I almost think we need a new paradigm of how scientific publication works with a lot more transparency. It turns out that the processing, analysis, and conclusion isn’t the important thing to share with the world. Everyone has the internet, plenty of cheap storage, and access to sophisticated and quick analytical tools. And a lot of the skepticism comes from the unpublished datasets or precise methodologies.
There’s a movement to restrict public funding of research only to those labs only to those labs who only public their findings in places where the public can access them for free. But the same should apply to the data itself.
In the future, in a ‘paper’, researchers could publish something more like an entire web-page, with their full data sets and methodologies including scans of documents, full wording of survey questions, pictures of processes, blueprints of equipment, etc. Maybe some secure way to share the broader personal / epidemiological data of study participants. Perhaps they could even incorporate sophisticated cryptological methods that ensure the non-manipulation of the data set – in addition to ‘double-blind’ set ups.
And then, instead of relying on top journals to pick and choose, every researcher publishes every data set, regardless of result. That will help avoid publication bias and also assist in doing meta-analysis.
My point is that the ‘money shot’ of research today is that testing of something against the null hypothesis, but it should be the data. You could publish your analysis or graphs as a app-link to your dataset, in a way that people could play with it and perform alternate tests and verify the validity of your conclusions (like with tableau software). Instead of ‘peer review’, your ‘paper’ is subject to a kind of permanent community review. And it would also identify priority areas of research replication if it looked like there was a ‘poisoned fruit’ contaminating the conclusions of many subsequent studies.
The ‘paywalls and unobtainable proprietary data’ model generates a lot of skepticism. How many times do you see some crazy media headline and look into the paper and find nothing? And when you can’t look into the paper, what is one supposed to think?
Personally, I find the whole Steve McIntyre (Climate Audit and ‘ClimateGate’) saga fascinating and disturbing. Whatever you think about the merits of the case, he shouldn’t have faced such a stubborn conspiracy of stonewalling when requesting the data he needed.
In matters of national security, people often make the argument that it’s difficult for democratic processes to ‘function’ normally when so much of the underlying information is classified. “Do we really need to spend $100M per aircraft to make sure ours are a lot better than theirs?” – Yes.” – “Why?” – “Sorry, that’s classified.”
Obviously, that kind of thing is prone to a certain amount of abuse. And we’ve heard about it a lot with the recent national intelligence program stuff. But the same issue in embedded in contemporary scientific publishing, and for no compelling reason in my opinion.
The historicity of Jesus has been a side obsession for me the past couple months, and is partly driving me back to the hyperational blogosphere. TGGP, I’d love to get your take on the available evidence and controversy, here or over on my BlogSpot blog.
I only know a little about that controversy, but Chip Smith’s “Nine Banded Books” is publishing Jesus Never Existed. I personally always enjoyed that section Koenraad Elst’s “Psychology of Prophetism“, which postulates that Jesus was insane (but had his wackier views cleaned up by successors like Paul), survived his crucifixion, and wrote the book of Revelation.
What does “Jesus was insane” even mean? Any real definition of sanity seems asymptotic to me. I think you’ll find it fun to dig deeper into arguments about the historicity of Jesus, because it seems fucking tough to untangle to me.
I’ve read enough Szasz to agree on how nebulous the definition of sanity can be. But declaring yourself to be God, or the son of God, the messiah, and so on is pretty far out there in the distribution of behavior. That’s why C. S. Lewis said he was either who he said he was or a madman.
Elst claims to be using a method of detecting which passages were originally written vs inserted later, and like the rest of his theory I don’t know how accurate it is, but I happen to find it interesting. I had long been under the assumption that Jesus really existed because there are references in Josephus and some other sources, but I didn’t know too much about how sketchy much of the ancient past is.
Are there contemporary references to Jesus Christ of Nazereth in Josephus or any other sources? I don’t think so. It doesn’t seem that easy to resolve. I encourage you to delve deeper into the controversy.
Quickly looking things up on wikipedia, the writings of Josephus considered most reliable on the subject are actually more focused on the execution of James, brother of Jesus. There is a passage more focused on Jesus, but much of the language seems uncharacteristic of a Jew who was not a follower of Jesus, which is how Origen refers to him in the 3rd century. And there is a 12th century Syrian version without that language, so the core discussion of Jesus’ execution may be in the original Josephus. Josephus was born after Jesus is believed to have died, so his writings are not “contemporary” in the strict sense.
I had heard of the mythological prescursors, and that set of arguments I find plausible. Your link seems intended to respond to “Jews for Jesus” missionaries, rather than historians, and doesn’t read like the work of an historian either. The parenthetical about Adonis being inspired by Tammuz seems particularly implausible, Greek myths tend to be quite old and I wouldn’t expect them to be familiar with northern Israeli myths. Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene could be the same person, but if so the reason is not to disassociate the former with the adultery of the latter since Mary Magdalene is not canonically a “woman of ill repute”. That belief itself is the result of just the sort of confusion that Hayyim ben Yehoshua writes about!
That raises the question of what it means to be “one person”. Was Abner Doubleday “one person” if some of the things ascribed to him originally referred to other people? In his case, the most famous thing about him is something he didn’t even do. But I also didn’t find some of the other possible inspirations Hayyim used to be terribly persuasive. Maybe they were inspirations for that later mythological figure, I don’t know, but he didn’t present very strong connections.
TGGP, I don’t think that’s the interesting part of this (the definition of composite).
It seems to me here that if 80% of the historical facts of Jesus Christ are about one historical person, he’s not a composite, he’s a historical person with some incorrect facts added on about him.
But if 25% of the facts each are about four different historical people, then Jesus is a composite that never existed as a historical person.
Sure between those two points things can get a bit grey. But it seems to me that the evidence points to the latter, that Jesus was a composite, not a narrative mostly about one historical person.
But, there are elements from all sides that make me a bit unsure. Are anti-Christians distorting the likelihood that Jesus is a composite? I haven’t yet read a good examination of the evidence that seems in good faith to me.
I haven’t yet seen a good probability analysis of all the evidence.
I think the world has the resources to do both pretty easily, I’d like to see it happen since I’m both interested and unqualified to sort out the likelihood that Jesus was substantively a single historical person.
Even if the claim about research is false, it’s highly significant – if you believe it, it’s a good argument for skepticism, and if you don’t, it’s a good argument for skepticism.
(Are there any good arguments to be made against skepticism, ever? I wonder…)
C.S. Lewis wasn’t a very good logician, although a fairly good propagandist. Was his exclusion of the possibility that JC was fictional (or that claims were being made about him by followers rather than from him) intentional, or the inadvertent blindness of a believer?
My own position is unchanged: for a rationalist and empiricist, or someone trying to be more like rationalists and empiricists, the only stance with the existing data is strong agnosticism or weak atheism. Everything else is simply an error of one kind or another.
I do recognize that it’s just a little bit tricky to pull a substitution like that. In the very strictest possible sense, with the strictest possible terms, radical skepticism is self-contradictory. How do you know that knowledge is impossible?
In reality, no one ever actually uses the definition of ‘knowledge’ that is required for that statement to work. I ‘know’ many things, yet I do not possess absolute certainty about them, nor do I feel that I need to. I can reject absolutely while retaining awareness that I might be erring by doing so.