Crackpot Sam Harris Still Lashing Out at Leading Scientist

Years ago, Harris warned that Francis Collins would be bad for the NIH and tried to lead a crusade to prevent Collins from being appointed to head the NIH. During the following years, Harris’s warnings were proven to be wrong, yet given that Harris cannot admit being wrong about anything significant, he has adopted his typical anti-scientific attitude of ignoring his mistakes and refusing to admit when he was wrong.

Well, it turns out Sam Harris is still obsessed with Francis Collins:

Neuroscientist Sam Harris had some harsh words for one of the nation’s top scientists during a recent podcast.
The outspoken atheist said that Francis Collins, the current head of the National Institute of Health and the former director of the international Human Genome Project, was an example of an intelligent person who peddled religious “bullshit.”

From: Atheist Sam Harris rips the head of the National Institute of Health for pushing religious ‘bullsh*t’

Let’s make some corrections.

First, I don’t think Harris is a neuroscientist. He is not even a scientist. He is someone who got his PhD in Neuroscience and then immediately upon recieving this PhD, abandoned science and the lab. He did not secure a post-doc. He did not seek out a teaching position. He doesn’t publish scientific studies. He doesn’t teach neuroscience courses. Instead, writes and sells pseudoscience books as part of his own “think tank”. His current book is about using drugs and meditation to find truths about our reality.

Second, it is simply an objective fact that Collins is a much better scientist than someone like Harris. While Harris dropped out of science to make money with his books and speaking fees, Collins published hundreds of scientific articles about genetics. From Wiki:

At Yale, Collins worked under the direction of Sherman Weissman, and in 1984 the two published a paper, “Directional Cloning of DNA Fragments at a Large distance From an Initial Probe: a Circularization Method”.[3] The method described was named chromosome jumping, to emphasize the contrast with an older and much more time-consuming method of copying DNA fragments called chromosome walking.[4]

Collins joined the University of Michigan faculty in 1984, rising to the rank of professor in internal medicine and human genetics. His gene-hunting approach, which he named “positional cloning”,[5][6] developed into a powerful[7] component of modern molecular genetics.

Several scientific teams worked in the 1970s and 1980s to identify genes and their loci as a cause of cystic fibrosis. Progress was modest until 1985, when Lap-Chee Tsui and colleagues at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children identified the locus for the gene.[8] It was then determined that a shortcut was needed to speed the process of identification, so Tsui contacted Collins, who agreed to collaborate with the Toronto team and share his chromosome-jumping technique. The gene was identified in June 1989,[9][10] and the results were published in the journal Science on Sept. 8, 1989.[11] This identification was followed by other genetic discoveries made by Collins and a variety of collaborators. They included isolation of the genes for Huntington’s disease,[12] neurofibromatosis,[13][14] multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1,[15] and Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome.[16]

Of course, Collins then went on to head the Human Genome Project. His success there was probably key in getting appointed to head the NIH.

To watch a Gnuru kook like Sam Harris, who quit science to sell books from his private think tank, criticize such an amazingly successful scientist like Francis Collins is hilarious. One has to wonder if envy and jealousy are behind Harris’s obsession with Collins.

Third, as for peddling religious bullshit, this is classic projection on the part of Harris. Harris is a Buddhist (although he doesn’t want to admit this). And he is currently selling a book that teaches Buddhist meditations. Sounds like “peddling religious bullshit” to me.

In a recent blog entry, Harris speaks with one of his close friends and mentors, someone who runs this organization. Have a look around and notice that you can practice “generosity” by donating to the organization.

Here is how Sam describes his conversation with the guru:

Joseph has been a close friend for more than 20 years. He was one of my first meditation teachers and remains one of the wisest people I have ever met. In this two-hour conversation, we discuss how he came to devote his life to the study of meditation. We also debate some of the finer points of the practice.

Although parts of this discussion are accessible, much of it is quite esoteric. I suspect that only experienced meditators will find the second half interesting, or even intelligible. My latest book, Waking Up, provides some necessary context, but there is no substitute for time spent engaging these practices on retreat.

Sounds like a gnostic plugging a book to me. 😉

To summarize, Sam Harris doesn’t seem to be a neuroscientist, Sam Harris seems to be a Buddhist, and Francis Collins is a exceedingly successful scientist. It is hilarious to watch Harris throw his angry stones.

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4 Responses to Crackpot Sam Harris Still Lashing Out at Leading Scientist

  1. Bilbo says:

    Mike, should we credit you with coining the term, “Gnuru”?

  2. Dhay says:

    > Let’s make some corrections. First, I don’t think Harris is a neuroscientist. He is not even a scientist. He is someone who got his PhD in Neuroscience and then immediately upon receiving this PhD, abandoned science and the lab. He did not secure a post-doc. He did not seek out a teaching position. He doesn’t publish scientific studies. He doesn’t teach neuroscience courses. Instead, writes and sells pseudoscience books as part of his own “think tank”.

    I couldn’t agree more with this, and have given reasons for agreement in my several, often lengthy, responses to the October 4, 2014 post entitled, “Scholarliness”.
    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/scholariness-2/

    I’ll add one more comment to them: Sam Harris has one more than one occasion described his PhD research as demonstrating that, “Belief is belief is belief”; but I note that his research methodology included deliberately and rigorously including only those at extremes of religiosity or atheism, ie presumably the most dogmatic and unreflective people, those most likely to respond with the learned-reflex type of unthinking automatic response which psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls ‘System 1’; the methodology likewise excluded from the results anyone whose belief results during the experiment differed from their beliefs during the pre-experiment test, ie anyone who showed evidence of having used, either between the tests or live during the experiment, the intelligently reflective thought-processes which Daniel Kahneman calls ‘System 2’.

    So, did Harris demonstrate that, neurologically, “Belief is belief is belief”, as he claimed, or instead inadvertently demonstrate the rather different conclusion — unless one makes the strange assumption that belief is always and only the knee-jerk unreflective responding with what you already know or ‘know’, and excludes careful reflection and judgment — that, neurologically, “System 1 is System 1 is System 1”.

    So, was Harris’ PhD experiment badly conceived and executed, and other conclusions drawn than the experiment actually supported.

  3. J.P. says:

    Ludicrous!

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