Simon Singh: is there anything he doesn't know?

Congratulations to Simon Singh. Not only is he Britain’s third most famous celebrity mathematician after Carol Vordermann and Johnny Ball but he is also, it seems, a supremely persuasive debater. His fluent performance in last week’s Spectator global warming debate was adjudged by both Andrew Neil and Spectator editor Fraser Nelson to be the best of the evening.

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2 thoughts on “Simon Singh: is there anything he doesn't know?”

  1. Hey James, maybe you should retitle your article as “James Delingpole: is there anything he does know?” given your performance on the BBC documentary…

  2. The man dismissed in Socrates’ Apology, according to Plato: “οὖτος μὲν οἴεταί τι εἰδέναι οὐκ εἰδώς, ἐγὼ δέ, ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ οἶδα, οὐδὲ οἴμαι”.

    “This man, on the one hand, believes that he knows something, while not knowing. On the other hand, I – equally ignorant – do not believe.”

    This fine distinction between peer-reviewed crap and proved facts is clearly explained by Professor Richard P. Feynman’s address, “What is Science?”, presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, 1966 in New York City, published in The Physics Teacher, vol. 7, issue 6, 1968, pp. 313-320:

    “You must here distinguish – especially in teaching – the science from the forms or procedures that are sometimes used in developing science. … great religions are dissipated by following form without remembering the direct content of the teaching of the great leaders. In the same way, it is possible to follow form and call it science, but that is pseudo-science. In this way, we all suffer from the kind of tyranny we have today in the many institutions that have come under the influence of pseudoscientific advisers. … We have many studies in teaching, for example, in which people make observations, make lists, do statistics, and so on … They are merely an imitative form of science … The result of this pseudoscientific imitation is to produce experts, which many of you are. … As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

    Pseudoscience, not science, is the consensus of expert opinion; pseudoscience is defended by fashion, mud slinging, etc.

    Professor Irving L. Janis, “Victims of Groupthink,” 1972, p. 197:

    “Eight main symptoms run through the case studies of historic fiascoes. … The eight symptoms of groupthink are:

    1. an illusion of invulnerability, shared by most or all the members, which creates excessive optimism and encourages taking extreme risks;

    2. collective efforts to rationalize in order to discount warnings which might lead the members to reconsider their assumptions before they recommit themselves to their past policy decisions;

    3. an unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, inclining the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions;

    4. stereotyped views of enemy leaders as too evil to warrant genuine attempts to negotiate, or as too weak and stupid to counter whatever risky attempts are made to defeat their purposes;

    5. direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, making clear that this type of dissent is contrary to what is expected of all loyal members;

    6. self-censorship of deviations from the apparent group consensus, reflecting each member’s inclination to minimize to himself the importance of his doubts and counterarguments;

    7. a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view (partly resulting from self-censorship of deviations, augmented by the false assumption that silence means consent);

    8. the emergence of self-appointed mindguards – members who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.”

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