X-Message-Number: 10060
Date: Tue, 14 Jul 1998 11:59:03 EDT
Subject: Language


Following up my post yesterday on "Scientific Evidence" (for cryonics):

Many "establishment" scientists say there is no "scientific evidence" that
cryonics will work (that current patients will ever be revived). Some in
cryonics are willing--either as a matter of public relations tactics or
otherwise--to concede this point, as a matter of language. The notion is that
the scientific community is entitled to its own definition of "scientific
evidence" and this means at least one experimental success, or perhaps even
several confirmatory successes.

This position is neither logical nor--in my opinion--good tactics.

The criterion of experimental success implies that there can NEVER be
"scientific evidence" for any expectation about the future. Therefore ALL
plans and projects are unsupported by "scientific evidence." One might choose
to use language in this way, but it would be unreasonable, and it is NOT in
fact the way people usually talk or act. 

When scientific organizations, or organizations relying on science (including
not only academic research teams but businesses, the military, etc.) make
plans, they use EVIDENCE based on available information and evaluation. When
the Manhattan Project was under study, did anyone say "There is no scientific
evidence this will work."? Certainly not. (Well, one admiral asserted, "as an
expert on explosives," that it could not work.) On the contrary, they found
what they believed to be good evidence that it would probably work, and this
was either explicitly or implicitly labeled "scientific evidence."

Language evolves, sometimes for better and sometimes for the worse.
Contemporary Romance languages are mostly degenerate corruptions of Latin. In
recent years, dictionaries have allowed one to use "infer" and "imply" as
synonyms--an obvious step backward. On the other hand, the use of "contact" as
a verb, still decried by purists, is a step forward; there is no good reason
not to use it. 

Dictionary definitions represent just one committee's opinion. The dictionary
committees do not originate usages. The originators are the people active in
the respective fields. If enough of us insist on what we consider appropriate
usage, with persuasive reasoning, that will help everyone. 

A procedure or an attitude or a project is "scientific" if it is based on
realistic evaluation of probabilities. 

If I were the only one who said that, I would be a majority of one. But I am
far from alone. Percy Bridgman, long ago, said something like: "Science is
just doing your utmost with your mind, no holds barred." 

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=10060