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    Missile Defense

Russian military leaders have expressed concern about US plans for a national missile defense system. Will defense technology be limited by possibilities for a strategic imbalance? Is this just SDI all over again?

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rshowalter - 07:05pm Mar 15, 2001 EST (#1054 of 1056) Delete Message
Robert Showalter

PARADIGM CONFLICT IS ONLY ONE PART OF THE IMPASSE INVOLVING NUCLEAR WEAPONS, but on issues of "human response to threat" and "tactical and strategic use of nuclear weapons" there are paradigm conflicts involving questions of fact and explicit logic that need to be resolved to break the impasse.

I'm posting this about paradigm conflict, which I believe deals with the essential requirement of ESTABLISHING FACTS, as part of my response to Lunarchick's question.

Short Summary: Paradigm conflict

Scientific groups can be committed to mindsets and reflexes that turn out to be wrong. When that happens, the scientists can’t check themselves at all well. In such cases, the psychological and social patterns in the science will act to resist checking for the possible mistake, and anyone who asks for the checking will be marginalized.

In such cases, the mistake is usually simple and stark from a distance, and checking the issue is only difficult within the profession for psychological or traditional reasons.

To the extent that the issue matters for the practical performance of the science, ways must be found to get such questions checked. Now, such questions are not checked, and enormous costs and human tragedies occur, because the checking is denied. We suggest that the core issue is a moral one - and that once the moral issue is accepted, the practical issues are straightforward. Once reasonable reason to suspect a mistake exists, it should be morally forcing to check whether the mistake has been made or not.

rshowalter - 07:10pm Mar 15, 2001 EST (#1055 of 1056) Delete Message
Robert Showalter

Problems with military ideas are similar to problems with scientific ideas.


In somewhat more detail: People in organized professions or sciences live in the culture of their profession. That culture becomes part of their perceptions, reflexes, and ways of thought, sustained within a community of practice. This way of seeing, and patterns in it, can be thought of as a gestalt – an entire pattern of interpretations, a way of seeing.

Sometimes, a community of practice can be wrong about something important to their business. Wrong in a way that would require them to abandon patterns of thought and perception, a gestalt, that they are committed to. When that happens, something that they believe is “obviously true” turns out to be false, and something that seems to them to be “obviously wrong” turns out to be right.

In such a case, the whole community of practice can be confidently wrong, and the person pointing out the mistake can be entirely correct. I’m calling such an impasse, or a case where there is evidence enough so that such an impasse seems likely, a paradigm conflict impasse.

Ordinary usages of the sciences and professions don’t work when faced with a possible paradigm conflict impasse.

In retrospect, the issues involved in such impasses are starkly simple (details deleted) and have simple answers. But these questions are not simple in human terms, for the people most concerned with them. When these questions are nested in a mass of cultural-social-emotional construction, they may be invisible, or emotionally charged to a prohibitive degree, for the professionals called upon to judge them.

For example, to see Semmelweis’s point, doctors had to rethink what they were doing, and admit that they were inadvertently killing patients. To see McCully’s point, a team of cardiologists who had organized themselves around one research subject (chloresterol) had to admit that another issue might matter as well. In the S-K case, procedures that have become embedded in three centuries of mathematical physics practice have to be re-examined. In abstract terms, such issues are easy. In human and organizational terms, they are hard.

The ideas held by "the culture" (in science, a particular specialist subculture) can be wrong, when they are checked. But if checking by outsiders with respect to the subculture is taboo, then the checking can't occur.

rshowalter - 07:10pm Mar 15, 2001 EST (#1056 of 1056) Delete Message
Robert Showalter

If "civility" means "deference to established intellectual property rights, and territorial divisions" then "civility" is the death knell of certain essential kinds of progress. Checking can be deferred, and discussion can be deferred indefinitely, especially according to the standard academic and diplomatic patterns described by John Kay in

When it is important enough, there needs to be mechanisms to get questions of fact and logic in science (or military matters) CHECKED. When the stakes are high enough, that checking needs to be morally forcing.

The idea that checking should be morally forcing seems new, and is a distinctly minority position. But for want of that ethical stance, some really terrible choices have been made in the past, and will be made in the future.

This thread has largely been about that.

There may be different ways of getting the checking done. Some suggestions have been discussed in the thread. If the moral point is granted, many different approaches to the checking could work well. Here is one, set out for scientific problems New York Times Science in the News thread rshowalt (# 381-383) rshowalt "Science in the News" 1/4/00 7:43am Similar patterns, variously modified, would be more than sufficient to determine the questions of fact that must be resolved in order for our nuclear impasse to be resolved.

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