Sunday, February 27, 2022

Unscientific American

I did not renew my subscription to Scientific American because it has devolved into a platform for collectivism. It is not merely the political agenda. Politics rests on epistemology and Scientific American has abandoned the scientific method and replaced it with authority opinion. 

In fact, science was presented that way 100 years ago. A scientist (professional or amateur) submitted their paper and if the journal found merit in it, they published it. Footnotes and references are the modern style. It can get excessive. In my review of The Invention of Enterprise for the now defunct Libertarian Papers (reprinted here), I took issue with an avalanche of citations to validate an obvious fact. Erring in the other direction, authors in Scientific American assert the hypothesis rather than offering evidence and Scientific American now publishes empassioned pleas for an intellectually bankrupt political agenda.

I have been thinking this through for over a year. I subscribed in 2020 because Covid closed the University of Texas and I (among very many other independent scholars) lost my library privileges. Subscribing to Scientific American (as well as Sky & Telescope) bought access to their archives. For Scientific American that was highly important. 

Today's left wing slant was obvious and I just ignored it. The science articles were still respectable. Evidence of that was in the January 2022 issue, which carried an article about the Antikythera Mechanism by Tony Freeth. However, the same  issue carried “Inside America’s Militias” by Amy Cooter. The first was a technical report for the general reader who is interested in science but uninformed on this topic. The second was one person's self-validation of beliefs she formed before she began her university education. 


From Dr. Amy Cooter's curriculum vitae.

Both were personal narratives. Freeth has devoted decades to studying, writing, and lecturing about the ancient computer. His article in this issue included many references, citations, and pointers to the works of others. Freeth has puzzled over the Antikythera and invested careful, questioning thought to the many problems it presents.


Cooter cites two people who agree with her, or with whom she agrees. Unlike Freeth, she did not come to this research with an open mind. She is not necessarily wrong in her basic facts, only in how she weaves them into a scripted oratorio.


It is an easy claim that the militias, being traditionalist are also masculine. The affinity of men for weapons is obvious by inspection. Benign sexism is a consequence of that. As a guy who has served in uniform, I assure you that protecting women and children is not open to question. At that same time, I served with, alongside, and under the command of women. I never had a problem, though I did report up the chain to inform the leadership about other men who did need some corrective counseling on the subject.[1] It is a known situation.


Dr. Amy Cooter does admit that the right wing militias do have women in command. In her January 2022 Scientific American essay, she wrote: “There are a few women who fully participate in militias, and because of their activity they tend to be well respected and rise to leadership roles. (Jessica Watkins, leader of an Ohio militia who was arrested for her participation in the Capitol riot, is one example.) Still, most militia units have a culture suffused with casual misogyny.” Personally, with my master’s in social science, if I were considering a doctorate, I would find the subject of women in command of traditionalist militias more compelling research than the observable truth that boys like to camp out and play with guns.


Like Cooter, I grew up Republican. My introduction to libertarian versus traditional conservative ideology came at the 1965 convention of Young Americans for Freedom. There, I met conservatives who were opposed to the draft and to the war in Vietnam. I also had to come to grips with the fact that many of my comrades on the right were racists who believed that Negroes are substantially different from and inferior to us white folk. I found that attitude repugnant and distanced myself from the people who asserted it. 


So, when in college, I turned hard to the left, I also found it easy to parse the many, many varieties of socialist theory, including the distinctions among British Labour and Social Democrats, Lenin, Trotsky, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and the American Marxist, Daniel de Leon and his Socialist Labor Party. Much later in life, I came to understand how left wing syndicalists became the anarchists of the Spanish civil war and right wing syndicalism became fascism. 


Understanding those nuances led me to ask why the same people who decry the insurrection of 6 January 2021 were silent during Occupy Wall Street. I admit that it is a rhetorical question. 


The final failure came in a special supplement for March 2022. Under the rubric “How COVID Changed the World” by senior editor Jen Schwartz, the lead article was “A Microbe Proved That Individualism Is a Myth: Humans evolved to be interdependent, not self-sufficient” by Robin G. Nelson (biological anthropologist at Arizona State University). Nelson builds her hypothesis from an inventory of complaints: 


“For countless Americans, there was a dull but persistent pain to prepandemic life: high-priced housing, nearly inaccessible health care, underresourced schools, wage stagnation and systemic inequality. It was a familiar ache, a kind of chronic hurt that people learned to live with simply because they had no other choice. Faced with threadbare safety nets and a cultural ethos championing nationalist myths of self-sufficiency, many people did what human have always done in times of need: they sought emotional comfort and material aid from their family and friends. But when COVID-19 hit, relying on our immediate networks was not sufficient. Americans were gaslit into thinking that that are immeasurably strong, impervious to the challenges people in other countries face. In reality, our social and economic support systems are weak, and many people are made vulnerable by nearly any change in the capacity to earn a living. The fallout from the pandemic is an urgent call to strengthen our aid systems.”


The thesis fails from unnamed collectives: “countless Americans … people… many people… Americans… people in other countries… many people...” It offers not a single measure, no statistical survey, no validated polling. 


I point out that nationalism is not individualist. I might accept that the myth of personal self-sufficiency may be found nationwide. I must insist that nationalism denies personal self-sufficiency and insists on the integration (or total absorption) of the individual into the nation (as defined by its self-identified leaders). 

And individualism is not a myth; it is fact of life. 

"In his apologia for chemistry, The Same and Not the Same, (Columbia University Press, 1995) Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann asserts that no two hemoglobin molecules are identical. So-called “identical twins” are not. Individualism is objectively real: both empirically knowable and rationally explainable." On my blog here.

People who receive intense family care and people who benefit from the highest levels of professional medical care in a hospital still die. They give up. The time comes when you decide. You make the choice that no one else has the right to make for you. And every moment of every living day, you decide to make the best of your life, regardless of your circumstances.[2] 


Moreover, during the pandemic, hobbyist markets have flourished. In amateur astronomy, we found sales exploding. Millions of other people returned to reading, walking, and other pastimes. These are personal pursuits, edifying and enjoyable. Millions of parents learned to get along with their own children and to appreciate the teachers on whom they previously had inflicted their brats. There was no shortage of the very family life which the collectivists had long complained that work outside the home was destroying. 


I confess that I had to read the introduction to Nelson's phillipic several times over several days before I understood “gaslit.” Then just to be sure, I googled it. It is a neologism, a trope from a 1944 movie that only became vernacular in popular writing from about 2016. (See That being the assertion, who then is the villain? Who is robbing the unnamed collectives and what is being taken from them? 

Ultimately, you can only steal from individuals. That speaks to a deeper fallacy: the stolen concept. You cannot have theft without property: even a landlord is debarred from transgressing the renter’s “quiet enjoyment.” Quiet enjoyment is an economic value that can be stolen. So, what is missing here? And while it is theoretically possible that lacking any other motivation except your pain your landlord could set up loudspeakers and blast Wagner into your home, it would be bizarre. Most landlords only do things that make them money or prevent losses. So, who is getting the money from gaslighting Americans into believing that we can make decisions that result in our happiness? Are the perpetrators Runner's World, Sky & Telescope, and Papercraft Essentials


Speaking to the deeper point, if engaging in new hobbies makes us happier and perhaps morally better, is it gaslighting? I think that we are being gaslit into believing that we are unhappy in order to rob us of money to pay college professors at public universities who tell us that we really are unhappy despite all evidence to the contrary. (For some point-counterpoint on the subject, put "happiness conservatives liberals" into your search engine.) 


Social facts being complicated, it is also true that many people did and do suffer from the strain on the healthcare system: the providers themselves. Their plight does not appear in Robin G. Nelson’s article. (See "The Forgotten Man of Socialized Medicine" by Ayn Rand.)

In a second illogical attack on personal freedom, Dr. Robin Gair Nelson strikes at the root of American exceptionalism by conflating our chosen virtues with our inherited sins. “
Since this country’s inception, the dominant ideologies here have encouraged not only individualism but also the dehumanization of certain groups, as evidenced by the enslavement of Black people and the displacement of Indigenous communities from their ancestral lands. This dehumanization continues today in the form of the bootstrap narrative—the myth that anyone can prosper if only they work hard enough—and in efforts to weaken relief programs for people who need help.”


She does not parse those dominant ideologies. One of them was collectivist. Way back then, correctly stated individualism would have ended slavery and recognized the property rights of the people who were here first. Collectivist thinking based on incorrect epistemology caused those evils and many others. In point of fact Article I Section Nine of the Constitution contemplated the end of slavery after 1808 and allowed the imposition of a tax on the importation of slaves until then. As the Supreme Court ruled in a different case: The power to tax is the power to destroy. Apparently, since this nation’s inception we were intent on destroying slavery, and that is why we eventually fought a civil war over it. 

As for the Native Americans, as long as the trespassers were only individuals who chose the harsh frontier over the comforts of village and city life, the Natives usually won any battles. They struck hard and terribly. The theft of their lands was possible only because of the collectivized action of a central government that had no intention of keeping its promises. That is quite different from the bourgeois ethics of individualism.


One way or another, we all have bootstraps. It is true that some inherit their very nice boots including four generations of wealthy African-Americans. (See Our Kind of People by Lawrence Otis Graham. In an episode of The West Wing, the staff writers are in a quandary over Republican resistance to escalating the estate tax because it also would penalize the first  generation of African-American millionaires.) Envying them and being jealous of their status will not provide you with the intellectual tools required to make your own or to pull yourself up by whatever you do have. Some of the answers are hidden in books like Think and Grow RichHow to Win Friends and Influence PeopleRich Dad Poor Dad and Benjamin Franklin’s collected aphorisms published as “The Way to Wealth.” You can read about Madam C. J. Walker, Maggie Lena Walker, Steve Jobs, or Steve Forbes. 


From reading the theories of the arch-capitalist economists of the Austrian School, I am willing to believe (provisionally) that financial success is ineffable: it must be learned and cannot be taught. Working hard is absolutely required and yet alone is not enough. Knowing the principles of accounting may be necessary but insufficient. Finding a thriving market or a floundering one that will reward nurturing may both be exploitable alternatives or failure modes. 


Nelson closes her complaint with a demand: “Committing ourselves to upholding our evolutionary mandate to help one another—not just the people we see every day but everyone everywhere—is the only thing that will save us.” 


If helping one another is our evolutionary mandate, then it must be beyond our choice. If it is not, then by what standard is it required by evolution? Evolution required that people who have diabetes live long enough to have children and we have people with family names like Drinkwater and Passwater. Yet we are investing billions of dollars to overthrow that evolutionary mandate. 


 And that is just Type 1. It may well be the case that the other types are remediable and preventable with common sense diet and exercise. Or would Professor Nelson prefer that we follow our evolutionary mandate to let the infirm die off lest they degrade the gene pool? In The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski tells of the Bakhtiari tribe who even in modern times  leave behind any individual who cannot by their own power cross a swollen stream. The right answer to that question begins with the assumption of individualism: each individual is important to the survival of the tribe, including (and especially) the one who does not want to belong to any tribe.


Tribalism also underlays Amy Cooter’s essay. The militias are clearly tribal and define themselves in those terms of “we versus they.” Yet within that is a strong strain of individualism, self-dependence and self-sufficiency. Dowsing the militias with the individualism they recognize would defuse their desire for collective action. Instead of storming the Capitol, they would “go Galt” and just leave the society that has rejected their values. I suspect that Amy Cooter, Robin Nelson, and the editors at Scientific American would not be happy with that and would prefer that everyone just go along with their plans. 



[1] Reflexes speak. There was one time working security, we made regular bank deposits, pretty much the same time, same place, unarmed and unarmored. I was in the bank with my partner, being vigilant and the left side of my brain said, “If guys with guns came in right now, I would knock her to the ground and cover her with my body.” And the right side of my brain said, “Marotta, she would knock you down and cover you because is the better officer.”

[2] It is fully consistent and epistemologically integrative that Dr. Robin Gair Nelson extols the tribal values of the Navajo Nation for their immunization campaign. Apparently, those individuals were unable to make the right choices. Unlike the WEIRD people (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rational, Democratic), the Navajo Nation has no tradition of individualism.




The Scientific Method 

The Science of Liberty 

Michael Schermer’s Moral Arc 

The Influence of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism 

Modes of Survival

Shifting the Paradigm of Private Security 


Saturday, February 26, 2022

Reflections on Sex and Gender

I foresee a future in which males are a minority, perhaps a rarity, and females reproduce by cloning and gene splicing. I foresee a future in which you can change your gender as easily and often as we now change our cosmetic styles in clothing, hair, and skin. I find it difficult to trace the multifarious consequences of those assumptions. Would there be a parallel development in “humanism” that discriminates against cetaceans or cetacean-human hybrids? Such creatures might make excellent spaceship pilots. Some years back, I read a science fiction story (perhaps 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson) in which the spaceship was a biologic creature who invited you to have sex with your choice of configurations. 

Spinning off from astronomy, I have a new interest in microscopy. Hopefully having learned from my mistakes with telescopes, I am still shopping for an instrument for viewing the microcosmos. Part of that process was acquiring some textbooks. I could not help but be

amused by illustrations in Microbiology: Principles and Applications, 2nd edition, Instructor’s edition, by Jacquelyn G. Black (Prentice Hall, 1990, 1993). The woman has no genitals.* The man does. And he is circumcised. This is not uncommon. It is difficult to find an ordinary illustration of an anatomically correct female. 

Consider ancient Greek ceramics and statuary. The womanity in women is conspicuous by its absence. I blame the Semites. 

9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The Indo-European languages date to about 4000 BCE and they all share the Semitic root word for “seven.” So, some contact must have occurred. On the other hand, I have read that in archaic times, perhaps 700-550 BCE, in hot weather, it was not uncommon for Greeks to go without any clothing. Only when looms made textiles common did covering become more common, especially for women. In Allan Drury's novel, A God Against the Gods, about Pharaoh Akhenaten (circa 1350 BCE), people often went about unclothed. Another fact is that temples in India perhaps less than a thousand years old do have anatomically correct female deities. So, the historical development of enforced modesty is not clear to me. The fact remains. And we live surrounded by and living within the consequences no less than fish live in the waters. 


Plaque sent into outer space aboard Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11

Fish, however, are probably not as confused and conflicted about water as we are about sex and gender.

It has become common in academics for people to insert their preferred gender appellations in their signatures. For those circles, one of my signature blocks is 

Michael E. Marotta, BS MA

Editor, History of Astronomy Division

American Astronomical Society

That would now become 

Michael E. Marotta, BS MA (he/him/his)

Editor, History of Astronomy Division

American Astronomical Society


I was amused by a sigline like this:

Mary Smith (she/they)

College & School 

Project & Thesis


So, Ms. Smith would be “she” in the nominative case, but “they” in the objective. She did not say what the possessive is. I suspect that she had not considered what she wanted to be called in German with four cases or Russian with six or Hungarian with at least 12 cases and arguably another six: inessive, adessive, ablative, sublative…  


Fashion trends in sexual identity quickly grew as homosexuals, bisexuals, and transvestites inclusively embraced the persons of intersexual and non-sexual orientations. As easy as it was to accept all of that, I needed a moment to get my head around “queer” as a good thing. 

PRICHEP: Margolis, who's been studying pandemic Yiddish learning, says secular Yiddish has always been a chosen space, and people make that choice for a lot of reasons.

MARGOLIS: Descendants of Holocaust survivors, for whom the language was deeply meaningful.

PRICHEP: People who are drawn to the music and literature.

MARGOLIS: And then that youth vanguard of people who gravitate towards Yiddish because it's a queer space, it's a lefty space, it's a progressive space.

“For some secular Jews, their pandemic hobby has been learning Yiddish,” by Deena Prichep, December 25, 2021, 7:58 AM ET, Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday. --

Well, yes, they would have to be secular Jews because religious Jews would find queer spaces problematic.

So, we now have LGBTQIA+. Somewhere in that string is the space for non-binary. Because the string has eight characters, not being included there would allow me to claim that I am non-octary, the modern way to say “straight”--at least here and now because there's no telling what opportunities the future may offer. It might be interesting to advocate for time functions among the alphabetists. LG(x)T(y)B(dy/dx)QI(d^2y/dx^2)A+/-.

* Her wounds are also disturbing. It would have been possible to illustrate "Sites of Skin Infection" without personalization. Just show the sites. I believe that this illustration presents  woman-as-victim, continuing and reinforcing the problem.

Previously on Necessary Facts

The Madame Curie Complex

Females and Women 

She's Such a Geek!

Turing Never Said That