Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Morality and the Philosophy of Science

Science is consistent and integrated because reality is real. Contradictions do not exist. When we meet an empirical fact for which no explanation exists, it is called an “anomaly” until we understand more and integrate the fact into a new or wider abstraction. Astronomy advanced as neutron stars, quasars, and pulsars were discovered. Even the rings of Saturn attest to this in the 250 years between Galileo’s sighting and Maxwell’s complete theory. Against that, scientists feel that it is unjust that private investors will not fund their Christmas shopping lists. So, they turn to requests for tax dollars. The laws of economics are denied as an inconvenience.

The physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project were later to worry about the horrors they enabled. (Edward Teller seems to have been an exception.) As the best known among them Albert Einstein was asked to sign Leo Szilárd’s petition to the American government to build an atomic bomb. They feared that Germany was on the same program. That the Nazis should command a weapon of such destructive power was not merely consequential but existential. So, they gave it to the United States which did what Germany never could have. From the USA, nuclear weapons spread to the USSR, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and (ultimately) Iran. The lesser of two (or twenty) evils remains evil. 

The problem of the Manhattan Project intersects two facts: 

(1)  The Nazis could never have completed a program in nuclear energy. Any progress that they could have made could only have come from giving them what they could not create. Ultimately, it is a fact of metaphysics, epistemology, politics, and economics that regardless of incremental achievements, the final goal was beyond their abilities. 

(2) The small gains came only because people of great ability lacked a correct philosophy to provide moral and ethical guidance. It is a fact of life that you should not work for your own destruction: you should not deliver your mind to your destroyers.

Muscle Mystics

Whether fascists, communists, nationalists, socialists, or some other trending label such as antifa, collectivists deny the validity of human intelligence. Perhaps it is because they have no direct experience with it. The observed facts of history are that they all focus on seizing existing goods or compelling the continuation of existing services. Karl Marx epitomized the mindset of collectivism when he declared that capitalism had solved the problem of production and “now” (1848) was the time to distribute the goods—just when the first electric telegraphs were being adopted by transcontinental railroads, thirty years before the telephone, and fifty years before radios would direct aircraft, and a hundred years before people were putting televisions in their homes. Never knowing of penicillin, sulfa drugs, polio vaccine, open heart surgery, x-ray pictures, CAT scans, or MRI scans, Marx declared that we all could have everything we would ever need to be happy if we just took it from other people. A truly radical sociologist would have asked what is the source of improvement, innovation, invention, and discovery. 

The muscle mystics expect possession of physical objects to imbue them with the knowledge to use the tool. To produce steel, they only need to seize a steel mill. 

Of course, that plan failed. During World War II, the USA shipped to the USSR thousands of tons of raw materials, thousands of vehicles and other manufactured goods. It sat on rail sidings and rusted into uselessness. (See Victor David Hansen’s The Second World Wars  as well as The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, both reviewed on this blog.) After World War II, the USSR uprooted and transported German factories. They did not make Russia rich. It takes at least a modicum of intelligence to follow a pre-defined routine earnestly and conscientiously, making trivial adjustments in response to minor variances. But no one is more conservative than a communist: varying the routine is dangerous. 

Standing Hegel on his head as Marx claimed he did still leaves you with Hegel and Idealism was also the bedrock of fascism. The fascist man of action does not engage in bourgeois logic. He follows the instincts of his nation. Dialectic Materialism is not just a framework. It is dogma. So, Albert Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity were not accepted in communist China. (See “Organized criticism of Einstein and relativity in China, 1949–1989,” by Danian Hu, HSNS (Historical Studies Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences Volume 34, Issue 2 March 2004; and “The Reception of Relativity in China” by Danian Hu, Isis, Volume 98, Number 3, September 2007.) But it is known that the Nazis rejected “Jewish physics” and insisted on pursuing nuclear energy according to some theories different from quantum mechanics. 

Regardless of the destruction of the heavy water plant in Norway by British commandos, the Germans were never going to succeed at anything as complicated as nuclear weaponry. The United States succeeded only because LTG Leslie R. Groves ran interference for the geniuses. During World War II, all sides, each some variant of collectivism, only cashed in their intellectual bank accounts. Because American society was less regulated, we succeeded. Having the brightest minds from Europe on the project certainly was the engine, but the Manhattan project required very much more than a handful of Nobel laureates. And once they had the bomb, the government no longer needed J. Robert Oppenheimer or the others. Second-handers could follow in their footsteps.

But even that required another generation of people who were accustomed to thinking for themselves, following their own passions, making their own lives better by whatever personal philosophies they held explicitly or implicitly. That is different from the morality of collectivism. 

Today, as never in the 19th century or most of the 20th centuries formal, professional science is informed, guided, and ultimately controlled by a single ideology. I am an Amateur Affiliate member of the American Astronomical Society. I serve as an editor in the History of Astronomy Division where I am responsible for a monthly column. I also serve on a committee to develop collaborations between amateurs and professionals. The AAS is actively engaged in ensuring that you have the right to insist on your own personal gender pronouns. Your right to question the claims of anthropogenic global warming is somewhat less secure. As a backyard astronomer, I am sorry that my night skies are more degraded by light pollution than they were a year ago when we were shut down because of Covid. I also know that if you want really dark skies at night you can go to some wilderness or desert or North Korea. That fact has not been integrated into the sociological perspectives of the AAS which lobbies for dark skies and against constellations of communications satellites. The muscle mystics of science want the material benefits of industrialization without understanding the engine of creation which delivers them.

Murray N. Rothbard penned Power and Market: Government and the Economy (free as a PDF from the Mises Institute here: His thesis was that political decisions are necessarily unprofitable. Ignoring and denying the facts and theories of economics, political decisions are always net losses of value. 

The integration of knowledge in accordance with facts of reality requires that every scientist who is funded by government grants is making your life harder, shorter, and poorer.

Astronomy does have its uses. Timekeeping is fundamental to coordination of efforts across continents in a complex global society. Launching communications satellites is cheaper than laying wire over jungles and under oceans. Economic justifications for advanced scientific research do exist. 

And personally I understand the insight of John Arnold: “What comes out of a team or a committee is the most daring idea that the least daring man can accept.” (“Space, Time and Education,” Astounding Science Fiction, May 1953, pp. 9–25. Introductory remarks by John W. Campbell, Jr., editor, pp. 9–10.) But the government works largely by force (occasionally by fraud). Forcing people to give you money against their will makes you a thief. Taking it by fraud defines you as a con artist. When it comes to sales and marketing, it is a necessary fact that selling science is hard work because it requires using logic and evidence to appeal to people who live by logic and evidence.


Why Evidence is Not Enough 

Politics and the Inverse Square Law 

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World 


Monday, June 28, 2021

Fastball “The Way”

They made up their minds
And they started packing

They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal summer slacking
But where were they going without ever knowing the way


They drank up the wine
And they got to talking
They now had more important things to say
And when the car broke down
They started walking
Where were they going without ever knowing the way


Their children woke up
And they couldn't find 'em
They left before the sun came up that day
They just drove off and left it all behind 'em
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?


Anyone can see the road that they walk on is paved in gold
And it's always summer
They'll never get cold
They'll never get hungry
They'll never get old and gray
You can see their shadows wandering off somewhere
They won't make it home
But they really don't care
They wanted the highway
They're happier there today, today

Fastball, "The Way" 


SXSW Proposal: Bleeding Data 

World War 2 Victory Dinner and Dance

World War 2 Sweetheart Dance

Lascon 2014 

BSides Austin 2016 

Around Austin 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

An Objective Philosophy of Science

In framing her philosophy as capital-O Objectivism, Ayn Rand was following in the tradition of Enlightenment objectivism, which was never explicitly defined in its own time. Enlightenment objectivism broadly asserted an integration of two schools of thought, continental rationalism and British empiricism. We know it commonly as the scientific method: theories explain facts; facts test theories. You cannot have one without the other. 

Furthermore, necessary factual truths do not contradict each other. Whatever is true in biology, sociology, history, or aesthetics supports and is supported by truths in physics, chemistry, economics, or ethics. It is also true that facts are contextual. Breaking a rack of billiard balls is different from charging into a crowd on a street corner.


I find it frustrating and disappointing when experts to whom I turn for knowledge about astronomy blunder when they discuss philosophy. For me, the nadir has been Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg who praises Paul Feyerabend in Dreams of a Final Theory. Unfortunately, Dr. Weinberg is not alone in lacking an objective philosophy of science. It remains true that Steven Weinberg has much to teach about applying philosophy to science. 

The Philosophy of Science according to Steven Weinberg.
He is always interesting and not always wrong.
I also have his textbook on astrophysics.
(If he's wrong there, it's above my level.)

Ultimately—and here I side with Weinberg and not with my Objectivist comrades—even mathematics describes and explains physical facts, whether or not we perceive them. See “Imaginary Numbers are Real: Pegasus is Not” here on this blog. For Objectivists who adhere to the final writings of Ayn Rand, mathematics is the science of measurement. (See Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Unpublished are any notes or journal entries from Ayn Rand on the tutorials that she took in mathematics late in life, even if they exist. Regarding the “hard realism” of mathematics, I offer my own theory, i.e., an integrated conceptual explanation of known facts, which differs from canonical Objectivism. My understanding was informed by Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg’s book, To Explain the World. Weinberg asserts a philosophical assumption that he calls “hard realism” when he demonstrates that the modern scientific method was discovered, not invented. It exists independent of the observer and is the same for anyone anywhere.

These are two aspects of the same reality.
No dichotomy exists.
Leonard Peikoff's doctoral dissertation on the 
Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy is reproduced in
recent editions of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

Weinberg allies himself with the scientists who are being assaulted in “culture wars” in which postmodernists like Paul Feyerabend claim that there is no such thing as “science” only a “scientistic narrative” that (in their terms) “privileges white males and denies space, voice, and agency to women and persons of color” who have been and are oppressed by “the Enlightenment project” of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. 


I suffered through a semester of that in my final graduate class in criminology in which our texts were Philosophy, Crime, and Criminology, edited by Bruce A. Arrigo and Christopher R. Williams (University of Illinois Press, 2006) and Essential Criminology Reader, edited by Stuart Henry and Mark Lanier (Westview Press, 2006). Pseudo-mathematical fashionable nonsense such as “crime is a torus” and “crime is a strange attractor” were offered along with denunciations of open-market economics and the Enlightenment. (For more about “fashionable nonsense” see The Sokal Affair and Reflections on the Sokal Affair on this blog.)


Among the many strengths of Ayn Rand’s essays on philosophy was her insistence on connecting the higher studies of aesthetics, politics, and ethics to fundamental truths in epistemology and metaphysics. The lack of such integration is evident in the opinions of scientists who endorse political solutions to anthropogenic global warming. Even if AGW were real, the integration of reason and reality indicates that market solutions offering valuable products and services would be more effective than legislation restricting human action.


I read it often enough to wear it out.
The one on the right has my marginalia.

The relationship between inspiration and proof is that based on your lifetime of experience, you can have an intuitive feeling that a course of investigation will be fruitful and reveal new facts and therefore perhaps deeper or wider truths. But you cannot convince another scientist by a heartful plea. You must provide evidence and your method must be repeatable. 


As a judge in regional science fairs for the past eleven years, I have seen the consequences of failing to hold to that standard. Quite simply, we reward creativity and originality and discount and even denigrate the mere repetition of a known experiment. It is true that careful work is expected as the baseline of performance. So, you do not get an award just for doing a good job. But we never see any of these bright youngsters challenging or refuting a previously accepted claim. 


I find that especially disappointing because I judge in behavioral and social science. Unlike the physical sciences, working social science researchers do test and challenge each other’s published works. Unlike the physical sciences, in my undergraduate curriculum, I had a 200-level class in research methods that required the critical examination of peer-reviewed journal articles. In graduate school, even though I steered to starboard, as long as I presented a coherent reply based on facts, my essays earned A grades. And in one class, I had a colleague whom I would describe as “to the right of the Kaiser” and he got A grades, also. On the other hand, serving on a committee of the American Astronomical Society, criticism of AGW is pointedly unfashionable. The subject came up because astronaut, geologist, and “climate denier” Harrison “Jack” Schmitt is scheduled to be a guest speaker at the Astronomical League conference in 2022.


In Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, Nobel laureate Kary Mullis described how the inspiration for polymerase chain reactions came to him while driving his sports car through the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Whatever the personal inspiration, proof to others of the process required publishing repeatable results according to the scientific method. In that book, Mullis also mused about the validity of natal astrology when he noticed that many other scientists in his field were born about the same month as he. Astronaut Ed Mitchell attempted experiments with ESP. Any working scientist is in good company in denying or even denouncing astrology and ESP. However, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. Lacking proof and making a claim is wrong but seeking proof according to the scientific method is not. On that note, I point out that we accept the electroencephalograph as a valid instrument and yet deny that people can communicate directly mind-to-mind. Maybe we just do not know how to measure it yet. 

On the problem of failed experiments, Edward W. Morley was not satisfied with the results of his famous tests and continued to pursue the luminiferous ether. This speaks to the fact that Ayn Rand called her philosophy Objectivism, not Absolutism. While many things in life are absolute, your choice of a career is not one of them. Morley was acting in his best interests by his best judgment when he continued to pursue empirical verification of the ether. He did not sacrifice everything, or even anything. He continued to be productive as a working researcher. His choice was objectively correct. 


In the AAS committee that I serve on to facilitate collaboration between amateurs and professionals, one of my colleagues suggested that we recommend that all of us who practice science engage in community outreach to teach critical thinking. I pointed out that Dr. Harrison Schmitt is not alone among my conservative comrades who are degreed engineers and who believe that they engage critical thinking when they deny climate change or endorse conspiracy theories. The attainment of objective knowledge requires more than doubting whatever you feel that everyone else believes.


In order to work successfully, scientists must implicitly accept the axioms of Objectivism: Existence, Consciousness, and Identity. These are colinear, not hierarchical. We accept that we possess consciousness, that something exists outside of our consciousness, that whatever we discover has a specific nature that we are capable of knowing. In Understanding Objectivism: A Guide to Learning Ayn Rand’s Philosophy, Leonard Peikoff addressed the fact that epistemology and metaphysics are interwoven. Many students of Ayn Rand’s works misunderstand the hierarchy of philosophy to mean that reasoning from the law of identity you can rationally derive the laws of epistemology. It cannot be done. That is the failure of philosophical rationalism from Plato to Descartes to Russell. The alternate choice of the false dichotomy is positivism going back to the ancient medical writers who treated diseases without attempting to understand their deeper causes. Objectivism integrates the mind and the body, our ideas with our experiences. 


Consider the moralistic handwringing of scientists awestruck and terrified by the atomic weapons they created and delivered to the political leaders of their world. Two of Rand’s novels address the question of who benefits from your work, The Fountainhead (implicitly) and Atlas Shrugged (explicitly). Rand wrestled with the problem earlier, as expressed in a play, Think Twice. I am not aware of anything like this in science education. I had a graduate in ethics in physics. We were concerned more with adhering to the procedures of science than with the purposes to which it is put.

(To be continued.)


Previously on Necessary Facts

Gregory M. Browne’s Necessary Factual Truths 

The Influence of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism 

The Scientific Method

Harriman’s Logical Leap Almost Makes It 

That Goddam Ayn Rand Book 


Also on Necessary Facts

Patent Nonsense: Intellectual Property Rights and Non-Objective Law 

Four Books About Bad Science 

Another Case of Fraud in University Research 

Misconduct in Science and Research 

Junk Criminology as Pseudo-Science 

Criminalistics: Science or Folkway? 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Testing the Stellarvue Correcting Diagonal Prism

Chromatic Aberration Test -- I mentioned that I bought this correcting diagonal prism along with some other astronomical instrumentation. On The Sky Searchers discussion board, I was warned that this device can introduce chromatic aberration in instruments with shorter focal lengths. This morning, I tested it. Here is my report to The Sky Searchers.

This morning from 0415 to 0550 local central US daylight time (UT -5), I viewed Jupiter with my Explore Scientific "First Light" 102-mm refractor (F=660 mm; f/6.47) and Stellarvue correcting prism diagonal, testing all (Ploessl) oculars 32 17 13 8 and 6 mm with and without 2X Barlow. My final judgment is that the prism does not introduce noticeable chromatic aberration.

However, some details provide a complete report. The easiest and perhaps most embarrassing is that I never noticed chromatic aberration before because my attention was always on the disk itself, the bands of the planet. Can I see them north and south? Are they brown or gray? My brain filtered out any distractions. I accepted the slight rainbowing as normal. 

Understand that I am viewing from city skies that have degraded over the past two years. I can tell by reviewing my notebook and remembering the observations and sightings. I have more particulates in the air and more light and therefore more haze. So, this is not a clear, dark sky. Therefore, seeing includes subconscious interpreting. We understand sensations as percepts because of identifications within the brain and mind. If I were not intent on a qualitative measurement of chromatic aberration, I would not have perceived it.

That being so, it remains that chromatic aberration (CA) was evident in every view of Jupiter. CA appeared as a slight colored ring at the edge of the visible disk of the planet. The colors shifted within various sectors and also around the disk being mostly soft yellow and soft green but also some soft blue. This was true at all magnifications. It was less noticeable at the highest powers but only because the overall resolution was grainy and dark with floating clear disks overall. 

I next viewed Jupiter with my 70 mm National Geographic refractor (F=700 mm; f/10) and the combination ocular 17mm with 2X Barlow and saw the same artifact. However, that NG 70 has its original mirror diagonal, not a prism. I attribute this to the design of the achromatic doublet objective. It is inherent in the design of a "Dollond" type telescope. (See my comments [below]  Thu Jun 17, 2021 5:13 pm about viewing the Moon.) The combination of crown and flint glass removes problems, hence the term "achromatic." But it is not apochromatic, not the complete correction delivered by triplet objectives of extra-low diffraction rare-earth-additive glass.

I also must report that in order to improve my viewing, I went back into the house and cleaned my eyes with Bausch & Lomb "Alaway" brand ophthamalic antihistamine solution. 

I consider the Stellaevue prism to be an excellent addition to my instrument. I installed it to replace the manufacturer's mirror diagonal and I will continue to use it because it delivers the primary benefit of a helical focusser for fine adjustment.

Addenda: (1) The best test would be with comparable Newtonian reflector because a properly formed reflector delivers an image without chromatic aberration.

(2) One bonus to this morning's session was my first view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. [Data suggested the identification, but what I saw did not match the event.]

Red Spot Transits

Jovian Moon Phenomena

What I saw looked at first like the shadow of a moon. But there is no datat to support that.

23 March 2021. Viewing the gibbous moon about 1952 hours local time (UTC-6)

  • 40 mm Svbony Plössl – Green mostly green some green-yellow to the right and occasional blue along the lower left.
  • 32 mm Celestron Full Multi-Coated – Green all around
  • 25 mm Unbranded (from Explore Scientific) Super Plössl FMC – Yellow-green all around.

25 May 2021 

  • Same. 2017 hours. More purples. Also ring around entire Moon. 
  • Tried all three oculars. Added Moon filter. Same.
  • Artifact of the objective.


Galileo and Saturn: Epistemology not Optics

Austin Under the Stars

Measuring Your Universe: Hirshfeld's Astronomical Activity Manual

Viewing Mars

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Nominating Maria Mitchell

Call for Recommendations: Prominent American Women and the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020

Thank you for your recommendation. If you have questions, please contact the National Women's History Museum here:

Name of the woman you are recommending for consideration: Maria Mitchell

The woman's year of birth, if known: 1818


The woman's year of death: 1889


Please list the field(s) most commonly associated with the woman you are recommending (sports, science, politics, etc.): science, astronomy, education


Briefly state why the woman you're recommending should be considered for inclusion in this project.

Maria Mitchell was the first American women to be internationally recognized as an astronomer. On the night of 1 October 1847, she was the first person to identify a new comet by using a telescope. Mostly self-educated, she later was appointed the first professor of astronomy at Vassar College. She took her students to expeditions to Iowa (1869) and Colorado (1878) to observe and record solar eclipses. Twenty-five of her students were listed in "Who's Who in America." 


Optional: Please provide a link to any supporting material about the woman you are recommending (bio, news article, etc.).

The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers by Thomas A Hockey; Virginia Trimble; Katherine Bracher; New York : Springer, ©2007.  

"America’s First Woman Astronomer: Maria Mitchell (1818-1889)" by Jascin N. Leonardo Finger, This Month in Astronomical History (18 September 2020), The American Astronomical Society.

Hoffleit, Dorrit. 1983. "Maria Mitchell's Famous Students - In celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Maria Mitchell Observatory." Cambridge, Massachusetts: American Association of Variable Star Observers. 

And, of course,


Optional: Your Name - Michael E. Marotta


Optional: Your email address (used if we need further information and/or to provide updates about the project from the National Women's History Museum). -




Maria Mitchell Quarter Dollar Circulating Commemorative

Unforgotten Sisters: Early History of Woman Astronomers 

The Madam Curie Complex

Ma Kiley: Railroad Telegrapher 

Females and Women