Good boffin, bad boffin:
If you have never read the Bible, the King James Version I mean, cover to cover you are in for an interesting experience.  I am no fan of the King James in questions, but the translation he authorized is remarkable for four reasons.  First, the language is unparalleled.  Second, it has been held in such high regard by so many English speaking people that it has sort of equilibrated with the language.  My – unprovable – sense is that words in English mean what they do because that is what they mean in the King James.  Third, the scripture ends with a dire curse on anybody who tampers with it.  My – again unprovable – feeling is that translators at the time of King James took that curse quite seriously; I really don’t think any modern translator does.  Fourth, it is a hard read.  You have to work at it.  And modern studies suggest that working at understanding anything you read will tend to awaken the analytic function of your brain. 

If you choose to invest the effort, a couple or three things may result.  First, you will no longer be disposed to accept the authority of anybody else as to what scripture means.  That’s important.  There are a lot of people out there who would use it to impose on you.  Second you may find that there are things that make sense to you that others won’t notice.  For instance the Promised Land is described as a “land flowing in milk and honey.”  That sounds nice.  What most men don’t know is that it used to be traditional for a woman to put honey on her nipples to encourage a baby to nurse … and maybe to protect them a bit from his eagerness.  Third, you will be prepared to recognize scriptural references.  For instance when scientists talk cheerfully about the Big Bang Theory of the universe originating in a burst of pure energy, I think it sounds a lot like, “And God said let there be light.”  I am immediately on my guard.  Similarly when the quantum physicists say, “Nothing exists until it is observed,” I bristle, not with anger but with the sense that there just might be an intrusion.  It sounds too much like, “And God saw the light.” 

That said, I hasten to say I really do not have any problem with what you might believe about scripture or anything else.  What you do might matter to me.  What you think is quite your own business. 

A subtle scriptural reference caught my eye in a title. (Geoff Brumfiel Good Science Bad Science NATURE vol. 484 April 26, 2012 page 432)  The immediate reference is to “good cop-bad cop.”  When the police want to get information from somebody one technique is to team up for a bit of drama.  The “bad cop” acts very hostile and angry.  The “good-cop” takes the part of the prisoner, urging restraint and offering comfort.  The expectation is that the prisoner will blurt out his story to the “good-cop.”  Of course it is really the “good-cop” who is trying to deceive the prisoner.  The “bad-cop” is likely only saying what he really feels, although he is keeping the drama a secret. 

That, in fact, is scriptural.  In one version, Christ is on the cross between two thieves.  One taunts him and the other takes his part.  They play good-cop bad-cop on him.  Where did they learn that?  Well they were just in the hands of the Roman authorities, weren’t they?  And as young me will, even being executed, they wanted to set up some kind of pecking order.  So, as does happen, there is a kind of a sense to it. 

I hope you aren’t offended, but I couldn’t help noticing the reference in the title.

But the reference doesn’t quite hold.  In proper good-cop bad-cop form, or good-thief bad thief-form for that matter, there is a conspiracy.  The two sides act out their roles.  Alas, it is not so in the article.  It simply analyzes certain controversial fields of study: Create a new form of a deadly virus (Would it help terrorists or would it help people anticipate natural outbreaks?), More efficiently separate isotopes.  (Would it conserve resources and reduce disposal problems or risk nuclear weapons proliferation?), brain scanning to reveal the workings of the mind (Would it help patients and help catch terrorists or make it easier for a government to enslave you?), geoengineering (Would it prevent climate change or might it have unintended consequences?), pre-natal screening of the genes of a fetus (Would it eliminate known genetic diseases or [and the article doesn’t mention it] could it be used for controlling the masses by discouraging anyone from having a baby who is likely to do things inconvenient to the current regime?)

So no overall conspiracy is implied.  All right, believe in one if you like.  Decide that some scientists do things that scare us to draw the attention away from the ones we really ought to be scared by.  Just don’t use this as an incentive to do anti-social things.

And what of my own work?  There are places where there are too many babies, and places where there are too few.  I think if we all knew what the impact of our mating strategy is likely to be on our fertility it would give people control over this most important of issues.  I’m for that.  Will they always make good choices?  Surely not.  But maybe they would be more likely to make good choices.

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