Saturday, March 02, 2019

When fight against "group think" becomes a delusion

A lady's enemy is an innocent tautology

A new tirade by Ms Hossenfelder, Check your Biases, has increased my blood pressure right after the lunch. Hossenfelder's targets are folks from CERN, starting with its director Fabiola Gianotti, but her main goal is to turn sociologists into scientists' bosses again.
From Eclectikus: Sheldon Glashow wrote a review (for Inference) of Hossenfelder's disturbing book and you can be sure that even though he's a pioneer among string theory haters, he's also the elegant gentleman I knew in Greater Boston's social events (and whose office I was using for a year LOL). Don't get me wrong: most of the stuff he writes about supersymmetry (and a few other things) is just junk. He doesn't even seem to understand that the laws of the MSSM are precisely invariant under SUSY despite the SUSY breaking – just like the Standard Model has the \(SU(2)_W\) symmetry although it's analogously spontaneously broken.
In the Physics World, Gianotti was asked "what she and CERN do against group think" by a Mr Richard Blaustein, an obnoxious climate alarmist inkspiller/activist. She clearly wanted to say that it was a dumb question but she wanted to be polite, so she didn't say it was a dumb question. Instead, she humbly started to say that CERN depends on the collaboration of thousands of scientists. It unavoidably sounds like she avoided a direct answer to the question – because she did. Well, in business, politics, and mostly bureaucratic jobs at CERN as well, "peaceful" people like Gianotti who tend to avoid a direct conflict with someone's ideas are more likely to be appointed as directors etc.

You know, it sounds like a cliché, we hear it often, and we're bored by it. But it's true, too. CERN depends on quite some amazing cooperation between many people. First, start with Milton Friedman's lead pencil. There's not a single person in the world who could make this pencil. A remarkable statement? Not at all. The wood came from... Literally thousands of people who would hate each other were brought together by the invisible hand of the free market – by the price mechanisms – to produce the pencil.

Now, take the damn Large Hadron Collider. Tens of miles full of superconducting magnets, electric and magnetic fields everywhere, computers that control it, detectors with many layers, the need to design the detectors as well as the analysis, the analysts of the raw data, the analysts of the not so raw data, and so on.

The pencil is an amazing achievement of the mankind ;-) but the Large Hadron Collider is arguably even more amazing and complex.

If you were really tough, you could perhaps reduce the people who are required from over 10,000 to just a few thousand. If they were near-superheroes, you could do it with hundreds of people. But it would still be true that the Large Hadron Collider was built – and is run and exploited – by a very large, macroscopic collaboration of the people who have unequal roles and skills. If you want to prove me wrong, just build and run your own personal multi-TeV particle collider (and you're not allowed to use LEGO). ;-)

It's not trivial to build and to run such a thing. In some sense, this outcome requires an army-like discipline. If an army is an example of group think, the Large Hadron Collider – and CERN – undoubtedly needs a similar kind of group think. It needs people who think (it's more important than for the soldiers, I guess) but they also need to participate in a teamwork – work in a very large team – that is smooth enough. So they need to "think in a group" or "think as a group" because the group has some shared tasks. It has to be so for the collider to work, whether you like it or not. Can this work be described as "group think"? I guess it surely can. How it could not be? It's a "group think" but it's completely essential, too.

The very basic assumption by Ms Hossenfelder that there's always some big enemy called "group think" that must be vitriolically fought against is just wrong. It's too bad that her modest brain doesn't allow her to even figure out that she might and she should question her basic assumptions.

Czech composer Bedřich Smetana (Frederick Cream) was born 195 years ago today. The current Doodle (see also Google News) has nicely remade or plagiarized my 2008 video (2nd part) about the composition that describes the Czech national river, The Moldau, from the spring to its absorption by Elbe (The Moldau is actually larger and the unified river should be called The Moldau but angles misleadingly suggest that the Elbe must be larger) which was the point of the composition. I actually really believe that the Doodle makers were well aware of my YouTube video (because of all the Šumava forests, nymphs in the water, and Prague bridges in both videos) which has 282k views now. I must say that the "not very famous German composer Smetana", as my diploma adviser used to call him (Smetana only learned Czech when he was rather old), contributes a not so negligible fraction to my emotional Czech patriotism.

The job of the CERN people is to build the magnets, connect wires, disconnect the wires, press buttons at the right moments, deal with the petabytes of data produced by the detectors, write clever code and design and run clever hardware to reduce the insane amount of the raw data without losing the gems, and analyze the data at many levels that end up with the lessons for the most theoretical layers of physics that could learn from the experiments if people are sufficiently hard-working and Nature happens to be kind, too. Some of the people need to write the actual papers on their computers, discuss the papers at meetings. Some secretaries need to prepare the coffee, send some paperwork, sleep with the bosses, and do lots of other things.

I generously omitted thousands of other things that the CERN people must do. They don't have any time – and they were not hired – to do some ill-defined social rituals such as the "fight against group think". (And their time should also be protected against the "diversity" indoctrination and statements – but Gianotti has largely failed to defend CERN against this toxic garbage.) Most of these people are doing work that requires quite some expertise but it's also a straightforward enough work that must simply be done right. Some of this work is intrinsically individual in character, some other parts of this work are naturally collective. Both types are needed. There's very little room for exhibitionists who only live by pretending to be independent mavericks. Mavericks without expertise and hard work would be useless for CERN. And by the way, Hossenfelder isn't even a maverick. She's the most average woman with the most average opinions about science that you can get. That's the real reason why I keep on responding to all her misconceptions – they really summarize what millions of ordinary people who don't "get it" at all think about science.

Hossenfelder attacks several other particle physicists. One name is censored – that person was somewhat pißed off by her behavior although he or she didn't reach 10% of the degree to which I am pißed off. Andreas Salzburger's name was kept but he was already very polite. "The best recipe against biases is hard facts that contribute to the opinion building," he said. You would think that this sentence and a few similar ones are exactly appropriate and no sensible person could possibly disagree with those answers. Well, Ms Hossenfelder hysterically attacked Mr Salzburger, too. That's not good enough, Mr Salzburger, you didn't answer the question. What? If she is only satisfied when the physicists' parrot some particular delusions of hers, why doesn't she simply ask them what they should parrot? To make things worse, Hossenfelder summarized Salzburger's attitude by saying that "he overestimates his rationality". What the hell did you just write, lady? What's your evidence for this sentence that looks like nothing else than a very dumb insult without any substantiation whatsoever?

But right beneath the attacks on Mr Salzburger, she wrote the main point:
It is beyond me why scientists are still not required to have basic training in the sociology of science, cognitive biases, and decision making in groups.
Let me give you a simple answer to your very stupid question, Ms Hossenfelder. Natural scientists are not obliged to waste their time with sociology or other social sciences because sociology and social sciences are basically pseudosciences. Instead of doing social sciences and other things that are not sciences, natural scientists actually do real science which is superior. Some other people may publish sociological commentaries about science but their importance for the science itself is zero. The scientific integrity requires that scientists are actually not creating their opinions based on sociological commentaries!

It's the basic point here that for natural sciences, the natural science itself and its arguments – those based on rational thinking and empirical evidence – are always crucial while some sociological ones are always either secondary or downright illegitimate. This is how it should be in the ideal world. In the real world, sociological pressures play some role, too. But what is clear is that Ms Hossenfelder wants the sociological garbage to be very important which is completely wrong and it would be dangerous for the very existence of science if scientists ceased to agree that Hossenfelder is clearly full of crap.

Ms Hossenfelder has been forced to pretend to do physical sciences for years but, like almost all women, she totally hates natural sciences. She hates the very point that some social garbage isn't "at the top" of all the big decisions. But it's the whole point of natural sciences that something completely different, something independent of any societies and sociological bullšiting and conspiracy theories, is decisive. It is very clear that she cannot even imagine how such a thing could exist. She doesn't believe that science might exist. She is totally stuck with thinking about the world in terms of sociological pressures of some people on others. She tries to reduce every single question, including "how much is 2+2", to some sociological conspiracy theory. But regardless which "social group" or which "sociological paradigm" you choose, science just doesn't work and cannot work like that.

Hossenfelder proposes mandatory reeducation camps for the physicists where the physicists would be downgraded to some idiotic bullšiters about social biases, discrimination, and similar garbage. You know, Hossenfelder isn't your typical extreme leftist at all – an NPC obsessed with identity politics, reverse racism and sexism, glorification of sexual deviations, or with the climate fearmongering. She doesn't identify with the conventional far left. But she is still a kind of a social justice warrior in the sense that she wants to place some fight against some social phenomena that she considers "evil" above science itself.

For real physicists, to be downgraded to sociologists would be worse than castration if not death. They would become stinky piles of Šajze much like sociologists or Ms Hossenfelder herself. Here is a typical quote – don't overlook the word "bias" – that shows why Hossenfelder's thinking overlaps with that of the SJWs a lot:
What is a social bias, what is a cognitive bias?

A cognitive bias is thinking shortcut that has developed through evolution. It can be beneficial in some situations, but in other situations it can result in incorrect judgement. A cognitive bias is similar to an optical illusion. Look at this example:
We have just discussed this very topic of "biases" in the previous blog post. Biases are basically good, they're what the people's basic rational thinking is made of. They are building blocks of our pattern recognition, learning, and rational responses in general. "Biases" are results of experience and/or learning, rules of thumb that are extracted from real world situations, especially from mutually similar or repeated ones.

"Biases" may be inaccurate but if that's so, the only "improvement" may be a better, more accurate or more detailed rule, not the hysterical effort to ban "biases" in general.

If someone only says that some opinion is a "bias", she doesn't really present any evidence whatsoever that there is anything "wrong" with the bias. Bias is just a word describing a mental process whose existence is crucial for the people's thinking and that can be more or less accurate. We want our evaluation of topics to be more accurate but just by screaming the deliberately emotional and negative word "bias", people don't present any evidence supporting anything negative whatsoever.

The very hysteria involving the alleged "group think" is a group think by itself. You know, Ms Hossenfelder seems angry by the "group think" at CERN manifested by the fact that folks at CERN generally agree with the proposition
It is a good idea to build and operate (new) particle colliders.
This is just an example of a similar proposition – but at CERN, it's almost certainly the most important example, too. Yes, at CERN, you will find "group think" in the sense that almost everyone at CERN will agree with the statement above. The percentage will surely be way higher than the percentage of the ordinary people who will subscribe to the sentence above.

But is that wrong? Is this "group think" a proof of anything wrong or irrational? It's not. The existence of this "group think" is really a matter of common sense. If the people thought that particle colliders were bad ideas, they would probably avoid working at CERN. (That's because almost all of them are sensible enough to avoid activities that they hate. Hossenfelder herself is stupid enough to have spent some 20 years in theoretical physics although she hates theoretical physics as a matter of principle.) Instead, they could be trained in Al Qaeda camps, planning an attack against CERN, or they could spend their days by discussions with other relentless critics who read Woit's or Hossenfelder's tirades and dream about the destruction of physics.

Again: It's almost a tautology that workers at CERN think that CERN's projects are good ideas.

The other people – in Al Qaeda and/or in the global Woit-Hossenfelder chronic critics' movement – "also" suffer from group think, like CERN. The difference is in the content of the two or three versions of group think. People at CERN think that it's a good idea to spend a dozen of billion of dollars to build a new collider every decade or two. The people around Al Qaeda, Woit, or Hossenfelder think it's a bad idea. Similarly, the world's best theoretical physicists generally think it's important to refine our understanding of string theory, the only known promising new route to go beyond quantum field theory, the safely established calculus of state-of-the-art physics. Woit, Hossenfelder, and Al Qaeda disagree – Al Qaeda doesn't even like that string theory retrodicts that a chap named Mohammed was just a mass killer and pedophile who should be ignored.

Curiously enough, Hossenfelder only repeats the word "group think" in connection with CERN or particle physicists. She never dares to criticize the limited readers who keep on reading her deluded tirades for their group think. How is it possible, folks, that none of you has ever been capable of pointing out that Ms Hossenfelder has no clothes? And how is it possible that Ms Hossenfelder has never punished these readers for this shocking manifestation of their group think?

The separation to the groups is basically spontaneous – fans of particle physics get naturally concentrated at CERN while haters of physics get naturally concentrated at Hossenfelder's website and similar hubs of misconceptions – and the two types of "group think" follow from that concentration. So this "group think" is a consequence of the basic laws of logic applied to the people's behavior, if you wish. It is utterly idiotic to criticize it. Both fans of particle physics and haters of particle physics suffer from "group think" – when it comes to their opinion about the value of particle physics – because this is how the two groups are basically defined! There's no logical way how the "group think" could be absent within groups that are defined by their attitudes to a field of physics.

So if Hossenfelder or some sociologists criticize CERN (or, analogously, string theorists) for this "group think" and claim that it proves something, he or she or they 1) fail to see the very same thing on the other side, 2) fail to see that the existence of the "group think" is a tautology. If a person incapable of figuring out these two basic conclusions claims to convey some deep science ("sociology"), every honest person must point out that this "sociologist" is just a stupid stinky pile of Šajze. Physicists don't waste hours with the indoctrination by pompous "sociologists" because the physicists are free people – and they're also intelligent which is why they generally avoid wasting their time by listening to morons.

Everyone who mindlessly fights against "biases" is a prejudiced moron who completely misunderstands how rational thinking and the human civilization evolved and how they still operate. He or she is an obnoxious activist who just insults others.

"Biases" may be negative or relatively negative but they're never negative just because they can be called "biases". We may always divide people to groups and within each group, the degree of "group think" will be greater than in less filtered subsets. This fact is a tautology and doesn't imply the existence of anything wrong. The actual question is which answer is right. And when it comes to the opinion about the "value of particle physics", those who say "high" are generally refined people who are exceptional at least in some respects, while those who say "low" are lowly animals.

Both refined people and lowly animals belong to "groups" but that doesn't mean that both groups are equally valuable. Versions of "group think" were not created equal.

So I won't "check my biases" in the sense of paying attention to some social activists' offensive claims that my elaborate methods to think about the Universe and its many aspects may be called "biases". Feel free to insult and impress other fudged-up idiots who think that such insults are on par with a science, "sociology", if not better than science, but I will always know that all these "sociological" people are just junk and I won't allow them to shift my thinking by one Planck length.

Incidentally, I have said that her totally misguided jihad against "group think" is a frantic effort to impose some real group think and the superiority of "sociological assumptions" over scientific arguments. In other words, it's a cure that is worse than a disease. Needless to say, we may generalize a little bit and observe that this situation is omnipresent when it comes to the left-wing activists. Some laws that claim to fight against monopolies – and also laws about "net neutrality" – pretend to be beacons of freedom but they're often the most dangerous weapons to restrict freedom and establish truly unbreakable monopolies. Similar social campaigns often - and perhaps usually – have the opposite effect than what they verbally claim in their self-promoting booklets. It's important to defend science and other important fields of the human activity against these pathological influences of the social or political movements.

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