Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Quanta Magazine's dirty political propaganda

Based on my experience with similar left-wing activist websites, I believe there is a high probability that my comment under a disgusting Quanta Magazine article
A Physicist Who Models ISIS and the Alt-Right
by Juan Cristóbal Cobo will be censored. So I am going to post a copy here.

This article is a despicable pile of trash.

Before 1989, we were exposed to the communist propaganda. Folks like Václav Havel were periodically presented as "the same" as the Nazis, some links of Havel's relatives to the fascist regime were totally invented, others were blown out of any proportion. All of this stuff was driven by the ideological agenda.

Here, the main point is obviously to compare "alt-right" – a term that the leftists like to use for almost everyone who isn't left-wing, as exemplified by the recent left-wing counter-protest against a Free Speech Rally in Boston – with the Islamic State. Really? So at this level, this article is exactly the same as the communist propaganda articles against Havel.

But your article is actually worse because you're trying to contaminate physics by your dirty political games. Communists have had much more respect to physics than you have. Comments such as "what the alt-right is doing online is completely analogous to what the ISIS is doing online" are just misleading political statements that have absolutely nothing to do with physics.

Such statements are textbook examples of the scientific dishonesty. Richard Feynman had this example: He had heard that Wesson Oil doesn't soak through food. Now, it's technically right to some extent but the conclusions that the listener is encouraged to make are completely wrong. Up to some temperature, this oil doesn't soak through food – and neither do other oils. Above this temperature, all oils do.

This statement about the "analogies between ISIS and alt-right online" is exactly analogous and suffers from exactly the same dishonesty. Certain aspects of the behavior of individuals and political groups are the same and have to be the same – and it's true not only for ISIS and alt-right but for left-wing groups, including the self-described "moderate" ones, too. There are certain universal laws how individuals and groups operate or have to operate if they want to be successful. And others are different – for those, the oversold analogy is just untrue.

So this whole "physical" comparison is absolutely vacuous when one only picks its parts and interpretations that are right. And anyway, the analogy between the ISIS and the "alt-left" groups would be more accurate, anyway – but I wouldn't ever try to selectively promote such an analogy in an article that would pretend to be about physics. The clear main goal of such misleading titles and articles is to encourage the reader to think that there's some special proximity between conservatives and ISIS and that such statements may be even studied with the rigor of physics. This is clearly the actual "message" that a vast majority of the readers (and most of them will be incomplete readers) will "get". But all these conclusions that the reader is encouraged to make are pure lies.

It's also a lie that this kind of research should be referred to as "physics". The man named Neil Johnson could have done some physics in his life and this has shaped his background. But this is at most an attempt to do social sciences (let's say political "ecology" in this case) more quantitatively and the people who study these things, even with similar methods, are still social scientists. This kind of research suffers from the usual problems that social sciences usually do. They're not sciences at the same level as natural sciences, let alone physics. They don't really produce any reliable laws that could be repeatedly validated. Such candidate laws only have a chance to be obeyed given some assumptions but in this messy social context, it's virtually impossible to precisely enough define what the assumptions are and whether they're obeyed in a new situation.

Moreover, the article indicates that this guy hasn't found anything deep or interesting even at the level of social sciences. The article only contains trivial statements – similar equations may govern systems in different situations or disciplines. Many objects interact in the human society. Non-Gaussian distributions appear. Groups may grow. They may be banned and the members have to move on elsewhere etc. What the hell? Every intelligent person finds these "discoveries" obvious. At least, a power law with the exponent 2.5 (clearly just some heuristic law, not something you should take terribly seriously) was defended in a Science article. Curiously, unlike its "summary" in the Quanta Magazine, the paper in Science has said nothing about the alt-right.

Also, much of his "work" is focused on strategies to eliminate groups he labeled negative. Too bad, he has never asked the question whether it's desirable to do such things – i.e. suppress the freedom of expression on social networks etc.

It's absolutely terrible if and when Jim Simons' money is being abused for similar activities – efforts to abuse science and its good name in order to promote some (disgusting) political agenda.

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