As a male, climate change sceptic with a physics background, I have three attributes that condemn me to the fate of a dyed-in-the-wool sexist – and the only one I can do anything about is my scepticism. Yes, if only I could see the light and accept the CAGW message, I would at least then be able to ease a little the stigma of ‘rabid woman-hater’. That said, I would still have the same genitalia, and the same high-functioning autistic characteristics of your average physicist. So perhaps that is why I became so alarmed when the Alessandro Strumia incident hit the front pages. Here was someone with whom I had some affinity who was now in danger of losing his professional standing, having fallen foul of the scientific community’s contribution to the #MeToo campaign.

You see, Alessandro Strumia has been a very naughty boy. He works in a field that has historically been dominated by men and he felt the need to point this out. Why? Because, rightly or wrongly, he thinks there are legitimate reasons for the dominance and he suspects that those who desire to redress the imbalance are not fighting fair. The field in question is high energy physics (he is a professor of physics at Pisa University and he works within one of CERN’s high energy physics laboratories) and the people he accuses of not fighting fair have responded by suspending him with immediate effect, pending an investigation. In fact, the moral outrage he has incurred is similar to that normally reserved for your average climate change denier. This comparison has not gone unnoticed by his colleagues. As CERN physicist Tommaso Dorigo, when commenting upon the Strumia affair, asserted:

As with human-made global warming, woman discrimination in STEM is an established fact that will continue to have deniers: human beings will always have motives to deny evidence.”

And yet, Strumia was claiming the existence of an institutionalised bias against male scientists. So who is right?

Are Female Scientists Favoured?

Well, contrary to what you might presuppose, the existence or not of institutionalized bias designed to prioritize the interests of female professionals working within academia’s STEM subjects is not a matter for dispute. It exists, for example, in the form of the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter, in which the availability of government research funding is linked directly to the extent to which institutions can demonstrate adherence to the charter’s ten principles, each of which is deemed important in tackling a perceived social injustice. Alessandro’s crime was to draw attention to the day-to-day experiences that directly result from these and similar policies. Even worse, he pointed out the ideological origins of the policies, and questioned the legitimacy of such ideology. The swift retribution was intended to signal the unacceptability of Alessandro’s beliefs and actions. In reality, it merely served to illustrate the extent to which gender politics has now become a source of poisonous, dictatorial oppression.

In defending schemes such as Athena SWAN, it is often claimed that they are not, in fact, discriminatory – they simply introduce a positive change into the working environment that is of benefit to both sexes and, moreover, to the benefit of the field of study in question. Whether or not such schemes provide for transcending benefit is debatable. But the idea that they might achieve such benefit without discriminating is not, since the only way one can possibly address an existing imbalance is to introduce measures designed to be unequally beneficial. The presupposition that one group did not need to be a beneficiary does not alter the fact that the policy discriminated. The question is not whether such positive actions are discriminatory, but whether, on occasion, they may be deemed unfair to any individual working within the target environment, i.e. from such an individual’s personal perspective, could the actions taken go beyond benign discrimination and constitute unfair discrimination?1

So are Male Scientists Unfairly Treated?

Ultimately, it is cultural change that is sought by those who instigate schemes such as Athena SWAN, since the perceived social injustices are deemed to have a cultural basis. Changing culture for a specific purpose is not straightforward; it requires considerable investment in time and effort and the changes often do not proceed as planned. Some degree of social re-engineering is usually involved but there is always the need for a great deal of propaganda. If one visits CERN’s Diversity Office website, for example, there is so much in evidence regarding the investment in cultural change (campaigning, workshops, seminars, etc.) that one may wonder when the organisation has any time to undertake research. It is more than obvious that, irrespective of its research obligations, CERN sees its role as a principal agent in bringing about cultural change within the field of physics research. How this trickles down to the individuals who are deemed the source of the existing cultural dysfunction, one can only wonder.

To see how male scientists working under such regimes might perceive unfair treatment, one has to put oneself in the position of someone whose advancement can be seen as a social injustice, i.e. someone who stands accused of being the current beneficiary of a dysfunctional culture. Such a presupposition is bound to raise qualms, particularly if gender-based quotas were to be introduced for job applications and/or promotions. This is the perfect situation for suspicion and resentment to thrive. And just knowing that even to voice concerns over gender policy could be condemned as ‘highly offensive’ by those who are dictating such policy, will do nothing to remove the feeling that one is not operating on a level playing field. Not that such opprobrium should come as any surprise to a complainant, given that the policy makers are bound to react negatively when continued governmental funding depends explicitly upon the employer espousing overt and unqualified support for the cause. In some ways, the reality of prejudicial treatment is immaterial; an accusatory culture is sufficient to create a very real sense of disadvantage.

Can this Question be Settled Objectively?

I don’t think it is necessary to take a position regarding the specific allegations made by Professor Strumia in his presentation.2 What I prefer to focus upon instead is the following: Physics stands accused of being sexist and he sought to defend against that allegation. In so doing he attempted to be as scientific in his approach as one can be, given the subject matter. He challenged an ideology with evidence and the ideologists kicked back as ideologists do (this is a scenario that should be familiar to CAGW deniers). In each case, his arguments2 were an attempt to offer an alternative to the feminist assumption that male domination in the upper percentiles can only be explained by in-group bias exhibited by male-dominated selection processes.

His arguments have been dismissed, with some justification, as being simplistic. However, no credit has been forthcoming regarding the fact that he at least tried to be objective, rather than resorting to arguments fuelled purely by anecdote, sentiment and ideology3. In fact, if one seeks objective evidence in support of the in-group bias explanation, one finds, instead, clear evidence for a cognitive bias referred to as the women-are-wonderful effect, in which laboratory studies show a clear tendency for females to be favourably assessed across a wide number of attributes, both by male and female groups. As further evidence of this phenomenon, a recent project instigated by the Australian public service, in which blind recruitment was adopted to combat a presupposed bias against female applicants, had to be abandoned after the success rate of such applicants fell sharply as a result. They had inadvertently discovered that the women-are-wonderful cognitive bias had previously been operating, contrary to the feminists’ expectations. And whilst we are preoccupying ourselves with statistics, it is perhaps germane to observe that higher education is dominated (in all but certain of the STEM subjects) by females, with an overall dominance of 60:40 in their favour. Nobody is suggesting that such an imbalance is to be explained by in-group bias, nor does anyone amongst the Athena SWAN sorority seem to think this is a problem.

Either Way, What is the Real Issue?

It was not my intention in this article to review Professor Strumia’s presentation in detail. By all accounts it did cause offence to some members of his audience, and it has attracted accusations of simplicity, naivety, and downright silliness. Some or all of this may be fair,4 but it does not alter the main thrust of my argument: Sexism within STEM subjects is far from an established fact backed by solid evidence. The accusation, however, is an expression of sentiment and ideological outrage that has found political traction. Professor Strumia’s attempt to use citation statistics to bolster his claims may have been questionable but the extreme reaction his presentation has received does seem to back up his subsequent protests that the powers-that-be are enforcing ideology in a draconian fashion. Irrespective of the extent to which Professor Strumia may have transgressed CERN’s code of ethics, the fact is there is more than a little justification in his view that sexism in STEM is a trumped up allegation, and I defend his right to express such an opinion. Similarly, I defend the right of any scientist to confront the ideologically inspired science behind the CAGW hypothesis. The fact that such scientists have suffered a similar fate to Professor Strumia cannot be seen as a coincidence.


[1] I once upset a Director of Human Resources by suggesting that her policy document, proclaiming that all discrimination within the workplace was to be condemned, had made the basic error of missing off the word ‘unfair’. She argued that discrimination, by definition, was always unfair. Strangely, my advice that it was high time that she invested in a dictionary did not have the desired calming effect.

[2] Specifically, he resorted to the use of scientometrics (i.e. the formal use of metrics to assess the impact of scientific research) to demonstrate that, far from being the victims of prejudice, female scientists in his field of study appear to have enjoyed a level of professional advancement that correlates poorly with the scientific impact of their work. He also attempted an argument based upon the RMS of Intelligence Quotients within males, pointing out that it appears to be greater than that for females, thereby offering a possible explanation for a greater number of males, at both extremes of the achievement distribution. Additionally, he invoked evidence of neurological differences that result in gender preferences whereby equal opportunities would not necessarily lead to an equal outcome.

[3] Note that anecdotal evidence cuts both ways. Strumia’s censure has been justified by reference to testimony from women working in STEM subjects, claiming they suffer sexism on a daily basis. Little publicity, however, has been given to counter testimony by females who are saying “sexism, what sexism?” See, for example the testimony of a research fellow in ICaMB, about her experiences and the pros and cons of Athena SWAN.

[4] Those who are interested may draw their own conclusions by viewing Strumia’s slide set in full.


  1. John, thank you for a thoughtful analysis of a complex subject.

    It is indeed complex, and therefore my short observations will seem flippant. Whilst believing that discrimination should be countered wherever it is met – if possible by education, assistance programmes, training etc – I believe that positive discrimination rarely, if ever, is the answer to the problem. Positive discrimination by definition means that some identifiable individual has been discriminated against; and it also means that the best person didn’t get the job, which must normally have a detrimental effect on the efficiency and running of the organisation indulging in positive discrimination.

    My other observation is that it’s a sad world when someone is suspended from their job merely for expressing an opinion, however odious some find the opinion to be. Freedom of speech, anyone? More evidence that many of today’s “liberals” are really liberal fascists – only their liberal views are to be tolerated, a perplexingly illiberal position for liberals to adopt.


  2. Hunter,

    “You are very brave.”

    Maybe so, or perhaps just foolish. The bottom line is that I can’t stand bullies and I feel Strumia is being bullied. There is nothing more unedifying than the sight of a self-righteous mob turning on someone who speaks their mind. All CERN needed to do was to say something like, “Thank you for your opinions but you should realise that they do not reflect our values and please consider in future that there may be some amongst your colleagues who would be deeply disappointed to hear such views expressed.” Instead, they talk of his talk being ‘highly offensive’ and they ‘condemn’ him, not to say suspend him as if he stands accused of a sexual assault.

    Actually, condemning physics as being sexist is highly offensive – to me. But there again, I’m one of the them!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Mark Hodgson,

    “Complex” is the word. It was not my intention to cause offence, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. Fortunately, I’m retired and so I do not have to wait for HR to tap me on the shoulder.


  4. Considering the implications of Athena’s favored bird screeching.
    This could be a really tough trigger for the delicate liberated souls whose rights depend on guilting, as a start, those deemed unworthy.
    As I ponder the world order our oligarchs seem to be “giving” us, the word “sanctimonious” keeps coming to mind.
    Much of what passes for confidence in the “progressive” world is really mere sanctimony.
    They can only win their arguments by silencing those who disagree with them. Their “research” is, across many disciplines, shoddy and self serving.
    In the US we are quickly finding mob actions by these sanctimonious “progressives” getting more and more ominous.
    The curse of interesting times playing out in front of our eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There are two main issues here: the issue of free speech and the issue of whether sexism does or does not exist, against men or women, in the so called ‘hard sciences’. The first is relatively simple: Strumia’s right to express his opinion has been curtailed because some people ‘took offence’. That is wrong, wrong, wrong. And wrong again.

    The second issue is more complex. He may have a point that men are now being discriminated against in physics, as they almost certainly are in other walks of life where, for instance, it is presumed that, if a woman makes an allegation of sexual misconduct, the alleged perpetrator is guilty unless proven innocent. Women don’t naturally or normally lie about such things; men are naturally filthy sex predators.

    The allegation is not just that women are consciously discriminated against in STEM subjects, but that there is an inherent subconscious bias at work in the field which forever condemns women to a career of lesser achievement, or no career at all, and which can only be addressed by instituting direct, conscious discrimination in favour of women in order to address the perceived imbalance. So called ‘positive discrimination’. It’s discrimination – there is a victim, in this case a bright young talented man whose application is overlooked in favour of a slightly less talented young woman, or a crusty old highly cited white male professor whose job is taken by a less cited woman, simply because the Department wants to be seen to be addressing the ‘gender imbalance’.

    What if the ‘gender imbalance’ cannot be addressed without throwing the baby out with the bathwater? What if it is a natural statistical consequence of inherent biological differences between men and women? What if (horror!) women are not that attracted to pursuing careers in what many may perceive as the abstract sciences, far detached from more ‘human’ subjects like psychology, biology, geography and the social sciences? What if (even greater horror!) a large part of the perceived subconscious bias against women in STEM is subconscious bias on the part of those who feel they have been adversely affected by aforementioned ‘institutional bias’? Oh my god, no! That can’t be!

    All legitimate questions which, if asked by the ‘wrong’ people, end up being refuted not by the calm presentation of contrary evidence, but by hysterical accusations of yet more sexism! Nothing good will ever come of that. No progress will ever be achieved in sorting out the very complex issues which characterise the very real gender imbalance in STEM.

    I’ll leave you with this. Kate Marvel, a physicist and climate scientist, is absolutely convinced that women have it stacked up against them, all the way through their careers, from childhood to mature middle age, which is why there is a lack of physics geniuses in the female department.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hunter,

    I share your concerns. We appear to be entering the Sanctamonicene. I note with a heavy heart that a signed petition has already been organised by the scientific community, signalling their superiority over the hapless Strumia. See:

    In the opening paragraph, the petition declares:

    “In this talk he argued that the primary explanation for the discrepancies between men and women in theoretical physics is that women are inherently less capable.”

    I’d be the first to acknowledge that I am not inherently more capable than a woman but I am, at least, capable of reading a slide show and I can state with some confidence that Strunia’s accusers misrepresent him. Firstly, at no point does he argue that ability provides the ‘primary explanation’. And secondly, it is not inherent ability that he sees as relevant but the inherent spread of ability within a population.

    Worse still, the petition makes a point of mentioning race and ethnicity, implying that Strumia stands accused of racism. Other than to point out, and applaud, the multinational nature of scientific cooperation, Strumia goes nowhere near race, and he certainly doesn’t suggest that ethnicity is a factor. Shame on those that imply he does!

    Finally, the petition makes a big thing of Strumia’s over-reliance upon citation statistics as a measure of scientific credibility. We all know that this is not the case, as emphasized by Cook, Oreskes and Lewandowsky… Oh no, wait!

    Strumia’s default position is that physics is, and should be, a meritocracy. Given the sanctimony expressed in the petition, I think even Strumia could have signed up to it, were it not for the fact that he is so maligned by it.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Jaime,

    “All legitimate questions which, if asked by the ‘wrong’ people, end up being refuted not by the calm presentation of contrary evidence, but by hysterical accusations of yet more sexism!”

    Yes, that’s it. That’s it exactly.


  8. Human social dynamics easily and often makes the leaps between well-motivated but wrong (or at least ignoring many data uncertainties / complexities), to local group-think, to full blown cultural orthodoxy. At that point, as succinctly put by Jaime, it is not what you are asking that matters, but who you are perceived to be, i.e. in-group or out-group. And in-group is usually a very narrow conceptual band indeed. So the big question is how, generically speaking, can such behaviour be moderated or negated? Especially considering how deep it runs (brain architecture and the endless cultures it supported evolved in tandem), and that we still appear to rely so much upon culture whenever we need to act in concert. What was once a huge net benefit for much of our evolution (why it evolved) may now need de-evolving. Not easy. Nor can we afford to lose altruism with the de-evolution (is expressed for in-group members, although fortunately we can be members of several groups at once). I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t at this stage even conceive of a plan. Kahan’s plan to increase ‘science curiosity’ in everyone (some initial results show it mitigates cultural polarisation on conflicted science topics, including climate change), seems to have some basic flaws. Or rather I should say potential basic flaws, which need much more investigation. My only clue at the moment, is that anything which manages to stay beneath the cultural radar tends to stay free of these behaviours. So a great deal of super science gets quietly done, for instance, simply because no-one has considered it worthy of the high social attention that invokes the attendant major risk of cultural entanglement (though even this is no guarantee – e.g. tectonics). But that’s not much help, because almost anything that’s perceived to be socially important (whether or not future history shows this was justified), automatically hits the cultural radar. And most cultures (e.g. religion, or indeed emerging gender identity ideologies) eventually attempt universal application, meaning they deem *everything* to be socially important, even, it seems, high energy physics. While I’m not familiar with the Strumia incident, I agree with Jaime that calm discussion of evidence is essential. Yet what appears to be happening from the descriptions above, is classic culture.


  9. Andywest2012. It’s reasonably simple, but impossible to eradicate. People misunderstand what others say (or sometimes write) and become upset by what they think they are hearing. Coupled with this is the fact that it can extremely difficult to disentangle a speaker’s true intent from what they say. The fact that his critics misheard Strumia comment on race (which he didn’t) means that they also misremember the talk’s content. However, what Strumia actually meant to say is now barely discernible (but for his slides). It is buried beneath layers of outrage. I suppose the air was already supercharged with resentment – the meeting was upon sexual inequality. Strumia did not read the runes very well.


  10. Andy,

    It is not a question of ‘staying under the cultural radar’; it goes a lot deeper than that. On this occasion, the offence professed by the great indignant masses results from a basic instinct that pre-dates the development of culture – indeed it can be seen as the origins of culture. The offended are challenging the morality of in-group bias, even though they do so by exercising in-group bias. As such, we now seem to be in denial of our human condition. What is being portrayed as a battle for a moral high ground is nothing more than a grab for territory. That’s what we do, and we have developed social behaviour that facilitates this. You talk of ‘de-evolving’ but, unless you have in mind an evolution that renders us a solitary animal, I don’t see any cause for optimism.


    You are quite right to point out that the reaction is no longer against Strumia, but what Strumia is presupposed to represent. The petition signatories were seeking to distance themselves from Strumia because Strumia is now a toxic brand. That’s why they thought it was okay to throw him under the bus, and then reverse over him.


  11. Alan:
    Your description is indeed what very frequently occurs in cultural conflicts, where biases run deep and emotion is very near the surface (culture runs on emotional engagement). Eradication is not likely on the table right now, without genetic engineering at least (far too dangerous anyhow – we’d have no idea what we’re really doing currently). But avoidance can be very much on the table. As you note, Strumia seems to have gone into this without much idea of consequences that to the informed, would be obvious. This doesn’t mean challenge would be easy; even those highly informed re social psychology and the cultural stakes hit heavy going (e.g. Jordan Peterson, whatever one thinks of his particular views, one can see he is indeed highly knowledgeable in the relevant fields). Eradication is not currently necessary, and there are increasing signs that reasoned debate may yet win-out re several of these conflicts, facilitating avoidance. The so-called Intellectual Dark Web is one such sign. If all else fails, no culture has it’s dominant sway forever; they either fall, or, for the more durable ones, evolve into much more benign forms that don’t cause their hosts such grief, mostly (like a tectonic fault line, there can be an occasional slip now and again on generational scales).


    ‘indeed it can be seen as the origins of culture.’

    Yes. That’s exactly what I meant by how deep it goes, and that brain architectures and cultural modes have evolved in tandem. I think it’s less confusing to say that culture runs very deep indeed, than to imply there is something ‘deeper than culture’ going on, because what is going on does satisfy all the normal cultural rules (cultural behaviours have ‘basic instincts’ at their heart). However either way, experiment and experience suggest that indeed one can stay under the radar that triggers these behaviours. The HBV/HPV vaccine case in the US is a good example. Same kind of vaccines for the same purpose, one stayed under the radar and one did not. Hence one had a good take-up not affected by politics, the other became a topic of strong cultural conflict, which impeded its take-up especially for one political group.

    ‘we now seem to be in denial of our human condition’

    Indeed. And it seems unlikely that we can leap straight to embracing and understanding that condition in order to move forward. There have to be intermediate steps, the question is what positive steps might be taken? (I probably used ‘de-evolving’ too casually – for sure we can’t go back to solitary animals, maybe a better way of putting it is: ‘further evolve beyond our previous evolutionary modes, and hence limits’).

    ‘I don’t see any cause for optimism’

    Oh dear. Then whether it be on climate change or gender issues or whatever, I think you’re saying we’re doomed to repeat these cultural phenomena endlessly without improvement. Yet I think it’s precisely our evolutionary knack of overcoming challenges that suggests to me that a solution will emerge, albeit over the long term, and while per above I don’t have even the beginnings of a plan yet, it is very many helping hands that will allow one to happen, eventually. Meanwhile, I keep some optimism (not least, lack of any optimism renders any discussion on blogs such as this rather moot. As you noted, this phenomenon is root cause of CAGW and many other conflicts too; if we don’t believe it is solvable then maybe we should all just go mow the lawn or something instead 😉 It is perhaps via very many such discussions as this on many forums that indeed ideas will emerge. Because the rise of CAGW is the first biggy whose cycle is almost entirely recorded on the Internet, it could one day become a case study in how to avoid cultural entanglements with science, and consequent cultural conflict. I.e. how not to let things happen. If so, then something positive will have come out of it at least 0:


  12. P.S. while the IDW and similar are indeed cause for optimism imo, it is not a pro-active plan as such, rather just a useful reaction (itself not wholly free of cultural modes of course, yet for now still broad and fluid).


  13. Andy. The situation is much more complex in that there is more than one culture, even in the same location. And there probably always has been. Society invariably divides into different castes, each with its own mores, values and aspirations. We call them classes. They evolve at different rates and occasional merge or split. Some developments, like education, can cause, when it is restricted, class isolation, whereas when all may benefit, wholesale changes result. Strumia’s” crime was to look back to a time when educated society considered “hard” science not to be ladylike (or of interest to a “lady”). Such dark times are anathema to today’s female scientists and should not be discussed in polite society.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Alan:

    ‘The situation is much more complex in that there is more than one culture, even in the same location’

    Of course. But the same rules apply to them all, and they can be broken down into precedence order plus alliances / resistances etc. This is standard fare.

    I haven’t read Strumia’s slides so I don’t know what he looked to or what his own biases and hard data consisted of. Nevertheless, the reaction to him looks from description to be mainly a cultural one.


  15. Andy,

    We may be splitting hairs here, but I personally see a value in separating the manifestations of tribalism from the concept of tribalism – the former of which I choose to refer to as culture. The reason why I make such a distinction is because tribalism can be seen in non-human species that we would not normally say exhibit culture (at least they observe individuated group behaviour in pursuit of a shared interest). So I would argue that tribalism, per se, is not a cultural phenomenon but the mechanics of tribal differentiation are. That said, I think that distaste for tribalism is a cultural phenomenon (some tribes are less bothered about it than others) and in that sense Strumia failed to fall under a cultural radar.

    The reason for my pessimism is that, no matter what position may be taken, it will not enjoy any social importance until it is shared, thereby creating an ideological tribe (i.e. the “very many helping hands”). Ideological tribalism, no matter how noble its pretext, can carry with it some very unpleasant baggage. Tribalism even manages to screw up the message of peace for all mankind – a message some are prepared to kill for in order for their tribe to retain the intellectual property rights. I think positive discrimination can exhibit such intolerance, which is why what Jaime said about ‘the wrong people’ is particularly pertinent.

    As for Strumia’s lack of foresight, I think you and Alan may be doing him an injustice. As I understand it, he was warned by his colleagues of the risks of proceeding with his presentation, but he did so regardless. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, and say he was exhibiting intellectual courage. Either that, or I am instinctively warming to a fellow, high-functioning autistic!


  16. John:

    ‘We may be splitting hairs here…’

    Agreed. Especially regarding what are typically vaguely defined and overlapping terms anyhow. I prefer it that tribalism is merely a subset of culture, and animals exhibit low-end culture. But I’ve seen approaches that would likely accommodate both our labelling preferences and various others too over the years.

    ‘Ideological tribalism, no matter how noble its pretext, can carry with it some very unpleasant baggage…’

    Absolutely, indeed for homo sapiens sapiens cultures known of currently, noble cause is very frequently an essential component, and in major part why the culture gets a license to carry so much bad baggage in the first place. It’s also worth noting that all strong cultural consensuses are wrong, the function they need to perform (i.e. why they evolved) is essentially incompatible with reality and truth. But these things don’t automatically mean that ‘many hands’ will form a culture or can be productive without one, even if cultural emergence is a very common occurrence. (Plus all cultures that have existed are also opposed by innate scepticism too, which is rooted within the same behavioural system). And there are minimum requirements for a strong culture. And cultures also have many upsides as well as downsides, even if going forward we need to lose more of the latter, which also we are slowly doing, somehow… for instance albeit it is two steps forward one step back, the amount of violence (including war) in the world has continuously increased for millennia (although there are different types of wars, much war is cultural conflict writ large). So has the amount of wealth and by simple measures at least, health and happiness. It is worth recalling that all this has happened while very many cultures have both existed and been strong (only a 150 years ago, essentially everybody was still religious) hence making us consider that they may have something to do with this success as well as being a cause of the kind of modern conflict issues we’re now looking at (which are nevertheless, on average, less in scale than the conflict issues of all previous eras). This does’t mean there is any great plan for going forward, but it does help on the optimism side 🙂 .

    ‘As I understand it, he was warned by his colleagues of the risks of proceeding with his presentation, but he did so regardless…’

    Wow. Then indeed brave, or maybe brave and a little foolish at the same time.


  17. …correction:

    ‘the amount of violence (including war) in the world has continuously *decreased*’

    while indeed the others increased as stated


  18. To paraphrase CS Lewis, there are none more tyrannical than the self righteous, for their zealotry is fully endorsed by their conscience.


  19. John. Intellectual courage and wisdom need not go hand in hand. I would also not believe Strumia could anticipate the maelstrom his talk was about to unleash. To what purpose was he expending this courage?

    Andy I disagree. The same rules do not apply to all cultures. In fact I could argue that those co-inhabiting the same space-time are probably affected by very different rules, and it is those that keep the cultures apart. In extreme cases they speak different languages or the different sexes appear to inhabit different communities.


  20. Alan:

    I do not speak of the characteristics and ideological expressions or consensus touch-points of each culture, which indeed vary very widely both in era and geography, which I think you are referring to, but the underlying mechanisms of how cultures work, which are common no matter what complex patterns emerge. This is analogous to biological evolution, whereby common rules of selection (despite the material and levels they operate on being wider-ranging than once envisaged), produces a staggering array of wildly different species. Although one shouldn’t take the comparison too literally, cultures can be viewed as approximating to species comprised of populations of memes. The analogy is not entirely a coincidence, because some of the same maths is involved.


  21. Andy. I’m getting out of my depth, so I’m continuing this discussion, not so much out of opposition, but for your views. I dimly perceive what you are saying, but find it difficult to understand what reasoning would propose that different cultures are controlled by the same rules. I find it difficult to understand how a despotic regime like Idi Amin’s in Uganda and a long-lived Nordic democracy like Iceland has can have any rules in common. Or what did the peasant society and the nobility have in common with each other through much of post Norman times in England that they can be described as following the same rules? If you are correct, then I don’t believe there can be any significant rule changes affecting the cultures of humans and the other great apes.


  22. Alan,

    “Intellectual courage and wisdom need not go hand in hand.”

    I think we can all agree with that.

    “I would also not believe Strumia could anticipate the maelstrom his talk was about to unleash.”

    Probably not, but I can imagine that he was warned about the possibilities of suspension. Besides which, he presented an overtly counter-message presentation in front of an almost completely female audience. He can’t have been expecting to make any friends or converts.

    “To what purpose was he expending this courage?”

    I guess you’ll have to ask him that. Some suspect that his prime motivation was simply resentment that he had been overlooked for promotion. Using that fact as a case study (Slide 16) was certainly the most foolish thing he did that day. It has been suggested that Slide 16 was the real reason that CERN suspended him.


  23. “We appear to be entering the Sanctamonicene.”

    The Sanctamonicene — I like it. Sanctimony is probably one of the more neglected areas in the study of climate communication. More studies need to be funded on its effectiveness and implementation. There could be seminars and workshops aimed at helping climate communicators improve their sanctimoniousness.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Canman,

    Given the derivation of the word, I should, of course, have spelled it ‘Sanctimonicene’. That’s the problem with making words up – the spellchecker can’t help you. Fortunately for the climate communicators, they don’t have to be good at spelling big words to be defined by them.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Alan:

    no worries, although forgive me that it may be hard to explain something I’ve absorbed over decades (as an amateur interest) without even knowing where any starting ground may be – and I’m not particularly good at expressing complex issues anyhow. Also per above with John, some terms are ill-defined and over-lapping, so some language alignment may also be needed. I’ll try and place 2 or 3 pillars, and then join the dots at the end.

    Biological analogue and inter-connection.
    So I’m going to presume as the starting ground that you are comfortable with my biological analogue above (you didn’t object at least) I.e. evolution does indeed have common rules, which result not only in wildly different species that can easily be observed, but many more subtle expressions (very weird parasites that depend on complex chains of events for replication, animals that have the same DNA but can express as say locusts or grasshoppers, or worker or queen bees, maintained populational flaws that turn out to protect against something worse, latent DNA that can be turned on in an instant, life like the water bear that can survive even in space as ‘dead’ when desiccated but comes back to life with water, very complex inter-species dependencies for creatures occupying the same space and time, etc etc). All explained by an understandable (in theory, obviously we’re having more difficulty with detail than anticipated) rule set that is far simpler than the complexity it spawns.

    There are two reasons why this is a great start for understanding culture. 1) because culture also evolves, and is hence subject to similar rules in some way. I say ‘in some way’ because some folks favour ‘strong Darwinian’ solutions (of which memetics is one) and some folks favour weaker Darwinian solutions. But no-one favours zero-Darwinian solutions that I know. Plus within this there are many possibilities / competing theories, and also evolution at more than one level at a time. The commonality with biology has increased in recent times, not mainly because more work on cultural evolution has moved that way, but more because biological evolution is no longer viewed as acting so simply on particulate genes as once was thought to be the case; they are not acted on in a particulate way but as all sorts of fragments and networks, leading to the phrase often used now as ‘genetic material’ rather than ‘genes’ being the base of evolution. In short, genes are looking a lot more like memes do in cultural scenarios. 2) The brain and the cultural modes that run on it have evolved together for eons, since long before we were human, so the biology and culture go hand in hand. (Higher reason, a later invention, gets some voice too, but not generally independently of cultural modes, see below). Regarding your ‘understand what reasoning’, these alone lead to some plausible expectation at least, that there will be a rule set based in evolutionary terms. Indeed it turns out to be the case.

    Language and bounds of ‘culture’ term.
    I think tribalism originally meant competitive (with other tribes) behaviours of a basic type, unsophisticated small-group culture as indeed per primitive human tribes (as noted by John, also expressed by some animals). At any rate it has also become a name for specific types of cultural conflict within modern human societies (to emphasize its instinctive and therefore unreasonable nature), though in fact this is within a setting whereby most of its participants are members of several cultures at once in a very sophisticated setup with far more dynamic balance (including contradiction tensions etc) than for any primitive tribe. I’m using ‘culture’ in the formal sense of an evolved and coherent entity that is defined by its consensus narrative (hence cultural consensus theory or CCT, which is used to explore the extent and nature of cultures for which anthropologists don’t even know the right questions to ask, but they nevertheless can detect consensus). The advantage of ‘culture’ as a term is that it has served as the most generic for a long time; there is a long founded discipline of ‘cultural evolution’ for instance, but not one of ‘tribalism evolution’ or ‘ideology evolution’. Ideology came to be used more recently and was most used to describe strong political cultures from the mid nineteenth century onwards, especially mass political cultures using propaganda such as brands of communism or fascism, in which sense it was sometimes contrasted to older cultures, usually religious. None of this means John is wrong above btw, these terms are terribly loosely deployed, although somewhat tighter within the literature (where sometimes they at least say what usage is going to be). So those expressing tribal behaviour or adhering to strong ideology, or indeed being religious, are in this terminology all just ways of participating in culture, as the underlying mechanisms are the same for all (which despite a wide range of actual detailed characteristics often produces recognisably very similar behaviour – for instance how many hundreds of times have you seen comparisons drawn between CAGW and religion).

    Anyhow language matters, because I’m not using ‘culture’ to mean a night at the opera or a day at the races. While ‘culture’ has many dozens of definitions, this is at the opposite end to my use, a casual vernacular labelling of some activity that happens to occur in society. So in this sense identifying one function or piece of a society, even where it may be considerably more deep than a night at the opera, does not make it a ‘culture’. A society may have a democracy for instance, and in the vernacular this is a cultural expression, but a democracy doesn’t represent a cultural entity even if cultural modes enabled it to occur in the first place. A parliament for instance, is actually a weak anti-culture device; anti-culture because (in theory!) it is where reason is exercised in mapping the future of society, weak because much cultural expression occurs in parliaments and more so when it comes to voting folks in / out. A law court is a stronger anti-cultural device, but still not that great because the law is actually founded on cultural pillars plus must rely upon much inexact evidence. Science is humanity’s strongest anti-cultural device, because it exercises reason in a way that, theoretically at least, is constantly tied to hard evidence and hence reality. This doesn’t mean all of these aren’t subvertible by culture, this is a frequent occurrence, but hopefully you can see from this angle that culture is ‘not reason’, and so…

    What is a cultural entity?
    That set of social behaviours which is emergent in society, evolves, is NOT reason (works via emotional engagement), and is connected by a (dynamic) and enforced consensus narrative. Because via gene-culture co-evolution the brain and cultural modes have evolved in tandem, the behaviours tend to be fairly recognisable across a wide range of very different cultures (per our upthread specific cultures can indeed vary enormously), are universal, endemic, and are the original foundation of humans working together which likely enabled civilisation, plus at the very root are shared with animals as John notes, e.g. being the basis of altruism (which is why those identified as not in-group are not only denied group goodies, but often demonized). Just as with biology, there are many complications, not least that dynamic balances opposed to cultures are included in the system behaviours to stop them too often getting out of control (may sometimes work too little and late!). Another complication is intelligence, but not so complicated as it seems. In certain contexts (high uncertainty, perceived social importance), emotion wins out over individual intelligence, hence the latter merely accelerates cultural propagation and for a population doesn’t overall have to be taken into account regarding who exhibits belief or scepticism etc. despite one cannot say anything about any particular individual. In fact as Kahan shows, the more literate / capable individuals are within a particular domain (e.g. climate change), the *more* not less cultural polarization they will express on average. I.e. individual intelligence is a slave of cultural belief for adherents. Regarding intelligence applied communally, via the anti-cultural devices above, these may indeed interrupt the rise of a culture, but the entanglement will typically act as a brake or moderator rather than fundamentally changing any of the rules, and indeed detecting impacts upon law and (proper) science is also a useful way of knowing a strong culture is loose. For ways that science and culture can entangle, see section ‘Entanglement with Science’ within below (innate scepticism is one of the cultural mechanisms, a balance, and gives a good insight to how culture / science entangle):

    Putting it together
    So cultural entities evolve, and they do this within the scope of particular rules that have a similarity to those in biological evolution. They are however also opposed by anti-cultural devices, which at times / geographies can nevertheless wholly or partially get subverted, and no such devices of ours are ever wholly free of (multiple) cultural influences. So regarding your examples, most of these do not speak to the presence of a cultural entity and its associated conflicts. A long-lived Nordic democracy demonstrates the long-term gains that region has made against pure rule by cultural entities, but where such entities still arise in that society, and indeed they never wholly sleep, they will still obey the same rules. They may even subvert the democracy one day again (I note much more political churn in Sweden recently than for the last 100 years, an indicator of strong cultural rise, usually). Peasants and nobility in Norman England, as elsewhere, are not separate cultures (or at least not once some integration of Anglo-Saxon norms had occurred). They are essentially functions / features of the same culture (leaning heavily on religion and ‘blood-line’ culture, and despite their own sub-identities) moderated in this case by some anti-cultural devices (they had a system of law, not unreasonably applied for the era, usually). Cultures almost always have an elite, the narrative enforcement and much else cannot happen else-wise, and indeed there is often an ultra enforcer wing that keeps the elite in line too (think Jesuits). The great apes have much simpler forms of culture, but we have a common root with them that means the rules are consistent. BUT, you can’t have a cultural consensus narrative if you don’t have narrative – the consensuses are much simpler, yet are still a dynamic system determining who is in, who is out, and are far from being just a strong-man hierarchy. One of the reasons culture was likely favoured is that it allows a coalition against complete domination by a single strong man (or ape), which is very bad if the leader in question is bad, and also self-limits group sizes.

    So Catholicism is a (relatively benign, long lived) cultural entity. CAGW is a (new) cultural entity. The latter was triggered from science, but cultural effects took over. Similar to the alliance of National Socialism, anti-Semitism, and eugenics, the latter came from science and was subverted; cultures can form alliances. Democracy is not a cultural entity, but it may host them, typically in the form of the most extremist parties allowed in, but even mainstream parties have some mild cultural bonds and modestly enforced narrative – not usually enough to be the biggest factor). One of the teachers at my ex-school new Idi Amin quite well. From apparently normal youth he was going quite bonkers. Rumour was syphilis as far as I recall. A bonkers person is not a cultural entity. BUT societies under stress and difficulty are far more subject to cultural takeover (i.e. destruction / subversion of all the anti-cultural devices), and indeed give maximum chance for bonkers folks to rise upon the cultural wave. Hitler was originally a symptom, not a cause, though of course the particular whims / cruelties of individuals can matter very much once they are locked in power, sometimes to the extent that the cultural narrative and the leader become one (personality cult). But this doesn’t affect the fact that the culture still works by the same rules. those rules just don’t (unfortunately) tell you about individual whims. They do tell you for instance that the population largely will rule itself through fear, not from the top by imposition, even though it may look like that, and Gestapo records dramatically confirmed this for the national socialism case.

    So the rules are the same for all cultures, but only in the sense of what a strong cultural entity connected by a consensus is; they don’t describe all the things you example because these are largely out of frame. Which is not to say there isn’t some frame. For instance nationalism is a culture, but typically nowhere near as strong as in the past, and even ‘having a democracy’, despite my description above, has some cultural overtones. I.e. some within the population don’t support a democracy because via objective reasoning they think that’s the best plan, but because they were brought up in one and feel, emotionally, it’s the right thing. So both these cultural consensuses would be shared by many in England for instance. But they are weak and subject to various counter cultures as well as to anti-cultural devices, albeit Brexit may have temporarily (I presume) caused churn and polarization regarding various cultural feelings of this kind. But religions, extremist politics, CAGW, and sub-cultures writ small yet burning brightly, e.g. identity politics currently, display typical characteristics.

    So homework (if you want 🙂 ). Climate skeptics are obviously not a culture, why? More long-lived cultures tend to be much more benign, why? (yes dem / lib culture has allied to CAGW, pulling in rep / cons on the other side, but I’m not counting this because that is pre-existing rep/con culture, I mean skeptics in and of themselves, lets say not in the US even).


  26. Andy. Many thanks for your considerable efforts which, I’m sorry to say, have not yet borne fruit. When I first saw your long post I despaired. I am a decided owl and do my best work and achieve most understanding early in the morning. In the evening I am at my worst. So this morning I reread your efforts with considerable care. I quickly came to the view that I need to do considerable background reading in order to engage in sensible argument. For despite all your good efforts you haven’t convinced me that cultures run on the same rules. In part our differences may be due to different understandings of what “cultures” mean. To me elites and the proletariat (especially if their is an underclass) inhabit different cultures. They have different outlooks and values, commonly erect barriers preventing interaction and certainly of any interbreeding. In some societies they are further separated by language and/or dress. To me these differences are so profound that to deny they represent different cultures seems totally wrong. Similarly differences between present-day “yoof” and the rest of society seem so profound that we recognize it as a distinct “culture”.
    One roadblock to understanding your meaning is your use of the term “anti-culture”. I don’t understand why you consider parliaments, law courts or science to be anti-culture. You argue that these are anti-culture because “(in theory!) it is where reason is exercised in mapping the future of society”. I do not follow, in my ignorance I would presuppose that places where reason is exercised would constitute pinnacles of a society’s culture. Sorry for being so obtuse.


  27. ATTP,

    Unfortunately, your post introduced nothing new of any significance to the debate. However, I do accept that it failed to do so in a manner that did introduce a tone of ad hominem and smug sarcasm. Is that the bit that you found funny?


  28. John Butterworth may have introduced a new element – the strains that exist between theoretical physicists and those lesser mortals who play in the dirt. Although why ATTP might think this would ammuse is difficult to fathom.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. I found the sarcastic ad hominem article linked to by ATTP amusing enough to make me look at Strumia’s slides, and very interesting they are, particularly slide 7, “% of women in theory,” which confirms a surprising assertion made by Jordean Peterson – that the percentage of women in science and technology is negatively correlated with the gender equality index of their country.

    The countries with the highest proportion of women among STEM graduates (above 35%) are Algeria, Tunisia, Albania United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Vietnam and Indonesia.

    If I were a feminist, (or an astrophysicist come to that) I’d take one look at that graph, drop everything and start some serious thinking, possibly something on the lines that Andy West does.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. ATTP,

    Obviously, you haven’t been paying attention. The link to the petition has already been posted on this thread (by me on 13th Oct at 10:26am). As I said, nothing new.

    Also, what makes you think that anyone in this debate has hitherto thought the issue to be simple?

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Alan:

    No worries. Probably my less than stellar ability to explain.

    >’In part our differences may be due to different understandings of what “cultures” mean.’

    Yes indeed, which is why I tried to explain the very specific meaning of culture that I was using. It may help to know there are other approaches, e.g. some lump together everything a society does and then observe that this is only weakly Darwinian, i.e. societies appear to ‘advance’ in similar ways, and have some level of heritability, yet much goes on that isn’t Darwinian too. Others think the whole thing can be strongly Darwinian (I’ve never got my head around that, as to how). My above falls with those who point to the structures which clearly show strong Darwinian characteristics (which – cultural entities), that are nevertheless operating side by side, and entangled with, other processes which are not. The consensus narrative featured in the strongly Darwinian structures, is emergent via a process of selection, where emotive impact (of various sorts) has higher selection value than veracity – so for instance an emergent narrative ‘Jesus died to save mankind from its sins’ is a main one of many that co-evolved under the banner of Christianity. Such emergent narratives are always wrong, incidentally, as their purpose is to create a simple and absolute certainty that links adherents, i.e. an in-group banner, and this purpose is simply incompatible with truth.

    So for a topic that say started as science yet ended up as an emergent culture, this is because the emotive impact hi-jacked the message from the proper scientific process. But had the science stayed true, hard evidence would have short-circuited most potential emotive impact at every propagation, keeping the messaging ‘pinned’ to reality as time goes forward, if you will, and hence preventing an evolutionary selection of the message based upon emotive impact. This is why the scientific method prevents narrative evolution of that kind, so why I call it ‘anti-culture’, as the law also does to a lesser extent. Yet those operating science or the law are human, and sometimes therefore they are swayed by emotive biases, and sometimes this happens systemically in groups, and can cross a runaway threshold whereby it simply leaves proper science behind, with ‘science communication’ leading the charge, so to speak, while some actual science may still stay truer behind, yet by then no-one can see this effort anymore. So for instance in the climate change domain, the messaging of a high certainty of global catastrophe, as propagated for many years now by presidents and prime ministers (albeit not even supported by IPCC science, let alone skeptics), over millions of propagations, eventually and by emotive engagement, won out over the scientific process. Starting first with science communication, and once a certain level of buy-in was achieved with authority figures and the public, leaking back into science itself that latches the effect in more strongly, especially given that the timescale is such the newer scientists may have heard this message all their lives now. The scientific process failed in this instance, due to human fallibility. The law is the next level of defence that still has some ability to short-circuit the emotive engagement that drives the process, but strong cultures come with a powerful set of in-group / out-group behaviours (due to the gene culture co-evolution above), and a new one on the rise may be stemmed by the law or might simply trample over it, if strong enough. For the list of behaviours in a climate change context, see here:

    If one uses culture in the vernacular, as simply all the expressions a society has, then it has no scientific value really, it’s not a term that can help us. I don’t think you mean this, but even if you mean those things that give us worldview, values we live or die by, maybe indeed reflected by language or dress style, then for sure even in this sense, culture appears to touch practically everything. So that’s when we have to assess orders of precedence, alliance strings (cultures very frequently ally to each other), opposition strings (a consequence of alliances), usually finding that for the purpose of knowing which is the most important ‘culture’, there’ll only be a couple that matter *for the particular effect that you’re investigating*. This is exactly the same as for biology, whereby evolution occurs on multi levels at once, and even at the bottom not on genes, but on a mess of ‘genetic material’. So for instance pretty much all cultures have elites, even in simple societies. They are needed to enforce the consensus. And as consensuses became more complex and written (e.g. the bible) along with much bigger groups, also different classes of larger elites to manage all this arose (e.g. priestly elites and / or bureaucracies – both existing in ancient Egypt as an example). As these classes grow with even larger societies, they can stratify still more, yes, they start to become cultures in their own right, *usually to a limited extent*. (And if the elite[s] take too many liberties, innate skepticism in the population will maybe throw them over). But these layers are secondary or tertiary (subcultures can have subcultures which… etc), they are typically still linked by one over-arching culture, so if you’re looking only for ‘main’ effects you can still treat as one. If you are looking for secondary effects, you must take the strata into account down to the right level. A good test is ‘who would they die for’, as that’s an ultimate in-group thing. WW1 Britain was hugely stratified, yet in the end men of all classes in their millions willingly volunteered to lay down their lives for King and Country, and God, the main cultural narratives of the time. Despite the odd strike and mutterings in the ranks or whatever, they didn’t rise up and kill their overlords; their primary culture said these guys are them, *to the 1st approximation*. In Russia of course, the weak and long staggering primary culture broke down, and the lower classes did rise up and kill (or expel) their overlords. So, can a subculture rise up to become a primary culture, absolutely, this is not infrequent. But always the in-group / out-group rules are the same, just as with biology this doesn’t mean you can’t get species splits, merges, tipping points, etc. And there will be order of precedence in loyalties, which does not mean for a single individual you will know which way a clash of loyalties will fall, the rules only inform at a populational level.

    I think you are attempting a much bigger vision than me maybe, your answer seems to demand between the lines an equation that just tells you everything that a society expresses, or no equation at all (chastise me if that’s wrong). Well within a maelstrom of competing cultures and subcultures and short-circuiting processes the former isn’t going to happen, though the bigger the effort upon ‘divide and conquer then reassemble with knowledge’, the further one could go. This is also no different to biology; we know a huge amount now about the rules, yet we still can’t grasp a whole lot about how they pan out in practice, just due to the sheer variability and and multiplicity of outcomes, it’s essentially a wicked system. But isolate something specific you need to know enough, and bingo. However, it so happens that there social processes occurring where the obvious biggest thing about them is the kind of emergent evolutionary structure (elites, foot soldiers, narrative policing, out-group demonization, strong emotive biases, identity not content, hope-and-fear or whatever other emotive cocktails, shifting morals [law turns a blind eye], etc etc) and above all a uniting enforced consensus narrative, which as a classic expectation tell us that indeed this phenomena *must* be driven by a well-bounded single instance£ of the (common) rules above all other processes, and hence that they cannot owe their existence primarily to science or reason, even though very many individuals (so with their reasoning skills) support the associated consensus narratives. (£ = or with fairly simple alliances / opposition from pre-existing cultures, e.g. in the US). The advantage of this social insight is that you don’t need to know anything about the science topic where this was the original trigger. So whether ACO2 is good, bad, or indifferent, for instance, the current culture of climate catastrophism has to be wrong, *because* it’s a culture. This doesn’t tell you anything at all about what is right, of course, which could potentially still include ‘bad’.

    Sorry it’s another long one. But your brief answer nevertheless gave me some steerage as to where to go next, whether or not I make traction 0:

    There’s always more perspective and more layers to consider too. Even regarding the ‘anti-culture’ aspect of science (I hope you now see the very specific meaning of culture wrt this), there’s a sense in which this doesn’t necessarily mean anti-evolution at a higher level. For folks who think that via our intelligence we are not subject to evolution anymore (at least if we could stick to the scientific method without emotive bias), then I ask what will we be evolving to next, and when? If we can’t answer that question, and no-one ever has, or has even managed to predict society ahead a few decades even before genetics and electronics etc, my working assumption is that what happens next will be emergent as it has always been, and there is not another candidate for the selective process in that emergence other than evolution, that I know of.


  32. P.S.

    And maybe you would get on better with a terminology more like John’s. So if I said there is a culture in the UK, using ‘culture’ in the looser sense, that features a democracy and its own fiscal policy and a long-standing law system, with rock bands, whatever, and also distinct subcultures (classes, local nationalism – Scotland, Wales, NI, etc etc), and within this system there were strong scientific institutions, the work of which helps to short-circuit the rise of ideologies, especially any that may be triggered in the first place by science, does this work better for you because I didn’t call the ideologies ‘culture’? It’s a semantic difference only in truth, and for those who think of ideologies in the original sense of the word this means science is not short circuiting religions too (whereas of course it has done much to denude religion, and not least via the science of culture 😊). But it may help separate ‘what sort of cultural characteristic’ is being described in each sense.


  33. Andy. Now you have confused me. You seemed to be allowing me a definition of “culture” that agrees with that I originally had. But then you continue with – ” [containing] strong scientific institutions, the work of which helps to short-circuit the rise of ideologies, especially any that may be triggered in the first place by science, ” (referring to the “ideology” of CAGW?). So I should incorporate that into my concept of British culture (even though I believe it to incorrect). However, if you allow me to define “culture” in this way, then I maintain the ability to argue 1) that different cultures may follow different rules (our original disagreement), and that science isn’t anti-cultural, but an integral part of it, a sparkling centrepiece of our culture.


  34. Alan. I was trying to help by aligning terms in a way that more suited where you appeared to be coming from, using an element from John’s approach. But you can’t simultaneously loosen a term (culture) so much that it essentially loses all meaning, and be puzzled by the fact that then it doesn’t appear to obey any rules. Of course it won’t, because anything loosened enough to lose meaning can’t by definition have any meaningful rules, so your 1 would always *appear* to be the case. At that point we’re describing only the arbitrary features and outputs (of every process) within society, and not using any term that describes any of the processes that produced (some of the) outputs. So, *as a semantic example only to give you a lead-in*, I loosened culture to not be meaningful in the sense of a strict evolutionary structure, but just as a term meaning ‘the general characterisation of UK society’, which apart from a bit of social geography or something, is essentially scientifically useless (albeit being indeed the most common public usage). Hence I then substituted ‘ideology’ to describe a well behaved / bounded evolutionary structure to distance this from (your) use of the term culture. So in the (scientifically meaningless) sense of culture, your UK science can indeed be sparkling, but the enterprise still helps to short-circuit evolutionary activity that stems from emotive engagement and produces in-group / out-group behaviour, whatever you call that process, which as we’ve lost the term culture, I termed ‘ideology’ for you. As regards whether CAGW is part of British culture or not (in the loose sense of the word), no country’s character remains constant ever, and such character is always the dynamic melting pot of many cultural invasions (in both senses of the word), and for sure CAGW has intruded into this country, kind of like a minor religion making it to these shores, with significant elite plus grass roots support that influences UK policy and social life, though I’d still use the word ‘minor’. As noted in thread above, real societies have many cultures (in the tighter sense) and other processes too (e.g. science), with entanglements / alliances / oppositions between all of them etc. This does not mean no rules, it means divide and conquer to find where the rules apply to each piece and in what precedence (just like you’d do with biology), and indeed in many cases analysis may be too complex for us currently if you want to know intimate detail (as noted, it’s essentially a wicked problem). But anyhow, describing it all with 1 term, whatever that term, just means your descriptor refers merely to the whole complexity that has to be unravelled, and not to anything specific beneath. Hopefully this clarifies 🙂 .


  35. Strumia approached the issue as a scientist, that is raising questions, citing evidence and drawing conclusions. Instead of engaging him on the same rational basis, the responses are almost purely emotional, lots of negativity and dismissal rather than dialogue and reasoning. It is surely sexist to point out that he, like so many males (and scientists), is using reason, while his opponents prefer emotional discourse. There could be a clue in there why scientific disciplines are populated by male majorities.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. I’ve been thinking again about the petition signed by 1,600 scientists (you know, the one that ATTP seemed to think we had never heard of). You may recall that I was appalled that the petition implied that Strumia’s presentation was racist (see my post at 13th October, 10.26am).

    I stand corrected. Upon re-reading the petition, it is clear that racism is not implied – the accusation couldn’t be more explicit! The relevant quote is:

    “…we reiterate that Strumia’s arguments are morally reprehensible. Belittling the ability and legitimacy of scientists of color and white women scientists using such flimsy pretexts is disgraceful.”

    Would you like to know what I do find disgraceful? Lying, deceitful petitions. If I were Strumia I would sue every single one of the 1,600 signatories.

    I find it quite shocking that it took so little to provoke 1,600 scientists into such shoddy and shameful behaviour.

    Liked by 3 people

  37. Andy,

    I have kept out of your debate with Alan, largely because I think it became a little too erudite for Strumia’s purposes. However, at the risk of getting sucked in against my better judgement, I would like to reiterate the point I was trying to make earlier (very much with the Strumia case in mind).

    You can legitimately say that Strumia’s fate was sealed when he volunteered himself to be lit up on the cultural radar of modern day feminism, as currently practiced in STEM organisations. However, I still feel there is something more fundamental going on.

    We are a social animal and this manifests in the facility by which we form and dissolve groups and alliances (tribes, if you will). Simplistically, I see culture as the defining characteristics of such groups. I choose to omit ‘tribalism’ from the list of such characteristics simply because I wish to avoid the tautology that all tribes exhibit tribalism as a cultural characteristic (feel free to object to my use of ‘tribalism’ here).

    What I do accept, however, is that (as identified in Donald E. Brown’s list of human universals) all human cultures share the common characteristic of favouring in-group individuals over the out-group (naturally enough, I suppose, if one sees culture as the means of re-enforcing, as well as demonstrating, group cohesion). Strumia’s detractors, however, seem to be making a moral and emotional point in denouncing that very human universal. In fact, it seems to me they are not just saying, ‘though shalt not unfairly discriminate’, they are saying ‘though shalt not discriminate at all’. This seems to be part of a postmodernist ideology (cultural movement even) that sees the very identification of groups (let alone discrimination between them) as an immorality.

    The irony is that such individuals deplore in-group bias whilst condemning anyone who does not share such distaste, i.e. they exhibit in-group bias. Whether they realise it or not, they are not just criticising the rules of someone else’s culture, they are criticising one of the universal rules by which cultures are formed – or even, maybe, the very concept of culture. Perhaps, however, the more relevant reality is that they are just another group muscling in on someone else’s ideological territory, armed only with logical self-contradiction.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. Andy I have spent some time examining definitions of the word “culture”. Most sources offer two definitions 1. that which a society, or part of society holds in value or cherishes, and which is considered representative of the best the society can accomplish, or 2) the people, both living and dead, that produced and are characterized by specific and representative artefacts e.g. Beaker People (or Culture). The first definition more or less corresponds to how I was using the word. I cannot understand any use of the word that would exclude parliamentary democracy, law courts or science as not being parts of our culture, as you seem to employ the term. And I have tried to understand.
    I have genuinely tried my utmost to understand your position, but without success. In large part this inability must be put down to my increasing difficulty in concentrating for lengths of time (increasing age!), but also if I am reading something I disagree with I quickly become distracted by the slightest thing where I disagree rather than seeking to find points of possible agreement whereby I might leverage greater understanding. Finally, I’m sorry to say that I’ve never been really interested in the social sciences, being a 100% hard rock geologist at heart. Nevertheless I really thank you for trying to educate me.


  39. You’re kind of half-right, John. However, it’s only one group whose existence is viewed as “immoral”. I expect you’ll find “them” in great favor of multiculturalism and they actually seem to attach great import to group identity, practically to the exclusion of anything else. They also seem to have an unhealthy obsession with skin colour.

    The litmus test for their extreme racism/bigotry is to replace the “race” of the people “attacked” with that of another. It would be viewed as way beyond the pale, and yet these people are openly allowed to air their views in the main stream media when they would be roundly condemned and chased off under other circumstances.

    One of the great ironies is that members of favored groups who don’t subscribe to their group identity BS are viewed as heretics and cast from the group. Thus we have mobs of white people, screaming in the faces of black people about how they are “white supremacists”. Who knew “white supremacy” was so inclusive?

    Ann Hathaway recently gave a speech after accepting a national equality award. In it, she emotionally apologized for being white. She ended with her one redeeming quality. She’s not male.


  40. John. You might be surprised at how little it takes to get some scientists to sign a petition. They do it to express support for a beleaguered colleague, and to express solidarity. A petition in support of the Climategate Many was making its way around UEA and British Academia within a days of the e-mail release, even before CRU and the university had acknowledged the emails were genuine. Epidemiologists, ecologists, volcanologists, environmental economists, hydrogeologists, river enginneers, atmospheric chemists, Uncle Tom Cobley n’all, all signed without knowing the slightest thing about the issue or, in some cases, even knowing the personnel involved. By signing you express support for those you believe have been harmed (or which you have been told have been harmed). I would not imply malice on the part of the signers, but, when it comes to the drafters of a petition, that can be another matter entirely.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. DAVEJR,

    I see your point. As soon as I had posted my last comment, it occurred to me that this is a subject replete with contradiction. In-group bias is used to deplore in-group bias. Discrimination is used to remove discrimination. And the only way we can establish our equality, it seems, is to rejoice in our individuality.

    It’s all too confusing, but if I stick to the understanding that it’s all just smoke and mirrors employed to justify a social power-grab, then I think I am on safe enough ground.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. No issue re the non-use of ‘tribalism’. In truth how people use that label to describe modern conflicts isn’t anyhow intended to be accurate I think. ‘Tribal’ lib/dem versus rep/con conflict in the US, for instance, is set in the context of a far more sophisticated society with lots of layers and constraints and is not truly tribal therefore. But that label serves as a graphic reminder to the public involved that they are letting their instincts get the better of their reason, and indeed the root of those instincts is the same one as for the tribal past. Given the likely public image of a tribe, that reminder is probably a useful and apt one. But personally, I also think that culture is indeed the best generic term for discussing all such behaviours.

    I’ve still not had time to follow the Strumia case, but generically speaking I think you have it right regarding reactions of this kind. And this is pretty much an expectation. One has to ask oneself why such a powerful tandem of brain architecture and cultures that run on same, evolved. Answer being because the large and coherent groups were advantageous to their members in various ways (and later to the groups themselves in more abstract ways, and indeed maybe the cultures semi-independently of their hosts – but all that is another story). Hence the ‘purpose’ of deeply rooted cultural behaviour is indeed as you note, to maximise group cohesion. In turn this means that the (dynamic) cultural narrative, which is maintained for the group to sing from as both their banner and behavioural cue set and signed-up commitment to cohesion, has a purpose that is simply incompatible with truth. You can’t just eliminate the uncertainties of the world and create certainty, or engage everyone’s passionate commitment to create powerful loyalty, using only mundane realities and dire lack of knowledge about anything with socially complex impacts, plus effectively zero knowledge about social projection (which is our normal state of affairs, even when we do manage to be objective enough to sift out some real knowledge with minimal bias, even in this day and age let alone in history). Yet this is exactly what an emergent and dynamically-policed cultural consensus does, in order to create the necessary strong cohesion. And coherent common action by very many in the face of uncertainty (let’s face it throughout most of history and pre-history practically everything was uncertain), is just one of the advantages, e.g. competing against neighbours who are less certain / more divided. Yet vaulting above the mundane and creating certainty from nothing, requires a very major group deception (it’s not called a lie because the propagators aren’t lying, another story, but it is untrue, and group deceptions activate whole areas of our brain).

    Because the cultural narrative is untrue, it will cause contradictions in the face of reality. These contradictions may be weaker or stronger, but not infrequently end up as a complete and utter contradiction, in either actions or words or both, to the ‘supposed’ (usually ‘noble’) purpose of the narrative. So for example you end up with people who claim to have ‘Christian’ values, universally understood to mean high morals, comfort-thy-neighbour, turn-your-cheek, love-thine-enemy etc. burning each other at the stake for believing in the wrong sub-brand of Christianity. Utterly opposite to their preaching. Ardent communists who want to impose their will on the majority rather than liberate it, as their narrative claims. Ardent fascists who claim to grant ultimate freedom for every individual to enable each to succeed by their efforts, yet typically not only impose heavily bonded status hierarchys, but have quite frequently been found eliminating lots of individuals, maybe their interpretation of ‘freedom’ is very different 0: And the list is endless.

    Now when the cultural narrative happens to include things which stem from science, the contradictions around the science issue are no less. E.g. for CAGW pouring food down the throats of cars, pouring forests down the throats of power-stations, sacrificing environments for palm oil, opposing conventional power stations in Africa when one of the big sub-narratives is the exposure of the poor, the RSPB supporting wind turbines, opposing non-carbon nuclear (per SR15 recently), etc etc. All of which ultimately stem from the main group deception, which in this case is a high certainty of climate catastrophe (absent major action). So there is every expectation that when the cultural narrative includes elements which have derived in some way from cultural understanding itself, these too will end up being entirely contradicted at some point. Especially at the friction areas where in-group / out-group boundaries clash head-on. Recall that the one and only purpose of the narrative, and all the behaviours it triggers, is to create / maintain group cohesion, which is frequently also reinforced by demonizing the perceived out-groupers. This purpose has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the content of the narrative, *whatever* it says. If the cultural friction is high enough, content is completely irrelevant. So for instance we have the spectacle of large groups of majority white people, insulting other (often pretty random, i.e. wrong place wrong time) white people, by yelling ‘whitey’ at them, supposedly in support of people of colour, hence imposing a racist mob law (or trying to) in complete 100% contradiction to the aspirations of the heroes / heroines of the said people of colour, such as MLK. And most likely in complete contradiction to the aspirations too of the vast majority of those alive today whom they’re supposedly supporting.

    So as you say ‘the more relevant reality is that they are just another group muscling in on someone else’s ideological territory, armed only with logical self-contradiction.’ But generically it’s possibly even worse, because not only does cultural belief suppress perception of contradictions within the relevant domain, some work indicates that it harnesses intelligence and subject literacy to serve the cultural belief. I.e. the more domain-literate and capable people are, the *more* biased on cultural issues they are too, not less. This means that ordinary education won’t help; maybe there would have to be some very specific boundary-crossing training or something (of course this is fragile to cultural take-over too, as has happened with equality studies 0: ) Hmmm… I’ve wandered on a bit again…

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Alan: no worries, no doubt my poor explanation skills are in large part to blame, although I have to say you appear very wedded to vernacular meanings of culture that don’t have any scientific meaning / function / implication, which is why I advised you to forget ‘culture’ for the latter and just use some other term that reflects the necessary characteristics (in fact some people do exactly that just in order to avoid any pre-conceptions / bias). Your search is unlikely to include scientific usage unless you were looking at cultural evolution or memetics papers or something (where admittedly definition is still very variable, but often laid out at the start or in glossary). And your results are rather thin; I once had a page with 133 definitions on, though I can’t recall if I still have it (quite some years and at least 2 computers ago). You will likely prosper without any of this arcane knowledge, almost everyone does 🙂 My own geology only made it to ‘O’ level, although I’m not without further hard science perception too, as I also have degree in physics. I have to say that I’ve found evolution, cultural evolution, social psychology and related domains much more interesting in latter years.


  44. John:

    ‘if I stick to the understanding that it’s all just smoke and mirrors employed to justify a social power-grab, then I think I am on safe enough ground.’

    Indeed you’re probably safe enough with that. But per above a slightly better approximation than ‘smoke and mirrors’, is that strong cultural narratives *must* be wrong by their nature, and so *will always* result in major contradictions. (I should have kept it this short in the first place!)

    The most unfortunate thing to get one’s head around is that, nevertheless throughout much of human evolution, these behaviors have been a significant net advantage.


  45. ALAN KENDALL (16 Oct 18 at 3:16 pm)

    I cannot understand any use of the word that would exclude parliamentary democracy, law courts or science as not being parts of our culture, as you seem to employ the term.

    Try reading Allan Bloom: “the Closing of the American Mind” (1987) which Camille Paglia described as “the first shot in the culture wars.” At least the beginning, where he is astoundingly prescient about the unintended consequences of feminism, positive discrimination etc. (It’s available free on the internet in several formats.)

    One way of looking at it is that the roots of culture as Bloom (and I imagine Andy) understand it are essentially unconscious. Law and science, and in many ways politics, are attempts to surmount the blind tendencies of a social structure that can go badly wrong if all your motives are based on unconscious tradition. Yes, the judge in his wig and the twelve good men and true are part of our culture, but the point of the law, and of many other social structures is surely evidently to rein in culture and knock a bit of sense into it. (Bloom’s point is to place philosophy and natural science outside culture, as a kind of dispassionate observer, and he laments how this aim has been abandoned by the universities.)

    Liked by 2 people

  46. Just wondering if anyone read Jon Butterworth’s post and did not think about registering a complaint to the body that granted him a post in academia?

    When physics becomes touchy-feely, maybe the downfall of the West is in sight. Looking around for my copy of Spengler…. Ruminating if Cox, Butterworth, ATTP are even aware of Spengler despite their heightened gender anxiety tentacles.


  47. Geoff:

    Absolutely, spot on! And strong cultural instincts as they occur now are still subconscious. Your point about law and science reining such blind power (or in some instances, failing to) are exactly what I meant by them being ‘anti-cultural devices’, above.

    Scientific concepts of culture started to part company from commonly held concepts that might still include law courts or whatever, about 150 years ago, though 2 steps forward and 1 step back within many parallel efforts created a very ragged advance, and I’m no expert on the history of the topic. Modern definitions are crafted to best suit logical models, even semi-mathematical models. I presume there are so many because each matches the model that goes with it (albeit I haven’t explored these in any detail). I quite like Hofstede from 1994: ‘Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.’ Because it fits well with memetics (just one of several models of cultural evolution, at the strongly Darwinian end), and because you can use it at any scale of group and any division of people (doesn’t lean on kin or geography or whatever). Though I’d prefer ‘value set’ rather rather than programming. The only issue is that it doesn’t acknowledge that just like for individuals in a species, even within a tight culture all adherents will have slightly different interpretations of the values, which is important as the fuel for evolutionary traction (i.e. a range for selection to work on). A definition from Matsumoto at around the same date acknowledges this ‘difference for each individual’, but spoils it all by mentioning the passing of values from one generation to the next, which albeit it happens isn’t a necessity for cultural values, which can pass to anyone, unless he was talking about cultural generations, but that drops into a whole set of different logical issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  48. From the wiki article on Spengler

    “For the press to function, universal education is necessary. Along with schooling comes a demand for the shepherding of the masses, as an object of party politics. Those that originally believed education to be solely for the enlightenment of each individual prepared the way for the power of the press, and eventually for the rise of the Caesar. There is no longer a need for leaders to impose military service, because the press will stir the public into a frenzy, clamor for weapons, and force their leaders into a conflict.”

    Reminds me of Alastair Campbell and the Gulf War. I would also mention Bob Ward but I think that he is struggling because, thanks to Blair et al, no one bothers with him apart from to tell him to grow a pair. But he still gets paid and the only pair he has grown are man boobs


  49. Andy (and others) I vowed not to continue with the topic of “culture” but reading this

    “you appear very wedded to vernacular meanings of culture that don’t have any scientific meaning / function / implication”

    I couldn’t let it pass. I maintain that the vernacular meaning is that which the vast majority of English speakers use. From what little I understood, the “scientific” meaning of the word has a negative connotation – focused on the emotional side of humanity, rather than its more rational or reasoning aspects. This is decidedly odd since appreciation of [vernacular] culture commonly involves much learning.

    I don’t believe science has the right to appropriate a word, especially one which is commonly used, and drastically change its meaning.

    Liked by 1 person

  50. Alan,

    As with so many topics, Lewis Carroll had it right:

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”


  51. Alan:

    >>’From what little I understood, the “scientific” meaning of the word has a negative connotation – focused on the emotional side of humanity…’

    Not at all. It is neither positive nor negative, but simply objectively targeted at scientifically understanding how we work. In that the totality of climate and the totality of human society are both wicked systems that need to be broken down into constituent parts and underlying rules, two groupings of climate parts are ‘natural variability’ and ‘man-made’ effects. Two groupings of societal parts might be thought of similarly, those that still operate how they always have before civilisation introduced regulatory effects, so the ‘natural variability’ equivalent if you will, and those regulatory effects themselves, so the ‘man made’ equivalent if you will. Though it depends which discipline you’re in (more relaxed meanings similar to the public meaning are no doubt fine for field archaeology or something), for logical modelling the word ‘culture’ is used in understanding the ‘natural variability’ grouping. The ‘man made’ regulatory grouping includes politics, the law, and science, though also similarly to climate there are entanglements and dependencies between the two groupings.

    >>’I don’t believe science has the right to appropriate a word, especially one which is commonly used, and drastically change its meaning.’

    This happens all the time. Google tells me that ‘insult’ is used in medicine for bruises and tumours (medicine also uses ‘calculus’ in a completely different way to mathematicians, a cavity that forms in tissue). The normal public understanding of ‘alien’ along the lines of little green men from Mars, is not that at all in ecology. The public understand ‘union’ membership, but in maths it’s a numerical set whose members belong to a group of two or more sets. A ‘deposition’ is entirely different in geology to law, the latter of which is well known to the public from endless crime dramas. The public know about political ‘bias’, but in science it’s also the offset of an observation. People eating cheese and meat, what they think of as ‘protein’, don’t think they’re eating tiny biological machines such as enzymes. ‘Cleavage’ definitely has a different meaning in public and science usage. And in fact biology also hi-jacked ‘culture’, and uses it to mean a sample of living tissue. In science words are just tools to help extract the best understanding, and must be shaped accordingly (but yes, it must be unbiased science steering this, not the biases). There is no necessity to maintain parity with common usage. Whoever would set themselves up to lay limits to science’s rights regarding word usage anyway? I can’t personally see why anyone would take any umbrage at this sort of thing, certainly to the extent of denying themselves access to ~150 years of fantastic progress on humans understanding how they collectively operate. But OTOH if you never had any of it you, you’re not likely to miss it 😉 Does shed some clear light on CAGW though.


  52. Andy. I wrote “I don’t believe science has the right to appropriate a word, especially one which is commonly used, and drastically change its meaning.” You counter one aspect “the right to appropriate a word” but totally fail to cover the rest – especially “and drastically change its meaning.” You admit that your use of the word “culture” excludes politics, the law, and science, areas of human endeavour that many would consider pinnacles of culture. By bastardizing the term culture you create confusion. So (apparently) your use allows one to say that all cultures have the same rules, whereas I demure. I see little in common with the rules (or drivers) influencing a Haida chief engaging in Potlach and a denizen of deepest Wall Street. Both have their own cultures driven by different lifestyles, desires and beliefs.
    Anyway, I’ll keep to my old-fashioned use of the word, and leave you to your more scientific use.


  53. Alan:

    “your use”

    Ah… if only. Unfortunately I am not so well known, or in fact known at all, and have not contributed an iota to the relevant literature. I’m not sure who I can redirect your frustration to, as the terminology arose from the efforts I guess of hundreds of scientists from all walks of life / politics, and multiple disciplines in multiple countries, over a lifetime and more, so some of them have probably expired too. Maybe I could redirect to ‘The Enterprise of Science’, but I’m not sure this has a postal address like Father Christmas, and the answer might come back ‘petty’ 😉

    “That way madness lies”

    Goodness me, so dramatic. I really don’t see what’s worrying you 0:

    “Anyway, I’ll keep to my old-fashioned use of the word…”

    Hurrah! So will I too, as I always have, where the context is appropriate, as indeed even parts of academia do likewise for appropriate context, e.g. history or social geography. Seems like we just managed to evade madness after all 😊. Actually the definition above was from a book in 1994, but I saw somewhere else it may first have come out in a paper in 1983, and there are similar before that. Fortunately madness doesn’t seem to have reigned in the intervening decades, but then you never even heard of this usage throughout your whole career into retirement; could have ruined your scientific endeavours had it strayed out of context while you were still young and impressionable.

    But as you raised potentially undesirable outcomes, I think there is far more risk of such from constraining and censoring scientific language. Who gets to do that? And given that science and its language aren’t always easily separated, how long before the science itself would be censored too?

    “a Haida chief engaging in Potlach and a denizen of deepest Wall Street”

    …these are outcomes for particular individuals, whereas clearly per above meaning is only at populational scale. Without any domain knowledge or serious critique, it’s usual to withhold judgement rather than to dismiss, which in this case also dismisses all insights upon CAGW from this angle. But if you go that way I hope indeed you will thoroughly and immediately dismiss the latter too, so we know your sanity is safe.


  54. P.S. The scientific usages appropriate for underpinning logical models, did not I presume evolve anyhow from the vernacular usage of ‘culture’ meaning ‘those main characteristics / achievements which represent a society’ (cherished or otherwise), but from the vernacular usage such as below, oft-used in the business domain nowadays. The two usages are clearly very related, yet below obviously doesn’t include law courts or science or rock music or whatever, being essentially an attitude set.

    NYT 2002:
    ENRON’S MANY STRANDS: CORPORATE CULTURE; At Enron, Lavish Excess Often Came Before Success.
    ‘Extravagance, by itself, did not bring the company down. But the company’s spending reflected a go-go corporate culture, former employees said, in which top executives cast traditional business controls by the wayside. And that — from top officers who insisted they were unaware of financial details to a relaxed attitude about conflicts that let executives sit on both sides of multimillion-dollar deals — figured heavily in Enron’s collapse. “The lack of risk controls was mind boggling,” said Gary Cardone, president of Dynegy Europe, whose parent company has hired a number of energy traders and other employees from Enron. “The Enron culture went way too far.”’ 2015:
    10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures.
    ‘Takeaway: Zappos hires according to cultural fit first and foremost. It has established what the company culture is, and fitting into that culture is the most important thing managers look for when hiring. This promotes the culture and happy employees, which ultimately leads to happy customers.’


  55. Andy,

    I once worked for a company that boasted in its corporate literature of having a ‘unique culture’. In the same sales blurb they stated a preference for working with customers that shared their culture. I wonder if that is why the sales pipeline dried up.


  56. John:

    ‘I wonder if that is why the sales pipeline dried up.’

    Quite likely! I once worked for a company with a third of a million employees. It was a bit like being part of the Borg collective, they even had their own ‘language’.


  57. Andy, If science is opposed to “culture” (ie anti-culture) what mental knots do you have to tie yourself when discussing the culture of Fermi Lab that contributed so much to its scientific success. Or perhaps you might explain to solicitor Mark Hodgson why he was part of an anti- culture establishment. I’m sure his response would be interesting. Or why C.P.Snow was so wrong in his basic thesis when discussing the two cultures and, as a former scientist (an Xray crystallographer), he was using the term ulture unscientifically.

    BTW no-one was proposing that science be monitored and dictated to regarding its (mis)appropriation of commonly used words. It was (and is) to be hoped that those wishing to do this might do it in ways that do least damage to the language that all use.


  58. “the culture of Fermi Lab”

    Ah ha… progress! I see you do indeed use culture not to mean something that must have law courts and opera or whatever.

    Because humans are, well human, everything we do is infused with culture (in your newly embraced sense), to varying degrees. Even those great civilizational devices we have created such as Science, The Law, and Politics (approximately in that order of increasing cultural entanglement upon average, or if you like decreasing levels of constraint on cultural mechanics). This is why it is so important to figure out how it works, because the ‘man-made’ components, to again use the climate analogy, are easy to figure if only they would act in perfect isolation and objectivity. But in our current state of development, they never do unfortunately. So the entangled processes still demand an understanding of the cultural mechanisms first, the ‘natural variability’ components to again use the climate analogy, if we are then to work out the net result.

    However, it must by no means be assumed that cultural impacts are always negative. Emotional engagement can inspire people and also promote their working together in the best ways (e.g. as in the Fermi Lab), which indeed is very much needed *because we are human*, and are not yet able to work too well co-operatively in ways absent of culture. So instead, we try to promote ‘good’ culture regarding colleagues and working practice, while for the enterprise of science also attempting to promote as part of that the best objectivity we can manage at the actual coal face of scientific data and experiments (but biases are never zero, of course). So per above comment at 10:57 am are examples of good and bad for the corporate world, for instance. ‘Good’ culture is usually on a pretty tight rein and constantly reviewed; a common problem in industry is that if you inspire too much passion in order to try and pump up the company results more, the rein is slipped and the good quickly turns to out-of-control, which soon turns to bad. Similarly in science, where ‘noble cause’ is often how the slipping of the rein gets to happen, and can go from some group-think into full-blown culture. [As an aside, as noted by me and others above, the instincts involved go right back to basic altruism, without which there’d be no human aggregations and no civilisation, so we have to regard this as very good indeed, I think].

    Because science discovers things that undermine strong cultural consensuses (they are all group deceptions) it is indeed anti-cultural. [Weak cultural consensuses (‘we are the best company’) are typically more relativistic, might even be true by some narrow metric for a short period of time, and have far less scope than biggies like ‘global climate catastrophe is certain absent massive emissions reduction’, or ‘Jesus died for our sins’, yet often get latched in beyond their time and can also be undermined by hard facts]. In the long run science will undermine them all, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (these terms are relative to our times), though loses battles to them frequently in the ongoing interaction. So consider Christianity, for instance. Only about 150 years ago essentially everyone was religious, and in the West that meant Christianity. It was universally agreed that ‘Christian’ institutions were the highest standard, and the great majority of scientists were also Christian believers (albeit their discoveries troubled some in touchy areas). So such institutions and culture was universally considered ‘good’, and not without some justification because they on average fostered better stuff than what went before. However, science undermined this good, and indeed much bad done in the name of religion too, albeit Christianity is very far indeed from being a spent cultural force. Yet few scientists now put being ‘a man of God’ near the top of their CV, as was once the case.

    So the Fermi Lab, in it’s 50 year plus history, will likely have contributed indeed to undermining cultural consensuses, directly or indirectly, and not only that it and many other science efforts are constraining the space where future cultures can operate, because to generate the necessary emotional cocktails cultures have to create stuff that is simply not true, often in the most blatant ways. And regarding the Fermi Labs own ‘good’ culture, imagine the same institution on an idealised Vulcan. It would not need a ’good culture’ to operate. The purpose of good culture is to buffer against bad culture enough to allow the anti-cultural engines to have enough space to keep turning. But idealised Vulcans have neither good or bad culture, because they have no emotions. Their Vulcan Fermi Lab would simply churn out results without bias and without needing either inspiration or safeguards against cultural hi-jacking. Their Lab would not be ‘sparkling’, it would simply ‘be’, as would every other function in such a society. In practice I can’t see this happening, and anyhow I wouldn’t like to live there, but meanwhile we are human, we have emotions, so we also have bias and we have culture, which culture in the narrow sense is fuelled by emotion and produces systemic bias aligned to consensus, that Science, The Law, and to a much lesser extent Political institutions, regulate. This is not to say that all science is busy at this moment explicitly dismantling, culture. Far from it because the great majority of science manages to stay below the cultural radar (see conversation with John above). But boy when that radar detects something you’d better duck – see the case for the HPV/HBV vaccines above, one detected the other not.

    No knots, but lots of entanglement between science and culture. I’m glad that you’re not proposing the censorship of scientific terms. As long as those terms stay within the context of their field of study, no innocent penguins going about their own business should be harmed – you did after all volunteer for this explanation.

    Btw I visited a hall where potlatch took place somewhere on the Alaskan coast. I think it must have been a partial or full reconstruction, I can’t recall now, because presumably they were all knocked down when potlatch was banned in nineteenth / early twentieth century, or whenever it was.


  59. P.S. I think radio-carbon dating came from a suggestion by Fermi to Libby, who developed this at the Fermi Institute in Chicago. Not sure if / how this relates to the later Fermi Lab in the same location, but for sure if they are involved in theory or practice of carbon dating, then this has done much to under-mine some (religious) cultural consensus components.


  60. P.P.P.S.

    ‘…and, as a former scientist (an Xray crystallographer), he was using the term ulture unscientifically.’

    Well you’re a scientist too, are you not? And yet you’d never apparently never even heard of any of the scientific study of culture, or its set of definitions across overlapping disciplines and theories. There’s no particular reason why you should have. But sixty years ago, Snow would have to be plugged into the leading edge of a much smaller (and less advanced) and much less publicly engaged enterprise, to have knowledge of such. Why would any amount of crystallography research give him a peek into that?


  61. I’ve been monitoring the Strumia situation to see what the long-term implications have been for him. Anyone who share’s my interest can get an update by consulting his own website:

    The same website details the extent to which he was misrepresented by the media and libelled by the Particles for Justice petition.

    Meanwhile, the #Metoo onslaught against STEM toxicity seems to be in fine fettle, if the USA’s proposed introduction of the “Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019” is anything to go by:

    It seems politicians were spurred to action following the publication of the National Academy Report, “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine”.

    See, however, Pat Frank’s scathing dissection of said report here:

    Liked by 1 person

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