Sam Harris Promoted as “the Neuroscientist”

Sam Harris is constantly being promoted as a “neuroscientist.” If you use Google to search the news with for Sam Harris, you’ll get page after page of the following:

Neuroscientist Sam Harris had some harsh words for one of the nation’s top scientists during a recent podcast.

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and prominent “new atheist,” who along with others like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher …

… the neuroscientist Sam Harris and the late but still influential journalist Christopher Hitchens.

Sam Harris isn’t hesitant to admit that he’s embarrassed by the word “spirituality.” The acclaimed author and neuroscientist recently visited Big Think to discuss …

Sam Harris — author, outspoken atheist and neuroscientist — has made several appearances on The Times’ Op-Ed pages, most recently in an …

From multiple New York Times bestselling author, neuroscientist, and ‘new atheist’ Sam Harris, Waking Up is for the 30 percent of Americans …

.. download of a two hour Sam Harris,a neuroscientist, philosopher and debater) lecture. I would think some websites should be given priority.

… (as Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and student of Buddhism describes it). …

Under the guise of defending “liberal principles,” author and neuroscientist Sam Harris, who sides with Maher during the debate, argues that …

In the following clip, neuroscientist and best-selling author Sam Harris advocates for a secular form of meditation as a method for making fundamental …

Over at TED, Harris is promoted as follows:

Sam Harris
Neuroscientist and philosopher
Adored by secularists, feared by the pious, Sam Harris’ best-selling books argue that religion is ruinous and, worse, stupid — and that questioning religious faith might just save civilization.

I could go on and on and on with this. So……

Since Harris likes to use the authority of being a “neuroscientist” to bash relgiion, smear scientists who are religious, and sell his books, don’t you think those of us who value critical thinking need to take a closer look at his real world status as a “neuroscientist?”

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9 Responses to Sam Harris Promoted as “the Neuroscientist”

  1. Dhay says:

    If you do not practice neuroscience, you are not a neuroscientist.

    If you google “neuroscience meditation research” or similar you will find there are many opportunities to join teams researching the neuroscience of meditation; for example: there’s the Dalai Lama’s Mind & Life Institute, surely a magnet for Sam Harris, a neo-Buddhist attracted to the Tibetan Dzogchen teaching; there’s The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center; Sara Lazar is using “neuroimaging techniques to study neurological, cognitive and emotional changes associated with the practice of meditation and yoga”; or there’s Peter Malinowski’s Meditation Research.
    http://meditation-research.org.uk/tag/neuroscience/

    Harris has not joined any of these teams: are all of the teams located in climates that are too hot or too cold for his liking; can his wife not get suitable employment near those locations; is he concerned that linking his name to a permanent work location will leave him and his family exposed to terrorism from offended Muslims; has he applied to join some or all of these teams but has been rejected, and if so, why was he rejected; has he simply lost interest in the practice of neuroscience, and is no longer a neuroscientist.

    If you do not practice neuroscience, you are not a neuroscientist.

  2. Dhay says:

    Well, I’ve found at least a partial answer to my question, above. This is from an interview of Sam Harris while still completing his doctorate – so probably from mid-2009.

    BINGHAM: Is that what you, I mean is the doctorate in service of something, or do you think you might, do you even have a vision of a career as a research scientist of some kind?

    HARRIS: I have more experiments I want to run, I don’t know in what, where I’ll be sitting when they’re run in terms of an appointment at a university, I don’t know if that’s actually my goal. I really, I want to keep writing books and lecturing, and I seem to be able to do that now. It’s inconvenient that the tool I need to use to do this research costs $4 million, so it would be good to have access to a lab, but that may in fact be possible without going the tenure track route.

    I mean I really view myself as more of a philosopher who needs to know about the brain in order to think and say what he wants about the mind. So I don’t take the distinctions between disciplines very seriously at this point. …

    But my interest in the brain is not the sort of interest that is going to cure anyone’s disease. It’s very much philosophical, and my concern is really how our growing understanding of ourselves at the level of the brain is going to change our sense of what it is to be a human being, and how that is going to impact public policy. How it should impact public policy, and inevitably will.
    [My emboldening.]
    http://thesciencenetwork.org/media/videos/295/Transcript.pdf

    The interview also answers questions about whether he had any proper training in neuroscience before doing his PhD research, because, “I was two years into my coursework at UCLA in neuroscience” at the time of 9/11.

    Harris then evidently abandoned his neuroscience studies for several years in order to write his first set of books, before eventually returning to complete his PhD; since then, he has evidently abandoned the practice of neuroscience for several years in order to write his second set of books; whether he will return to neuroscience research is an open question in view of his history and the above quotation from the interview – perhaps, perhaps not.

    If you do not practice neuroscience, you are not a neuroscientist.

  3. Dhay says:

    PS: Here’s a lampoon of the Utilitarianism expounded in Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape” — if you don’t get the joke, click at the bottom:
    http://existentialcomics.com/comic/60

  4. J.P. says:

    “Adored by secularists, feared by the pious”

    LOL, egotism?

  5. Jim says:

    A PHD qualification in the given field is the usual criteria for a “Scientist”. Harris has a PHD degree in cognitive neuroscience. One thing for sure you really do not like his work!! How about just not ignoring his books and stick with your own preferred topics instead of getting all emotional about it. Life is too short to waste on this sort of pointless negativity. Don’t worry about the general public they are smart enough to know when they are being scammed or not.

  6. TFBW says:

    A PHD qualification in the given field is the usual criteria for a “Scientist”.

    No, it’s the entry requirement. A PhD is like a union ticket for scientists and academics. But just having one doesn’t make you a scientist any more than it makes you a professor. To be a scientist, you must practice science — it’s as simple as that. Sam Harris could be a scientist, assuming anyone would hire him or give him a research grant. He doesn’t seem particularly interested in doing so, though: he’s too busy being a celebrity atheist author, and he pretty much gets away with the whole self-titled “neuroscientist” thing anyhow, so there’s no pressing need to add any substance to the claim.

    Don’t worry about the general public they are smart enough to know when they are being scammed or not.

    H. L. Mencken (“no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people”) disagrees, and he was an atheist, for what that’s worth. Personally, I wish you were right.

  7. Dhay says:

    Jim > One thing for sure you really do not like his work!! How about just not ignoring his books and stick with your own preferred topics instead of getting all emotional about it. Life is too short to waste on this sort of pointless negativity. Don’t worry about the general public they are smart enough to know when they are being scammed or not.

    Sam Harris’ work in neuroscience is minimal; I look forward to assessing his future work establishing a scientific basis for morality — see his book, “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values” — or establishing the causes and treatment of the mental illness which causes crime (“When we understand evil in causal terms it will be just another species of mental illness.” — from his “Meditation and the Nature of the Self” video.) If he can manage to pull off either, or to make a start that others can successfully build on, that will be a worthwhile achievement, and I can genuinely hope he achieve one or both; I won’t hold my breath, though.

    As regards ignoring Harris’ books and articles, Harris’ rabidly anti-Christian rants are definitely one of Shadow to Light’s preferred topics — but why should ignorance stop you from telling us what topics we do or should prefer. And to paraphrase you — How about just ignoring this site and sticking with your own preferred topics instead of getting all emotional about it. Life is too short to waste on that sort of pointless negativity.

    “Scammed”! I think Harris is quite sincere in his Bohisattva (Buddhist saint) ideals (Bohisattva vows, too, probably) and that he seeks primarily to spread the Iron-Age religion of Buddhism (or a pared-back Neo-Buddhism, shorn of such traditional Buddhist supernatural elements as rebirth, karma, and the spontaneous gestation of the saint, Padmasambhava, on a lotus leaf) to us modern Westerners, an activity he thinks is kindness, rather than being in it just for the money.

    Unfortunately, he is also sincere in communicating his enthusiasm that people should, as he did long ago before he discovered their dangers and abandoned them, introduce themselves to the sort of mind-states possible in meditation, by taking drugs.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-30671300

  8. Michael says:

    Jim: One thing for sure you really do not like his work!!

    What work? You mean his word salads?

  9. Maria Sederholm says:

    COSMOS 7 December 2015
    “The brain according to Sam Harris
    Neuroscientist Sam Harris is a prominent atheist. He talks to Andrew Masterson about his longstanding interest in the human brain and its belief systems.”
    A prominent atheist, NOT a prominent neuroscientist …
    Harris: “I needed to know about the brain in order to think about the problems that I wanted to think about.” WOW. Harris clearly doesn’t want to think about the problems he will eventually encounter due to having made a fool of himself. Or perhaps he just hasn’t done any brain imaging of his own brain…
    Fortunately, there are some prominent neuroscientists who do research on narcissism, psychopathy and other, more benign, disorders.
    https://cosmosmagazine.com/society/brain-according-sam-harris

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