Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Is someone impersonating Aaro?

I only ask, because I find it hard to believe that the author of "Private lives should never belong to the public" (Feb 16) is the same person as "Online truth is more valuable than privacy" (March 2).

73 Comments:

Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

My children — Generation Y, rather than the Generation X-ers who make most of the current fuss about privacy — seem unworried by their mother’s capacity to track them and their social lives through Facebook.

uh-oh... using his kids as material AGAIN... in a piece about how important empirical evidence is, surely this is questionable in the extreme. Indeed almsot all his serious generational talking points come form things he's asked his kids.

At a conference at the weekend I heard that some US colleges have taken to looking at the Facebook sites of applicants before they think to alter them before an interview. This may turn out to be apocryphal

there were news stories about companies doing this about 3 years ago. But hey, Aaro is really worried about information becoming inaccessible on teh internets...

some people, many perhaps, might seek to undermine any informational authority on the web by flooding it with false information

CND... Red Cros bomging itself... etc etc

3/02/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

some people, many perhaps, might seek to undermine any informational authority on the web by flooding it with false information

Hmm. Reminds me of The Internet? Bah!: What the Internet hucksters won’t tell you is tht the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data. You don’t know what to ignore and what’s worth reading. Logged onto the World Wide Web, I hunt for the date of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up, and it takes 15 minutes to unravel them–one’s a biography written by an eighth grader, the second is a computer game that doesn’t work and the third is an image of a London monument. [1995 - Why the internet will never catch on and craving letters in stone is here to stay]

Actually, Google and Wikipedia are pretty good at sorting stuff by quality. And where they're not? It's not as if wrong information is new. Read any newspaper account of something you're familiar with, and they're almost always inept. Same goes for old encyclopedias. And if history books were definitive, how come we have so many?

If thing I've wanted to say elsewhere with all the picking on chiropractors and homeopaths is that the post-Enlightenment attitude is *not* to accept argument from authority. If that means some nutty experimenting, that's better than slavishly taking accepted wisdom. Strange is it may seem, I actually think trying alternative medicine (though often wrong) is still the 'scientific' thing to do. Some things you just have to try. And sometimes there are competing opinions - so you have to work things out for yourself. All good, IMO.

3/02/2010 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous magistra said...

He's horrified about the 'erasure of documentary history' that the internet allows? Has he never heard of people burning documents and shredding papers before? Or about how you can use screen captures/print-outs/archiving etc to preserve internet documents? I could accept that someone doesn't understand about new technology (though perhaps they shouldn't then write about it). But not understanding about new or old technologies seems rather wide-ranging ignorance.

3/02/2010 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Yes of course there's that too. The fire at Alexandria, Newton's dog, Diamond (prob apocryphal), the fire at the end of 'The Name of the Rose' (fictional), and of course, doctoring of photographs. Tolstoy says at the end of 'War and Peace' that eyewitness accounts of the Napoleonic wars converged as people started to repeat the better stories and consensus emerged and so on. (From memory, so not exact.) Let's not forget 'Nineteen Eighty Four' either. Or the Catholic Church's really rather enviable ability to discover that infallible successors of St Peter were really quite fallible after all. There's nothing new in the internet at all, apart from the ease of copying and storing.

3/02/2010 11:16:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I'm not so sure teh internets does allow the erasure of documentary history, anyway. Facebook stores everything you put on it, even if you decide to leave it - surely if you want to, i dunno, delete your birthdate from it, it's your right? Aaro is arguing against that, however.

The only reliable source we have for Friend of Deceny Douglas Murray's diatribe about Muslim immigration is the Web Archive, as his former employers and the man himself have tried to delete every copy of it. HP Sauce - My Favourite Political Website - have deleted, permanently, posts recently (not just comments but posts AND comments). Aaro is entering a fairly problematic space here - if he's opposed to 'routine doctoring of material on the internet to render it more palatable to the offended' then he should be opposed to any kind of moderation of online comments.

this:

some people, many perhaps, might seek to undermine any informational authority on the web by flooding it with false information, thus obliquely protecting their own identities.

sounds suspiciously like a conspiracy theory to me. Has he got ANY evidence of this having happened? He mentions having been alerted to it at an anonymous conference he want to at the weekend, but without a case study (aside form someone on wikipedia claiming aaro was born in Serbia, which doesn't really work as an example) it's hard to take the claim seriously.

3/02/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

the post-Enlightenment attitude is *not* to accept argument from authority ... I actually think trying alternative medicine (though often wrong) is still the 'scientific' thing to do. Some things you just have to try.

Sorry, but you're wrong twice over. Firstly, "let's see what it does to me" isn't a scientific test - there's only one of you and lots of extraneous variables that you can't control. "Let's see what it does to these 500 people and compare it with what a placebo does to these 500 people" is a scientific test - and once a treatment has failed a test like that (secondly), Science Says This Doesn't Work isn't an argument from authority.

3/02/2010 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah. if Aaro says X, then we must try our damnedest to discover as much Y as possible. So much so that we end up sounding as though we think that the burning of the library at Alexandria was no great tragedy. But just last week there was a Radio 4 item on how academics are looking to preserve defunct websites as documentary evidence. Come on folks!
P D'B

3/02/2010 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

'Flooding...' also sounds suspiciously like the infamous line of Jo Moore's "a good day to bury bad news". But that would be to remember that Dave's friends in New Labour a) think 'fuck the taxpayers, the stupid buggers should know only what we tell them' b) don't give a shit about 3000 deaths until told to fake a human reaction because they can milk this later.

However, I really came here to say that he's wrong about FaceBook too. I don't use it much, but it has recently acquired more privacy options. As for Aaro's example that parents can read FaceBook is that really different from his generation - when most houses had only one phone - teenagers saying 'Har har, I was *so* pissed last night. Did you get off with her?' etc in potential parent's earshot. And I'm no expert on young people today, but I imagine that they're aware that drugs are illegal as is drinking under 18 - and keep some activities non-public. Whatever Aaro says, most people are quite coy about who they've slept with.

3/02/2010 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

But Phil D'B, I didn't say that it wasn't a great tragedy. I said that the loss of information isn't something which is new to the internets.

Other Phil (Gaping Silence): don't agree. I understand your point, but I still believe in suck it and see. For one thing, drugs tests are very complex - certain drugs only work on certain people, and placebos work too. For another, there was a good piece in the New Scientist recently - Human pheromones: there's no evidence they actually exist. Science: always be testing. :)

3/02/2010 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

just last week there was a Radio 4 item on how academics are looking to preserve defunct websites as documentary evidence

i rfer you to my above mention of the web archive being an unquestionably Good Thing. But Aaro's output on these topics is contradictory; he seems unwilling to either give proper examples (such as for this 'flooding' thing), and he seems to not really understand the example he's giving - surely the suicide thing is an example of creativity being stifled on teh internets, as facebook have banned it, and keep all one's personal info regardless of one's wishes?

are you going to chance back over to the conspiracy Theories thread, filled bap?

3/02/2010 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Phil,
its not really that simple though. First of all a scientific test needs to be repeated by multiple people before you can be certain of its validity. Secondly, a scientific test only demonstrates that given the variables in a test, it doesn't hold. The problem is that the wrong variables might have been chosen, or there is sufficient variability in your chosen population that there was not a large enough sample to detect an effect.
So if you had a drug that only worked on 1% of the population, but your sample was from the entire population, then the treatment would probably fail that particular experiment. It would be valid to say that this drug does not work on the population, but it wouldn't necessarily mean it didn't work.

3/02/2010 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

In the first place it means the erasure of documentary history. Books still go out of print, and can be hard to find unless one gets lucky. If I were to register a site - say David Aaronovitch Is A Blood Drinking Reptile From Alpha CentauriB.com (minus spaces) - would it become sacred just for having been published? or would the world be much the same, if not better, if said site quietly disappeared? Would the world have been better or worse off if the Time Cube guy (really, don't read) had ever published a book? I'm anti-censorship, but am also really ambivalent about whether some information could just vanish without harm. Books, once published, get preserved in libraries mostly. This is subjective and arbitrary, but works pretty well. I imagine that stuff will get creamed off from the internet that's worth keeping. And stuff gets backed up.

And second it raises the possibility of routine doctoring of material on the internet to render it more palatable to the offended.

China keeps doing this; and users keep finding ways round it. It's not just a possibility; it happens. And it's a losing battle.

3/02/2010 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger mcgazz said...

"Let's see what it does to these 500 people and compare it with what a placebo does to these 500 people"

But what if the placebo is the more effective - does that mean we should bin the new drug or start giving people placebos?

http://www.wired.com/medtech/drugs/magazine/17-09/ff_placebo_effect?currentPage=all

3/02/2010 02:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

what if the placebo is the more effective - does that mean we should bin the new drug or start giving people placebos?

Yes. Ben Goldacre reported a while back on a trial where doctors gave (some) patients a placebo and told them it was a placebo. Quite positive results, apparently. We know very little about the placebo effect, but we know there is one.

Cian - I don't think I was saying what you seem to be arguing against. It's true that data is only as good as the methods used to gather it; if I'm contemplating using a drug, I can't rely on a properly-conducted trial having found any data relevant to me. But however irrelevant that data is, it's solid experimental data, and a recommendation based on it is not an argument from authority as that phrase is usually understood. My experience of what the drug does to me, while highly relevant, is just one data-point; privileging that experience as a sign of the true nature of the drug really would be an argument from authority (mine).

3/02/2010 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if someone is impersonating Aaro, but I guess he could have been on Ritalin?

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7042838.ece

Matt

3/02/2010 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Phil,
sure, but experiments are rather more limited in their findings than you seemed to be suggesting. I don't think homeopathy works, but for example its not true to say its been proven not to work. Rather there's no proof that it does work, and proof that under certain experimental conditions no effect beyond a placebo occurs.

I agree about authority in theory, except most of us don't have the skills (and this includes plenty of doctors, incidentally) to assess experimental data properly. So ultimately we rely upon authorities to do this for us. Better than authority from God, but still occasionally problematic.

3/02/2010 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

I share Aaro's concern about the erasure of documentary history. But it's newspapers I'm concerned about - especially since there's a good chance that paper versions are likely to disappear in the not-too-distant.

This story has been messed about with something chronic - the original story has been removed, then after some attention from 9-11 types, reinstated as an appendix to the later story about the 'retraction'.

This kind of early, unrevised account is pretty important when 'news management' is so pervasive.

(Note that you don't have to have any outre beliefs about 9-11 to object to the authorities getting at the news in this way - and the fact/claim that heavy pressure was applied (Romero was at first threatened and vilified, but since making his retraction-like statement has been the recipient of a good deal of govt largesse) doesn't entail that those doing the suppressing thought they were squashing true CTs, just 'dangerous' (cf Voodoo Histories, Cass Sunstein's paper) or inconvenient ones.

I was going to link to a story about less 'conspiracist'-related rewriting of history by the Observer and others, at

https://secure.wikileaks.org/wiki/MPs_in_uproar_after_attack_on_Wikileaks

or

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/MPs_in_uproar_after_attack_on_Wikileaks

but I can't access either of them. The latter definitely used to exist, but I fear I took no snapshot...

This phenomenon, of course, has nothing to do with privacy, though I wonder how long it will be before corporations start asserting privacy rights along with the other 'human' rights they already claim. Maybe Aaro's views on privacy will take another turn when that happens.

BTW Phil D'Bap - are there any questions you don;t consider to have been adequately addressed on the recent thread about the US book review?

3/02/2010 05:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

I have to agree with Phil here.

"If thing I've wanted to say elsewhere with all the picking on chiropractors and homeopaths is that the post-Enlightenment attitude is *not* to accept argument from authority. If that means some nutty experimenting, that's better than slavishly taking accepted wisdom. Strange is it may seem, I actually think trying alternative medicine (though often wrong) is still the 'scientific' thing to do. Some things you just have to try. And sometimes there are competing opinions - so you have to work things out for yourself. All good, IMO."

1. As Phil also points out, deference to authority is not the same as argument from authority.

2. I think you could well do with some Bayesian priors. Homeopathy is extremely implausible even without any trials. The mechanism just does not make sense, and you don't need to be an authority to see that: many people, when homeopathy is explained to them, cannot believe that people really believe such rubbish.

This is an issue more thoroughly discussed here:

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=42

and the posts that come after, linked below that post.

There are also safety issues to consider. If most scientists consider specific forms of chiropractic manipulation to be unsafe and potentially deadly, is it really wise to go ahead anyway?

Let us consider a situation where you have some condition X. The doctor offers you two treatments: a homeopathic one, A, and a non-homeopathic one, B. Say you know that B is efficacious against X beyond the placebo effect. Wouldn't you take B rather than A, knowing what you know about homeopathy? If B didn't exist (i.e. there are no treatments for X that are efficacious beyond the placebo effect), then (assuming affordability) it would be "rational" in some sense of the word to take A. But only then.

What about in the clinical trial case? Well humanity only has a finite amount of time and resources. Should we really be testing treatments that current understanding considers to be placebos, when there are more plausible things we could test? Wouldn't it be unethical to waste resources like that?

The recent House of Commons report goes into more detail on this issue and is worth a read if you haven't already.

Finally, wouldn't this argument, that we shouldn't defer to experts when they have some sort of consensus, wouldn't that end up with people in some sort of perpetual indecision? What do you say to the parent who hears that Andrew Wakefield considers MMR to cause autism? Would you tell her to get her child the jab because we shouldn't defer to experts and so should "experiment", or would you instead, like me, say she should get her child the jab because Wakefield is a lone voice, and has been discredited both academically and ethically?

Would you say that instead of accepting global warming to be happening, we should "experiment" and see if the IPCC's 2100 projections come true?

It seems that what we have from this argument is that we should never look for the expertise of others, and should instead only count on our own experimentation. This is tantamount to saying that science can only be useful as a personal endeavour, and never a collective one.

3/02/2010 10:39:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Of course events surrounding the library of Alexandria are subject to much dispute.
Right now it’s all disclosure, from kids’ education to bathplug prices.
Is this an attempt to fight a rearguard action on the disclosure of MPs expenses, because I think he's lost it?
The privacy argument on medical records isn't helped by the openness with which American presidential candidates disclose their condition.

3/03/2010 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"Or the Catholic Church's really rather enviable ability to discover that infallible successors of St Peter were really quite fallible after all."
Can you give any examples of what you are referring to here?

3/03/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

OT, but Jesus, the cartoon at the top of page 11 of the new Private Eye. What must people who aren't mired ankle-deep in Decentist bullshit think of this sort of thing?

3/03/2010 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Alex. Point 1 quite correct. Point 2. I largely agree, if I were in charge of research funding, I would not finance research into homeopathy, for the reason you give: it's just not plausible. However, I'm not so certain that the argument from plausibility is that good. Creationists argue that evolution is implausible - which in a sense it is, you just have to accept that there really was a very great deal of time, and so on. But the creationist argument about a jumbo jet being assembled by a whirlwind - 'what are the odds?' is too similar for me to your "many people, when homeopathy is explained to them, cannot believe that people really believe such rubbish."

On Andrew Wakefield, you're also completely right. Still, I'm getting a feeling that there's a witch hunt afoot, and though I feel that homeopathy is balls, and the claims chiropactors make aside from the benefits of back-rubbing are also balls, there's something not right in this hounding of alternative medicine. But, I actually agree with you much more than I don't.

3/03/2010 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Saucy Jack, OK Papal infallibility was 19th century; and I was thinking of Pope Boniface VIII (see also here, as I'm not impressed by the translation).

3/03/2010 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

On the new Private Eye; on the first page there is a 'Decent' conflation of corruption and ethnic particularism in Tower Hamlets and the infiltration of the Labour Party* by Islamists. Muslims (behaving badly) appears to equal Islamism.

*Will Aaro turn his 'critical' gaze on this laughable CT?

3/03/2010 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger pj said...

Firstly, I'm not entirely sure what an article in New Scientist on pheremones is supposed to tell us about the value of science, secondly, New Scientist and Ben Goldacre - these are our scientific touchstones? Hmm, the two cultures seem alive and well.

"But the creationist argument about a jumbo jet being assembled by a whirlwind - 'what are the odds?' is too similar for me to your "many people, when homeopathy is explained to them, cannot believe that people really believe such rubbish.""

In what possible way are those two arguments analogous? The former is expressing personal incredulity regarding a bad analogy to argue against a theory, the latter is simply pointing out that most people don't even understand a particular theory, and when it is explained to them they think it is nonsense.

"...there's something not right in this hounding of alternative medicine"

What?

3/03/2010 08:33:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"OK Papal infallibility was 19th century; and I was thinking of Pope Boniface VIII"
I can make no sense of what you were thinking of, unless you believe that the doctrine of Papal infallibility holds that the Pope is impeccable, or omniscient. Which really doesn't indicate a profound knowledge of Catholicism.

3/03/2010 08:52:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

On Andrew Wakefield, you're also completely right. Still, I'm getting a feeling that there's a witch hunt afoot

Except that the man's clearly, and unambiguously, a "witch".

3/04/2010 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Alex,
I think you could well do with some Bayesian priors. Homeopathy is extremely implausible even without any trials. The mechanism just does not make sense, and you don't need to be an authority to see that:

I don't really think this is good enough. All kinds of current scientific theories didn't make sense when they were first proposed, and were seen (quite reasonably) as implausible. So this isn't enough to reject it as a possibility.

I think its better to argue it in pragmatic terms. There are no plausible reasons to think that homeopathy could work, and there is no evidence to suggest it is so. Given that research funds are limited, money should not be spent on testing it at the present time as there are better candidates
Furthermore, medically one should never (and this applies just as much to supposedly legitimate therapies) routinely use therapies that are not proven to work.
If homeopathy defenders wish to try and prove it does work, or spend money on it, that's up to them. But the onus of proof is on them.

I think scientists are partly to blame here. Science is much more probabilistic and pragmatic than non scientists realise. They assume there is a TRUTH, when in fact most science is a lot fuzzier than that. Its like the climate change stuff. It gives you probabilities, rather than certainty.

many people, when homeopathy is explained to them, cannot believe that people really believe such rubbish.

Yeah, but things that are true can also seem ludicrous unless have quite serious amounts of scientific training. A perfectly defensible psychological theory is that we don't (in the classical sense) have free will, or the ability to make moral choices. You try arguing that to the no-nonsense defender of the enlightenment.

3/04/2010 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Jack: Well, I understand 'infallible' to mean 'incapable of making mistakes or being wrong' and it seems to me that, if hell existed, it would be a mistake to end up there. Since I regard it as risible to think any person is infallible, impeccable, or omniscient, I don't see why I should bother distinguishing between them.

I don't claim to have 'profound knowledge of Catholicism' - where did I imply that I had? I don't claim to have deep knowledge of Scientology or Islam, these don't stop me joking about ancient aliens or flying planes into buildings. I did see a debate on whether Catholicism has been a force for good or not. The church was represented by a bishop or an arch bishop (I can never remember if arch bishop is lower than bishop the way lance corporal is lower than corporal or not) and a former British cabinet minister. The atheists could only scrape up a journalist and byword for dipsomania, and an actor known for fleeing a theatrical performance with stage fright and depression. Strangely, the best argument the politician could manage was "I knew you'd bring up condoms, you're obsessed" but why one of this country's best known homosexuals would have any interest in birth control remained a mystery. The atheists won, by the way.

3/04/2010 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger pj said...

Yeah, but things that are true can also seem ludicrous unless have quite serious amounts of scientific training.

But I think the point being made about homeopathy is that most people regard it as being synonymous with herbalism, and are both surprised and amused when they find out what it actually entails. Doesn't tell you anything about its validity but gives you an idea about why the public have such a benign attitude to it.

A perfectly defensible psychological theory is that we don't (in the classical sense) have free will, or the ability to make moral choices. You try arguing that to the no-nonsense defender of the enlightenment.

That's probably because they recognise the conceptual confusion inherent in concepts like 'free will'.

3/04/2010 06:12:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

CC, well for your future information the doctrine of papal infallibility means that the Pope is free from error when he pronounces ex cathedra on a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the entire Church. Only one such pronouncement has been made since 1870. I realise this may be a rather tedious distinction to you, but it is rather tedious for Catholics to have to endlessly explain it in the face of unfunny gags based on a complete misapprehension. It would probably be the same for Buddhists if the notion somehow got abroad that reincarnation meant that you got reborn as a can of condensed milk.

3/04/2010 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Yes, but on the other hand (a Catholic writes) given that it is an absolute load of old cock, people can perhaps be forgiven both for making fun of it and for showing less interest than they might in the precise theological justification.

3/04/2010 08:27:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"given that it is an absolute load of old cock, people can perhaps be forgiven both for making fun of it and for showing less interest than they might in the precise theological justification"
Not really, if you are making fun of something you should show some basic awareness of what you are making fun of. Football is a load of old cock, but if I was seeking to make fun of it I would not confuse the offside rule with a hamburger van, on the basis that they are both basically something to do with the object of my contempt. Or if I did my satire would be less than devastating. Of course, if people simply need to regularly heap abuse on religious belief in order to make themselves feel somehow better, none of this would indeed matter.

3/04/2010 08:58:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I think you could be forgiven for not knowing the offside law in its entirety, or indeed not knowing that it is a law and not a rule. The real point about Papal infallibility is the claim to infallibility itself: that's the load of old cock and that's the thing people wish to mock.

3/05/2010 06:50:00 AM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"The real point about Papal infallibility is the claim to infallibility itself: that's the load of old cock and that's the thing people wish to mock."
Yes, but in order to mock a claim you have to know what the claim is, don't you? I would like to mock the world of the middle class football fan, but would not do so on the basis of claims that middle class football fans have never made (let's say, for example, the claim that squeezing a middle aged beer belly into a replica shirt makes you irresistibly attractive to women). In the same way, Catholics are at least worthy of being mocked for what they actually believe rather than what some ignoramus decrees them to believe. The claim that any human being can themselves be infallible, impeccable or omniscient would obviously be absurd since it could be quite easily empirically disproved. The claim that the Pope, when ruling on extremely rare occasions on crucial areas of doctrine relating to divine revelation, does so under divine guidance, is not self-evidently absurd, nor is it subject to empirical disproof.
So in assessing or lampooning claims we need to enter the language game to understand what they are. Or of course we can base our assessments on lazy prejudice and ignorance. But even on that level, I actually think papal infallibility as an internally coherent concept would make more sense to ordinary people than the dictatorship of the proletariat or the vanguard party or the infallibility of Tony Cliff, or whatever other revealed truths mught be dear to your own heart.

3/05/2010 07:41:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

on the prediction tip - Nickcohen2 recently tweeted:

Is it pushing contrarian journalism too far to take a pop of Joanna Lumley?

to what end i wonder...?

3/05/2010 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

On his recent form of getting names right is probably something Joan Collins has done.

------

If he has got one right maybe it's to do with this, as Islington is a place close to his heart.

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23807641-first-the-gurkhas-now-joanna-helps-to-save-islington-theatre.do

One might think however he'd be in favour, but perhaps its annoyed the neighbours somehow.

3/05/2010 12:12:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

The claim that the Pope, when ruling on extremely rare occasions on crucial areas of doctrine relating to divine revelation, does so under divine guidance, is not self-evidently absurd

I think you'll find it is old boy.

3/05/2010 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"I think you'll find it is old boy."
Please point me out the logical contradiction or inconsistency in the claim then. Stating that a claim is not self-evidently absurd simply means that, not that it is likely or plausible.

3/05/2010 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Catholics are at least worthy of being mocked for what they actually believe rather than what some ignoramus decrees them to believe.
Given that it was historically quite recently that the Catholic Church gave up holding all its masses in a language that most of its congregants were ignorant of, you are not worthy, as Wayne and Garth would say.

3/05/2010 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

The claim that the Pope, when ruling on extremely rare occasions on crucial areas of doctrine relating to divine revelation, does so under divine guidance, is not self-evidently absurd, nor is it subject to empirical disproof.

Well, it's subject to the demands of evidence, which test it fails on every count, so I think we can count it as absurd pending further developments.

3/05/2010 08:55:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"Well, it's subject to the demands of evidence, which test it fails on every count"
What on earth do you meam? How is the Assumption of Mary, the only doctrine on which Papal infallibilty has been invoked, "subject to the demands of evidence", and on which tests of said evidence has it failed? Or, if you wish to pursue this, apply the same questions to the doctrines of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the inevitability of communism as the radiant future of humanity, tony cliff's perspectives from 1946 until his death, or any other bunch of crap which continues to be important to you.

3/05/2010 09:56:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Oh wow, what have I started? One tossed off joke, which compared a largely forgotten passage from Mark Musa's Penguin translation of the Divine Comedy to Stalinist revisionism (which was my original point), seems to have become, if I may quote one of my favourite Catholic apostates (I have a few), by a commodious vicus of recirculation some kind of holy war, or, if you will, jihad.

No, I don't know much about the doctrines of the Catholic Church. My parents were atheists; my mother become a Unitarian (it's complex), I have attended Catholic Mass. Most of my close friends when I was primary school age were Catholic; they went to a different school from me, for reason I persist in not understanding. I do know that it was more brutal - to me as an adult, unforgivably so. I wouldn't send a child there, and if I did, I'd sue for abuse (not sexual, just the corporal thing), and sue big, out of philanthropy, not greed.

I'm actually interested in Catholicism: I think the Vatican Observatory is a wonderful institution. And I've been fascinated by Dante, Donne (and off and, er, onne, convert), Eliot, Robert Lowell, and even Evelyn Waugh. Though the convert I particularly like was John Berryman whose last collection ("Delusions, etc") was particularly fine and included 'Ecce Homo' "Long long I thought you human/Almost beyond humanity, but not". He jumped off a bridge; "they recognised him by his glasses" from the Observer, if I remember rightly. It's strange how religious belief so little affects behaviour, isn't it? Waugh tried to kill himself (by drowning), and Eliot was best paraphrased by James Fenton ("Jug jug jugular he cried/Then leapt into the sea and died/His corpse came back on the next tide./They built a pyre./All through his wretched life, they sighed/He had lacked fire.") It's in 'The Wasteland' should you not believe me "On Margate Sands I can connect/Nothing with nothing" (There are references to EM Forster and King Lear, but what do you expect?)

Anyway, Saucy, I can call you Saucy, Saucy, can't I? Assuming you're a Catholic, where are you on the Ten Commandments? As Christopher Hitchens says The Ten Commandments instruct believers to keep the Sabbath (ie Saturday) holy, and to cut that graven image shit out! And the Jews, did they all kill Jesus? I'm really fond of Joseph Heller[1], you see, so I'd rather that wasn't the case.

[1] Now I think about it, also Julius ("Groucho") Marx and family, Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, KIrk Douglas, Stanley Kubrick, and well, lots of others. It does seem a bit bitter, and, if I may say so, petty and childish, to hold something against people, oh, 1900 years after an event. But, hey, it's your unfuckable god or whatever. I'm sure she's perfect in every way. If it's not a stupid question, what's the thing with balls? Women can't do the god thing, I get that, but balls/ovaries: is it so important?

3/05/2010 11:37:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

How is the Assumption of Mary, the only doctrine on which Papal infallibilty has been invoked, "subject to the demands of evidence"

One assumes it can be reproduced under laboratory conditions?

3/06/2010 07:48:00 AM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

CC, I think the discussion here is whether religious statements can ever be meaningful rather than a debate on the doctrines of the Catholic Church per se. This was rather an issue in English philosophy post WW2 in the shadow of logical positivism - you might find it useful to consult Flew and Macintyre's "New Essays in Philosophical Theology" which, being edited by a diehard atheist and a believing Catholic, covers all the bases of the debate pretty adequately.
"One assumes it can be reproduced under laboratory conditions?"
Yes, one of the defining features of a miracle is that it can't be reproduced under laboratory conditions, I would think. But then again, neither can the Haitian earthquake, or socialism, but people continue to believe in them. Certainly a science that was reduced to what could be reproduced under laboratory conditions would be a fairly meagre one (meteorology and seismology come to mind, not to mention chaos theory), and religion is in any case not a science, although both involve a strong element of blind faith.

3/06/2010 08:32:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Really?

3/06/2010 09:17:00 AM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

Yes, really. I suspect we might agree that Albert Einstein was something of an authority on science? Over to him then:
"Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

3/06/2010 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It's a nice quote, but it ain't true.

3/06/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

Yes, well I won't comment as I believe the Monopolies Commission is currently investigating your dominance of the truth sector.

3/06/2010 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Shouldn't that point be addressed to the Holy Father?

3/06/2010 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

Actually the current Pope's book "Truth and Tolerance" contains a fascinating discussion of the appropriateness of truth claims in a religious context which you might do well to consult. You might even learn something about science while you are at it.

3/06/2010 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'm afraid my schedule will not allow for any extensive reading until my retirement, at which point I intend to devote myself to the classics.

Not many of these are likely to be by Popes. Except perhaps Alexander, and I don't mean the Florentine chap.

3/06/2010 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Incidentaqlly, it is, of course, quite possible to reproduce and evaluate meterological and geological data in laboratory conditions, through the use of compters and other equipment, and by using this data and equipment, make reasonably accurate predictions about future weather and so on.

It is not possible to do this with religious data, which is why we have a weather forecast and not a miracle forecast. This is one among many reasons why religious and scientific thought are not in fact comparable.

What you find in practice is that the advocates of religion tend to insist on applying the highest standards of intellectual inquiry to other people's ideas while demanding that their own, religious ideas are treated as if they possessed the same status while actually refusing to have them judged using the same yardsticks. Scientific ideas: require scientific rigour. Criticism of religion by the non-religious: must possess deep and accurate knowledge of the subject. On the other hand, assumption of Mary and Papal infallibility: no evidence, no coherent explanation as to how such phenomena could exist, but never mind because it's irrelvant. The Pope's writings: to be taken seriously as the writings of an intellectual, but on the other hand we'll call him Pope at the same time so that we can believe with blind faith what we're expecting other people to treat with deep intellectual seriousness.

It's having it both ways in a big way. It may be possible to possess both faith and reason, but what happens in practice is that faith becomes a dyke-repair mechanism for the giant gaps in reason, and I don't think other people are obliged to respect that overmuch.

3/06/2010 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

atheist to Unitarian? Wow, that's the first I've heard of anyone taking that well-trodden path in that particular direction.

CW

3/06/2010 02:01:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

I think you will find, EJH, that "advocates of religion" (by which you seem to mean those who think that religious belief should be studied seriously and respectfully) are not generally in the habit of popping up on blogs to deride science as being a load of "old cock", while loudly proclaiming their happy ignorance of the basic tenets of science and their refusal to read anything that might enlighten them. If they did so, it would be correct to point out that they did not have a deep and accurate knowledge of the subject.
And we call the Pope the Pope because that is his job title. You can call him yo mama if you want, but nobody would know who you were talking about. In the same way I refer to the Socialist Workers Party by its given name, however risible it might be.

3/06/2010 02:43:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

Atheist to Unitarian is a very odd move, right enough. It's easy to forget the Unitarians still exist.

A late aunt of mine went from atheist to Spiritualist, but that's a whole different ball game.

3/06/2010 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

And we call the Pope the Pope because that is his job title

Mmm. So we do. Because it's just a job, isn't it.

It's having-it-both-ways again.

3/06/2010 08:31:00 PM  
Anonymous John Fallhammer said...

organic cheeseboard said...
on the prediction tip - Nickcohen2 recently tweeted:
Is it pushing contrarian journalism too far to take a pop of Joanna Lumley?


Not quite the full pop, but that is definitely a result.

"... they will not be prepared for life in a strange land. It is utterly immoral. I've nothing against Joanna, but we're seeing unintended consequences and exploitation." says the bloke Nick phoned.

3/07/2010 03:37:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

OK, don't know how contentful my contribution is here (it's a bit dependent on the problematic doctrine of wikipedial infallibility), but if my skim of this is correct, then what's at issue is much more about who gets to define doctrine than the factual correctness of statements about the world beyond same...

viz what's being said in respect of infallibility is that (in certain heightened circumstances, concerning what is and what isn't Catholic doctrine), the BIG BOSS IS THE FINAL DECIDER AND NO BACKSIES, that's WHY WE MADE HIM BOSS.

The typology of these circumstances would seem to be this:

i) [xXx] is what you have to be believe in order to call yourself a Catholic
ii) if you don't believe [xXx] you're not longer allowed to call yourself a Catholic
iii) and plus if you don't accept (ii) you're no longer allowed to call yourself a Catholic

So this is primarily about the Catholic Church reserving its right to define its own rules, and to establish and control the decision structure by which these rules are determined. And pointing out to those who claim to care about Catholic Doctrine that NO OTHER AUTHORITY will be considered decisive.

And so yes, as Jack says, in order to challenge this doctrine practically, you will have to persuade said Church that another decision structure is to be adopted: and someone hostile to and self-declaredly ignorant of Catholic content is really quite unlikely to get to be such a persuader

Shorter my reading of the PI racket: when it comes to saying what makes a Catholic a Catholic, non-Catholics don't get to play...

3/07/2010 10:22:00 AM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

The whole concept of the magisterium is based on the idea that Catholic doctrine is what the Church says it is, not what Hans Kung or Tony Blair or the editor of the Tablet says it is. As opposed to some strains in Protestantism where the individual believer is her own interpreter of doctrine. That means doctrine can be clarified by, say, the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, or the CDF, or indeed Il Papa himself, although as Jack notes infallibility is almost never invoked.

The other side of this is that, although the Pope is an authoritative figure, he's constrained by tradition as to what he can say. So he can't just wake up one morning and say that, on the basis of something he saw on Channel 4 News, he's decided that using condoms is OK. If he wants to change the position, he has to do it using the resources of actually existing doctrine. There's been an element of this in the rehabilitation of the Latin Mass, where there's been a return to the Vatican II texts but it hasn't actually been said that Paul VI made a grave error in suppressing the TLM. So concepts like infallibility are actually a restraint.

It's the sort of thing that drives liberal Catholics insane, but the RCC is not like the C of E or the Labour Party and can't just change its views on the grounds that they aren't in tune with the zeitgeist. Mind you, for a lot of people that's one of its selling points.

3/07/2010 01:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that's all true, but it's not the same as saying that "Because this system that we have constructed is internally consistent, once you accept its world-view, it is therefore intellectually untenable to criticise it in terms other than its own." Of course, criticism from outside the organisation which does not accept those terms might not go down very well, indeed might have no chance of effecting change, but to be honest this goes with the territory, and it's something we can cope with.

So "Special man has hotline to God" remains worthy of pointing and laughing, no matter how it's wrapped up. Works for the WRP as well, of course.

Chris Williams

3/07/2010 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Aha so that was Cohen's angle. Funny how every non-TGISOOT-related column he writes appears to be a rewritten press release from a charity.

Btw see clothes for chaps in the obs TV review this week. has he ever written a TV review where he didn't wank on about 'secular Muslims'?

3/07/2010 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Yes, one of the defining features of a miracle is that it can't be reproduced under laboratory conditions, I would think. But then again, neither can the Haitian earthquake,
Wot,like this?

3/08/2010 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Belle: thing is, it isn't just that the Pope's the man who gets to decide, it's that he can't get it wrong. Everybody's familiar with the concept that somebody, somewhere, has the last word on an issue, that there's a highest court beyond which there's no appeal. But this is, to put it mildly, something rather more than that.

It's a restraint all right, but not so much on the Pope. And it won't do to say it's rarely invoked: because that doesn't mean that it only exists when invoked.

It is of course perfectly in line with what Catholics otherwise believe: but intellectually it's perfectly outrageous.

3/08/2010 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"Special man has hotline to God" remains worthy of pointing and laughing, no matter how it's wrapped up
Well I am all in favour of good natured skit, railery and tomfoolery providing it is based on accurate information. And when the response to the pointing out of inaccuracies is that it doesn't really matter because Catholics are so stupid in any case that it it is legitimate to poke fun at them whatever the circumstances, I have to question how good natured the skit and railery is.
In any case, in my experience Catholics have much more of a capacity for self-deprecating humour than, for example, Trotskyists. It wasn't the Catholic Church that called for Father Ted to be banned, bur rather a humourless Trot from the Manchester branch of the (hilariously inappropriately named) Irish in Britain Representation Group.

3/08/2010 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Ah yes, "skit and railery". Been a decent interval since I last read that phrase.

3/08/2010 04:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gaining access to this thread because I'm a Catholic, the YR has some great photos from inside Stasi HQ, especially of their campaign against Amnesty International.

http://yorkshire-ranter.blogspot.com/2010/03/sunday-stasi-hq-bloggin.html

johnf

3/08/2010 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

I must say, Aaro's column today is a sight to behold. It's the same one he's been typing for years, but now with extra petulance.

3/09/2010 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Aaro - "Seven years in which (I say it not because it’s important, but because it illustrates something) those who supported military action to remove Saddam have had this support treated as if it were the only thing they did."

Oh, the humanity!

3/09/2010 07:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But I shag ONE sheep..."

3/09/2010 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

You mean Aaro, or the infallibilty thing?

3/09/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaro. "I argue for moderate social democracy, but do they call me 'Social Democrat Dave'? I defend the poor cabinetses from unfair criticism, but do they call me 'Happy to Help Dave'? I understand the feelings of a key north London youth demographic, but do they call me 'Dad'll fix it Dave'? But I mong ONE war..."

Chris Williams (for that above anon was me)

3/09/2010 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

For fans of the Surely the greatest tragedy of the War on Terror is that some horrible anti-war types refuse to admit that I supported this horrific clusterfuck of a bloodbath in good faith mode, I can heartily recommend Brownie's woe-is-me in HP's post on Aaro. It's heart-wrenching, tragic stuff.

And without a word of a lie, verification here is "Ponces". I'm as stunned as the rest of you.

3/09/2010 12:51:00 PM  

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