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Right or wrong expert?

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    Posted: 18 Oct 2014 at 10:03
What is this called: When people that should be experts in a certain field or topic and are probably very qualified in their own field pretends to be experts in entirely different fields, where You think they are little more qualified than the rest of us? The last example I saw was on the Scientific American website. An Astronomer, Weintraub, that may we an excellent scientist in his own field, wrote about the "profound effects upon religious belief" if humans ever got in direct contact with aliens. My thought was: why should we accept him as authority or expert in peoples beliefs, regardless of how good an astronomer he is"?
Then in addition: what is the value of expert statements about a hypothetical situation? 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote literaryClarity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Oct 2014 at 10:17
I think it is similar to when you hire a person for a job but that person was trained in something else.  The astronomer would be making kind of irrelevant statements with regards to the whole religious thing but since it is related to astronomy about aliens well...maybe his field gives him related experience to ponder about these things.  I wouldn't vote for him to be president however.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Oct 2014 at 04:46
I've often seen TV "documentaries" in which, for example, a Professor of English at some well know University is matters of Archaeology, history etc.

Very often, the makers of the so-called "doco" don't clarify the Profs qualifications and so the viewer is fooled into believing that he knows what he's talking about, he's an expert.

Imo, this falls under the heading of pseudo science and such cases should be regarded with the utmost caution.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Oct 2014 at 15:06
Quote When people that should be experts in a certain field or topic and are probably very qualified in their own field pretends to be experts in entirely different fields, where You think they are little more qualified than the rest of us?

When watching someone like that on television it's called 'showbizz'. When dealing face to face and money is involved, it's called fraud or false pretences.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Akolouthos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Oct 2014 at 03:00
The modern militant atheists are, perhaps, the best examples of this. Dawkins might be a creative and informed geneticist, but when it comes to philosophy, theology, and ethics, his perspective is nil, and his views are practically worthless. Hitchens, may he rest in peace, was quite a bit better.

We have this in the Church too, mind you. Many priests/pastors consider themselves psychiatrists simply because they have training in pastoral counseling. This has some serious -- even dangerous -- consequences. In certain cases, their parishioners, who should be referred to licensed therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists/social workers/ etc. are not. Thus they are forced to rely on the perspective of the priest/pastor, which, though it does have some depth, has very little breadth.

As to your last question, fantasus, expert statements on hypothetical situations can be quite useful; the problem is, they so seldom come from experts. Wink

-Akolouthos


Edited by Akolouthos - 25 Oct 2014 at 03:01
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Oct 2014 at 11:11
Sometimes experts aren't so expert. I've come across repeated instances when someone in a senior position has said that something could not or cannot have happened, merely because they know better, on the basis that older learned men don't like being challenged (I must admit, I have strayed into that mindset sometimes, something I'm a bit wary about). In the late fifties for instance the Royal Astronomer declared that spaceflight was impossible. Okay. He forgot to tell the Russians.

There's nothing wrong with stating the views you hold based on information you know. That said, you also have to allow for new information (but not necessarily new opinions - revisionism is a common flaw in history if nothing else).

A guy I used to know at work was an expert on the American Civil War. He used to say "There's no shame in not knowing". I agreed, but added "Deliberate ignorance is another matter".
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Oct 2014 at 16:33
I think that speculation in non-technical areas is fair enough. When musing about the future safety of a nuclear reactor, then one would demand specifics rather that philosophy, or at least one would hope. Speculating about what the world might think about alien encounters is hardly a firm science, and so opinion is valid, but also certainly not caste in stone.

As for the expertise of Dawkins, he is dwelling in the realm of psychology, in which he is not an expert, but has done significant study in researching his writing. One might make the argument that a trained psychologist could provide better commentary, but on the other hand I think there are situations where further expertise provides limited to nil return. Medicine is an example here, where often nurses or paramedical staff (in this jurisdiction anyway) are often quite competent in doing some basic procedures, but law demands a physician do it anyway. His extra knowledge is wasted in these cases.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Oct 2014 at 17:23
Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

I think that speculation in non-technical areas is fair enough. When musing about the future safety of a nuclear reactor, then one would demand specifics rather that philosophy, or at least one would hope. Speculating about what the world might think about alien encounters is hardly a firm science, and so opinion is valid, but also certainly not caste in stone.

As for the expertise of Dawkins, he is dwelling in the realm of psychology, in which he is not an expert, but has done significant study in researching his writing. One might make the argument that a trained psychologist could provide better commentary, but on the other hand I think there are situations where further expertise provides limited to nil return. Medicine is an example here, where often nurses or paramedical staff (in this jurisdiction anyway) are often quite competent in doing some basic procedures, but law demands a physician do it anyway. His extra knowledge is wasted in these cases.
You are right as I see it, and if we don´t take it for more than speculation the astronomer is of course free to speculate as much as he want. Personally sometimes I like to speculate too (why else the name  "fantasus" ?). After reading the article and discussing it I got an idea (probably used by many science fiction writers): After being unconscious for an indefinite time (I) You become "clear" again and see what you least believed in before seems to be reality. A negation of what we have seen as most certain. Were is our borderzone between denial and acceptance? In particular for people with some academic or scientific merit.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Oct 2014 at 02:40
There's nothing at all wrong with an expert in one field giving his opinion on another field, providing he makes it clear that it is not his field of expertise.

Unfortunately, too many so called experts think that they are experts in everything, which of course, they're not.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Akolouthos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Oct 2014 at 02:31
Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

As for the expertise of Dawkins, he is dwelling in the realm of psychology, in which he is not an expert, but has done significant study in researching his writing. One might make the argument that a trained psychologist could provide better commentary, but on the other hand I think there are situations where further expertise provides limited to nil return. Medicine is an example here, where often nurses or paramedical staff (in this jurisdiction anyway) are often quite competent in doing some basic procedures, but law demands a physician do it anyway. His extra knowledge is wasted in these cases.


I have very little respect for Mr. Dawkins when he ventures outside of his area of expertise. That is mainly based on his vitriol, and what I believe to be a simple-minded, and one might almost say adolescent approach to those with whom he disagrees.

The medical example is interesting, as it is actually quite a contentious issue down here in the States right now. We were already dealing with a doctor shortage, and the Affordable Care Act (often referred to, colloquially, as "Obamacare"), whatever its other merits, has had the effect of accelerating the problem by making it less pleasant and almost financially impossible to practice medicine according to the old private practice model. That said, there are many RNs who have a great deal of experience in the field, and who are quite skilled practitioners, but who are currently required to practice under the supervision of a physician. The debate is over whether or not, in light of what is going to be a catastrophic shortage of doctors under the current system, these nurses should have to practice under the supervision of a physician.

Those who advocate emancipating them from these restrictions point out, quite correctly, that often the so-called "supervision" consists of very little, and in some cases virtually no oversight. Rather it is simply a bureaucratic convention -- the nurses find a physician willing to sign the paper, and begin practicing. Those who advocate keeping the current system under which these nurses require at least the appearance of oversight, point out, again quite correctly, that their formal training is nowhere near as extensive as that of physicians, and that in some cases the extra experience is required (especially in dealing with non-routine diagnoses, referrals, and recommendations for treatment).

The argument is beneath the surface currently; all of the more bitter -- and less substantive -- talking points bandied about by proponents and opponents of the ACA have taken precedence in our collective consciousness. That said, eventually the shortage of doctors, and how we will deal with it, is the issue that we will eventually have to confront.

I guess that's a long way of saying that while I agree with you that in certain cases nurses are competent to practice without reference to a physician, that is not so in all cases, and consequently I disagree with your assertion that the extra medical knowledge and context is "wasted".

Whether we like it or not, there is a looming shortage of physicians (due to the ACA, the rising cost of malpractice insurance, the increasing level of governmental and corporate bureaucracy, the decreasing level of control doctors are given over their own practices, etc.) that will render the current system unworkable in the next several years, as old doctors retire and are not replaced. We've decided, whether we realize it or not, that losing physicians is not a priority -- or at least is a priority which we have subordinated to other priorities upon which we place more precedence. Consequently, what we need to do is figure out a way to allow nurses to fill the roles they can and keep physicians in the places they are needed.

-Akolouthos


Edited by Akolouthos - 30 Oct 2014 at 02:34
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Oct 2014 at 20:02
Originally posted by Akolouthos Akolouthos wrote:

Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

As for the expertise of Dawkins, he is dwelling in the realm of psychology, in which he is not an expert, but has done significant study in researching his writing. One might make the argument that a trained psychologist could provide better commentary, but on the other hand I think there are situations where further expertise provides limited to nil return. Medicine is an example here, where often nurses or paramedical staff (in this jurisdiction anyway) are often quite competent in doing some basic procedures, but law demands a physician do it anyway. His extra knowledge is wasted in these cases.


I have very little respect for Mr. Dawkins when he ventures outside of his area of expertise. That is mainly based on his vitriol, and what I believe to be a simple-minded, and one might almost say adolescent approach to those with whom he disagrees.

The medical example is interesting, as it is actually quite a contentious issue down here in the States right now. We were already dealing with a doctor shortage, and the Affordable Care Act (often referred to, colloquially, as "Obamacare"), whatever its other merits, has had the effect of accelerating the problem by making it less pleasant and almost financially impossible to practice medicine according to the old private practice model. That said, there are many RNs who have a great deal of experience in the field, and who are quite skilled practitioners, but who are currently required to practice under the supervision of a physician. The debate is over whether or not, in light of what is going to be a catastrophic shortage of doctors under the current system, these nurses should have to practice under the supervision of a physician.

Those who advocate emancipating them from these restrictions point out, quite correctly, that often the so-called "supervision" consists of very little, and in some cases virtually no oversight. Rather it is simply a bureaucratic convention -- the nurses find a physician willing to sign the paper, and begin practicing. Those who advocate keeping the current system under which these nurses require at least the appearance of oversight, point out, again quite correctly, that their formal training is nowhere near as extensive as that of physicians, and that in some cases the extra experience is required (especially in dealing with non-routine diagnoses, referrals, and recommendations for treatment).

The argument is beneath the surface currently; all of the more bitter -- and less substantive -- talking points bandied about by proponents and opponents of the ACA have taken precedence in our collective consciousness. That said, eventually the shortage of doctors, and how we will deal with it, is the issue that we will eventually have to confront.

I guess that's a long way of saying that while I agree with you that in certain cases nurses are competent to practice without reference to a physician, that is not so in all cases, and consequently I disagree with your assertion that the extra medical knowledge and context is "wasted".

Whether we like it or not, there is a looming shortage of physicians (due to the ACA, the rising cost of malpractice insurance, the increasing level of governmental and corporate bureaucracy, the decreasing level of control doctors are given over their own practices, etc.) that will render the current system unworkable in the next several years, as old doctors retire and are not replaced. We've decided, whether we realize it or not, that losing physicians is not a priority -- or at least is a priority which we have subordinated to other priorities upon which we place more precedence. Consequently, what we need to do is figure out a way to allow nurses to fill the roles they can and keep physicians in the places they are needed.

-Akolouthos

Yes, here up north we can only look on in slack jawed amazement as elements of US society insist they should not have to accept affordable medical care, as the rest of the developed world has, but allow the market to decide what is preferable, even in this crucial area of life. I haven't followed all the details, but it sounds like Obama had to give in to so many entrenched interests that his notion of universal medical care has become a mish mash awkward compromises, give-aways to the private sector, and surrenders to an ersatz philosophy of corporate medicine.

As for experts, of course there is a lot of grey area here in any sort of situation, but being an expert, in the sense of professional qualifications to a master's or PhD level, or some equivalent, is not really a requirement in many situations, I would say. 

A local businessman here wrote a book, The Secret Voyage of Francis Drake, which was a well researched and interesting read. Was he an accredited historian? No. Is this a definitive work? No. However, it is  a significant work in my view, as the author in question educated himself on the subject, over a long period of time, and produced something of value, for those interested in history. For those that have read Alan Greenspan's autobiography, they can not dispute that he is admirably qualified for the positions he has held, and the decisions he has made. Some passages in his book suggest though, that it may be rather scary how much he does not know about some relevant areas of life. Having that piece of paper is sometimes not mandatory, and at other times not completely sufficient. 

As for Dawkins, we've been down that road before on this site, but I'd maintain that he was looked into the required areas of knowledge necessary to make his case in his writings, which are based on logic and solid scientific findings. If he had spent a decade obtaining degrees in theology and psychology before writing his books, would they have been more complete, or his case stronger? I doubt it myself. The principles of personal and social psychology he draws on are open to all who have at least a moderate degree of literacy and education. I don't think we must insist that one must absorb all knowledge in a certain field before being qualified to speak with authority on it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Oct 2014 at 00:33
Captain: Personally, I agree with most of what you've written, but the point being made is that some experts in one field, hold themselves out to be experts on other fields.

The case of an expert espousing his/her views on a subject and at a level understandable by most is not the point, the point is that a gullible public may well accept that persons views as fact, because they happen to have a few letters after their names.

If I want an opinion on, let's say an archaeological matter, I'm not going to ask a gynaecologist.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Oct 2014 at 02:22
Originally posted by toyomotor toyomotor wrote:

Captain: Personally, I agree with most of what you've written, but the point being made is that some experts in one field, hold themselves out to be experts on other fields.

The case of an expert espousing his/her views on a subject and at a level understandable by most is not the point, the point is that a gullible public may well accept that persons views as fact, because they happen to have a few letters after their names.

If I want an opinion on, let's say an archaeological matter, I'm not going to ask a gynaecologist.


Toyomotor- You are on a tropical beach. You have just met the flower of the tropics. After a few tequila sunrises, you are now anticipating the indelicate act. But not right at the moment. You must ask your jewel of desire to wait, and be patient, as you jog down the beach for 20 minutes, to the hotel phone, in order ask your GP (grumpy and awoken from a deep sleep) if the events you anticipate are possible. You suspect you already know, after considerable life experience, but, hey, you're not an expert, and have no credentials in this area. One must wait the verdict of a PhD.

Dawkins is not an expert in psychology or theology, but through diligent research, the application of critical thinking and logical thought common to all sciences, including this own area, he was able to make a case for himself, and IMO do to religious dogmatists what our imaginary Toyomotor so desired with the imaginary tropical pearl in our our little example here.

One of course must always read critically. This goes without saying, and if one is not up to it, then they are at the mercy of the unprincipled, of which there are many. But I don't think we must discard the findings of all who do not have advanced credentials in the areas in question- and indeed should not accept the findings of some who do, without due process.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Akolouthos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Oct 2014 at 03:48
Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

Yes, here up north we can only look on in slack jawed amazement as elements of US society insist they should not have to accept affordable medical care, as the rest of the developed world has, but allow the market to decide what is preferable, even in this crucial area of life. I haven't followed all the details, but it sounds like Obama had to give in to so many entrenched interests that his notion of universal medical care has become a mish mash awkward compromises, give-aways to the private sector, and surrenders to an ersatz philosophy of corporate medicine.

As for experts, of course there is a lot of grey area here in any sort of situation, but being an expert, in the sense of professional qualifications to a master's or PhD level, or some equivalent, is not really a requirement in many situations, I would say. 

...

As for Dawkins, we've been down that road before on this site, but I'd maintain that he was looked into the required areas of knowledge necessary to make his case in his writings, which are based on logic and solid scientific findings. If he had spent a decade obtaining degrees in theology and psychology before writing his books, would they have been more complete, or his case stronger? I doubt it myself. The principles of personal and social psychology he draws on are open to all who have at least a moderate degree of literacy and education. I don't think we must insist that one must absorb all knowledge in a certain field before being qualified to speak with authority on it.


*sigh*

This discussion began so well, and could have held great promise. Unfortunately, there is really no productive conversation to be had from anything quoted above, nor do I have any interest in addressing it beyond identifying it for what it is. It consists of, in the first paragraph, thoughtless and inaccurate chest-thumping that does nothing to address the subtleties or realities outlined above with regard to the ACA; in the second, a broad generalization that is not necessarily helpful (but that, I will admit, would have some validity if it weren't expressed in such general terms); and, in the third, what is, as you have noted, a road we have been down on this site many times before.

That said, I might be being unfair on the last point (I'm thinking as I write, for which I beg your forgiveness). I think there might be something there, and I would have little problem with people holding Dawkins' opinions up as something to be engaged and reckoned with if a) he were less arrogant and vitriolic, and b) it was agreed to hold the educated clergy up to the same standard. Unfortunately, that is seldom the case. for Dawkins and many of the militant atheists, a theological education is meaningless -- not only does it not qualify a priest to speak outside of his field, but it does not even qualify a priest to speak within his field, as his field must, in the eyes of these militants, be addressed and dismantled by the true "apostles of reason."

The more I think about it, the more I realize I was initially unfair on that last point. I might be interested in taking up that topic in depth at some point, but unfortunately I just don't have time to do it now. I pray you forgive me. I can assure you that if you raise it in the Phil/Theo forum, I will read it avidly so long as the conversation remains illuminating.

Quote A local businessman here wrote a book, The Secret Voyage of Francis Drake, which was a well researched and interesting read. Was he an accredited historian? No. Is this a definitive work? No. However, it is  a significant work in my view, as the author in question educated himself on the subject, over a long period of time, and produced something of value, for those interested in history. For those that have read Alan Greenspan's autobiography, they can not dispute that he is admirably qualified for the positions he has held, and the decisions he has made. Some passages in his book suggest though, that it may be rather scary how much he does not know about some relevant areas of life. Having that piece of paper is sometimes not mandatory, and at other times not completely sufficient.


I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I would recommend the paragraph you have written here as required reading for first-year university students. The obvious quandary is, as I noted in the healthcare situation, finding that line/balance/standard. But I would agree with you totally that popular history is unjustly and often dangerously overlooked. And, unfortunately, when professional historians do so, they render themselves less relevant, and undercut their position as those who could educate people in a way that is socially productive.

-Akolouthos
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Oct 2014 at 06:44
Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:


Originally posted by toyomotor toyomotor wrote:

Captain: Personally, I agree with most of what you've written, but the point being made is that some experts in one field, hold themselves out to be experts on other fields.

The case of an expert espousing his/her views on a subject and at a level understandable by most is not the point, the point is that a gullible public may well accept that persons views as fact, because they happen to have a few letters after their names.

If I want an opinion on, let's say an archaeological matter, I'm not going to ask a gynaecologist.



Toyomotor- You are on a tropical beach. You have just met the flower of the tropics. After a few tequila sunrises, you are now anticipating the indelicate act. But not right at the moment. You must ask your jewel of desire to wait, and be patient, as you jog down the beach for 20 minutes, to the hotel phone, in order ask your GP (grumpy and awoken from a deep sleep) if the events you anticipate are possible. You suspect you already know, after considerable life experience, but, hey, you're not an expert, and have no credentials in this area. One must wait the verdict of a PhD.

Dawkins is not an expert in psychology or theology, but through diligent research, the application of critical thinking and logical thought common to all sciences, including this own area, he was able to make a case for himself, and IMO do to religious dogmatists what our imaginary Toyomotor so desired with the imaginary tropical pearl in our our little example here.

One of course must always read critically. This goes without saying, and if one is not up to it, then they are at the mercy of the unprincipled, of which there are many. But I don't think we must discard the findings of all who do not have advanced credentials in the areas in question- and indeed should not accept the findings of some who do, without due process.


You are misunderstanding what I'm writing.

What I'm getting at is that so-called qualified experts in one field should not be automatically believed to be experts in another.

Yes, anyone who has studied a subject is capable of having an opinion and making authoritative comment, there are many such on this forum, but they're not necessarily "experts".

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Oct 2014 at 23:22
Originally posted by Akolouthos Akolouthos wrote:

Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

Yes, here up north we can only look on in slack jawed amazement as elements of US society insist they should not have to accept affordable medical care, as the rest of the developed world has, but allow the market to decide what is preferable, even in this crucial area of life. I haven't followed all the details, but it sounds like Obama had to give in to so many entrenched interests that his notion of universal medical care has become a mish mash awkward compromises, give-aways to the private sector, and surrenders to an ersatz philosophy of corporate medicine.

As for experts, of course there is a lot of grey area here in any sort of situation, but being an expert, in the sense of professional qualifications to a master's or PhD level, or some equivalent, is not really a requirement in many situations, I would say. 

...

As for Dawkins, we've been down that road before on this site, but I'd maintain that he was looked into the required areas of knowledge necessary to make his case in his writings, which are based on logic and solid scientific findings. If he had spent a decade obtaining degrees in theology and psychology before writing his books, would they have been more complete, or his case stronger? I doubt it myself. The principles of personal and social psychology he draws on are open to all who have at least a moderate degree of literacy and education. I don't think we must insist that one must absorb all knowledge in a certain field before being qualified to speak with authority on it.


*sigh*

This discussion began so well, and could have held great promise. Unfortunately, there is really no productive conversation to be had from anything quoted above, nor do I have any interest in addressing it beyond identifying it for what it is. It consists of, in the first paragraph, thoughtless and inaccurate chest-thumping that does nothing to address the subtleties or realities outlined above with regard to the ACA; in the second, a broad generalization that is not necessarily helpful (but that, I will admit, would have some validity if it weren't expressed in such general terms); and, in the third, what is, as you have noted, a road we have been down on this site many times before.

I admit, I'm no expert on the ACA. It is nothing  if not complex. However, I stand behind the general thrust of my statement, which is: 1) The ACA run into considerable opposition, and has had to be compromised from what it was once envisioned, at least by those liberal supporters who had made some assumptions, based on what is commonplace in the rest of the world. 2) There are voracious special interest groups in the US, and they have been tireless in opposing the ACA, for their own selfish reasons. 3) There are those of a certain extreme political philosophy who have been dragged along by those in #2, or perhaps are marching in equal order with them, depending on how one sees things.4) The result, however it shakes out, is that the US still has a relatively complex and expensive medical care system, in relation to the rest of the developed world.

This is not thoughtless, I'm basing it on the informed observations of some noted economists and journalists who have been able to rationalize and reference their work. It is definitely not chest thumping, as I feel for the millions of Americans who still have to worry about affordable medical care. I'll leave the accuracy for others to judge.

As for generalities, it might be more productive then if you could give a couple of specific examples of where you think Dawkins, or other such non-expert commentators, are in error, or are being biased or arrogant. We could then look at those more closely.

Originally posted by Akolouthos Akolouthos wrote:

That said, I might be being unfair on the last point (I'm thinking as I write, for which I beg your forgiveness). I think there might be something there, and I would have little problem with people holding Dawkins' opinions up as something to be engaged and reckoned with if a) he were less arrogant and vitriolic, and b) it was agreed to hold the educated clergy up to the same standard. Unfortunately, that is seldom the case. for Dawkins and many of the militant atheists, a theological education is meaningless -- not only does it not qualify a priest to speak outside of his field, but it does not even qualify a priest to speak within his field, as his field must, in the eyes of these militants, be addressed and dismantled by the true "apostles of reason."

The more I think about it, the more I realize I was initially unfair on that last point. I might be interested in taking up that topic in depth at some point, but unfortunately I just don't have time to do it now. I pray you forgive me. I can assure you that if you raise it in the Phil/Theo forum, I will read it avidly so long as the conversation remains illuminating.

Quote A local businessman here wrote a book, The Secret Voyage of Francis Drake, which was a well researched and interesting read. Was he an accredited historian? No. Is this a definitive work? No. However, it is  a significant work in my view, as the author in question educated himself on the subject, over a long period of time, and produced something of value, for those interested in history. For those that have read Alan Greenspan's autobiography, they can not dispute that he is admirably qualified for the positions he has held, and the decisions he has made. Some passages in his book suggest though, that it may be rather scary how much he does not know about some relevant areas of life. Having that piece of paper is sometimes not mandatory, and at other times not completely sufficient.


I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I would recommend the paragraph you have written here as required reading for first-year university students. The obvious quandary is, as I noted in the healthcare situation, finding that line/balance/standard. But I would agree with you totally that popular history is unjustly and often dangerously overlooked. And, unfortunately, when professional historians do so, they render themselves less relevant, and undercut their position as those who could educate people in a way that is socially productive.

-Akolouthos

I think a problem with some historians is that they are diligent about research, but are not great writers. They will spend years amassing facts, and then dump  out the dry facts with a sigh of accomplishment. And it is, but it might be better in some cases with more of a narrative.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Akolouthos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Nov 2014 at 03:49
Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

I admit, I'm no expert on the ACA. It is nothing  if not complex. However, I stand behind the general thrust of my statement, which is: 1) The ACA run into considerable opposition, and has had to be compromised from what it was once envisioned, at least by those liberal supporters who had made some assumptions, based on what is commonplace in the rest of the world. 2) There are voracious special interest groups in the US, and they have been tireless in opposing the ACA, for their own selfish reasons. 3) There are those of a certain extreme political philosophy who have been dragged along by those in #2, or perhaps are marching in equal order with them, depending on how one sees things.4) The result, however it shakes out, is that the US still has a relatively complex and expensive medical care system, in relation to the rest of the developed world.

This is not thoughtless, I'm basing it on the informed observations of some noted economists and journalists who have been able to rationalize and reference their work. It is definitely not chest thumping, as I feel for the millions of Americans who still have to worry about affordable medical care. I'll leave the accuracy for others to judge.


I certainly agree with point number 4. Unfortunately the ACA did nothing to address one of the biggest causes of the problem: the rise in the cost of malpractice insurance. The ACA was not something that was doomed by the right; the potential for meaningful healthcare reform was destroyed by interest groups across the political spectrum. The sad thing is, few from either the left or the right were ever really after healthcare reform; most of those in support and opposition had their hearts set on achieving a purely political victory.

I think you and I would both agree on the nature of the underlying problem, and even find much to agree on with regard to solutions. Where we appear to differ the most is on the historical narrative of the process itself.

Quote As for generalities, it might be more productive then if you could give a couple of specific examples of where you think Dawkins, or other such non-expert commentators, are in error, or are being biased or arrogant. We could then look at those more closely.


Quite honestly, I haven't given much thought to the man in around five years or so. Like many others, I did read The God Delusion, once upon a time, and recall that his understanding of Christian argumentation was passing at best; where he excelled was in his tone of condescension. His response to the very legitimate criticism of Alister McGrath, wherein he compared Christian theology to "leprechology" (the theology of leprechauns) and thereby asserted that it wasn't worth studying would be an example of his condescending tone. And it is very clear that he hasn't studied it enough for his comments to be taken seriously. One of our own Orthodox theologians in America (the name escapes me, but if I come up with it I'll give you the reference; I'm sure you could google it though) pointed out many of the point on which Dawkins was either confused or ignorant with regard to the nature of some of the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God.

It is possible he has mellowed and/or studied up in the past five years, and if so, he has my apology. If that is the case, let me know; I'd love to see the results. If that is not the case... well, i have better things to do with my time. I have enough trouble dealing with and challenging ideological bigotry in the Church; I don't need to deeply occupy myself with that which exists in his. Wink

Quote I think a problem with some historians is that they are diligent about research, but are not great writers. They will spend years amassing facts, and then dump  out the dry facts with a sigh of accomplishment. And it is, but it might be better in some cases with more of a narrative.


Aye. I wonder if the problem isn't the increasing focus on history as, for lack of a better designation, a secretarial profession. When I think of modern historians, the best comparison that comes to mind is to the Alexandrian grammarians of the Hellenistic era. Once creativity died, there was nothing left to do but nit-pick. In essence, the modern historian is one part secretary, one part copy-editor, with just a sprinkle of actual historian.

I honestly don't have a solution to the problem though, short of giving the discipline a complete overhaul. I doubt that will happen anytime soon, though, given the nature of the modern American university. Things are a bit better across the pond, and particularly in Britain. Maybe some of that will rub off, eventually.

Do you have any ideas on how to address the issue? I'd love to hear them; I'm at a total loss.

-Akolouthos


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Nov 2014 at 00:47
Originally posted by Akolouthos Akolouthos wrote:

Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

I admit, I'm no expert on the ACA. It is nothing  if not complex. However, I stand behind the general thrust of my statement, which is: 1) The ACA run into considerable opposition, and has had to be compromised from what it was once envisioned, at least by those liberal supporters who had made some assumptions, based on what is commonplace in the rest of the world. 2) There are voracious special interest groups in the US, and they have been tireless in opposing the ACA, for their own selfish reasons. 3) There are those of a certain extreme political philosophy who have been dragged along by those in #2, or perhaps are marching in equal order with them, depending on how one sees things.4) The result, however it shakes out, is that the US still has a relatively complex and expensive medical care system, in relation to the rest of the developed world.

This is not thoughtless, I'm basing it on the informed observations of some noted economists and journalists who have been able to rationalize and reference their work. It is definitely not chest thumping, as I feel for the millions of Americans who still have to worry about affordable medical care. I'll leave the accuracy for others to judge.


I certainly agree with point number 4. Unfortunately the ACA did nothing to address one of the biggest causes of the problem: the rise in the cost of malpractice insurance. The ACA was not something that was doomed by the right; the potential for meaningful healthcare reform was destroyed by interest groups across the political spectrum. The sad thing is, few from either the left or the right were ever really after healthcare reform; most of those in support and opposition had their hearts set on achieving a purely political victory.

I think you and I would both agree on the nature of the underlying problem, and even find much to agree on with regard to solutions. Where we appear to differ the most is on the historical narrative of the process itself.


Well, I'm no apologist for Obama or the Democratic Party, two entities that I'm not in complete political agreement with. But it seems to me a common thread runs through the Obamacare debate, and it is the tired one of market solutions trumping social desires, come what may. This is a political view that some may truly believe, but also one that others gleefully promote for their own personal gain.


Originally posted by Akolouthos Akolouthos wrote:


Quote As for generalities, it might be more productive then if you could give a couple of specific examples of where you think Dawkins, or other such non-expert commentators, are in error, or are being biased or arrogant. We could then look at those more closely.


Quite honestly, I haven't given much thought to the man in around five years or so. Like many others, I did read The God Delusion, once upon a time, and recall that his understanding of Christian argumentation was passing at best; where he excelled was in his tone of condescension. His response to the very legitimate criticism of Alister McGrath, wherein he compared Christian theology to "leprechology" (the theology of leprechauns) and thereby asserted that it wasn't worth studying would be an example of his condescending tone. And it is very clear that he hasn't studied it enough for his comments to be taken seriously. One of our own Orthodox theologians in America (the name escapes me, but if I come up with it I'll give you the reference; I'm sure you could google it though) pointed out many of the point on which Dawkins was either confused or ignorant with regard to the nature of some of the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God.

It is possible he has mellowed and/or studied up in the past five years, and if so, he has my apology. If that is the case, let me know; I'd love to see the results. If that is not the case... well, i have better things to do with my time. I have enough trouble dealing with and challenging ideological bigotry in the Church; I don't need to deeply occupy myself with that which exists in his. Wink

I think bigot is a bit of a strong word for Dawkins, as that word usually is taken to mean a disdain for, or a disagreement with  a group without reasonable cause. Dawkins has stated his case for disagreement, and one may judge the right or wrong of it from there, but it is not without a rationale.

Comparing one's cherished beliefs with mischievous leprechauns might be a little over the top, but again, I think one does not need to read all that is written on a subject to pass an intelligent opinion on it. A doctor may give us a five minute summary of our medical situation, upon which we make a decision to have, or not to have and operation. We have the information we need to make a choice. We don't disassemble our cars in the driveway for inspection before leaving for work, we just make a reasonable safety decision based on our limited knowledge of autos, and a few key indicators that take little time. Making an accurate and logical comment on an issue means having enough knowledge on the subject, not all knowledge available.

As for Saint Thomas, I'd be very interested to hear how he has it all wrong. Because on the surface of it, the proofs offered here are neither proofs, nor intellectual argument, nor even particularly provoking philosophical statements.


Originally posted by Akolouthos Akolouthos wrote:


Quote I think a problem with some historians is that they are diligent about research, but are not great writers. They will spend years amassing facts, and then dump  out the dry facts with a sigh of accomplishment. And it is, but it might be better in some cases with more of a narrative.


Aye. I wonder if the problem isn't the increasing focus on history as, for lack of a better designation, a secretarial profession. When I think of modern historians, the best comparison that comes to mind is to the Alexandrian grammarians of the Hellenistic era. Once creativity died, there was nothing left to do but nit-pick. In essence, the modern historian is one part secretary, one part copy-editor, with just a sprinkle of actual historian.

I honestly don't have a solution to the problem though, short of giving the discipline a complete overhaul. I doubt that will happen anytime soon, though, given the nature of the modern American university. Things are a bit better across the pond, and particularly in Britain. Maybe some of that will rub off, eventually.

Do you have any ideas on how to address the issue? I'd love to hear them; I'm at a total loss.

-Akolouthos



Maybe the essential issue is that writers tend to draw on their creative side, or right brain, while researchers tend to utilize the opposite hemisphere to amass fact. They are different skills all together.

History need not be dull, in contains some of the most exciting stories told. Hiring a consultant, editor, or even taking a creative writing course may just be of help for the plodding research oriented historian.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Nov 2014 at 12:04
Quote Aye. I wonder if the problem isn't the increasing focus on history as, for lack of a better designation, a secretarial profession. When I think of modern historians, the best comparison that comes to mind is to the Alexandrian grammarians of the Hellenistic era. Once creativity died, there was nothing left to do but nit-pick. In essence, the modern historian is one part secretary, one part copy-editor, with just a sprinkle of actual historian.

You have to be joking. History is benefitting enormously from modern archaeology and the new techniques that science affords. Right now, history is a very vibrant subject and has even become a populist subject for documentaries on prime time television. Further, the availability of internet based media has made hisotry a very accesible - and more of a socially acceptable - subject.
http://www.unrv.com/forum/blog/31-caldrails-blog/
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And the input by multi-disciplinary teams is bringing some very surprising, credible results.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Nov 2014 at 02:21
Originally posted by caldrail caldrail wrote:

Quote Aye. I wonder if the problem isn't the increasing focus on history as, for lack of a better designation, a secretarial profession. When I think of modern historians, the best comparison that comes to mind is to the Alexandrian grammarians of the Hellenistic era. Once creativity died, there was nothing left to do but nit-pick. In essence, the modern historian is one part secretary, one part copy-editor, with just a sprinkle of actual historian.

You have to be joking. History is benefitting enormously from modern archaeology and the new techniques that science affords. Right now, history is a very vibrant subject and has even become a populist subject for documentaries on prime time television. Further, the availability of internet based media has made hisotry a very accesible - and more of a socially acceptable - subject.

Yes, this is so, but I think the argument is that those who write are often experts at research, but neophytes at crafting an interesting narrative. It is not history per se, but how it is written up, and that often looks more like a grocery list than a pot boiling story, in the hands of historical experts.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Nov 2014 at 06:56
Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

Originally posted by caldrail caldrail wrote:

Quote Aye. I wonder if the problem isn't the increasing focus on history as, for lack of a better designation, a secretarial profession. When I think of modern historians, the best comparison that comes to mind is to the Alexandrian grammarians of the Hellenistic era. Once creativity died, there was nothing left to do but nit-pick. In essence, the modern historian is one part secretary, one part copy-editor, with just a sprinkle of actual historian.

You have to be joking. History is benefitting enormously from modern archaeology and the new techniques that science affords. Right now, history is a very vibrant subject and has even become a populist subject for documentaries on prime time television. Further, the availability of internet based media has made hisotry a very accesible - and more of a socially acceptable - subject.

Yes, this is so, but I think the argument is that those who write are often experts at research, but neophytes at crafting an interesting narrative. It is not history per se, but how it is written up, and that often looks more like a grocery list than a pot boiling story, in the hands of historical experts.
Then we have "historical fiction". Though of course the later cannot be 100 % both, but it is not worse than "science fiction", since proper science is by definition not about what bis fictive, but the opposite.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Akolouthos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Nov 2014 at 04:28
Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

Well, I'm no apologist for Obama or the Democratic Party, two entities that I'm not in complete political agreement with. But it seems to me a common thread runs through the Obamacare debate, and it is the tired one of market solutions trumping social desires, come what may. This is a political view that some may truly believe, but also one that others gleefully promote for their own personal gain.


You have no argument for me there. I think this is the simplest position we can both agree on.

Quote
I think bigot is a bit of a strong word for Dawkins, as that word usually is taken to mean a disdain for, or a disagreement with  a group without reasonable cause. Dawkins has stated his case for disagreement, and one may judge the right or wrong of it from there, but it is not without a rationale.

Comparing one's cherished beliefs with mischievous leprechauns might be a little over the top, but again, I think one does not need to read all that is written on a subject to pass an intelligent opinion on it. A doctor may give us a five minute summary of our medical situation, upon which we make a decision to have, or not to have and operation. We have the information we need to make a choice. We don't disassemble our cars in the driveway for inspection before leaving for work, we just make a reasonable safety decision based on our limited knowledge of autos, and a few key indicators that take little time. Making an accurate and logical comment on an issue means having enough knowledge on the subject, not all knowledge available.


To me, the fact that he would make the comparison is evidence of ideological bigotry. And no, I don't expect anyone who criticizes something to read everything there is to read about it. I do expect them to at least understand what they are criticizing though. As for your examples, my point is that Dawkins did not, according to my recollection of the sense I got when reading the book, have the information he needed to make his decision. If he had, normally, I would have filed it away and tinkered with it for fun.

The very fact that I have so little recollection of it is, in itself, a proof that I didn't find it all that intriguing -- or that my memory is slipping. LOL That said, the fault could be found with my own opinion, but when it comes to theology, it's not the way to bet. Genetics or memetics would be quite a different matter, and some of Dawkin's assertions about the characteristics of belief systems were interesting. I am by no means saying that the man is a total loss; only that his attack on Faith itself did not seem to me to be pressing enough to require a defense. In essence, I felt it had already been dealt with sufficiently. Which brings us to...

Quote As for Saint Thomas, I'd be very interested to hear how he has it all wrong. Because on the surface of it, the proofs offered here are neither proofs, nor intellectual argument, nor even particularly provoking philosophical statements.


I suppose here we shall just have to disagree, for I really don't understand how you could come to that conclusion. The Argument from Degree is, in my opinion, fatally flawed, as it leads, quite naturally, to theological dualism. I suspect Dawkins and I would likely find some common ground there.

As for the rest, I might even say, after a fashion, that they are "not provoking," but it would only be because I don't even find them controversial. True, they open up a lot of other questions, but I honestly can't figure out where you are coming from on this one. The logical structure is a bit more archaic and formalized than we are used to in the modern era, but the Proofs could be -- indeed they are -- textbook examples of logical argumentation.

As for the source that dealt with the flaws in Dawkins' consideration of the Thomistic Proofs, I keep meaning to find it for you. Unfortunately, things keep coming up and causing me to forget about it. I am scatterbrained at the best of times, and especially when I am very busy. Wink

Quote
Maybe the essential issue is that writers tend to draw on their creative side, or right brain, while researchers tend to utilize the opposite hemisphere to amass fact. They are different skills all together.

History need not be dull, in contains some of the most exciting stories told. Hiring a consultant, editor, or even taking a creative writing course may just be of help for the plodding research oriented historian.


I think you are on to something there, but I think it is but half of the story. In essence, I think what we have here is a problem with the entire discipline -- or at least with the way in which it has been taught. If I hear, one more time, the topically brilliant, expansive, and in-depth historical works of the recent past (generally from the late-1800s to the mid 1900s) being criticized precisely for their topical focus, their expansiveness, and their depth by a group of ivory tower neophytes who just spilled rivers of ink reviewing the latest 30 page article on gender relationships in a tiny cultural group in some backwater colony in the Caribbean, I think I shall be physically ill.

That is not to say that there is not a place for both. Indeed, just as in the ocean the relationship between the whale and the lamprey is a fascinating subject of study, so in the historical discipline the relationship between large and small issues can be interesting. When the whale dies, however, so does the lamprey; in history, when the context is mockingly tossed aside, the specifics become meaningless.

Another issue, and one that is related, is that the academic crowd that came out of the sixties and seventies, and their modern ideological successors, have been far too interested in teaching history as doctrine -- even dogma -- to be able to spend much time on teaching history as... well... history. In essence, it was a rather adolescent reaction by a group of rebellious children who dismissed rather than entered into dialogue with the thought of their predecessors. That, I feel, has contributed to the rather bland writing indirectly as well -- a person who has trouble analyzing ideas on the fly can seldom write very well.

I think you are really on to something as far as hiring creative writing coaches goes, and I confess that I never would have thought of it. Perhaps I get so frustrated by the self inflicted nature of the wound that I blind myself to the easiest treatment. It is, I suppose, that I prefer to wish that we were where we should be rather than deal with where we actually are. But, honestly, you are right: If American academia doesn't feel like dealing with its ideological prejudices, perhaps creative writing should even be made a required part of the historical curriculum. No matter how flawed the interpretations are, no matter how stringently mistaken the prevailing ideologies, I still cannot bear the increasing irrelevance of history to the masses; indeed, I think that irrelevance is, to put it bluntly, quite dangerous. Anything we need to do to make history more accessible while preserving the integrity we have begrudgingly left to her, we should.

-Akolouthos


Edited by Akolouthos - 07 Nov 2014 at 04:45
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Nov 2014 at 19:10
Originally posted by Akolouthos Akolouthos wrote:

 

Quote As for Saint Thomas, I'd be very interested to hear how he has it all wrong. Because on the surface of it, the proofs offered here are neither proofs, nor intellectual argument, nor even particularly provoking philosophical statements.


I suppose here we shall just have to disagree, for I really don't understand how you could come to that conclusion. The Argument from Degree is, in my opinion, fatally flawed, as it leads, quite naturally, to theological dualism. I suspect Dawkins and I would likely find some common ground there.

As for the rest, I might even say, after a fashion, that they are "not provoking," but it would only be because I don't even find them controversial. True, they open up a lot of other questions, but I honestly can't figure out where you are coming from on this one. The logical structure is a bit more archaic and formalized than we are used to in the modern era, but the Proofs could be -- indeed they are -- textbook examples of logical argumentation.

As for the source that dealt with the flaws in Dawkins' consideration of the Thomistic Proofs, I keep meaning to find it for you. Unfortunately, things keep coming up and causing me to forget about it. I am scatterbrained at the best of times, and especially when I am very busy. Wink


I've come to that conclusion because the so called proofs of Thomas Aquina's are not proofs in any sense, and don't even represent a strong philosophical debating subject.

The first three statements, as Dawkins outlines in his book, are a variation on the chicken an egg argument. What came first, and if that came first, then what came before that? Instead of engaging in some broader discourse on the  possible meaning of infinity, or time, or human understanding of these issues, Aquinas guillotines the debate before it is hardly under way by insisting if these questions seem tiresome, well forget them, it's God, you know, the fellow who turns nosy women into pillars of salt. Easy. No need to think any more.

If God came first, then what came before God? In this question, God merely takes His place along side the chickens and eggs. If you want to say, He is eternal and infinite, then why can't the universe be eternal and infinite? You see, we don't need a God for cosmology, but we do for human psychology, in some cases anyway. This provides a strong hint as to God's actual existence and location.

The teleological argument is perhaps an even weaker one. To be fair to Aquinas, his observations were made before the age of science, and so one could not have expected much more. Today we look at the formation of stars, their life cycle, the evolution of life on earth, and other processes which evolve on their own, and do not need a vision of a cosmic watchmaker, toiling away in some shop, pliers and screwdrivers in hand.

If I've missed something, please fill me in, but on the surface of things there are no logical, philosophically defensible arguments to be had here.


Edited by Captain Vancouver - 08 Nov 2014 at 19:11
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Nov 2014 at 15:50
Originally posted by fantasus fantasus wrote:

Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

Originally posted by caldrail caldrail wrote:

Quote Aye. I wonder if the problem isn't the increasing focus on history as, for lack of a better designation, a secretarial profession. When I think of modern historians, the best comparison that comes to mind is to the Alexandrian grammarians of the Hellenistic era. Once creativity died, there was nothing left to do but nit-pick. In essence, the modern historian is one part secretary, one part copy-editor, with just a sprinkle of actual historian.

You have to be joking. History is benefitting enormously from modern archaeology and the new techniques that science affords. Right now, history is a very vibrant subject and has even become a populist subject for documentaries on prime time television. Further, the availability of internet based media has made hisotry a very accesible - and more of a socially acceptable - subject.

Yes, this is so, but I think the argument is that those who write are often experts at research, but neophytes at crafting an interesting narrative. It is not history per se, but how it is written up, and that often looks more like a grocery list than a pot boiling story, in the hands of historical experts.
Then we have "historical fiction". Though of course the later cannot be 100 % both, but it is not worse than "science fiction", since proper science is by definition not about what bis fictive, but the opposite.

No.... Fiction is stuff made up. There's a lot fiction in history, as fallacies, folklore, and deliberate propaganda percolate into the record, but a narrative is not necessarily fictional. It might be badly written of course, even misleading or perhaps prone to misinterpretation. Beware especially of writers who ask questions to the reader, such as "Is it possible that Henry Vth was not the victor at Agincourt?", or even worse, "With so much evidence to prove it, can we be certain that the British Royal family are not seven foot tall alien lizards from another world?". The question style is designed to induce doubt and revelation. It often attempts to mask a dodgy conclusion, or worse, dodgy evidence.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Nov 2014 at 19:37
Originally posted by caldrail caldrail wrote:

Originally posted by fantasus fantasus wrote:

Originally posted by Captain Vancouver Captain Vancouver wrote:

Originally posted by caldrail caldrail wrote:

Quote Aye. I wonder if the problem isn't the increasing focus on history as, for lack of a better designation, a secretarial profession. When I think of modern historians, the best comparison that comes to mind is to the Alexandrian grammarians of the Hellenistic era. Once creativity died, there was nothing left to do but nit-pick. In essence, the modern historian is one part secretary, one part copy-editor, with just a sprinkle of actual historian.

You have to be joking. History is benefitting enormously from modern archaeology and the new techniques that science affords. Right now, history is a very vibrant subject and has even become a populist subject for documentaries on prime time television. Further, the availability of internet based media has made hisotry a very accesible - and more of a socially acceptable - subject.

Yes, this is so, but I think the argument is that those who write are often experts at research, but neophytes at crafting an interesting narrative. It is not history per se, but how it is written up, and that often looks more like a grocery list than a pot boiling story, in the hands of historical experts.
Then we have "historical fiction". Though of course the later cannot be 100 % both, but it is not worse than "science fiction", since proper science is by definition not about what bis fictive, but the opposite.

No.... Fiction is stuff made up. There's a lot fiction in history, as fallacies, folklore, and deliberate propaganda percolate into the record, but a narrative is not necessarily fictional. It might be badly written of course, even misleading or perhaps prone to misinterpretation. Beware especially of writers who ask questions to the reader, such as "Is it possible that Henry Vth was not the victor at Agincourt?", or even worse, "With so much evidence to prove it, can we be certain that the British Royal family are not seven foot tall alien lizards from another world?". The question style is designed to induce doubt and revelation. It often attempts to mask a dodgy conclusion, or worse, dodgy evidence.
As I see it there is a large "grey" area, with differences of degree of "light". Every novel for instance is to some degree fictional(the author has "filled in holes"), or it is not a novel,regardless of its qualities. Historians job is to search for and evaluate evidence for what happened, or at least what most likely happened, and perhaps also explain it, answering "how" and "why" questions. If he or she goes far perhaps giving some preferred alternatives, in the case it can not be decided what excactly happened, but there is a narrow range of preferable possibilities.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Nov 2014 at 00:40
I think a case in point could be the book/movie "The Da Vinci Code".

Here we have a book of fiction, and freely advertised as such, but creating a high level of apprehension or even fear among the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Brown, the author, claims no particular expertise in any of the historical sciences, yet his fictional work seems to be believed by so many as truth.

Brown received millions of dollars worth of free publicity all on the back of a wave of religious hysteria.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Nov 2014 at 16:44
The 'Da Vinci Code' exploits a lot of mytgh and conspiracy theory. Anyone afraid of the contents or its implications really do need to learn some history and stop worrying. That's the trouble with fiction. Sometimes people start believing the premis underlying the story (which is really only a backdrop and not necessarily true). That's why people insist on trying to find a king named Arthur, evidence of curses from egyptian mummifications, metal goblets of christian significance, sunken islands, advanced technology from the prehistoric world, alien visitations, or whatever else. In a couple of hundred years Dan Brown's book may well be the basis of academic volumes trying to prove all the nonsense he wrote about, because belief is everything and can be profited from.

Quote As I see it there is a large "grey" area, with differences of degree of "light". Every novel for instance is to some degree fictional(the author has "filled in holes"), or it is not a novel,regardless of its qualities. Historians job is to search for and evaluate evidence for what happened, or at least what most likely happened, and perhaps also explain it, answering "how" and "why" questions. If he or she goes far perhaps giving some preferred alternatives, in the case it can not be decided what excactly happened, but there is a narrow range of preferable possibilities.

A novel is a story. What the story is based on is another matter, but the story is meant to be enjoyed as is, for entertainment, or if you want, to underline some social principle or experience. The background can be real or fictional - it actually makes little difference because few novelists actually do a good job of melding their stroyline into some believable whole with the setting. You see this mentioned in advice to wannabee writers. Think of a story then give it an exotic setting. Any will do. The story remains the same.


Edited by caldrail - 14 Nov 2014 at 16:47
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