Science Outreach In An Unlikely Venue
    By Sascha Vongehr | November 12th 2012 04:23 AM | 20 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    "China’s Openness no One-Way Alley" highlights a revealing and shameful situation: Most of those who pretend to support a larger role for science, secular politics, and society’s rational managing of existential threats like overpopulation, are not just silent, but outright dismissive about the very country where science, secularism, and rational sociology are taken most seriously.

    However, addressing politicized “science bloggers” who mainly ride a fashion wave to exploit a growing market niche, or addressing their consumer base, a proud information age mob that demands to be told daily that they are the best and special, well, that strategy has not exactly proven useful. They despise the fact that Asia takes over the scientific leadership role, and by all the powers of selective perception, succeed in the self-delusion about that the historically important elections in November 2012 happened on the American continent instead of in Beijing.

    China’s Openness no One-Way Alley” therefore appeared far away from the venues where such matters are usually discussed, namely in the recent edition of The Nanjinger. After all, it is called “science outreach” for a reason.

    From the article:

    Science needs to play a role in important decisions. However, the US is further regressing into religious irrationality and warmongering that large parts of its population do not even endorse, yet can do nothing to prevent. Western systems are effectively two-party, same policy ones, leaving “choices” such as either religion and big corporate business or small business with even worse religiosity. Even Germany’s chancellor Merkel, though physicist, had to be or at least pretend to be a devote Christian, or else she would not have been allowed into such a powerful position.

    It goes on to mention a similar fact, namely that the amazing advances for women that China has enforced and secured for many years now, against all the odds given by a still largely poor, traditional peasant population, do nothing to make China appear anywhere on science writer’s radars, although token feminism is one of the main strategies with which they slime their way into the hearts of progressives:

    In fact, only a single nation in the whole world has a political system that is mature enough so that the most important decisions are made by mutual consensus among mild-mannered, secular people who have almost all studied and worked in the hard sciences; Hu Jintao (“Follow Science, Discard Ignorance”, the third of Hu’s 2006 proclaimed Eight Concepts on Honors and Disgraces) and Wen Jiabao for example, or Liu Yandong, who has become one of the world’s most politically influential and powerful females, yet is nevertheless unknown to Western intellectuals, even those who claim to support science, secularism, and emancipation of women.

    Liu Yandong

    Toward the end, something provocative, but nonetheless very positive, leaving room for optimism:

    Entering the US, you are still today asked whether you were ever a member of a communist party. Maybe it is time to ask travelers who come to the PRC whether they are at least aware of the fact that its official ideology is called the Scientific Development Concept. Most foreigners do not know even this simple but amazing fact, that China has indeed made science the leading ideology of a quarter of the human population.


    S. Vongehr: “China’s Openness no One-Way Alley.” The Nanjinger – Vol. 3 - Issue 2 - November 2012, pages 8-9

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    Liu Yandong; I checked out the link and her background. She was at a chemical engineering school, but she taught political science, which is what she majored in. For a couple of years at a chemical plant she had the role of a technician. Maybe I wasn't reading carefully enough, but from the context I was hoping she was a political leader with more of a scientific background.
    You should take into account the time and situation in China then. If you count as people with science background only people with a similar CV to mine for example, then there were of course none at all at that point in China. The point is, in as far as they actually could, they were involved in real science (and often they listen to relevant scientists for many hours and days still today, before they decide anything). The US president is a lawyer basically, and the time he did not spend on lawyer stuff or politics, he wasted in church!
    John Hasenkam
    This post reminds me of something I read by Alan Watts. He stated that one reason Zen Buddhism flourished in China is that it encountered a culture much more pragmatically oriented than in India. The Chinese were interested in how things work and how to make those thing work to their advantage. There is certainly plenty of evidence in their history that they were no slouches in the technology game, at least until the mandarins came along. So perhaps the Chinese were in some sense culturally prepared for the science game. China faces some huge practical problems that are very close to home. Like feeding all those people, managing a seriously degraded environment, and how to create a society crammed full of people without them slitting each others' throats. They don't have time to waste on The Kardashians or whatever, at least not yet, so the practical challenges they confront are best addressed by science. 
    Sascha I like your reference to game theory but social theorists really prefer to avoid quantification. In Deceit and Self Deception by Robert Trivers he cites a wide range of studies indicating how biology can and does play a part in forming the culture, even in its choice of religious themes. This was also indicated by Robert Wright in his work The Evolution of God. For a very comprehensive account of how culture shapes us the book by the philosopher Jesse Prinz, Beyond Human Nature, is replete with accounts of how time and place shape our values and world views. Very interesting read but he tends to overshoot the argument. 

    Trivers notes that one of the big failings in psychology and more particular the social sciences is the almost complete lack of referral to biological agents driving cultural change. He is critical of cultural anthropology and the social sciences at large. So more than just game theory we need to at least begin thinking about culture, religion, and progress in a frame of reference that includes concepts drawn from game theory, genetics, evolutionary theory, and how the environmental contingencies in general and the social contingencies in particular, shape our understanding of ourselves and 42. 

    Biological roots are sure something that people largely deny. However, as you are already down that path, I like to remark that social structure and its evolution exploits biological features so that the outcome is almost free from biological determination. For example, some cultures have changed from remarrying widows (more kids) to killing them immediately after the husband's death (less kids), depending on the population density on an island.
    "For example, some cultures have changed from remarrying widows (more kids) to killing them immediately after the husband's death (less kids), depending on the population density on an island."

    It would make more sense to apply this policy to the widowers ie kill them immediately after their wife's death (less kids) as many women would already be infertile by the time their husbands died, unlike the men, who as we saw this week in India, can remarry younger wives and keep reproducing into their nineties (more kids) see

    In population dynamics, only women count; this is because of the long gestation periods. You can kill all males but one, and still all women can be impregnated by that one (there is promiscuity in every culture, we just don't admit it in, for example, ours). But if there are no women, there are no kids. This is the very problem underlying the suffering of females of most species.
     You can kill all males but one, and still all women can be impregnated by that one.
    If you have enough liquid nitrogen to freeze the sperm, all males can disappear, at least temporarily, but then you may create a shortage of both cretins and extreme geniuses!

    "but then you may create a shortage of both cretins and extreme geniuses!"


    It's because both low IQ-people and extreme geniuses are more likely to be males.
    John Hasenkam
    Better off aiming lower. Liam Hudson did studies in the 60's which claimed that there is no difference in a scientist winning the Nobel ranging from 130-180. Too many weird things happen as you keep ascending the iq scale and one mad but very clever chap could undo the work of thousands in a single Kaboom! 
    Alas though the Flynn Effect has reversed and the implications and reasons for that remain unclear. This has been documented across many countries and may have started as early as 1980. What it does explain is modern politics and economics "theory".
    Quentin Rowe
    It's because both low IQ-people and extreme geniuses are more likely to be males.

    Enrico, this sounds suspiciously like the low IQ argument is being used as a pseudo balance to justify the high IQ argument.

    I'm not buying it.

    John Hasenkam
    Sascha's comment reminded me of a closing scene in a Japanese film about early village life. This village had a belief that when people got old they should ascend this nearby mountain where they will be carried to heaven. The closing scene is a son carrying his grandmother up this mountain. As he rounds a bend to face the upper slope what he and his grandmother see is a bones and skeletons everywhere ... .
    Prinz's work Beyond Human Nature is a thorough exploration of how time and circumstance are key variables in our morals and behavior. This is very much neglected these days. 
    Ladislav Kocbach
    The movie was called "The Legend of Nara-Yama" (or Narayama). Where have you seen it? From time to time I remember it and try to find it, but without any success. I've seen it sometimes in the mid-80's.
    Edited: I found it this time: it is called the Ballad of Narayama - and can be bought here, in fact:
    I have just read your article in the Nanjinger (despite the technical trickery).  There are so many threads to it, to some of which my reaction is not yes or no, but the square root of no — but which of the two square roots?

    Definitely in Britain, as viewed from China, the situation would appear to be one of

    英国出了个 Tony Blair。

    as I found myself singing when that fellow was elected in 1997, and he promptly said “We are the servants of the people!”

     *** For readers who do not recognize the Chinese context, it is a hybrid between “The East is Red” and
    Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight.
    Red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning.
    However, I view the sunset with deep sorrow, while you give the impression of a bit of triumphalism, perhaps arising from a sense of not being appreciated in the West.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Quentin Rowe

    The most puzzling aspect of my brief 40 days in China were the toilets.

    I stayed in non-westernized cites in the heart of China, traveling on the crowded slow trains, all the way to the coastal westernized cities. The (public) toilets remained constantly filthy, even in public hospitals. The extension of this, was that most of the parks and some of the city streets were sadly spoiled by excessive litter.

    In a city in central China, presumably because I was a rare event as a westerner, a soldier ran to me from a distance, to proudly inform me of his pride of the Chinese way, and how they will help the world with boundless ideas and energy. This was all translated on the fly by my Chinese hosts, who appeared far more uncomfortable than I thought I was going to be with the exchange. He made me smile.

    I was moved by his enthusiasm. I really only know cynicism these days, so it was very refreshing, slightly scary, but seemed to spring from a pure substitution of the individual mind with party propaganda. Oh how life would be so much easier for me if only I stopped thinking, and obeyed. And it would, of course!

    I shook his hand and wished him well. But the thought most impressive on my mind was "Please, please don't export your toiletry sanitation ideas".

    Now, this is slightly mean. Considering the density of the population, and the lack of water in many parts of China, they are actually doing quite well. But, I can't help but think of the revolutions in the cities of Paris & London with the water supplies & sewers back before the industrial revolution, and ask myself, "Why doesn't China give cleanliness a higher priority?", which led to my next question, "What's the point of being rich if you live in filth?".

    Innocent questions, perhaps fed by ignorance, I don't know. Are science methods required to figure the solutions for this? Probably, but what I observed for the most part was a lack of desire to even see the problem, let alone address it.

    So you got a tactful mistranslation of the village idiot's rant, which was, surprise surprise, nationalistic, and since this happened in China instead of in Germany or Texas, it is "party propaganda"? Sorry, but I am very suspicious. It needs a lot of time to see through the very well exercised deceptions (in other cultures generally, in Asia especially), and 40 days running from one place to the next may not be sufficient, though of course I encourage the effort of getting started.
    In our travels and living abroad, my wife has often said it takes about 6 months to get a realistic overview of a new culture, but even so depending where you live in such a big country makes a difference. My friend's wife lived in China until '96 and has gone back for a few summers. From her accounts, it sounds fine, but then again her family there is far better off than the average person.
    Quentin Rowe

    Relax Sasha, I'm not pretending in any way whatsoever I've figured out China. That is a lifelong journey as far as I'm concerned - that is why I indicated my time spent there. I'm just stating the blindingly obvious - the filth spoils an otherwise fantastic place. I learned quickly that when in China, you are supposed to just ignore the problem. My very presence, of course, added to the situation, as I played my small part too. Once I'd taken a dump, I considered life to be ten times more rosier than just minutes before - something I'd just take for granted back home. :-)

    I suppose it's the same in any densely populated area in the world, for example India. It taught me how thin the veneer of civilization actually is. I actually felt more 'human' there as a result of the smells etc. But if you give me a choice of living in a clean environment, or a dirty one, I will always prefer, and take action, to live in a clean one. So why doesn't China choose clean?

    As for the village idiot, I wouldn't dismiss him that quickly. For all I know he plays an active part in the general improvement of China. However, I totally agree with your point of fundamentalist / extremists in western nations - I often can't tell the difference between a ranting nationalistic citizen of USA and a ranting nationalistic citizen from somewhere in the middle-east. At least with the Chinese guy, there were no threats or aggression coming through.

    To bring my comments more to topic, I believe the improvements to sanitation were a major step towards the life we privileged 'westerners' know today. Is China learning from the lessons of the cities of Paris & London? Yes, of course, but I believe they need to rapidly change the priority of applying these lessons.

    I often can't tell the difference between a ranting nationalistic citizen of USA and a ranting nationalistic citizen from somewhere in the middle-east.
    Or is it that you don’t want to know the difference?

    I totally agree with your point of fundamentalist / extremists in western nations
    You may be flattering yourself if you think (as implied here) that you are not a fundamentalist.  It may be, rather, that your fundamentals are simply different from theirs.

    I once asked a visitor from the Middle East what Al-Qa‘ida meant, and he told me that it meant “The Basis” — fundamentals, if you like.  But it also means “the undercarriage”.  So, have you heard the one about the agent who was assigned the task of blowing up Al-Qa‘ida?  He took his bomb with him on the aeroplane.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Quentin Rowe
    You may be flattering yourself if you think (as implied here) that you are not a fundamentalist. It may be, rather, that your fundamentals are simply different from theirs.

    Well, of course I'm a fundamentalist in that context - I'm fundamentally me, shaped by my fundamental background. I'm really referring to the media created cliche fundamentalist that we are all supposedly terrorised by.

    This is why I like to travel. It exposes biases and beliefs I never knew I had. Case in point - My first OE to the UK back in 1994, I naively believed I didn't have an accent, and everybody else did. It's embarrassing to admit, but it set me quickly on the path to opening my mind a little wider to cultural biases.

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