X-Message-Number: 10063
Date: Tue, 14 Jul 1998 17:35:55 -0400
From: Paul Wakfer <>
Newsgroups: sci.cryonics
Subject: Re: Language
References: <>

Ettinger wrote:
> 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.

Since I am one of those people "in cryonics" to whom you are attributing
this position, I wish to state categorically that "public relations" is
not the reason for it. Rather, accuracy of standard scientific usage and
a desire not to distort such usage for any presumed sales benefit is the
reason for my position.  I am conceding nothing, I am only trying to
correct past mistakes of cryonicists (including myself) and to be
accurate and honest.
> 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.

Many words have multiple meanings. Often, one or more general or
"standard usage" meanings, and sometimes more than one "technical usage"
meaning quite precisely defined for some particular scientific,
engineering, sociological, or even artistic discipline. If "the
scientific community" is not "entitled to its own definition", then no
one is and you are rejecting outright this whole well-founded and
well-known structure. It is never wise to start off ones arguments but
rejecting and distorting the language of those who you are addressing.
> This position is neither logical nor--in my opinion--good tactics.

Your definition of "logical", and most certainly not any notion of "good
tactics", have little relevance to common and accurate usage of terms in
the biological sciences.
> The criterion of experimental success implies that there can NEVER be
> "scientific evidence" for any expectation about the future.

You are confusing the usage of "scientific evidence" in the physical
sciences with that in the biological sciences. Given your training in
physics, and lack of training or experience in biology, perhaps this is
understandable. However, this is an example where a phrase, "scientific
evidence", may have multiple meanings in "technical usage".
> Therefore ALL plans
> and projects are unsupported by "scientific evidence."

Here you are distorting or confusing several things. First, even in the
biological sciences, no experiments stand alone. They rely on related
prior results which *have* evidence or are even "proven" (much weighty
evidence). However, the first time any particular experiment is done, it
is correct and proper to say that there is no "scientific evidence"
(evidence according to accepted scientific methodology) for it to have a
result one way or the other. In fact, this viewpoint is of paramount
importance in order to maintain an unbiased view when attempting to
analyze the experimental results. It is important to realize that,
scientifically, biological experiments are done to "investigate", not to
*achieve* some *particular* result (even though we may - and I plead
guilty here - attempt to promote them that way to outside interests).

However, your main error it that you continue to relate everything to
the manner in which the physical sciences, mathematics and engineering
operate. Physical systems are, in general, much less complex that
biological ones. The theories are much better proven, and often the
results of a given experiment can be precisely predicted ahead of time
from that theory. Such use of proven theories to make predictions is
quite reasonably called "scientific evidence" for the result that will
obtain from the experiment. (In fact, most physical theory is so well
proven, that we don't even bother to test every prediction by experiment
any more.) In the biological sciences, this pattern is not the case at
all. In most areas, theory is either nonexistent or far behind
experiment. Yes, we have working theories consistent with previous
results which we use to make hypotheses and decisions about what
particular experimental design will be most efficiently further our
understanding, however, as often as not we find out (after the fact)
that our experiment did not produce the result that we thought it might,
and, looking back, it was almost never the most optimal way to proceed.
Biological scientific methodology is, therefore, vastly different from
that of much of physics. 

> One might choose to use
> language in this way, but it would be unreasonable,

Please supply an argument for this assertion instead of using
"unreasonable" as a smear word.

> and it is NOT in fact the
> way people usually talk or act.

We are not speaking here of the way "people" talk, but of the way
biological scientists talk.

> 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.

They use information, theory, and evidence and proof for previous
experiments. But again you are talking about business, military,
physical scientists or engineers which are all essentially different
than biological scientists.

> 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."

This was an engineering project based upon already proven physical law
(much as is current nanotechnology). It relates very little to the
methodology or terminology of the biological sciences. In this case, it
was/would be perfectly reasonable to use the phrase "scientific
evidence" (except, perhaps, about the end result itself).

Hell, it is even reasonable, if you wish, to continue to state that
there *is* "scientific evidence" when we are talking to the general
public. However, when we are talking to a biological scientist *qua
scientist*, we must honestly admit that there is no scientific evidence
that cryonics works. That is what I did in Taiwan. When I addressed the
retort of my scientist opponent there, I very carefully stated "If you
mean that - there is no scientific evidence in the sense that no
macroscopic whole animal has had its temperature lowered to below the
glass transition point and has been restored to life - then you are
correct. However, you in turn have no scientific evidence that this
cannot be done, and there are both theoretical grounds and related
scientific evidence from other experiments to suggest that it will be

I then went on to state that "While I agree with you that in general
people should not adopt procedures for which there is no or even little
scientific evidence, impending death is a special case because no
alternative is available. When one is about to die, one cannot simply
say, "I will wait until cryonics is proven before trying it. Instead,
while there may be no scientific evidence for it, this is one of the few
situations where it is still rational to adopt a procedure". This last
argument was irrefutable! All my opponent could do was "snort" and the
audience appeared to be nodding their heads with agreement.

> Language evolves, sometimes for better and sometimes for the worse.

But language *evolution* does not necessitate distorting, losing, or
equating currently useful words and phrases. (Personally, I am unhappy
that the original, and beautiful meaning of the word "gay" - which has
no peer, IMO - has been forever lost from the English language.)

> 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.

We are in full agreement about that error. Although I understand it, I
do not perpetuate it.

> 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.

Quite so.
> 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.

Since the cryonics community is so small, this argument has gone
> A procedure or an attitude or a project is "scientific" if it is based on
> realistic evaluation of probabilities.

For the umpteenth time, no one said that "a procedure or an attitude or
a project" is not scientific. What was stated is that there is no
*"scientific evidence" that cryonics works*, and that is quite
different. Once, again you are confusing, distorting and equating
> 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 
> doing your utmost with your mind, no holds barred."

And in doing so he was talking, and promoting science to laymen.
In any case, philosophers and historians of science do not count! To use
your phrase above, they are not "the people active in the respective
fields" who I am talking about addressing with respect for their customs
and usage of language.

-- Paul --

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