great mind. A lot of fields are important, not just social ethics. And physics is on any reasonable person's shortlist of the most important fields.

[aside]The anthropic principle is not about intelligent design. It is a counterargument to ID. It arose from the observations that the parameters of the universe seem fine tuned to support life, if the parameters were most other real numbers there would be no structure in the universe. ID advocates say this means God fine tuned the parameters. The anthropic principle is simply the proper statistical interpretation, that if the parameters were not fine tuned for life, we would not be around to comment.[/aside].

What are these philosophical views that you objected to? That the world is most likely probabilistic rather than deterministic? That science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God? Personally such views don't bother me, I embrace them in fact as they seem like very good views to me. Though really what matters more to me isn't their pleasantness, but their veracity.

500_Apples

Final aside,

For those who seem to feel nuclear physics is evil,

It's lowered the number of deaths from war on the planet, it's enabled nuclear electricity and one day fusion power which are both cleaner than most energy production, and it allows radiation therapy, cat scan and MRIs, which are some of the cornerstone of modern medicine. Overall, nuclear physics has clearly reduced the number of deaths.

For me, I like that we can understand the big bang and know what's going on inside the sun.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

1. re: social ethics is a supreme field

You could start by having a read of Paul Baran's essay [url=http://www.monthlyreview.org/561baran.htm]The Commitment of the Intellectual[/url].

Baran in his essay discusses a number of things, including exposing the use of the notion of the separation of means from ends as a way to "contract out" one's moral and ethical values somewhere else: Smith's invisible hand, God, whatever ... It's a kind of spiritual capitulation.

And then there's this ...


quote:

Baran: what marks the intellectual and distinguishes him from the intellect workers and indeed from all others is that his concern with the entire historical process is not a tangential interest but permeates his thought and significantly affects his work.... Indeed, it is precisely this effort to interconnect things which, to intellect workers operating within the framework of capitalist institutions and steeped in bourgeois ideology and culture, necessarily appear to lie in strictly separate compartments of society’s knowledge and society’s labor—it is this effort to interconnect which constitutes one of the intellectuals outstanding characteristics.

Furthermore

quote:

Even more important is to realize the implications of the practice, studiously cultivated by bourgeois ideologists, of regarding the so-called “values” held by people as lying outside the purview of scientific scrutiny. For these “values” and “ethical judgments” which to the intellect workers are untouchable data, do not drop from heaven.... In fact, the defetishization of “values,” “ethical judgments,” and the like, the identification of the social, economic, psychic causes of their emergence, change, and disappearance, as well as the uncovering of the specific interests which they serve at any particular time, represent the greatest single contribution that an intellectual can make to the cause of human advancement.

There's lots more. Read carefully. Baran's essay is well representative of my views. Hell. Baran's essay has helped me formulate my views.

2. example of philosophical views in physics that I object to ...

I've written about this on babble already, but I had, for example, the annoying experience of a first year Physics prof, (using Tipler rather than Halliday and Resnick, by the way) giving us a hand out in which the 4 equations that, taken as a whole, are called Maxwell's Equations in the form of a page with the words ...

[b]And God said ....[/b]

(the 4 equations)

[b]and then there was light.[/b]

so he managed to smuggle his religious views into the physics class. I, of course, was furious. There are plenty more examples like that, although they were in Mathematics as well.

.............

Babbler Cueball tried to make use of a quotation from Neils Bohr in which Bohr's philosophical views were taken to be gospel, presumably because Bohr was such a fine physicist.

You can read about it in the debate that Cueball and I had in the following thread

[url=http://www.rabble.ca/babble/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=next_topic&f=21&t=001907&... Theory in America[/url]

There's no need to read the whole thread if you don't want to ... just read our argument. Cueball was arguing with several people at once and I was only one of the arguments, and a side one at that. I did, however, provide a link to a more detailed description of what's wrong with Bohr's philosophical views as it relates to physics.

That's a start.

Maybe afterwards you can actually outline some philosophical views on physics by Wheeler that are unique to him and not characteristic of physicists as a whole.

[ 15 April 2008: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]

500_Apples

The start of my response, before I have a chance to fully read and digest Baran's essay which will take a few days, is the following:

It's a nice notion, looking at the world as a big picture. I don't think it's very effective. In history the people who were most spectacular at their job were so because they really liked their job, not because it gave them a noble purpose, except maybe for the top politicians. To do well in music you need to love the music and do it for music's sake, et cetera.

ETA:

Teachers do that in every discipline. It was done in my English skills and in sociology of gender, in religion classes and in human nature philosophy, as far as I recall.

Good night.

[ 15 April 2008: Message edited by: 500_Apples ]

martin dufresne

quote:


When people look up James Watson in the encyclopedia a thousand years from now, it won't be because of his the historical irrelevancy that are his racist conclusions on people of African ancestry such as myself.

Well when people look up John Wheeler, a thousand years from now, I am betting they will find him alongside other Western physicists who didn't do all in their power to weld Pandora's box firmly shut when they learned the duration of plutonium's half-life, the way we have done with the smallpox virus.

500_Apples

quote:


Originally posted by martin dufresne:
[b] Well when people look up John Wheeler, a thousand years from now, I am betting they will find him alongside other Western physicists who didn't do all in their power to weld Pandora's box firmly shut when they learned the duration of plutonium's half-life, the way we have done with the smallpox virus.[/b]

The problems are radiation are drastically overstated. It's part of the scare campaign of the media. Remember, when nuclear resonance imaging came out, people were so irrationally afraid, they had to change the name to magnetic resonance imaging. I'd much rather have that isolated plutonium around than the comparable amount of COPDs, global warming and lung cancer we get from our carbon addiction.

The coral reef are doing very well under Bikini Atol. The coconuts somewhat less.

[ 16 April 2008: Message edited by: 500_Apples ]

jeff house

quote:


It's a nice notion, looking at the world as a big picture. I don't think it's very effective.

Baran is saying that your worldview has to be integrated, a whole.

This idea in Baran probably comes from Lukacs, who, in History and Class Consciousness, said that "totality" defined Orthodox Marxism.

The problem is whether this "totality", or whole, is built up of small bits of empirical information, or whether it is the whole which determines the parts.

If you decide on the "whole" first, and then cut facts to fit, then you are a captive of your system just as any religious thinker is.

Several babblers make this mistake.

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

Lets all praise the great scientists who were complicit in the murder of civilians. This asshole was a right wing terrorist.

So how about those cluster bombs are we going to praise the people who hold the patents on them as well. We have a good example of ethical scientific behaviour who stepped up just recently.
[url=http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20080117/bc_engineer... ethical man unlike Wheeler[/url] You keep comparing this terrorist to Shakespeare. Lets see in one of Shakespeare's plays one of his CHARACTERS is anti-semitic compared to bombs that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. That has to be the new low on babble for moral relativism.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

quote:


jeff house: Baran is saying that your worldview has to be integrated, a whole.

This idea in Baran probably comes from Lukacs ...


Um, no. He says it's from Hegel ...

quote:

Paul Baran: This principle “the truth is the whole”—to use an expression of Hegel—carries with it, in turn, the inescapable necessity of refusing to accept as a datum or to treat as immune from analysis, any single part of the whole.

Baran is objecting to "contracting out" the evaluation of any of the parts. Furthermore, he explicitly rejects the demand for universal or absolutely valid solutions, independent of time or place or context. It's not enough to "tell the truth" he says ...

quote:

Baran: For the problem is not merely whether truth is being told but also what constitutes truth in any given case as well as about what it is being told and about what it is being withheld Even in the area of the natural sciences these are important issues, and there are powerful forces at work shunting the energies and abilities of scientists in certain directions and impeding or sterilizing the results of their work in others. When it comes to matters related to the structure and dynamics of society, the problem assumes central significance.

Truthfulness and courage, says Baran, are what's needed by the intellectual [i]to be[/i] an intellectual. He rejects rationalizations for ethical neutrality and argues: "An intellectual is thus in essence a social critic ..."

quote:

Jeff House: If you decide on the "whole" first, and then cut facts to fit, then you are a captive of your system just as any religious thinker is.

Baran is against an ethical neutrality or indifference that compartmentalizes "the whole" into water tight compartments that can be sealed off from the scrutiny of social and intellectual evaluation. The theory of water tight compartments might be great sounding but we all know that the theory didn't prevent the Titanic from winding up in Davey Jones' locker anyway, when faced with an enormous iceberg of contradictions, whose hidden elements far exceeded the seen elements.

angrymonkey

"It may be said that I am identifying being an intellectual with being a hero, that it is unreasonable to demand from people that they should withstand all the pressures of vested interests and brave all the dangers to their individual well-being for the sake of human advancement. I agree that it would be unreasonable to demand it. Nor do I. From history we know of many individuals who have been able even in its darkest ages and under the most trying conditions to transcend their private, selfish interests and to subordinate them to the interests of society as a whole."

I think that the pursuit of knowledge is greatly in the interest and benefit of society as a whole. And I would be interested in seeing someone weeding out ethical science from non ethical science.

viigan

"The problems are radiation are drastically overstated. It's part of the scare campaign of the media."

Tell that to the victims of Chernobyl.

Proaxiom

quote:


Originally posted by angrymonkey:
[b]I think that the pursuit of knowledge is greatly in the interest and benefit of society as a whole. And I would be interested in seeing someone weeding out ethical science from non ethical science.[/b]

There's no such thing as unethical science. That's like saying there is unethical knowledge.

There is unethical technology (like BitTorrent?). And unethical research, in which people are harmed by the research methods. But science is value neutral.

I actually think it's dangerous to think otherwise. If knowledge itself -- separate from its application -- can be considered harmful, then that effectively green-lights all manner of political interference in science.

Proaxiom

quote:


Originally posted by viigan:
[b]Tell that to the victims of Chernobyl.[/b]

The Chernobyl reactor was very poorly designed.

Advocates of nuclear power, including Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace, point out that in more than 50 years of nuclear power generation in western countries, there is not a single fatality attributed to the production of nuclear energy.

In France, 80% of their electricity is generated by nuclear plants.

viigan

"Advocates of nuclear power, including Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace, point out that in more than 50 years of nuclear power generation in western countries, there is not a single fatality attributed to the production of nuclear energy."

It might be an expression of pessimism, but I think it's a disaster waiting to happen, and its consequences are ridiculously far reaching. There's always the factor of human error, and when it happens in a nuclear power plant, it might wipe out an entire city, or two. In my opinion, the benefits do not outweigh the possible costs.

"There's no such thing as unethical science. That's like saying there is unethical knowledge."

I'm tempted to agree with you on this statement, but wouldn't it depend on how this science is conducted and how the knowledge is obtained? Nazi scientists contributed to our pool of knowledge, but how they came by this knowledge was obscenely immoral and inhuman.
Ethics should play a role in science, if only to return the brightest minds of our societies to work for the benefit of humanity, instead of the defense industry where they can grow lethal diseases in petri dishes, and new and improved ways of killing more people for less money.
I understand that knowledge can be used for both good and evil, but in this case, they were engaged in finding ways to decimate entire populations.
The argument that it was to end WWII is really a farce. There was no need to drop the bombs, and the Nazis we feared so much really ended up in the employment of the CIA.

[ 16 April 2008: Message edited by: viigan ]

Proaxiom

quote:


Originally posted by viigan:
[b]There's always the factor of human error, and when it happens in a nuclear power plant, it might wipe out an entire city, or two. In my opinion, the benefits do not outweigh the possible costs.[/b]

It is possible to design systems whose safety does not rely on any level of competence in the human operators (that's what 'fail-safe' means). But it is true that there is always some level of risk.

On the other hand, if the benefit is mitigation of global warming by displacing fossil fuel-based generation, the risk would have to be significant in order to discount nuclear power.


quote:

[b]I'm tempted to agree with you on this statement, but wouldn't it depend on how this science is conducted and how the knowledge is obtained? Nazi scientists contributed to our pool of knowledge, but how they came by this knowledge was obscenely immoral and inhuman.[/b]

That's what I meant by 'unethical research'.


quote:

[b]I understand that knowledge can be used for both good and evil, but in this case, they were engaged in finding ways to decimate entire populations.[/b]

In line with what has already been mentioned on this thread: If the Nazis [i]had[/i] been doing the same research in parallel, would the American development of nuclear weapons have been ethical?

If so, then how could the Americans have known, one way or the other?

viigan

"In line with what has already been mentioned on this thread: If the Nazis had been doing the same research in parallel, would the American development of nuclear weapons have been ethical?"

Well, Germany was out of the war by the time the US decided to drop the bombs on Japan. At the point that the bombs were dropped, the Japanese were effectively defeated, and I think that there has even been some conjecture that the Americans were aware of an impending surrender but nuked them as a show of force to the Soviet Union. The second bomb was certainly overkill, in the truest sense of the word. I have misgivings about our brightest minds being harnessed to an industry whose goal is our destruction. It seems that the pattern has been solidly set, so I'm a little reticent to applaud a brilliant man who choses to use his talents for the bad of mankind. Goebbels, Hitler, Kissinger and many others have displayed uncanny genius in their relative fields of expertise, but we don't celebrate their genius as seperate from its devastatitngly brutal use and its results.

I don't think that defense scientists who have made our world a terrifying place in so many ways, should be exempt from this criticism.
Uranium tipped shells were also considered a minor breakthrough for conventional warfare, and it's certain that the scientific community that developed them was aware of the lasting after effects on the environment and the people that continue to live in the area. In my opinion, they should be considered dangerous criminals, not role models for aspiring scientists.
The sell on weapon breakthroughs, then and now, has always been that 'we're saving lives'. I think that the twentieth century and the spill over into the twenty-first has proven otherwise.

[ 17 April 2008: Message edited by: viigan ]

triciamarie

quote:


Originally posted by Proaxiom:
[b] Advocates of nuclear power, including Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace, point out that in more than 50 years of nuclear power generation in western countries, there is not a single fatality attributed to the production of nuclear energy.[/b]

Utter propaganda.

quote:

Young children living near to German nuclear power plants develop cancer and leukaemia more frequently than children living further away from them. There is a 60% increased rate of cancer and approximately 120% of leukaemia. These are the findings of the «Epidemiological Study of Childhood Cancer in the Vicinity of Nuclear Power Plants» (KiKK Study), commissioned by the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS).

[url=http://www.ippnw-europe.org/article/IPPNW_Physicians_Issue_Warning.html]...

Science is apolitical?

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Yes, it really seems as if Proaxiom is defending the compartmentalization of knowledge approach, a consequence of which is the immunity from criticism and ethical "contracting out". The IPPNW article notes that:

quote:

Only after massive pressure and over 10,000 letters of protest to the authorities and ministries did the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) accept the necessity for further studies .

... which draws attention to one of the many ways that science is perverted; good research is prevented from taking place, and the only research made available is the partisan research of selective data used to justify socially inappropriate (in this case, socially lethal!) policies.

There are also more subtle ways to skew the data:

quote:

The increase was to be found only when operational nuclear power plants were taken into account, not the decommissioned plants, nor the research reactors. The increase was only found amongst infants under the age of 5 years old.

... which just goes to prove that unethical science has plenty of examples that are easy enough to find.

quote:

The authors of the study were at first surprised by the results they had arrived at. They quickly pointed out that the raised levels of childhood cancer and leukaemia in the vicinity of nuclear power plants could not be explained by radioactive emissions. They claimed that the doses of radioactivity calculated to be in the vicinity of nuclear power plants are below the average dose from natural background radioactivity. Since this is not compatible with current radiobiological thinking, they did not rule out the possibility of coincidence as an explanation.

That's right. "Coincidence" was claimed as an explanation for the higher rates of leukemia among children. But science is still ethically neutral?

Good scientists know that there's no immunity from social criticism and ethical evaluation for anything human beings do.

And that's a good thing.

Proaxiom

quote:


Originally posted by viigan:
[b]"In line with what has already been mentioned on this thread: If the Nazis had been doing the same research in parallel, would the American development of nuclear weapons have been ethical?"

Well, Germany was out of the war by the time the US decided to drop the bombs on Japan. At the point that the bombs were dropped, the Japanese were effectively defeated, and I think that there has even been some conjecture that the Americans were aware of an impending surrender but nuked them as a show of force to the Soviet Union.[/b]


The questions I asked were relevant to the ethical considerations around developing the weapons, not using them.

Besides that, the bombs were used with the aim of forcing Japanese surrender without having to invade Japan itself, which would have incurred high casualties.

A second consideration may have been, and this is speculative, to end the war quickly before the Soviets had a chance to expand its claims in the far east. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan the day after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. There was significant combat in Manchuria between Soviet and Japanese troops for weeks after Japan surrendered to the Allies. No peace treaty was ever concluded, and the Soviet Union was technically in a state of war with Japan until 1991 when it dissolved. To this day no peace treaty has been signed because of territorial disputes over islands taken by the Soviets at the end of the war.

Proaxiom

quote:


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]... which draws attention to one of the many ways that science is perverted; good research is prevented from taking place, and the only research made available is the partisan research of selective data used to justify socially inappropriate (in this case, socially lethal!) policies.[/b]

You are trying to claim that science is not ethically neutral by pointing out scenarios in which scientific inquiry is being restricted.


quote:

[b]That's right. "Coincidence" was claimed as an explanation for the higher rates of leukemia among children. But science is still ethically neutral?[/b]

You, triciamarie, and the authors of the linked article are providing an example of confirmation bias.

You already believe that the generation of nuclear power causes cancer. Confirmation bias means that you will give extraordinary weight to a single study because it agrees with what you already think.

Thus it is easy to set aside the problems with it: no one can find the level of radiation that would be necessary to cause the rate of cancer that the study finds exists. Does this mean our understanding of the effects of radiation on biology are wrong?

Maybe it does. However, the study considered 37 deaths across an entire country over a 24 year period. Current understanding of radiation and cancer is built on thousands of studies and experiments.

Generally in science when one result contradicts established theory, it means effort has to first be put into whether that one result is anomalous, and if it is not, work out exactly what is wrong with established theory. It's not appropriate to just label established theory as propaganda and throw out all previous results.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

quote:


Proaxiom: Thus it is easy to set aside the problems with it: no one can find the level of radiation that would be necessary to cause the rate of cancer that the study finds exists. Does this mean our understanding of the effects of radiation on biology are wrong?

For some dangerous substances, there is no "safe" level, as you undoubtedly know very well. And, furthermore, when the citizenry is in danger of being exposed to dangerous, life-threatening, or possibly transgenic substances, then the prudent thing to do is not to expose the public to any of it. It's called the precautionary principle. Look it up.

The entire population of North America, for example, thanks to the obscene influence of the agri-food industry, is being used an guinea pigs in regard to GMOs. There are no proper long term studies, there is no control group, and, therefore - conveniently for this industry I might add - there is no way of determining the horrific consequences of this massive social experiment on the population. Science in service of profits is a stupendous monster which may very well succeed in wiping out life on planet earth.

But, hey, if you want to stick to your delusions of ethical neutrality, contracting out moral values, the compartmentalization of knowledge and the "Shut up and calculate" school of thought, then knock yourself out. There are lots of rich corporations that are in complete agreement with you.

[ 17 April 2008: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]

Proaxiom

quote:


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]For some dangerous substances, there is no "safe" level, as you undoubtedly know very well.[/b]

That's not really true. At some point the effects of a substance become statistically indistinguishable from zero.

quote:

[b]And, furthermore, when the citizenry is in danger of being exposed to dangerous, life-threatening, or possibly transgenic substances, then the prudent thing to do is not to expose the public to any of it. It's called the precautionary principle. Look it up.[/b]

The principle is impossible in practice, because science can never absolutely prove an action or a technology is safe. It could be used to argue against the use of any technology at all.

In any case, it is mostly advocated when we have minimal evidence one way or the other. There is a great deal of knowledge about radiation and its effects.

What it absolutely cannot be taken to mean is that a small amount of evidence of harm should be given overwhelming weight against a large amount of evidence against. This is what gets us things like the thimerasol-autism controversy, where speculation fueled public paranoia that has done no good for anyone (because the link does not exist), and harm to many (in the form of children not being vaccinated against diseases because their parents are irrationally afraid of mercury poisoning).

quote:

[b]But, hey, if you want to stick to your delusions of ethical neutrality, contracting out moral values, the compartmentalization of knowledge and the "Shut up and calculate" school of thought, then knock yourself out. There are lots of rich corporations that are in complete agreement with you.[/b]

The response to bad science is good science. There is no other answer. Emotional arguments, fear-mongering, and speculative claims cannot carry the day against actual evidence.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

For some dangerous substances, there is no "safe" level, as you undoubtedly know very well.

quote:

Proaxiom:That's not really true. At some point the effects of a substance become statistically indistinguishable from zero.

There is no safe level for dioxions and furans. Do you happen to work for a company that promotes the use of such substances or are you shilling for free?

[url=http://www.precautionaryprinciple.ca/no_safe_level_for_dioxins.htm]NO SAFE LEVEL FOR DIOXINS ...[/url]

quote:

The response to bad science is good science. There is no other answer.

And good science is distinguished from bad science by not jettisoning ethical values for cash, for example, which was precisely my point.

Thanks for dropping by.

500_Apples

quote:


Originally posted by viigan:
[b]"The problems are radiation are drastically overstated. It's part of the scare campaign of the media."

Tell that to the victims of Chernobyl.[/b]


Chernobyl was due to engineering problems, not due to nuclear physics. It would never happen in a modern reactor, and indeed, every accident which has taken place was in a case of antiquated engineering.

Additionally, you're cherry picking points. The point is not whether some people suffered from chernobyl, but whether the suffering from all nuclear incidents is remotely proportional to the suffering from COPDs, lung cancer and climate change. They are not, as such nuclear electricity reduces deaths.

viigan

"Chernobyl was due to engineering problems, not due to nuclear physics. It would never happen in a modern reactor, and indeed, every accident which has taken place was in a case of antiquated engineering."

They had a similar confidence in modern technology when the Titanic steamed into an iceberg. Any scientific development that can destroy humanity in such an immediate manner, is not worth the risk of development in my opinion.
When the next failure occurs, we'll blame the engineers again but that won't help the thousands that will die in the short term, and the incalculable thousands that will perish later.
As if the use of these plants doesn't come with an inherent danger, we now ship the technology to nations with crumbling infrastructures, like Turkey, and hope for the best with fingers crossed.
The use of fossil fuels came about through the ignorance of the possible consequences. The same can't be said of nuclear technology.
Science may have replaced God for modern humanity, but we don't need to grant it infalibillity in the name of knowledge and with disregard to its consequences.
The military and the scientific community have been, and remain the most consistent polluters of the atmosphere. Gas went up for you and I, but it's not slowing down the guzzling machines of war and their supersonic jets with their uranium tipped payloads. These developments have not been beneficial to mankind in my opinion, so forgive me if I hold very little trust for a community that sells its talents to the highest bidder with little regard for the rest of us.

martin dufresne

quote:


Chernobyl was due to engineering problems, not due to nuclear physics...

If it had only been engineering problems, reaction to the accident would have been something like "Phew, there sure is a lot of steam on the windows today."
By that standard of denial and minimization, Hiroshima & Nagasaki are a case of half a million people 'having been in the wrong place at the wrong time'...

500_Apples

quote:


Originally posted by martin dufresne:
[b] If it had only been engineering problems, reaction to the accident would have been something like "Phew, there sure is a lot of steam on the windows today."
By that standard of denial and minimization, Hiroshima & Nagasaki are a case of half a million people 'having been in the wrong place at the wrong time'...[/b]

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were due to politics. If nuclear attacks are due to science, then cities would be bombed in a manner uncorrelated to politics. But in fact hiroshima and nagasaki were nuked and no other cities, at about the same time and about the same place, so that correlation implies politics.

They may have faced the most powerful weapons, but they didn't suffer the greatest deaths. Dresden saw half as many people die. More recently, 800, 000 Rwandas were killed by... machetes! Should we go back in time and blame the inventor of the knife? No, he was just trying to eat.

Like I said before, the original name of magnetic resonance imaging was nuclear resonance imaging.

500_Apples

quote:


Originally posted by viigan:
[b]Science may have replaced God for modern humanity[/b]

I now see that you have an agenda.

*****

For those curious however, I'll note a distinction with uranium tipped shells. Those can only be used to kill, and are an application of existing knowledge, there is no science done in the design and manufacturing of uranium shells, it is engineering. Nuclear physics was the creation of new knowledge, which led to the reduction of deaths from MAD, nuclear electricity and modern medicine. It allows us to understand the sun, understand radioactivity, understand the big bang, explore the solar system, et cetera. If all the nuke plants in the world would have been coal plants as viigan desires, then global sea levels might be a meter or two higher now.

viigan

"I now see that you have an agenda."

You have to be kidding.

"... which led to the reduction of deaths from MAD"

Yes, mutually assured destruction saves lives. Why didn't I think of that? Until it happens, of course, in which case we won't be around to continue the discussion, while our cretin politicians and their scientists will be holed up in a mountain somewhere waiting for the opportune moment to re-emerge and dominate the mutated, crippled survivors.

"...800, 000 Rwandas were killed by... machetes! Should we go back in time and blame the inventor of the knife? No, he was just trying to eat. "

Precisely; he was trying to eat and they're trying to find ways to obliterate a civilian target more thoroughly. As tragic as the Rwandan genocide may be, it is the result of the direct action of men. In the case of nuclear power or ICBMs we have to worry about human errors as well as malfuntions in the systems. If this, or better yet, WHEN this happens, it's going to make the Rwandan figures, and those of the Holocaust look lke a minute loss by comparison.

The advantages of learning more about the Big Bang theory don't seem worth the potential cost to human life and the utter destruction of the environment for a long ass time to come.

[ 17 April 2008: Message edited by: viigan ]

Proaxiom

quote:


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]And good science is distinguished from bad science by not jettisoning ethical values for cash, for example, which was precisely my point.[/b]

Good science is distinguished from bad science by even treatment of evidence and strict adherence to reason. Deliberately introducing a bias -- like arbitrarily deciding that evidence supporting a nuclear power/cancer link should be given far more weight than evidence against it -- is not good science, even when done with an earnest belief that the results will help people.

[ 17 April 2008: Message edited by: Proaxiom ]

triciamarie

I just think it's bizarre that there is this opinion out there that just because you're Practicing Science, that your personal points of view or other influences can't possibly have any effect on what you choose to study over the course of your career, or how you study it, or how you interpret the results -- or the degree to which your work should be considered valuable, and by whom.

I had a long conversation yesterday with a guy who established and used to run the helicopter trauma unit at a major teaching hospital in Detroit. He treated a couple of our clients and takes an interest in WSIB claims. I called him up to talk about the Board's practice of lowballing NEL (lump sum payment) awards, often by ignoring or misinterpreting evidence of neurological impairment.

He told me an anecdote from when he was at Harvard medical school back in the 50's. One of his lab professors would sometimes greet students with a question about what they intended to prove today? The student would tell him, and his response would be, "well if that's what you're planning to prove, you will do it".

His point was, an examiner's personal ideas and objectives do affect the outcome reported in the lab, just as they do in conducting NEL evaluations based on so-called evidence-based, objective medical assessment.

How is that different in any other area of science?

Proaxiom

quote:


Originally posted by triciamarie:
[b]I just think it's bizarre that there is this opinion out there that just because you're Practicing Science, that your personal points of view or other influences can't possibly have any effect on what you choose to study over the course of your career, or how you study it, or how you interpret the results -- or the degree to which your work should be considered valuable, and by whom.[/b]

That would be bizarre, if anybody held such an opinion. I have never encountered a person who thought that way, though.


quote:

[b]His point was, an examiner's personal ideas and objectives do affect the outcome reported in the lab, just as they do in conducting NEL evaluations based on so-called evidence-based, objective medical assessment.

How is that different in any other area of science?[/b]


Are we back to criticizing scientists for not being good scientists, and then pretending that that constitutes a criticism of science as a whole?

Nobody considers any scientist infallible. Many of the greatest have been wrong on some very important points.

The value of scientist's work is evaluated by looking at the weight of their contribution to human knowledge. This isn't always known right away, but can be measured by observing how many predictions are made that hold true over time, and how much later research is built on the conclusions resulting from that work.

triciamarie

No, I won that discussion already. This thread is about whether or not John Wheeler, whose work will likely produce the eventual demise of our species and most others, and who to my knowledge never regretted his pivotal role in that development, is deserving of our honour and esteem, as progressives.

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