Jump to content

Pseudo-Science and Anti-Intellectualism in the Mainstream.


kkantor

Recommended Posts

From Time Magazine:

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,...67796-1,00.html

===

If the debate about vaccine safety is settled — vaccines don't cause autism; they don't injure children; they are the pillar of modern public health — then why are so many parents reconsidering vaccinating their children? The answer has to do with our era's strained relationship with scientific truth, our tendency to place more faith in psychological truths than scientific ones.

===

During her appearance on Oprah in 2007, she launched a typical fusillade: "What number does it have to be ... for people just to start listening to what the mothers of children who have autism have been saying for years ... I told my pediatrician something happened ... after [he was vaccinated] ?... Boom — the soul was gone from his eyes." Later, when Oprah read a comment from the CDC stating that the vast majority of the science to date did not support her assertion, McCarthy replied, "My science is Evan. He's at home. That's my science."

===

In the 1970s, parents sought out a range of alternative and unconventional treatments. There was patterning (in which the autistic child was retaught to crawl), multivitamin therapy, bee-pollen therapy and various restrictive diets. There was the gentleman who claimed he had cured his son by hugging him a lot — he wrote a best-selling book about it — and others who claimed they had cured their child by teaching him or her to swim. There has been the facilitation movement, in which "facilitators" supposedly helping nonverbal autistic children type words turned out to be making the statements themselves, and the secretin controversy, in which parents paid thousands of dollars for a hormone believed to successfully treat autism before several clinical trials showed no actual impact. All of these cost parents small fortunes and years of anguish. And all of them are still being practiced by some segments of the autism community today.

===

The antivaccine movement has by now gone through numerous iterations in trying to explain how autism happens. The latest alleged culprit is the sheer number of vaccines: at least 10 administered, in 26 shots, during a child's first 36 months. Each of these theories has been thoroughly discredited by scientific research, but that has done nothing to silence McCarthy and her Generation Rescue colleagues. "Come and see our kids," says McCarthy. "Why won't the CDC come and talk to the mothers, talk to the families? Then tell us there isn't a link."

===

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once you determine the states of mind of the people Ken was using the Time article to profile you are better able to deal with the states of mind of typical audio true believers.

I think the analogy breaks down here. Desperate parents groping for some sort of "outside agent" explanation for their children's' ailments because they're emotionally unable to deal with the traditional ones (recreational drugs they may have ingested before or during pregnancy, some all-powerful deity they've been raised since childhood to revere deciding that their child's suffering is part of a "divine plan," or just plain "we don't know") is a lot easier to understand than some audiophile's need to believe that people with years of design experience have somehow not noticed or have conspired to not reveal that exotic wire or a plastic ring around a vacuum tube is a shortcut to improving the performance of an entertainment system. One is a need for emotional comfort in a painfully serious situation, the other an egotistical need for superiority in a comparatively trivial one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the analogy breaks down here. Desperate parents groping for some sort of "outside agent" explanation for their children's' ailments because they're emotionally unable to deal with the traditional ones (recreational drugs they may have ingested before or during pregnancy, some all-powerful deity they've been raised since childhood to revere deciding that their child's suffering is part of a "divine plan," or just plain "we don't know") is a lot easier to understand than some audiophile's need to believe that people with years of design experience have somehow not noticed or have conspired to not reveal that exotic wire or a plastic ring around a vacuum tube is a shortcut to improving the performance of an entertainment system. One is a need for emotional comfort in a painfully serious situation, the other an egotistical need for superiority in a comparatively trivial one.

A- We were discussing, in a recent thread, whether or not false science was as pervasive in other domains as it is in audio. I had thought my example to be a simple and clear illustration of a point I was asserting, which was that is was more so.

B- There is no connection that has been found, as far as my amateur but extensive research has uncovered, that anything on the Autism Spectrum is linked to parental substance intake. Perhaps you are thinking of Fragile X, or FAS?

C- I think it is incorrect to assume that children with ASD are "suffering" any more or less than other kids.

-k

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A- We were discussing, in a recent thread, whether or not false science was as pervasive in other domains as it is in audio. I had thought my example to be a simple and clear illustration of a point I was asserting, which was that is was more so.

B- There is no connection that has been found, as far as my amateur but extensive research has uncovered, that anything on the Autism Spectrum is linked to parental substance intake. Perhaps you are thinking of Fragile X, or FAS?

C- I think it is incorrect to assume that children with ASD are "suffering" any more or less than other kids.

I think the problem with this analogy is that what it may not even qualify as "false science," just hucksterism aimed at desperate people who would be just as ready to glom onto evil spirit exorcists and psychic healers.

You are correct that there is no causal link between autism and parental drug use. I was just running off a few of the standard ideas that often get tossed out as "possibles" for just about anything unexplained and bad in young children. There is no verified causal link between autism and anything.

"Suffering" is in the eye of the beholder. It's entirely possible that the parents' suffering is worse than anything the children experience. There are even experts who believe that many children are falsely diagnosed with it in the first place.

Maybe cold fusion, the water-burning engine or other examples where there's less desperation involved in suckering the gullible...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the problem with this analogy is that what it may not even qualify as "false science," just hucksterism aimed at desperate people who would be just as ready to glom onto evil spirit exorcists and psychic healers.

You are correct that there is no causal link between autism and parental drug use. I was just running off a few of the standard ideas that often get tossed out as "possibles" for just about anything unexplained and bad in young children. There is no verified causal link between autism and anything.

"Suffering" is in the eye of the beholder. It's entirely possible that the parents' suffering is worse than anything the children experience. There are even experts who believe that many children are falsely diagnosed with it in the first place.

Maybe cold fusion, the water-burning engine or other examples where there's less desperation involved in suckering the gullible...

Where does badly flawed or completely uninformed science end and pseudoscience begin? Is it just a matter of ignorance and incompetence versus deliberate intent to deceive? How can we know?

It was interesting that just prior to Copenhagen when the "scientists" at East Anglia University were revealed to have fudged the data on global warming by discarding the tree ring evidence for the last 50 years because it suddenly didn't agree with their thesis and they had no explanation for it but secretly spliced recorded temperatures to the prior data instead, they didn't defend their actions with scientifically plausible justification. What they did was to merely express outrage at the revelation of what they had done by those who hacked their e-mail. Basically as is so often the case in such instances, they drove a stake through the heart of their argument even if it turns out it was right.

"Musical instruments, too, cannot be measured in a very meaningful way"

Where does that one fall?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Where does badly flawed or completely uninformed science end and pseudoscience begin?

Probably varies with the observer. From my POV, if the people lapping up the BS would be just as likely to accept magical spirits of some sort, you haven't ventured into "science" at all, and there's no point in even trying to draw a distinction between honest incompetence and deliberate fraud.

"Musical instruments, too, cannot be measured in a very meaningful way"

Where does that one fall?

Because these things can be measured. Whether the measurements are "very meaningful" probably also varies with the observer. For those who believe measurements are of no use unless they enable one to duplicate results, the measurements of a Strad or an AR-3a are probably not very meaningful; but if all you're asking from measurements is aid in understanding why things behave the way they do, they can be.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Probably varies with the observer. From my POV, if the people lapping up the BS would be just as likely to accept magical spirits of some sort, you haven't ventured into "science" at all, and there's no point in even trying to draw a distinction between honest incompetence and deliberate fraud.

Because these things can be measured. Whether the measurements are "very meaningful" probably also varies with the observer. For those who believe measurements are of no use unless they enable one to duplicate results, the measurements of a Strad or an AR-3a are probably not very meaningful; but if all you're asking from measurements is aid in understanding why things behave the way they do, they can be.

"Because these things can be measured. Whether the measurements are "very meaningful" probably also varies with the observer. For those who believe measurements are of no use unless they enable one to duplicate results, the measurements of a Strad or an AR-3a are probably not very meaningful; but if all you're asking from measurements is aid in understanding why things behave the way they do, they can be."

If you cannot meaningfully measure the sound of a Strad, how could you meaningfully measure the sound of an AR-3a whose stated function is to reproduce that sound exactly? Why wouldn't the logic that asserts you can meaningfully measure one but not the other be classsified as "anti-intellectual?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you cannot meaningfully measure the sound of a Strad, how could you meaningfully measure the sound of an AR-3a whose stated function is to reproduce that sound exactly? Why wouldn't the logic that asserts you can meaningfully measure one but not the other be classsified as "anti-intellectual?"

Because it's possible to be able to do it for one and not the other.

You have spent a fair amount of time, by your own accounts, studying the nature of live sound and developing methods of reproducing it, and have developed what you believe is a reasonable approach toward a solution. By that standard, at least some of your measurement work has been "meaningful."

OTOH, a great many presumably smart people have expended a great deal of effort studying Strads in attempts to develop a way to duplicate them, and the last time I heard anything about that, nobody was claiming they were anywhere close to a solution. So by the same standard, the Strad measurements that have been taken have not been "meaningful"...so far.

Saying that something cannot be meaningfully measured does not necessarily mean that it never can be, merely that nobody can do it now. I don't recall Ken saying it would never be possible to do it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe cold fusion, the water-burning engine or other examples where there's less desperation involved in suckering the gullible...

OK, desperation is to be an issue for certain medical topics. Financial one's, too. I just happened to read the Time article between visits here, and some of the quotes in the article were so apropos. You won't find Cold Fusion or Water-Powered cars on the NYT Best Seller List, or appearing on Oprah. What are examples that are really pervasive in popular culture, where good science is just tossed out, and in particular, is challenged by persistent pseudo-scientific efforts?

Religious arguments are different, as these usually are faith vs. reason, human vs. divine. ("Shroud of Turin" might fit the bill?)

Mega-Vitamins, melatonin, echinacea, etc?

Chiropractics?

Stock-Market strategy gurus?

-k

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Because it's possible to be able to do it for one and not the other.

You have spent a fair amount of time, by your own accounts, studying the nature of live sound and developing methods of reproducing it, and have developed what you believe is a reasonable approach toward a solution. By that standard, at least some of your measurement work has been "meaningful."

OTOH, a great many presumably smart people have expended a great deal of effort studying Strads in attempts to develop a way to duplicate them, and the last time I heard anything about that, nobody was claiming they were anywhere close to a solution. So by the same standard, the Strad measurements that have been taken have not been "meaningful"...so far.

Saying that something cannot be meaningfully measured does not necessarily mean that it never can be, merely that nobody can do it now. I don't recall Ken saying it would never be possible to do it.

I don't follow your logic at all. You could measure how fast and far a plane could fly, how steeply it oould climb, how sharply it could bank without having the slightest idea of how or why it can fly, how it works, how to build one that also works.

It seems quite the opposite conclusion would result from you argument. If you cannot measure the sound of a strad or understand how it makes its particular special sound, how could you possibly hope to build anything resembling a dupicate of one except by the sheerest of luck? I've met many who have tried. The most recent effort was by a very fine and clever violin maker about 3 years ago. He tried to copy the very same famous Guanari del Gesu ex Kochanski whose auction I posted about a few weeks ago and that I'd heard so many times. Had it come anywhere close, we'd have paid its $4000 asking price in a heartbeat. Sadly for both hm and me, it was a dismal failure.

As for a the people who have worked in this consumer audio industry, I've met a lot of very smart people in my life including people who were candidates for Nobel Prizes in various sciences. Circumstances have put me in contact with them for various periods and different reasons. I've also met more than a few who worked in the audio industry and none of them were in nearly the same league. I am not impressed with their knowledge or intimidated with their credentials. Nor by their efforts no matter how esoterically presented although I do acknowledge that some like Villchur made valuable contributions. To be brutally honest, the reason I didn't make a career of it myself is because it wasn't nearly sufficiently challenging that I felt it would keep me interested over the long haul. There is a far bigger wider and more interesting world out there for engineers and scientists, at least for me. That is why it has remained merely a hobby in my life. I'm sure my attitude will not be appreciated by many of those who work in that industry who read this but their pretensiousness is not something I find particularly amusing myself. For all their toys, they seem no closer to solving this problem than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Even I am surprised at that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For all their toys, they seem no closer to solving this problem than they were 30 or 40 years ago.

I know I have stated this before, but I do not believe the "problem" that you see is the "problem" that 'they' are trying to solve. If I have read your previous posts correctly, you feel the goal of a hi-fidelity system is to replicate--as closely as possible, and as believably as possible--the y-a-t or t-a-h conundrum. If that's the goal, then that's the engineers' task, and you judge the engineers' success or lack thereof by how well they achieve y-a-t or t-a-h believability.

Whether stated explicitly or not (or even whether or not they consciously realize it), I do NOT believe the goal of hi-fi companies is to replicate y-a-t/t-a-h realism. The goal is to deliver "quality" sound (yes, 'quality' is a loaded word), but the goal of 'quality' sound and 'realistic' sound are not necessarily the same.

With the realization that y-a-t/t-a-h is not the goal (or at least hasn't been for several decades now), the yardstick by which we judge the engineers' "success" changes considerably.

I have stated my expectation for hi-fi before--clear, detailed, powerful sound that convincingly reminds me (that's all--merely "convincingly reminds me")-- of the real thing. By that standard of expectation, today's gear is better than ever and I applaud the accomplishments of the many fine designers working in this field.

Steve F.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't follow your logic at all. You could measure how fast and far a plane could fly, how steeply it oould climb, how sharply it could bank without having the slightest idea of how or why it can fly, how it works, how to build one that also works.

Having worked in the aircraft industry for a while during the 1970's and again during the past five years, I can tell you that there are people who could use the measurements you list and a visual inspection of a plane to make significant changes to the design of another plane, but I'm not one of them. For those people that information could be very "meaningful," while to me it would be nothing more than interesting reading.

The level of "meaningfulness" of any bit of information depends on how useful it is for your particular goal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having worked in the aircraft industry for a while during the 1970's and again during the past five years, I can tell you that there are people who could use the measurements you list and a visual inspection of a plane to make significant changes to the design of another plane, but I'm not one of them. For those people that information could be very "meaningful," while to me it would be nothing more than interesting reading.

The level of "meaningfulness" of any bit of information depends on how useful it is for your particular goal.

"I can tell you that there are people who could use the measurements you list and a visual inspection of a plane to make significant changes to the design of another plane..."

That is because they already knew and understood the principles underlying heavier than air flight such as lift, thrust and aerodynamic control. Had they not understood them, they could not have inferred or deduced them from those observations and measurements, they could not have built an airplane that flew just from watching one in flight and measuring its performance.

Similarly, without understanding how sound works and how hearing works, one should not expect to be able to build a machine that duplicates a particular sound by different means. All measurement must be based on some understanding, some concept that relates the the physical realities of what is to be measured even if it is only the basic measurements of length, mass, and time.

A real engineer has a clearly defined goal in mind that he sets out to achieve. He applies scientific knowledge to achieve that goal. The success or failure of his effort can be measured based on his understanding of the problem, the way he models it, his ingenuity of applying that model. The reasons for the degree of success or failure are often more difficult to ascertain and may relate to imperfect understanding of the problem, how to measure it, or limits of what can be achieved with a prticular approach. This is where the notion of paradigm enters the picture. This is where failure can be built in and success precluded. By an imperfect understanding of the problem or an unyielding insistance on the way it is to be solved, success becomes impossible. That IMO is where this industry went wrong. This is the rocks it was smashed on. This was also the greatest fear management of large corporations in the US had during the 1980s and 1990s which is why they spent billions on seminars to teach their technical and managerial employees to be aware of and avoid the ruinous danger the tunneled thinking of solving problems in traditional ways can lead to. The now classic problem of the nine dots was used to demonstrate to employees unmistakably the very real dangers of how failure to consider other paradigms leads to failure to produce successful results, failure to compete, failure to make progress, and in the corporate world failure to survive.

Once a specific engineering goal is given up and some nebulous arbitrary goal of producing something pleasing replaces it, then the effort is no longer classified as engineering. It may be art and have some value to some people, but it isn't engineering. That is where this industry has arrived at. By refusing to part with a failed paradigm but instead insisting that pefecting the one it had always relied on, it turned out one failed product after another and the ingenuity of the inexpensive $59 AR4x ultimately morphed into the absurdity of the $15,000 Audio Note Model K/SPx.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once a specific engineering goal is given up and some nebulous arbitrary goal of producing something pleasing replaces it, then the effort is no longer classified as engineering. It may be art and have some value to some people, but it isn't engineering.

The problem with your line of reasoning is that it is based on the assumption that the goal you think engineers should follow is the only "real" goal.

The "real" goal of every engineer who wants to continue to eat and have a roof overhead is to design what an employer can manufacture and sell at a sufficient profit to justify the engineer's continued employment. Where "the industry" has gone is where it perceives its consumers are willing to spend money. You may think that's junk (and from the fact that I don't own a single speaker that's any newer than 1980 or so, I suppose I do as well), but it doesn't mean that the process of designing and producing profitable junk isn't "real engineering" done by "real engineers."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The problem with your line of reasoning is that it is based on the assumption that the goal you think engineers should follow is the only "real" goal.

The "real" goal of every engineer who wants to continue to eat and have a roof overhead is to design what an employer can manufacture and sell at a sufficient profit to justify the engineer's continued employment. Where "the industry" has gone is where it perceives its consumers are willing to spend money. You may think that's junk (and from the fact that I don't own a single speaker that's any newer than 1980 or so, I suppose I do as well), but it doesn't mean that the process of designing and producing profitable junk isn't "real engineering" done by "real engineers."

"but it doesn't mean that the process of designing and producing profitable junk isn't "real engineering" done by "real engineers"

You really made me laugh Genek :lol: I suppose designing a more ergonomic electric can opener is engineering too.

When immediate profits drives everyone's efforts and the bottom line of the company is king even for startup companies, the conservative way that has brought in profits in the past is the safe way to proceed. New ideas entail risks of uncertain returns. Prospects for them are usually so speculative as to be grim. Still there seems a kind of irony in the one branch of the electronics industry that bucks the trend by offering less and less actual product for more and more money is this one. You'd be hard pressed to match it for that. Small wonder it is dying or is it actually dead yet?

I suppose in a way we should be grateful. The best innovative minds and the venture capital to back their ideas are directed at solving problems far more valuable to humanity....like designing an electric razo that works in the shower :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Small wonder it is dying or is it actually dead yet?

A branch of the electronics industry dedicated to providing people who are familiar with the sound of live, non-amplified, natural music with a reasonable facsimile of a live, non-amplified, natural music performance in its original setting? Yeah, it's dead. It's been dead for years now. The engineering target for experience reproduction or simulation these past 20 years or so has been a movie theater.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A branch of the electronics industry dedicated to providing people who are familiar with the sound of live, non-amplified, natural music with a reasonable facsimile of a live, non-amplified, natural music performance in its original setting? Yeah, it's dead. It's been dead for years now. The engineering target for experience reproduction or simulation these past 20 years or so has been a movie theater.

The problem has beaten the engineers completely. Those that tried are clueless to solve it, they've barely made a dent in it. They don't have a prayer the way they are going about it. Rather than give up, admit defeat, and go into some line of work that they could possibly be productive at (do people still take shoes to be repaired?) they have found a different goal where there is no defined problem to solve. This gives them free reign to design an endless stream of products and call each one a breakthrough that sells for a higher price than their last one did. (It has to, it's an improvement!) If you sell a speaker for $150,000 you only have to sell one pair a year to have an income, everything else you make is gravy. There's always someone somewhere who will buy it. At least there used to be. It helps if you have someone write a favorable magazine article about it. Like buying wine before Robert Parker came along, there are people who trust "informed opinion" beyond anything else including their own senses or common sense. That's what helped make P.T. Barnum so successful.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Since I'm not an audio engineer (pro or amateur), I'm in no position to judge whether the "problem" has "beaten" anyone. It's unfortunate enough that whoever employs audio engineers seems to see no market potential in even having anyone try anymore. Whether the engineers are frustrated at not being able to work on what they think their goal ought to be or happy that they've been relieved of the task of trying to accomplish something they can't is a discussion those of us who are not in the field will have to leave to those who are. There's more than enough of the latter here to carry it on without the former.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Since I'm not an audio engineer (pro or amateur), I'm in no position to judge whether the "problem" has "beaten" anyone. It's unfortunate enough that whoever employs audio engineers seems to see no market potential in even having anyone try anymore. Whether the engineers are frustrated at not being able to work on what they think their goal ought to be or happy that they've been relieved of the task of trying to accomplish something they can't is a discussion those of us who are not in the field will have to leave to those who are. There's more than enough of the latter here to carry it on without the former.

"Whether the engineers are frustrated at not being able to work on what they think their goal ought to be or happy that they've been relieved of the task of trying to accomplish something they can't is a discussion those of us who are not in the field will have to leave to those who are. There's more than enough of the latter here to carry it on without the former."

Are you intimidated by them? Are you in awe of them? I'm not. I've known many people who are much smarter and solved much tougher problems than they confront.

"the task of trying to accomplish something they can't"

Thank you. The operative word in that statement is "they."

How does the daunting task of duplicating a sound field in a room reaching someone's head compare to sending men safely to the moon and bringing them back, splitting atoms, or decoding DNA? These problems have not only been solved but in far shorter time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are you intimidated by them? Are you in awe of them?

Neither, I simply prefer to let people speak for themselves when the subject is how they feel about something.

BTW, I do know first-hand how engineers feel about the fact that nobody seems to want to devote much resources to sending people safely to the moon and back or doing anything with nuclear energy or DNA. Frustrated as all hell.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How does the daunting task of duplicating a sound field in a room reaching someone's head compare to sending men safely to the moon and bringing them back, splitting atoms, or decoding DNA?

While that is unquestionably a true statement, it is also misses the mark as to what is realistically--both technically and commercially--being targeted.

It is my feeling that the goal of audio companies (and therefore, the direction given to their engineers by upper management) is NOT the "duplicating a sound field in a room reaching someone's head." We can argue over whether or not that SHOULD be the goal (you and other think yes; I disagree), but, factually, that is not the target. The target is to make "good-sounding" equipment that presents an enjoyable experience in the home.

I'm sure a few speakers in the past have targeted your goal (Ken's mid-'80's Magic Speaker, Polk's SDA series, the 901, undoubtedly a few others), but the great majority have not had that goal in mind. They've been designed to a more-or-less accepted standard of engineering targets, like ‘flat response’ as measured anechoically or with a gated system, THD below some agreed-to level, dispersion that meets the designer’s personal criteria, etc. The sum of these will result in a “good-sounding” speaker according to the maker, but no one expects the system of which these speakers are a component to truly duplicate sonic reality.

That doesn’t mean that these speakers aren’t “engineered.” They are, obviously, in every sense of the word. Acoustically, mechanically, industrially, electrically, materially, every engineering discipline that’s involved in the creation of any tangible commercial product is required for loudspeakers too.

The dividing line of opinion here is evident in those who think home entertainment systems (specifically, audio entertainment systems—video seems to be off the hook completely, for some arbitrary reason) should “duplicate reality” on one side, and those who simply expect a “good performing system” on the other side.

I’ve defined my expectations before (“convincing reminder” of the real thing). That’s one side. Yours is the other. You’re entitled, and I’m never going to say you’re “wrong,” because there is no “wrong.”

But today’s audio engineers ARE successfully meeting their assigned goals. They’re not “beaten.” You just disagree with those goals. Maybe you feel that since the “goals” have changed from what the 901 or the MGC-1 or the SDA’s tried to do, then that’s an admission of “defeat.” Others would say it’s simply a recognition of commercial realities, that that goal didn’t have wide enough sales appeal to sustain the effort and keep those companies financially viable. Fair enough.

Steve F.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with Stevef's position completely. It's my guess that only a small fraction of 1% of the audio consumer world has the same interests and goals as Soundminded. If that is indeed the case, it follows then that little resources will be allocated to true Y-A-T audio.

No one's wrong here. It's just a matter of personal taste of the vast majority of consumers (the other 99+%) and manufacturer's choice to meet those tastes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
×
×
  • Create New...