Science stagnating in the west

John Goodman reminds us:

How many new drugs, Dr. Lajos Pusztai asks, were approved for breast cancer treatment in the past decade? His answer: seven. None was much different from drugs already on the market.

Yet in the same decade, he said, there were 8,000 publications in medical and scientific journals on breast cancer and more than 3,000 clinical trials at a cost of over $1 billion. “What came out of this is seven ‘me too’ drugs,” Dr. Pusztai said.

Until about 1946 or so science in the west was advancing rapidly.  However, shortly after the war ended peer review was widely adopted, and at about the same time science history was abruptly rewritten so that science had always practiced peer review, and at the same time also rewritten so that Roger Bacon, instead of being imprisoned in solitary confinement  on bread and water by the Church for advocating the scientific method as in the earlier histories, was instead supposedly placed under “a form of house arrest” for advocating astrology.  With the adoption of peer review, the scientific method was de-emphasized.  It was not written out of history, but in the new version of official history, the scientific method lost its starring, heroic, and revolutionary role in western civilization.  The scientific method was still routinely taught in schools, though after the seventies, less so.

It is hard to say exactly when science slowed down, but after we landed on the moon, obviously slower.  I suspect that the decline is caused by peer review and the de-emphasis of the scientific method, but because it is hard to say when science slowed, hard to say what caused it.   I say the problem is that if the scientific method is central to science, then it is science, but if peer review is central, then nothing distinguishes “science” from any other state sponsored theocratic priesthood.  That is my explanation of the problem, but your interpretation of the evidence may differ.

Julia Szabo reminds us:

many Americans frustrated by declining health and understandably eager to improve their quality of life are booking flights to state-of-the-art facilities where they can expect to receive high-tech treatments (for orthopedic injury, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, spinal injury, COPD, cardiovascular disease, and many other conditions) that American hospitals simply cannot offer.

Many are returning home significantly improved — like Bartolo Colon. Sidelined by a series of arm and shoudler injuries, the pitcher underwent adult stem cell therapy in May in the Dominican Republic. Samples of his fat and bone marrow were processed for his own stem cells, then injected into the afflicted areas of his arm to repair ligament damage and a torn rotator cuff. The procedure had previously been shown to work for sidelined race horses; that was good enough for Colon, who is now at work for the Yankees, in the pink of health, delighting his fans.

It seems that the reason this therapy is not available in the US is that the science underlying the therapy subtly discredits one of the arguments in favor of abortion – demonstrating that science in the US is subservient to progressive theology.

19 Responses to “Science stagnating in the west”

  1. Matt says:

    The nominal purpose of “peer review” is to provide an opportunity for the reported experiments to be replicated by other scientists…which is of course an integral part of the scientific method. (After all, the original experimenter may be a fraud. Or incompetent. Or maybe he just had a really bad day and screwed up through genuine accident. Or maybe he didn’t even really screw up, but just failed to properly control for some local variable he didn’t anticipate being relevant.)

    And while it’s certainly true that the equation of “stem cells” with “embryonic stem cells” is entirely about abortion politics (seeing as how adult stem cell therapies cure people regularly, while embryonic stem cell therapies have never been demonstrated to be effective against anything), it’s not really true that this is what’s blocking a particular treatment from the US. A number of adult stem cell therapies _are_ available here, and are working quite nicely. (It turns out, in retrospect, that stem cells are the explanation for why skin grafts work, for example.) Our approval process simply makes it uneconomical to pursue certain treatments.

    • Matt says:

      (I should point out, but forgot to actually write it, that I’m well aware that “peer review” is practically never used for that purpose anymore, and may never in its present form have been commonly used for that purpose. But that is what it’s _supposed_ to be for.)

    • Bill says:

      The nominal purpose of “peer review” is to provide an opportunity for the reported experiments to be replicated by other scientists…

      No, that is the purpose of reporting results. A major, if usually underplayed, breakthrough meta-discovery in science was the equation of “first to report” with “discoverer” and the very high esteem in which discoverers came to be held. In reality, of course, it isn’t even “first to report” which gets equated with “discoverer” but “first to get people to pay attention to.” In this way the old, alchemical practice of secretive passing-down without replication was replaced with rapid, enthusiastic public reporting and promotion of results.

      Peer review is a clot in this system of reporting results. The defenders claim that the purpose of the clot is to prevent lies and mistakes from leaking out. Critics claim that the purpose of this clot is to prevent truths that the powerful find disconcerting from leaking out.

  2. Leonard says:

    The problem isn’t the form, so much as “funding”. Go search UR for funding science — it should give you something to chew on. (And yes, WWII was the dividing line — after the war, the success of the atomic bomb made state-run science a priority; who could say what other nasty tricks nature had up her sleeve?)

  3. Bill says:

    the same time also rewritten so that Roger Bacon, instead of being imprisoned in solitary confinement on bread and water by the Church for advocating the scientific method as in the earlier histories, was instead supposedly placed under “a form of house arrest” for advocating astrology.

    If English speakers wanted to remain in their Whig History bubble of lies about the Church, admitting all those Catholics to the US in the 19th C was a very bad idea indeed.

    The English invariably develop an intense hatred for people they have wronged, with the hatred rising in proportion to the degree of the wrong, though declining slowly with time since the wrong. The English hatred for the Boers is only greater than their hatred for Catholics nowadays because it’s been a while since they committed genocide against Catholics.

    Science and technology progressed rapidly, not slowly, in Catholic Europe. The fact that it progressed even more rapidly in a child society of Catholic Europe, the Anglosphere, is further confirmation of the Church’s beneficial effects on the pursuit and accumulation of knowledge. The Catholic Church preserved, protected, and defended science and invented the scientific method.

    Roger Bacon was an important figure in the history of science and in the Church’s contribution to science. He was a Franciscan friar who wrote at the request of his buddy, Pope Clement IV. There is doubt as to whether Bacon was ever imprisoned at all. If he was, it was likely because he made too many powerful, unscrupulous enemies. He was kind of an asshole. His works were not suppressed, and he was widely regarded as a brilliant scholar during and after his life. He even continued working during the period of his supposed imprisonment.

    • jim says:

      The Catholic Church preserved, protected, and defended science and invented the scientific method

      Roger Bacon was suppressed as part of the proscription of the 219 theses – which prohibited, among other things, the scientific method, of which Bacon was the most prominent proponent.

      A target of the prohibition of the 19 theses was causality, an orderly universe.

      A target of the prohibition of the 219 theses was “Racionare ergo super eum, et invenies” – reason itself.

      Articles 67-69 prohibit the very idea of natural law, of physics, of an orderly universe, as heresy.

      William of Ockham was charged with heresy, for being dangerously scientific, which cramped his style considerably.

      Jean Buridan’s works were banned as heresy and suppressed, implying that he himself was in grave danger of being suppressed if he did not shut up and stick to safer activities.

      Thomas Bradarwine’s speculation that the cosmos was infinite, and the stars were suns, was banned as heresy and suppressed, implying that he himself was in grave danger of being suppressed if he did not shut up and stick to safer activities.

      Galileo was forced to recant under threat of torture. Copernicus did not publish until he was beyond the torturer’s reach. Valmes was burnt at the stake for discovering how to solve the quartic equation, along with all books and records of his alleged solution, so that no record of it remains.

      Albert the great was silenced without actually imprisoning him, but he was accused of witchcraft, and had he not rejected and abjured science and the scientific method, would surely have been burnt at the stake. If he and others were not imprisoned, it was surely because the Church had more drastic means at its disposal.

      There is doubt as to whether Bacon was ever imprisoned at all.

      If Bacon lied, who is it that contradicts him? Bacon says he was in solitary on bread and water. What are the sources from that time that say he was merely under house arrest?

      • Alrenous says:

        I’m enjoying the undercurrent religion pro/anti science debate that’s been lately going on.

        In this case, the world is less mysterious if these assertions are true.

        Why does Dawkins fear religion so much? Because his intellectual ancestors had good reason to.

        Why is it the worst that will happen to you now is being fired? Why is software piracy more legally dangerous than racism? Well, handily, the Church permanently discredited censorship as a strategy. It seems to be well known that burning a book is to admit its power.

        Ironically, the (alleged?) war between Church and Science was first prosecuted by the Church, due to its own insanity. Now, the war is prosecuted by Science, due to its own insanity.

        Though, looking deeper, it’s more like Science got infected with Church and is perpetuating the previous insanity.

        Hey, anyone have a name for people who like experiments but don’t have an issue with religion?

        • jim says:

          A theocracy has to claim authority on every issue, since if people doubt on some minor issue, for example that polar bears are drowning for lack of ice, they might doubt on some major issue, such as the right of those who rule us to rule us. Thus the core of the scientific method, which is “check it out for yourself”, is inherently disturbing.

        • Bill says:

          Hey, anyone have a name for people who like experiments but don’t have an issue with religion?

          Roman Catholics.

        • Bill says:

          Though, looking deeper, it’s more like Science got infected with Church and is perpetuating the previous insanity.

          Not really. Modernism falsely put on the mantle of science in order to associate itself with science’s success. Scientists went along since Modernists were valorizing them: flattery works, especially among academics. Indeed, Modernists claimed that they were offering scientists the privileged place in society formerly held by theologians. This charade worked. Then, Modernism infected the Church, last, after the other institutions of society were long riddled with it. And now that science is no longer useful to the Modernists, they are cheerfully casting it aside.

          This is pretty easy to see once you understand that there was no “previous insanity.” Hence the aggressiveness with which Modernists (used to) propagate this myth. They are easing off now since the Church is no longer a threat. Though, I suppose, in the unlikely event that it becomes a threat to them again, they will revive it.

          • jim says:

            I do not know what a modernist is, but I know what a postmodernist is. Since postmodernism is evil and insane, I am inclined to think that modernists cannot be altogether bad.

            The two books that exemplify the view that there was a war between science and religion, in which the Roman Catholic Church was the primary villain, were “History of the Conflict Between Science and Religion” (1874). and “The History of the Warfare Between Science and Theology in Christendom” (1896). Pretty obviously it is true, in that Galileo was a guest of the inquisition, Copernicus did not have his book published till he was beyond the reach of the inquisition, and Roger Bacon was imprisoned. The church claimed final authority over truth, but the scientific method claimed all facts needed to be checked and re-examined from time to time. “Take no one’s word for it”

            The radical enlightenment proposed racial and sexual equality – which only makes sense if races and sexes are equal in the sense of being the same, which obviously they are not. This is the basis of the claim of today’s politically correct to have a basis in the enlightenment. It also put them in direct conflict with the old and new testaments, which unambiguously mandate patriarchal marriage. The moderate enlightenment accepted the authority of the Church in its proper sphere, to which sphere they proposed certain limits.

            Peer review, like the medieval church, claims authority over all reality, claims to be the final arbiter of truth.

      • Bill says:

        Before I respond specifically, observe the low quality of the argument. One Bishop, one time, wildly ineffectively and briefly banned some stuff; therefore, the Church was a barrier to science. And that’s if you are right. And this is not an isolated example. In my experience each element in the delusional Enlightenment story of the anti-science Church falls utterly to pieces on the slightest push.

        Roger Bacon was suppressed as part of the proscription of the 219 theses

        Bacon was not named. No work of Bacon’s was named. He was not condemned as a heretic. No work of his was condemned as heretical. The teaching of his work was not enjoined.

        There is an academic parlor game of guessing whose work the various theses were drawn from. I don’t recall (if I ever knew) how many, if any, of the theses were guesstimated to be drawn from Bacon. The review of such work seems to be in French without English translation.

        – which prohibited, among other things, the scientific method, of which Bacon was the most prominent proponent.

        Bullshit. Which theses?

        A target of the prohibition of the 19 theses was causality, an orderly universe.

        You mean 219, I assume. Name the theses you are thinking about.

        A target of the prohibition of the 219 theses was “Racionare ergo super eum, et invenies” – reason itself.

        Are you kidding? If you wrote a book called _Reason Itself_, and I said _Reason Itself_ sucks, would this constitute an endorsement on my part that reason itself sucks?

        Here is that phrase, in context: “[W]e condemn the book . . . of geomancy that begins with the words ‘Ratiocinare ergo super eum invenies’ ”

        Just think about what you are saying. The University of Paris existed to teach reason. That’s what it was for. They read Boethius, Anselm, Augustine, Aristotle, and etc. The idea that the Bishop of Paris banned U of Paris from doing the only thing it existed to do is insane.

        Articles 67-69 prohibit the very idea of natural law, of physics, of an orderly universe, as heresy.

        More bullshit. 67-69 say, roughly and in modern English, “Miracles are impossible.” (I’m using the numbering system all modern scholars use. But 67-69 in the older numbering system don’t say what you are saying either, as far as I can tell). Condemnation of these propositions is no threat to science at all. Indeed, the very reason that the Church fostered science is that it believed that there were orderly natural laws, created by God, which He only saw fit to violate in rare, extremely significant moments. Thus, you could learn about God by learning the laws by which His universe worked. This is one reason, for example, Aristotelian ideas were so enthusiastically picked up—they provided a framework within which to think about, categorize, and theorize about the natural world.

        In my experience, you are not a liar. So, who lied to you like this? Because whomever lead you down this primrose path was a vile slanderer.

        On Bacon’s imprisonment, Wikipedia claims that no contemporary source exists documenting Bacon’s imprisonment. The earliest such source dating to some 80 years later. I’m not going to chase the citations on the off chance that it will be worth my time, but you are welcome to.

        • jim says:

          One Bishop, one time, wildly ineffectively and briefly banned some stuff; therefore, the Church was a barrier to science.

          We had rapid scientific, technological, and economic progress during the thirteenth century, until the church cracked down around 1277. The crackdown continued until the church lost power over large areas of Europe in around 1640 or so, with the peace of Westphalia transferring power from Priests to Kings.. Science and technology advanced most conspicuously, where the power of the inquisition was least, which is to say, England.

          More bullshit. 67-69 say, roughly and in modern English, “Miracles are impossible.”

          It is a double negative. Academics were forbidden to say that miracles are impossible. The thesis that miracles are impossible because the universe is orderly and law abiding, that God has to work through intermediary causes, was a forbidden thesis. Academics were forbidden to attribute too much lawfulness to the universe because that leaves insufficient room for God. As it says in the commentary on an other thesis: “even a philosopher must bring his mind into captivity to the obedience of Christ”

          On Bacon’s imprisonment, Wikipedia claims that no contemporary source exists documenting Bacon’s imprisonment

          We have, however, quotes from contemporary sources, in which Roger Bacon is quoted writing to the pope: “Praelati enim et fratres me jejuniis macerantes tuto custodiebant, nec aliquem ad me venire voluerunt” “My superiors and the friars kept me on bread and water, suffering no one to have access to me”

          No one seems to have doubted that he was in solitary on bread and water, until after peer review was broadly applied. Surely, after a several hundred years of everyone believing he said this, what grounds do we now have for disbelieving it? If that the earliest source still existing is eighty years after these events, but claims to be based on a contemporary document, a contemporary document written by Roger Bacon, gives you reason to doubt, should you not wonder how it is that the earliest source claiming that he was put under house arrest is seven hundred years after these events, and fails to give any explanation as to how it knows the conditions of his imprisonment?

          Should not you wonder why the history of science, having remained unchanged for seven hundred years, suddenly changed in the 1940s. Did they discover some ancient and previously overlooked document? Or was a history of science that put the scientific method on center stage as heroic and revolutionary too politically inconvenient for an academy that was itself becoming a state sponsored priesthood?

          Why the change now? Was new evidence uncovered?

          • Alrenous says:

            Hilariously, the Church’s theses are better than Progressive’s.

            The Church at least admitted that God would have to work indirectly if the world was too orderly. By comparison, the HBD denialists’ strategy is ‘la-la-la I can’t hear you!’

          • Bill says:

            until the church cracked down around 1277.

            What crackdown? The only specific example you’ve given is Bacon, who continued to write, publish, and who even moved internationally during his imprisonment, if any imprisonment existed. Is that it?

            Academics were forbidden to say that miracles are impossible.

            No, academics at U of Paris only were forbidden to teach as truth that “miracles are impossible.” And this is no barrier whatsoever to the pursuit of science. Science is the study of non-miraculous phenomena, pretty much by definition.

            This whole argument is profoundly anachronistic. There were no heroic scientists. Nobody knew that the scientific method was important. There was no fight, because nobody understood that there was anything to fight about. It helps, of course, that there isn’t anything to fight about.

            The Condemnations were about Averroism and more generally about the question of how to include Aristotelian ideas into Christian theology. The disagreements were about things like whether the universe is eternal or not, whether the soul is eternal or not, and etc. Siger of Brabant was the big loser in the Condemnations, and he was no scientist.

            Should not you wonder why the history of science, having remained unchanged for seven hundred years, suddenly changed in the 1940s . . . Why the change now? Was new evidence uncovered?

            I don’t believe the claim in the first sentence. Rather, I believe what I said before. Whig historians are liars. Some of their lies are no longer perceived to be worth the effort of maintaining, in part because there are more English-speakers with an interest in exposing them and in part because the lies no longer serve much of a purpose to our elite.

            As I said before, my experience is quite uniform. I look into claims that the Church suppressed science, and the claims are always ludicrously false.

            Copernicus was encouraged, not discouraged from working and publishing by his Bishop and by the Pope. He was employed by the Church and given buckets of time to pursue his studies. His work was never banned nor was teaching his work banned. His work was well known in the relevant scholarly community from some indeterminate time before its publication on. Galileo was not in any way discouraged from doing science by the Church and enjoyed Papal favor pretty much throughout his career.

            St Robert Bellarmine explained the Church’s position on science and scripture, a position originating in St Augustine, probably the most respected and authoritative Catholic theologian. Where scripture seems to make claims which conflict with known facts, scripture must be interpreted in a way consonant with the facts. Bellarmine made clear that the Church could give way on heliocentrism if proof was given. But proof was not given. Galileo was not told to stop doing science. He was not initially told to stop teaching the heliocentric model. Furthermore, the Church never enjoined teaching heliocentrism as a hypothesis (i.e. teaching heliocentric models and the arguments and evidence for them).

            The thing is, Galileo’s arguments for heliocentrism sucked. Geocentrism was the better theory when Galileo had his run-in with the Inquisition and for all of recorded history before that. Whatever Galileo was, he was not a scientist when it came to heliocentrism.

            It’s also interesting to wonder why Galileo had the problems he did. There were plenty of Copernicans around, both before and after Galileo. The Copernican model (and then the Keplerian model) was taught both before and after Galileo.

            The best explanation of Galileo’s behavior seems to be a kind of suicide-by-cop. He tended to piss on and piss off powerful people, especially powerful people who had helped him. This compulsion eventually led him to piss on and piss off the most powerful people who had helped him the most, the Vatican.

            But, before he did himself in, he did an amazing amount of science (though none of it relevant to heliocentrism). The Churchmen were pleased with this, enthusiastic even. And Galileo lived after 1277, right? And Italy was Catholic then, right?

            Now, it’s true that the Renaissance was a bit of an intellectual desert, but this doesn’t really fit with the usual story, does it? The Renaissance saw a new enthusiasm for humanism, the study of Classical Greece and, especially, Rome. Of course, Rome was a similar intellectual desert, so maybe this has something to do with it.

            But, as the example of Galileo demonstrates, the up-tick in science after the end of the Renaissance happened in both Catholic and Protestant Europe.

          • jim says:

            There were no heroic scientists. Nobody knew that the scientific method was important.

            Roger Bacon knew the scientific method was important, and said so passionately and at length. Copernicus and Galileo both described and advocated the scientific method.

            Science and the scientific method was known from Roger Bacon onwards. And every scientist from 1277 to 1640, other than those in England after the dissolution of the monasteries, and those who remained silent until they were on their deathbeds, suffered trouble from religious authorities.

            Copernicus was encouraged, not discouraged from working and publishing by his Bishop and by the Pope

            Then why did he keep quiet till on his deathbed? Why did his publisher pull his punches by representing it merely as a method of calculation, rather than an account of reality? It is obvious that neither Copernicus nor his publisher believed it was merely a method of calculation.

            Galileo’s arguments for heliocentrism sucked.

            Galileo had compelling and undeniable evidence for heliocentralism – the phases of Venus, which prove that Venus orbits the sun. The inquisition knew he was right, but did not care, because they had to ensure that the Church was the supreme source of truth.

            And if the Church is the supreme source of truth, then the scientific method is illegal.

        • jim says:

          Are you kidding? If you wrote a book called _Reason Itself_, and I said _Reason Itself_ sucks, would this constitute an endorsement on my part that reason itself sucks?

          I stand corrected.

          However, 219 theses is a lot of theses. Hard to do anything without stepping on one of them.

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