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Monday, August 22, 2016

Chrisitan Comment on the Jesus Wife Thing misses the important point

In 2012 a Professor of Divisinity at Harvard, Karen King, announced that she had a fragment that seemed to indicate that Jesus had a wife. It was later found to be fake.  The article that really showed it was a fake was in the Atlantic monthly here.  A Christian Publication called Breakpoint  told the story: here.

When I read a story about person X being proven wrong the question upper most in my mind is: how did X react?  If they retract then they still have my respect and can keep on doing whatever work they were doing. If they dig in their heels and insist they are still right, or that a minor fix will make the proof correct (more common in our area than in history) then they lose all my respect.

The tenth paragraph has the following:


Within days of the article’s publication, King admitted that the fragment is probably a forgery. Even more damaging, she told Sabar that “I haven’t engaged the provenance questions at all” and that she was “not particularly” interested in what he had discovered.


Dr. King should have been more careful and more curious (though hindsight is wonderful)  initially. However, her admitting it was probably a forgery (probably?) is ... okay. I wish she was more definite in her admission but... I've seen far worse.

A good scholar will admit when they are wrong. A good scholar will look at the evidence and be prepared to change their minds.

Does Breakpoint itself do this when discussing homosexuality or evolution or global warming. I leave that to the reader.

However, my major point is that the difference between a serious scientist and a crank is what one does when confronted with evidence that you are wrong.


7 comments:

  1. Good point.
    If someone makes n claims that are false but in each case admits they are false, how big does n have to be before that person stops being a serious scientist?
    Might depend on what types of claims they make- if they claim to have resolved P vs NP three times then that might be my limit; however, if their errors were subtle and they have done other very hard things then maybe three is too low.

    Also does someone need to do SOMETHING correct and serious to be considered a serious scientist? Prob yes.

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  2. Great point.

    If someone makes n claims that are true but in each case admits they are false (after some opposition of the status quo), how big does n have to be before that person starts being a serious scientist (even after making only a very small work)?

    Obs.: "Someone" here is a normal scientist; it's not me, never, ever: I had claimed to have resolved P vs NP three times and, even worse, CH and 4CT one time each (and I never did anything correct in Science).

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  3. Different fields have different expectations of scholars. In mathematics, for instance, it is possible to evaluate proofs for correctness and determine whether or not a published result is correct. However, I suspect that knowing publishing a complex proof that you thought was probably wrong would hurt your credibility and reputation if you stated you thought it was probably wrong when you published it.

    For something like this, where you can't easily evaluate whether or not this is a forgery, the onus is on the author to make more than a cursory effort to substantiate his or her claims. (For instance, you may need access to the original document to make a clear determination.) Add to that the fact that this is an extraordinary claim, which would attract the interest and effort of a number of scholars to evaluate these claims more rigorously. Based on this, yes, I think it hurts your reputation to make a significant claim with such little confidence in your result that you retract the claim almost as soon as you are challenged.

    Researchers who do careful work, show due diligence to validate their results, and retract unfortunate mistakes should not see their reputations suffer. But, someone who only does the third of these probably shouldn't fare as well.

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  4. Science does not have proofs. Science works with theories and evidence and explanations. It is dangerous to think that science adheres to the same level of certainty as math does.

    A person who disagrees with established views in a scientific community is not necessarily a crank. There are many cases in the history of science where the consensus view among the experts were wrong and someone fighting against the tide was right. This is still the case.

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    Replies
    1. Agreed, disagreeing does not make one a crank.
      But if someone claims evidence for something, and the evidence presented is not correct, and then they DO NOT retrack, then they are on the way to being a crank.

      My post is not about disagreeing with the science community (a good topic for a later post) but its about when ones claim has been totally disproven what do you do? A good scientist retracts completely.

      Yes there are many cases where someone disagrees with the science community and ends up being right. Thats because they had the evidence. Good for them!

      There are also cases where one disagrees with science commuity and is just plain wrong. These stories are not as romantic so they don't get the same publicity.

      Delete
    2. Agreed, disagreeing does not make one a crank.
      But if someone claims evidence for something, and the evidence presented is not correct, and then they DO NOT retrack, then they are on the way to being a crank.

      My post is not about disagreeing with the science community (a good topic for a later post) but its about when ones claim has been totally disproven what do you do? A good scientist retracts completely.

      Yes there are many cases where someone disagrees with the science community and ends up being right. Thats because they had the evidence. Good for them!

      There are also cases where one disagrees with science commuity and is just plain wrong. These stories are not as romantic so they don't get the same publicity.

      Delete
  5. My first comment (that was deleted, I don't know why) only has exposed a very common error on assessing works into Science, namely, to consider that reputation of someone here is a function only of the behavior of that person, and not of the behavior of the entire scientific world on a determined era, too.

    More formally: All R(p) != R(p, w), where R = reputation of the person, p = person behavior, and w = scientific world behavior.

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