Scholariness

The internet is full of self-promoters. Either they are trying to make money or trying to jockey for a lead position in some movement (or both). Some of the self-promoters try to make themselves look like more of an expert or scholar than they are. I’ll call this scholariness. This is because they know that if others view them as a scholar or expert, they will be perceived as an authority. And such perception enhances their efforts at self-promotion, and/or the promotion of their social and/or political agenda.

For example, imagine there is some guy named George Hershey who has become obsessed with changing the country’s tax policies. Let’s say that George has a B.S. in Economics, works as a realtor, and has set up a web page to promote his political views and ideas about taxation. Problem is that George Hershey is just another guy with a college degree and an opinion about taxes. He needs something more. So George promotes himself as “Professor of Public Policy, The Institute of Eco-Analysis.” Yet it turns out that George created The Institute of Eco-Analysis and runs it from his basement computer and he is a professor in the sense that he sells tapes of himself lecturing about taxes and other things. This is scholariness.

Keep in mind that George may actually be quite knowledgeable about taxes, as it is something he likes to read up on. Nevertheless, what makes it scholariness is that he tries to create the perception that he is more of a scholar/expert than he is. He knows that when the average person reads or hears he is Professor of Public Policy, The Institute of Eco-Analysis, they will assume he is a professor at some university or some government institution. They will thus see him as an authority. And if his readers happen to agree with his position and arguments, they will want to see him as an authority. They will become followers and defenders.

What’s more, the internet is a big place, and some of George’s readers may themselves be self-promoters who advocate for the same thing. Next thing you know, they all begin to network and some join The Institute of Eco-Analysis. They might even set up some type of publication, “The Journal of Analytical Taxation,” where internet postings can now look like scholarly publications. Scholariness is now enhanced, as the average reader will get the impression that with all the collaboration and shared technical talk among the “experts,” the Institute and its publication must be a serious academic entity. Yet all you really have are a bunch of misfits who have found a way to make themselves appear more authoritative than they really are.

Since none of us want to be hoodwinked by people who are not quite what they say they are, here are some tips for detecting scholariness. Do not get distracted by the “scholars” or “scholarly groups” ability to mimic scholarship with technical jargon or fancy pants arguments. Look for the following:

  1. Is the “scholar” a professor at a mainstream university or college and is he/she talking about an issue that would fall under his area of expertise?
  1. Is the “scholar” heavily promoting himself ?
  1. Does the “scholar” have a political and/or social agenda?

 

If the answers are No, Yes, and Yes, then I would say there is a very strong chance you are dealing with scholariness.

Let me recount my first experience with scholariness among the Gnu atheists. It was back in 2007 and the “scholar” in question what none other than Sam Harris. I knew about him being a Gnu and had heard some of his arguments repeated on the web, but I did not know much about his background and experience. Back then, he described himself on his website as follows:

He is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and has studied both Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of contemplative disciplines, for twenty years. Mr. Harris is completing a doctorate in neuroscience.

This description was then copied and pasted on dozens of web pages at the time. While this is all technically true, the wording gave me the impression that Harris got a graduate degree from Stanford and then used this training to objectively study various religions. That is, he was a graduate of Stanford who has been studying religion for two decades ever since. With this carefully crafted wording, Harris made himself sound as if he was part of academia.

But this was a false impression. I then ran across the following article from the Washington Post that brought more clarity to Harris’ biography:

What he’ll say is this: At age 19, he and a college friend tried MDMA, better known as ecstasy, and the experience altered his view of the role that love could play in the world. (“I realized that it was possible to be a human being who wished others well all the time, reflexively.”) He dropped out of Stanford, where he was an English major, in his sophomore year and started to study Buddhism and meditation. He flew around the country and around the world, to places such as India and Nepal, often for silent retreats that went on for months. One of his teachers was Sharon Salzberg, a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass. Harris stood out, she recalls, not just because of his relative youth — everyone else was a generation older — but because of his intensity.

“His passion was for deep philosophical questions, and he could talk for hours and hours,” Salzberg recalls. “Sometimes you’d want to say to him, ‘What about the Yankees?’ or ‘Look at the leaves, they’re changing color!’ ” At the time, he was supported financially by his mother, though he did work for one memorable three-week stint in the security detail assigned to the Dalai Lama.

“You walk into a room and everyone is beaming good vibes,” he recalls, “and I’m looking for dangerous lunatics. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

During his 11-year dropout phase, Harris read hundreds of books on religion, many of which are listed in the lengthy bibliography of “The End of Faith.” His interests eventually turned to philosophy of the mind, which led him to re-enroll at Stanford in 1997, this time to study philosophy. He wrote a lot before and after he got his diploma, but nothing was published.

Okay, so when Harris said he was a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and had studied both Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of contemplative disciplines, for twenty years, what this really meant was that Harris got high, dropped out of college, and got his mom to support him as he traveled the world to “study” religions (which included a stint as a body guard) for a decade. In fact, as part of his studies, Sharon Salzberg served as his teacher. After all this “study,” he then went back and got is degree (BA?) in philosophy.

This is scholariness. His “study” was not academic, but personal. His degree did not make him some expert on religion. His “research” had nothing to do with his being a “graduate” of Stanford. Yet his bio was worded in a way to make it appear otherwise. Why? Because it served the purpose of his self-promotion.

Of course, since then, Harris did get his PhD in 2009. Does this mean he is now a scholar and part of academia, or is it just another notch in his belt for his self-promotion and scholariness? Did he get his PhD in neuroscience because of his love for neuroscience or because he wanted the authority of being perceived as a neuroscientist?

Well, what has he done since getting his PhD five years ago? Most people who love the science would seek out a post-doc or teaching position, so they can remain immersed in the field. Now I suppose this could be true of Harris, but his web page does not mention any such thing. On his page, he lists all his writings, including his two science papers from doing his PhD, but there is no mention of any further research papers. I would think someone doing a post-doc would have published something else since 2009.

However, he has been busy with other things. He set up “Project Reason”, “a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.” Translation – he set up his own think tank! He even made himself “CEO” of his own private think tank. Imagine that. Sam Harris, PhD, CEO of Project Reason. It must make his rube fans tingle all over. And he has been a busy bee writing articles for web pages and newspapers advocating for his “secular values.” Apparently, spreading scientific knowledge includes such articles as “Honesty: The Muslim World’s Scarcest Resource?” and “A New Year’s Resolution for the Rich.” He even found time to write three more popular books, one which advanced the pseudoscientific notion that science can establish what is right and wrong, and his new one insists drug use gives us a better understanding of our reality.

I have to wonder. Even back before he got his PhD, Harris used to charge $25,000 for the privilege of hearing him speak:

Cut to today: A friend would love to have Sam Harris come speak on campus for his college atheist group. He contacted an agency representing Harris and inquired how much it would cost. The representative’s response:

Sam’s fee is $25,000 which includes airfare. We would ask the sponsor to provide transportation to and from the airport, onsite meals, and hotel (up to 2 nights).

So after they pull together the $25,000, they would still need to put up for lodging/food/cabfare. Not surprisingly, the group doesn’t have that type of money. So the friend kindly responded that this amount was “unrealistic” for his group to raise, but thanked the rep for her time.

Now that his scholariness can be propped up with a newly minted PhD, has his fee gone up? Who knows? But I did find this on a forum at Harris’s own web site:

Hello all,
Does anyone have any info on what steps should be taken to host Dr. Sam Harris as a guest speaker? Last month, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson came to Mississippi State University and gave a presentation highlighting the last ten years of advances in astrophysics, and it was a great success. My friend and I, also a Project Reason forum member, conjecture that if a scientist as renowned as Dr. Tyson was so well received, Dr. Harris would be as well. Any information or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Shane

A “Mr V” replies:

Step 1. Cough up a $ 50,000 speaking fee.

[cough] $50,000!? I wonder if that is true?

Even more hilarious is the following thread for his site:

FIrst, I’m not asking this in doubt of Project Reason being active. It may be, and I just don’t see it.

That being said…well, I don’t see Project Reason being active in doing much of anything. The video contest garners a small amount of attention online, but otherwise, I don’t see much of a presence anywhere of Project Reason doing anything to reach its secular goals.

It seems to me that with the caliber of people on the advisory board, Project Reason could be a very visible force in the world (and media) helping promote secularism. I see people like Ricky Gervais, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Steven Weinberg, and Salman Rushdie on the board, yet I don’t think I’ve EVER heard any of them even mention Project Reason.

Again, I could be wrong, but if I’m not, then isn’t it about time Project Reason became active in acheiving its goals?

And

I’m not referring to the forum (and it’s few active members). I mean Project Reason as an organization. Sam created it, but I don’t see it doing much.

A reply from a senior member of the group:

The simplest answer is that it doesn’t do much.

And then this reply:

There’s the Project Reason site which mostly consists of articles of interest, news updates, and projects, plus you can sign up for Sam’s Blog and get notified of special interest articles he’s written, interviews, book reviews, etc. All that is different from the discussion forum here in which we actively participate.

LOL! The rubes haven’t figured out that Project Reason is little more than a Sam Harris Fan Club.

Scholariness sells when there are enough suckers around.

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11 Responses to Scholariness

  1. Thank you for this articel I alway enjoy reading it.

    So if they FINALLY have realised that the “movment” is not achieving anything and not doing anything important how long do you think its going to take to develop a more adult view on religion and the world?

    It has been 10 years now hasnt it?

  2. Dhay says:

    Add in his writing a book, “Lying”, which stresses that Sam Harris (almost) never ever tells a lie or untruth, a message hammered home in his blogs, so that he builds himself up as always truthful and authoritative, and as a leader you can trust and follow.

    It also means that when he claims…

    “For instance, if I do a public debate with a rabbi or a pastor or some other representative of Iron Age philosophy, …”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/what-martial-arts-have-to-do-with-atheism/275273/

    … nobody but the already cynical will spot that this is misdirection, hiding that the pot is calling the kettle black; his core ideas of no-self, impermanence, no free will, etc, ideas which he is pushing at us as modern scientific ideas, are in fact Buddhist Iron Age philosophy, promoted in the very earliest Pali Sutras.

    There are many other examples like this — his “Drugs and the Meaning of Life” blog, copied and pasted wholesale into his “Waking Up” book, I gather, is a shocking example of the advertising copywriter’s dishonest art. Sam Harris is a master of misdirection, Sam Harris is dishonest, but he has created an image to blind the unwary.

  3. Dhay says:

    > I would think someone doing a post-doc would have published something else since 2009. However, he has been busy with other things. He set up “Project Reason”, …

    Project Reason was set up in 2007, says Wiki on its “Project Reason” page, and adds:

    “One immediate need”, according to Sam Harris, “is to build an archive of the best secular resources on the Internet. Registered users can submit their favorite articles, videos, interviews, etc”. Users are also encouraged to make donations: “The leading religious organizations have operating budgets of over $100 million per year. There is no equivalent organization in the secular world. It may take a while, but you can help us build it!”

    Hmm, “ … immediate need …”: I see that archive’s first article was dated April 2009, so evidently there was a somewhat more pressing immediate need demanding its attention and funds for the first year or two. What that was is easily spotted by looking at the ‘Funding’ section of his research into “The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief” (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0007272), which lists and thanks nine charitable foundations and funds, three grants from the NIH, and “a grant from The Reason Project”.

    Although it looks at first sight as though Project Reason’s grant is but one grant in thirteen…

    For this study, The Reason Project provided partial funding for MRI scanner use, subject recruitment, and psychological testing. The other sources of funding had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.”

    … Project Reason had a role in funding MRI scanner use, subject recruitment, and psychological testing, and had the sole role in funding study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, and preparation of the manuscript.

    Which I read as saying that without Project Reason funding, Harris’ wouldn’t have been able to acquire his neuroscience PhD. Looks like Project Reason was set up specifically to ensure Harris had funds to get his PhD, for that seems to be what Project Reason actually started out funding, and anything else seems to have come later.

  4. Michael says:

    Wow. Nice catch! It’s almost as if Harris bought his PhD. I noticed also that the paper indicates Harris himself did not perform any of the experiments.

  5. Dhay says:

    Michael > It’s almost as if Harris bought his PhD. I noticed also that the paper indicates Harris himself did not perform any of the experiments.

    I have long had suspicions along those lines. A PhD is a degree demonstrating intellectual and practical mastery of your subject. When I was younger I never heard of anyone being allowed to progress to a PhD advanced degree unless they had already demonstrated by first successfully acquiring a BA or BSc ordinary degree in that same subject, or perhaps one closely related, that they understood the basics of their PhD subject.

    This might of course be an artefact of the publicly-funded universities of my youth, where candidates unlikely to achieve a PhD by reason of lack of adequate knowledge and preparation would be weeded out as public money wasters at application stage; perhaps in the privately funded US universities one can just present a PhD project proposal, together with proof of adequate funding, then get straight on with it, basic competence unproven.

    Sam Harris went straight from a BA in Philosophy (awarded 2000) to a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience (awarded 2009) with apparently nothing neuroscience-related in between: he was a mere author of anti-religious polemic.

    Then there’s the team he worked in to get his PhD: team. In most disciplines you get your Doctorate via your own, unaided work, but here Harris was working with Jonas T Kaplan, a veteran of fifteen previous neuroscience research papers, starting in 2001, and who (says PLoS’ downloadable pdf of “The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief”) “contributed equally to this work”; “equally” is questionable, when Harris was plainly a very junior member of the team, and was always contributing his half-share to the research (in those parts of the research where Harris had an active role) in close partnership with someone vastly more knowledgeable and experienced.

    As Michael points out, Harris didn’t perform (or, presumably, even assist at) the actual brain scans. Nor did he have any practical part in the subject recruitment, telephone screenings, and psychometric assessments. And judging by, “Gave extensive notes on the manuscript: MSC MI”, Harris doesn’t seem to have had sufficient knowledge of previous neuroscience research, the research which his PhD paper built upon, that he was able to write up any part of the sixty-paper bibliography.

    In the core areas of the research, namely in conceiving and designing the experiments, and in analysing the data, Harris was part of a team of no fewer than four; he was aided by Kaplan, and by Marco Iacoboni, who had published eight research papers since 1999 and had two more published in 2009, and also by the vastly experienced Mark S Cohen, who has been performing MRI research since 1985.

    Surrounded by such a senior team of helpers, it is hard to see how Harris could go wrong: cue WM Briggs, statistician and scourge of bad statistics; his series of no fewer than seven lengthy blog entries totally excoriated “The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief”, and the conclusion included, “During the course of my investigation of scientism and bad science, I have read a great many bad, poorly reasoned papers. This one might not be the worst, but it deserves a prize for mangling the largest number of things simultaneously.”
    http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=4923, 27, 29, 33, 38, 40 and 42.

    So, um, what value is his PhD in enabling us to assess Harris’ knowledge and expertise in neuroscience? Or has Project Reason (ie Harris) bought him(self) a status symbol, a spurious support for his claim to be a leader in the science of the mind, someone whose word can be trusted by the philosophical-naturalistically inclined atheists he is seeking to impress and reach out to in his neo-Buddhist book, “Waking Up”.

    I noted in one of my responses to 01 September’s “Atheists Leaders Embrace the Spiritual” that in Chapter 2 of “Waking Up” (published on the Nautilus website as “An Atheist’s Guide to Spirituality”) Harris’ quotation of the recent paper, “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind”, is pseudoscience; and I said, “Harris, the self-proclaimed champion of reason and science, drops into his “Waking Up”, presumably to impress the gullible, references to research which Harris himself does not understand, and which he ignorantly or wilfully misinterprets for us, and which he makes false claims based on.” Harris does not impress me that his scientific reading comprehension is at PhD level.

    Kaplan has since published a further fourteen neuroscience research papers: Harris – none. Had he been actually interested, he could have, for instance, joined Buddhist and “world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Richard J. Davidson, [at] the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, UW-Madison, [who] conducts rigorous scientific research on healthy qualities of mind such as kindness, compassion, forgiveness and mindfulness.” (See investigatinghealthyminds.org/cihmScientificPub for the huge number of papers produced by Davidson and his collaborators.) Sounds like a place tailored to Harris and his interests. Of course there are many reasons why he might choose not to work there – pinned by wife’s work, dislikes climate, security issues – but I am not impressed by Harris’ level of commitment to neuroscience.

    “Sam Harris (joint first author) is the Co-founder and CEO of The Reason Project. The Reason Project is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit foundation whose mission includes conducting original scientific research related to human values, cognition, and reasoning”, says the paper. Project Reason did support Harris’ PhD research, yes, but I have been unable to find any other original scientific research that it has supported or conducted before or since. So Project Reason, like Harris himself, has quietly dropped neuroscience.

    Modern professional standards require anyone practising a profession to undertake continual professional development (CPD) to keep abreast of their profession. Since his PhD Harris has instead reverted to journalism.

  6. Dhay says:

    Two relevant quotes from a Weekly Standard article called, “The New Phrenology”.
    http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/new-phrenology_644420.html?nopager=1

    A paper called “Power, Distress, and Compassion: Turning a Blind Eye to the Suffering of Others” describes a study put together by a team of social psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, a few years ago. Graduate assistants managed to collect 118 undergraduates, most of them under the age of 21. The kids agreed to participate in the experiment because they were given $15 or class credit for a psychology requirement. A skeptic might point out that the sample of participants was thus skewed from the start, unnaturally weighted toward either kids who badly need $15 or psych majors. And all of them, by definition, were the kinds of kids who want to go to college at Berkeley. Almost half of the participants were Asian American; only 3.5 percent were African American. Caucasians made up less than 30 percent.

    The group the researchers studied is not, in other words, a demographic cross section of humanity. It’s not a ride through Walt Disney’s “It’s a Small World.” It has no claim to the randomness that sampling requires. It is therefore an odd gang from which to extract truths about human behavior. Indeed, speaking as a former resident, I can attest that human behavior in Berkeley, California, is unlike human behavior anywhere else in the world.

    Where was Sam Harris’ “The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief” PhD research conducted?
    Yes, you got it, UCLA.

    Were they students?
    Table 6 says they averaged a university level WASI score for intelligence (~125), and averaged a university level number of years in education (~15).

    Were Harris’ experimental subjects mostly under 21?
    Table 6 says the average age of the (winnowed down to 30) subjects was slightly under 22, but this is quite consistent with most being under 21 (or even most under 19) plus a few mature students – for example, Sam Harris was 30 when he returned to start his undergraduate degree in 1997, 33 when he left, and presumably was about 40 when he started his PhD.

    Tick, tick, and tick. Looks like Harris’ research was carried out on people who were not just WIERD, but peculiarly WIERD.

    Studies show that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who like to fill in Internet questionnaires for an hour or more, and those who don’t. The second kind of people – eminently rational, typically busy, possessing a life – will be left out.

    I see Harris’ subjects answered 124 questions; the questions were self-paced, so the total time taken was variable; I merely note that at a fast ten seconds to read and consider each question, to decide which is the correct answer button of the three to press, and to press it, a speedy answerer would take about 20 minutes; this is in the claustrophobic confines of a fMRI scanner; many subjects would take rather longer.

    Tick. The second kind of people – eminently rational, typically busy, possessing a life – will be left out.

    Finally, Harris fine tuned the religion-related questions (running tests via his Sam Harris website in May 2008) for maximum polarity of responses, such that on a Likert scale of 0-5, either the atheists would respond 0 but Christians 5, or the atheists would respond 5 but the Christians 0. In his own words, “While gradations of belief are certainly worth investigating, our experiment sought to characterize belief and disbelief in their purest form. It was, therefore, essential that we exclude subjects who could not consistently respond “true” or “false” with conviction.” And, “These exclusions ensured that our final group of subjects did, in fact, strongly believe/disbelieve our religious stimuli. We note, however, that the subjects retained in this experiment do not represent the full range of religious commitment found in the general population.”

    What he said: while he ensured he got the purest form of belief and disbelief, he also ensured he compared people at one extreme of the atheist-Christian spectrum with people at the other extreme, keeping fundy Christians and fundy atheists, but eliminating moderates; and he ensured that his results were valid for that subset of the peculiarly WIERD, that tiny, tiny subset of the general population, which is the peculiarly WIERD fundy who can be somehow enticed into an fMRI scanner.

  7. Dhay says:

    Amend that: My “124 questions” should have been (61 x 4 =) 244 questions, but my estimate of ten seconds being a fast response time was way out, the average response being about 3.8 seconds; so, “Each subject received three functional scans of approximately 6 to 10 minutes in length.”

    Tick. He ensured that his results were valid for that subset of the peculiarly WIERD, that tiny, tiny subset of the general population, which is the peculiarly WIERD fundy who can be somehow enticed to lie still in an fMRI scanner (claustrophobic) with special text-display goggles on (extra claustrophobic) for a total of approximately 18 to 30 minutes.

  8. Dhay says:

    > So after they pull together the $25,000, they would still need to put up for lodging/food/cabfare. Not surprisingly, the group doesn’t have that type of money. So the friend kindly responded that this amount was “unrealistic” for his group to raise, but thanked the rep for her time.

    I see that three years or so earlier, the then very prominent Michael Newdow spoke to that student group for “a very, very minimal stipend… Truth be told, he never asked us for a specific amount, but we wanted to give him something.”

  9. Dhay says:

    Well, what has he done since getting his PhD five years ago? Most people who love the science would seek out a post-doc or teaching position, so they can remain immersed in the field. Now I suppose this could be true of Harris, but his web page does not mention any such thing. On his page, he lists all his writings, including his two science papers from doing his PhD, but there is no mention of any further research papers. I would think someone doing a post-doc would have published something else since 2009.”

    If he lists only two science papers: he’s lying; there is a third. If you go onto the Project Reason website and look up the ‘The Biology of Belief’ project you’ll find links to Harris’ 2009 PhD paper. At the top is:

    UPDATE: Project Reason is currently preparing to run another neuroimaging study on belief. Our goal will be to discover which regions of the brain allow people to change their beliefs, or prevent them from doing so, in response to new evidence.

    Now that I have revisited this page, I believe I first saw this UPDATE in Spring last year. Near the bottom of the page is a link to a little follow-up research (not on the UPDATE topic – we are still waiting for that study) that Harris did do very very shortly after his PhD research:

    Follow-up study (sponsored, in part, by Project Reason):
    Douglas, P. K., Harris, S., Yuille, A., & Cohen, M. S. (2011, May 15)
    Performance comparison of machine learning algorithms and number of independent components used in fMRI decoding of belief vs. disbelief.
    Neuroimage. Volume 56, Issue 2, Pages 544-553.

    This links onwards to the ScienceDirect website, where we find the paper is behind a paywall, but we can learn something from it.
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S105381191001414X

    The publication date of 2011 is misleading, because a click on ‘Show more’ tells us it was received on 1 December 2009, ie a few months only after the “received June 3 2009” PhD paper. The abstract includes, “we compared our classification method to our previously published general linear model results on this same data set”, which indicates that it was Harris’ PhD experiment’s fMRI scanner data that were used. To simplify slightly, those data were run through various algorithms designed to speed up the intensive number-crunching needed with fMRI (finding they variously yielded a 92% to 84% accuracy in matching the general linear model results on this same data set); and, “there are now hopes of performing such analyses efficiently in real-time.“

    I find the last interesting: one of Harris’ pet themes is lying – he’s even written a book about it. Harris has once or twice referred to the possibility of using his fMRI research as the basis for a lie-detector test; being able to produce real-time results to tell whether a subject believes or disbelieves what has just been flashed before them (or said in their ear) would enable such a fMRI-based test to be practical, and it would be far less invasive than waterboarding or other torture, eh, Sam.

    So Harris has published something neuroscience-related since his PhD, if only computer tests to find the best fast number-crunching methods, rather than new results. It isn’t the differently-specified new research promised in the UPDATE, though. Perhaps that will arrive, perhaps not. Harris wouldn’t lie or mislead, would he? But I’m not holding my breath.

  10. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne’s blog dated March 7, 2015, entitled, “Dissertations for sale!” disapprovingly quotes a job advert from a company “that will research and even write your Ph.D. dissertation—or a journal article—for you.”

    Job responsibilities:
    Your main responsibility will be to assist our clients in conducting the research needed needed to complete their theses, dissertations, or journal articles, and then writing drafts for portions of those documents, such as a Literature Review, Introduction or Discussion chapters.

    Coyne comments, “Yes, it pays a lot, but it seems illegal to me, for it’s fostering a duplicitous practice: passing off the work of others as your own. Can this possibly be legal? Even if it is, it’s unethical, …”
    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/dissertations-for-sale/

    Do we know anyone who has had major portions of his research and report performed by others? See the post and responses above.

    Even the Literature Review:
    Dhay > … judging by, “Gave extensive notes on the manuscript: MSC MI”, [Sam] Harris doesn’t seem to have had sufficient knowledge of previous neuroscience research, the research which his PhD paper built upon, that he was able to write up any part of the sixty-paper bibliography.

  11. Dhay says:

    Here’s a snippet spotted on another site, which I have heavily edited for intelligibility.

    Michael Shermer … [in his recent The Moral Arc book, which seems to re-phrase and re-state Sam Harris’ ‘maximisation of the well-being of all sentient beings’ idea of morality, as contained in The Moral Landscape] discusses studies which show that animals have similar neurophysiologies to humans, as regards suffering:

    “The Neural pathways of emotions, for examples, are not confined to higher-level cortical structures in the brain, but are found in evolutionarily older sub-cortical regions. Artificially stimulating the same regions in humans and non-human animals produces the same emotional reaction in both.”

    Humans and nonhuman animals have the same physical capabilities to suffer, so the latter can and should be included in the moral conversation.

    Harris is on record as saying that The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief proves that “belief is belief is belief”: that is, that the religious person’s belief that there is a God is neurologically identical to the atheist’s belief that there isn’t a God, and to everybody’s belief that 2+2=4; and likewise the religious person’s disbelief that there is no God is neurologically identical to the atheist’s disbelief that there is a God, and to everybody’s disbelief that 2+2=5.

    (Of course, if you look at the details of the experiment, this but tells us that when an experimental subject answers “Yes” (and presses the appropriate button) he or she looks neurologically just like any other subject answering “Yes” to any question whatsoever; ditto “No” responses. This is of course to be expected, and Harris’ experiments, while useful in confirming ‘what everybody already knows’, removing it from speculation and hearsay, and providing a useful citation for future researchers, just confirms what everybody knows.

    Note that we learn nothing whatsoever about religious belief (in the sense of religious faith), and he establishes — he doesn’t even look for — any basis for valuing irreligious belief higher than religious belief: put simply, as far as neurology is concerned, “Yes” is “Yes” is “Yes” in any context whatever; likewise “No” is “No” is “No”.)

    What I do find interesting, though is the link with emotions, the linking of belief with liking and especially the linking of disbelief with disgust. Sounds like “Yes” and “Oh yes” are neurologically similar, and likewise “No” and “Oh no”.

    So back to the quotation, above, and Shermer’s probably correct claim that humans and other creatures with brains are similar neurologically: could it be that a human’s belief (or disbelief) is neurologically near-identical to a dog’s belief (or disbelief); or to a goldfish’s.

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