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Bishops of the Holy Church of Embodied Cognition and editors of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Christ

Paul Alper points to a recent New York Times article about astrology as a sign that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

My reply:

Astrology don’t bug me so much cos it doesn’t pretend to be science. I’m more bothered by PNAS-style fake science because it pretends to be real science. Same thing with religion. I don’t get so worked up about Biblical fundamentalists. If someone wants to believe that someone parted the Red Sea, whatever. Similarly, if Prof. Susan Fiske and Prof. Robert Sternberg were Rev. Susan Fiske and Rev. Robert Sternberg, bishops of the Holy Church of Embodied Cognition and editors of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Christ, I’d be less annoyed, because their experiments would be reported in the religion section of the paper, not the science section.

Alper adds:

If you post on this, be sure to include a reference to truffle French fries, an item not normally found in the upper midwest. My guess is the stars will be aligned and many comments will be forthcoming whether or not Venus is retrograding.

We’ll see.


  1. BenK says:

    Not sure why he needed to drag Christ into it; he could have picked some psychologist, maybe Seligman, to preserve the acronym.

    It would have more overall impact, to emphasize that any belief system that treats ultimate origins, purpose, meaning, and ends, is a religion;
    as opposed to something that resolves bounded questions of mechanism based on controlled experiment and repeatable observation, which is science; or means of achieving predictable behaviors, which would be engineering.

    • gec says:

      You delineate the boundaries between these approaches in terms of their (stated) goals, which is part of it. But I think it is worth thinking about what is similar between science and religion, since that helps point out how and why either approach can be done well or done poorly, and for similar reasons.

      Religion seeks to understand the role of humanity in the world. Religious understanding develops through introspection, discussion/argument, and entertaining hypotheticals that may or may not be true. Religious ideas are often transmitted by authority. Any ultimate “answers” will almost certainly never be known.

      Science seeks to understand the causal mechanisms that make the world the way it is. Scientific understanding develops through observation, experiment, discussion/argument, and constructing models that may or may not be true. Scientific ideas are often transmitted by authority. Any ultimate “answers” will almost certainly never be known.

      Both science and religion are about personal understanding, helping individual people see how the world works (science) and what their place is in it (religion). They both involve authorities and discussion/argument. Modeling is largely a technically advanced form of “thought experiment” or entertaining a hypothetical—a model is a toy universe and by letting it play out (i.e., simulation), we can see how well that toy universe matches our own. And, in the end, we can be pretty sure that neither religion nor science will be “finished”.

      As you say, though, the targets of religion and science are quite different. Both in a sense rely on observation, but experimental methods allow science to probe causal questions. Science tries to build up a personal understanding of how the world works, but the stated goal is for that understanding to be (in principle, anyway) shared by everyone—it’s gotta work everywhere. The alchemists didn’t think that! And neither do many religions (though not all).

      Okay, so what has this got to do with the Holy Church of Embodied Cognition? I think science and religion can both be practiced well, with respect to their own goals, when people maintain open minds and lines of communication. New observations/results are transmitted without bias and can either be integrated into existing theories or drive the development of new ones. New discussions/arguments cause people to examine their assumptions and change their view of the world and their place in it. When ideas metastasize to the point that development is no longer possible, that’s when you get into trouble. At that point, the ideas are no longer seen as tools to aid understanding, but as “truths”. It becomes about defending those truths rather than accepting their potential flaws and making progress.

      The Reverends Fiske and Sternberg see their ideas as unassailable Truths, and the organizations they lead as instruments to defend those Truths. To find results counter to those Truths or criticize their methods is just not acceptable, because that wastes time that would be better spent spreading the gospel (after all, they know they’ll be right in the end anyway, so why bother?). Of course, there are side benefits (prestige, being able to install a network of allied subordinates, some money but not much), but those are less important. At the moment, though, their power is limited to calling people names and stifling careers. If they had the power to form an Inquisition, I think they’d jump at the chance.

      In short, I think the problems arise from science being “Organized Science”, in the same way that we get problems when religion becomes “Organized Religion”. The problem is, while I can see how science might be organized in different ways, it will always be “organized” somehow, and I suspect any manner of organization will lead to similar problems.

      • Martha (Smith) says:

        Lotsa good points here. Thanks for articulating them.

      • Mike says:

        I remember the comment by reader Plucky on the post here a few years ago called “What has happened down here is the winds have changed”. Fiske in an essay had emphasized the idea of science as a community of people. Plucky noted that communities value the well-being of their members above all else, and that if science is ultimately a community (not a method) then its practitioners will end up being viewed as lobbyists and interest groups working on behalf of their community members (like the religion lobby or the astrology lobby), and not as objective analysts of how the world works. This loss of standing would have many bad consequences, including overt political interference in science by politicians who are responding to lots of different lobbyists and interest groups. That still seems like a keen insight.

        • Martha (Smith) says:

          Good point.

        • gec says:

          I agree there are good points there, but you raise a couple of important questions:

          1) What makes a community? Is is just having a bunch of people in the same place? Is it a set of shared backgrounds? Is it a set of shared goals and methods? I suspect there are many types of community that can be organized along many dimensions.

          2) Is it really true that they value the well-being of their members above all else? Or are shared values more important? This is also likely to vary between communities.

          3) How much should we care how outsiders view science, versus how scientists ourselves view science? How scientists see themselves defines their (our) goals and methods, but how others view us determines how our work gets used and where resources get allocated.

          4) Is being viewed as a “lobby” a “loss of standing”? Depends where you are sitting/standing. The current US administration notwithstanding, “science” as a general concept seems to have a pretty big standing. Politicians of all stripes can’t resist claiming that “the science” is on their side. STEM education is advocated by pretty much everyone. As we see on this blog, media love to report scientific findings and are happy to give absolute credence to scientists and institutions/journals.

          I think being a “lobby” and “losing standing” are largely orthogonal and maybe even inversely related. You can’t have a lobby unless you have *some* standing, after all! Having a lobby means that we are in a position to publicly advocate for funding and policies that will support the open-minded study of how the world works. But it also creates incentives to treat the perpetuation of institutions as a goal unto itself, which gets in the way of what we are supposed to be doing.

  2. John Williams says:

    What about people who believe that the Democrats stole the election from Trump?

    The Washington Post has a story today about Denver Riggleman, a ex-Republican representative who wrote a book about Bigfoot and the people who believe Bigfoot exists. He says ““I always say the [Bigfoot] expedition leader and Rudy Giuliani are very similar people.”

  3. Dzhaughn says:

    Better on sweet potato fries, IMO. It’s about morels in the upper midwest.

  4. paul alper says:

    Andrew wrote, “Astrology don’t bug me so much cos it doesn’t pretend to be science. I’m more bothered by PNAS-style fake science because it pretends to be real science. Same thing with religion. I don’t get so worked up about Biblical fundamentalists. If someone wants to believe that someone parted the Red Sea, whatever.”

    Note that NYT astrology article is dated January 4, 2020, which in this Covid-19 era is practically prehistory. Several parts of what he wrote are debatable. For one thing, astrologists insist that their discipline is scientific and indeed hard. From we learn, “There’s an exam, and it involves math. In fact, there are many exams.”
    Much more importantly, the U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to vote 5 to 4 to allow astrology believers to disobey government rulings regarding large public gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    • Jonathan (another one) says:

      Please… NY was unable to defend their differential treatment on the merits. There may be a case to be made on the merits, but they didn’t make it. All the churches ask, as is their right, is to be treated no differently than institutions with similar disease-spreading potential. It is perhaps interesting that *only* churches have that right, but the free exercise of religion is a constitutional right of long standing. The right must of course be balanced against risks to public health, and if you think NY thought about that balancing at all, with data to support that decision, then why didn’t they present it in court? This is the flip side of the frivolous Trump claims regarding the election. When the time came to support their decision with data, they both punted. One of the dissenters, Roberts, agrees with logic, but not the timing, and the best the dissenters can muster is that religious services are treated favorably vis a vis concerts and other public entertainment gatherings, which is irrelevant — it’s not the number of facilities which are treated worse, but whether there exist equivalent facilities who are treated better, and there indubitably are.

        • Jonathan (another one) says:

          Good example… the conclusion/analysis ratio is very, very high. Much too high to be explained by chance.

          • Anonymous says:

            “On approximately 2:30 AM EST, TV broadcasts reported that PA, WI, AZ, NV and GA have decided to cease vote counting operations and will continue the following day. The unanimous decision to intentionally stop counting by all 5 battleground states is highly unusual, possibly unprecedented and demonstrates prior coordination by election officials in battleground state. There would be no legitimate reason battleground states need to pre-coordinate election activities and stop on-going adjudication processes. However, is equally puzzling that the vote counting did not stop, as reported. In fact, it continued behind closed doors in early hours of November 4, 2020. This activity is highly unusually and demonstrates collusion to achieve desired results without being monitored by watchers.”

            ” Beginning on approximately 4:30 AM EST on November 4, 2020, the vote counts favored Vice President Biden by nearly 80% in many jurisdictions. The data distribution is statistically congruent, even when considering a larger number of absentee ballots were collected for Vice President Biden.”

            “The data variance favoring Vice President continues to accelerate after 4:30 AM EST on November 4, 2020 and continues until it momentum through November 9, 2020. This abnormality in variance is evident by the unusually steep slope for Vice President Biden in all battleground states on November 4, 2020. A sudden rise in slope is not normal and demonstrates data manipulation by artificial means. For example in PA, President Trump’s lead of more than 700,000 count advantage was reduced to less than 300,000 in a few short hours, which does not occur in the real world without an external influence. I conclude that manually feeding more than 400,000 mostly absentee ballots cannot be accomplished in a short time frame (i.e., 2-3 hours) without illegal vote count alteration. In another case for Edison County, MI, Vice President Biden received more than 100% of the votes at 5:59 PM EST on November 4, 2020 and again he received 99.61% of the votes at 2:23 PM EST on November 5, 2020. These distributions are cause for concern and indicate fraud.”

            • Andrew says:


              The problem here is that political operatives are flooding the zone with junk arguments, conspiracy theories, and flat-out attempts to subvert democracy. It’s hard to have a serious statistical discussion when major players are acting in such bad faith. Remember the story from a few weeks ago of supposed dead people voting?

              • Anonymous says:

                What is the explanation for the above?

                1) Five states announce they will stop counting votes at the same time in the middle of the night

                2) Most media, vote counters, and observers leave

                3) Votes continue to be counted despite earlier announcement

                4) Large batches of votes 80-100%+ for one candidate are reported in a timeframe impossible for ballot counting machines to process

              • Andrew says:


                I have no particular interest in figuring out the flaws in the latest in junk arguments and conspiracy theories on the 2020 election, any more than I feel like tracking down the documents proving that there really was a moon landing, or that Oswald really shot that police officer, or that there was no pedophile ring in the basement of that pizza restaurant. Nor do I feel like trying to track down exactly what was happening in Daryl Bem’s ESP lab, or figuring out which of Brian Wansink’s numbers were not fabricated, etc etc. The story you’re pushing here reminds me a bit of the discredited arguments claiming fraud in the Bolivian election, with the difference that those claims came from a source with some credibility (the OAS), whereas the 2020 claims are part of a blizzard of garbage.

              • Joshua says:

                Andrew –

                But you can’t prove that a conspiracy to defraud Trump of millions no, tens of million hundreds of millions of legal votes didn’t happen, can you?

                Why can’t you prove that? Clearly you’re hiding something.

            • Jonathan (another one) says:

              As a trained statistician who is also one of the few people in the country (apparently) to be completely indifferent about who won the election, I have to say that this extract isn’t even remotely suspicious. The situation in the recent election was indeed “abnormal.” Unusual numbers of absentee ballots were filed, the states listed were barred by law from starting to count them before election day, and, most crucially, there was an enormous push by one side to vote absentee and by the other side not to, leading to a situation in which the late votes were always going to heavily favor Biden — by how much, I cannot say, but neither can the affidavit writer. Instead, we get a flurry of syllogisms of this sort: (a) voting can be hacked; (b) things were weird; (c) therefore the vote was hacked. The number of steps you have to take to make this syllogism remotely convincing to an objective observer is the problem.

              • Anonymous says:

                You didnt address the points raised at all. And Andrew is uninterested in thinking about them.

                So far the only plausible explanation offered by anyone is fraud.

              • Jonathan (another one) says:

                Sigh… it was the middle of the night, and people like to sleep. Reporting lags counting, so what appeared to be counting anomalies are caused by reporting lags. There.

              • Anonymous says:

                Now we are getting somewhere. That doesn’t fit since they didnt stop counting:


              • Jonathan (another one) says:

                Actually, it fits my hypothesis (for which ‘hypothesis’ is a bit highfaluting) perfectly. It certainly doesn’t say that no one went home to sleep. It also makes a huge distinction between counting activities and reporting activities.

                My job, though, is not to convince you that I’m right. I suspect I’m never going to do that. And I don’t have any evidence… I’m just spitballing. It is the job of people who have evidence to present that evidence and have it consistent *only* with fraud. To do that, you can’t just show the result is consistent with fraud… You also have to *show* that it is profoundly inconsistent with nonfraudulent explanation. I read the affidavit carefully. There is not a single assertion of fact (as opposed to a conclusion of the affiant) which even credited as true (and I think a fair number of facts in this affidavit aren’t) reach to the conclusion you want to reach. But that’s just me. The person you need to convince is a judge, which I’m not. But I do know a fair amount about the standards of proof judges need. This affidavit doesn’t come close.

              • Jonathan (another one) says:

                So maybe it was … wait for it… a miscommunication. What evidence do you have that it wasn’t? Who went home? How many people? What time did they leave? What information do you have about the votes *counted* (not reported) while they were gone? Where are their affidavits?

              • Anonymous says:

                More progress. You are asking for further evidence that should be discovered with an audit. If that is not done, it won’t be available.

                Then everyone can rest easy with a clear explanation of what happened.

                Instead of “it was miscommunicated we would stop counting votes when we meant reporting votes. However, then we continued counting and reporting votes and they were nearly all for one candidate”.

                Because the best explanation for that is fraud.

      • Joshua says:

        > All the churches ask, as is their right, is to be treated no differently than institutions with similar disease-spreading potential

        What businesses with the similar disease-spreading potential were treated differently?

        • Jonathan (another one) says:

          From the Per Curiam decision: “These categorizations lead to troubling results. At the hearing in the District Court, a health department official testified about a large store in Brooklyn that could “literally have hundreds of people shopping there on any given day.” App. to Application in No. 20A87, Exh. D, p. 83. Yet a nearby church or synagogue would be prohibited from allowing more than 10 or 25 people inside for a worship service. And the Governor has stated that factories and schools have contributed to the spread of COVID–19, id., Exh. H, at 3; App. to Application in No. 20A90, pp. 98, 100, but they are treated less harshly than the Diocese’s churches and Agudath Israel’s synagogues, which have admirable safety records…., Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills can seat up to 400. It is hard to believe that admitting more than 10 people to a 1,000–seat church or 400–seat synagogue would create a more serious health risk than the many other activities that the State allows.”

          Now there might be a factual case that chanting in a 1,000 seat church by 10 people carries a higher risk than allowing 500 people to shop in the Macy’s shoe department for an hour. I don’t know. But what I do know is that when asked to show this, the State of New York bristled rather than provide evidence.

          • Joshua says:

            But I asked what the evidence was of entities with similar potential for disease-spreading were tested differently.

            Indeed a group of the 100 people with no turnover, chanting or singing for two hours as you might find in a church would seem logically to have a higher potential for disease-spreading than even 500 people total in various groupinfs coming in and out of a store for 15 minutes each and speaking among the groups briefly for conducting transactions.

            I’m not asking how well the litigants made their arguments. You made a part ulsr characterization – not even a hypothetical one.

            > Now there might be a factual case that chanting in a 1,000 seat church by 10 people

            So that kind of exteme end of the spectrum construction may serve (poorly) as a rhetorical device but it doesn’t really advance the argument you made.

      • paul alper says:

        Jonathan (another one)writes: ” It is perhaps interesting that *only* churches have that right”

        This is a strange comment for the 21st century—the use of *church* to encompass all houses of worship. One would have thought we are well past the notion that Christianity is the default and indeed, the only form of religious belief and worship. A gathering of astrologers would undoubtedly point out that this bias is entirely predictable.

        • Jonathan (another one) says:

          I accept the criticism of an imprecise language usage which was not intended to limit the concept to Christianity. I note that many of the major religious freedom cases concern non-Christian or fringe-Christian groups, including Santeria (Lukumi Bablu Aye v City of Hialeah, Amerindian use of peyote (Employment Division v. Smith) and even atheism (Torcaso v. Watkins)

    • jim says:

      This is a great example of how crude and *unscientific* the response to COVID has been. Even though it’s close to a year now since COVID came on the scene, the best we can do is “open” or “shut”, and even that has almost no relevance to the actual factors that contribute to transmission.

      COVID has sparked officials into closure policy analogous to racism in their approach: if an outbreak occurs at a restaurant, all restaurants are subject to suspicion.

      Personally, I think it’s a good bet that people are safer shopping in Macys than they are meeting in churches. At the crudest level, at least, we know this is true because we don’t see outbreaks occurring in department stores while we do see them occurring in churches. On the other hand, it’s kind of obvious why this is so (too many people too close for too long – probably with much less effective ventilation – in churches) and tools *could* be put in place to manage the problem.

      Its surprising that by now we don’t have some public recommendation for how to reconfigure ventilation to allow business to continue at some limited level. But OTOH we might chalk that up to the extreme reticence of the health leadership community to acknowledge aerosol spread as the primary transmission mechanism.

      • rm bloom says:

        [1] Logistics: all commerce which could conceivably have been moved outside should have been moved outside.
        [2] Engineering: Have not the engineers any useful proposals for UV-C in HVAC systems, at the inlets and outlets? I am sure they do.
        [3] Data: Dynamic (near real time) analysis of aggregated case reports might provide good guidance on relative risk stratification into different categories (e.g. Macy’s vs. Church ?) of activity; per county.

        Let the engineers and statisticians have a go at it.

        Instead the “scholastics” are arguing about (e.g.) whether or not some study or another is “powerful” enough to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a mask protects the “other guy” to some extent as well as the “wearer” (or not). Weak Reeds and Quibblers!

  5. Anoneuoid says:

    Astrology started as an attempt to correlate the relative positions of the planets with the climate and natural disasters like pandemics, floods and droughts.

    The way this would work is that the gravitational pull on the sun triggers something that then affects the earth via solar wind, cosmic rays, effects on the magnetosphere/ionosphere, UV/xray levels, etc.

    Then of course it became used to find correlations with people’s personalities etc. There is probably some effect there too due to seasonality of various vitamins/nutrients/pathogens while the mother was pregnant/etc.

    So in principle I don’t see a problem with studying astrology. But of course there is a lot of BS out there, same with what passes as “science” too though.

  6. I am vexed when I open up a blog where I’m expecting some insight to help with a demographic problem I’ve been working on and get greeted by snide comments regarding the National Academy of Christ, ie, Fiske and Sternberg, who I’ve never heard of and am not interested in. When I think about Christ’s scientists, I think of Secchi, Lemaitre (sorry Pope my Big Bang theory has nothing to do with the Bible), astronomy’s odd couple (Galileo and Urban VII — guess who’s Oscar), George Coyne who helped Roger Angel build the big interferometer in Arizona, and my schoolmate, Jim Fienup, who helped Angel save the Hubble Space Telescope, and our fellow alum Tony Fauci. I’d ask Fienup for help with my problems, but there was a communication issue. I’d say I’m bored. Fienup would say: “read a book.” I’d roll my eyes and think: for god’s sake Fienup I’ve read Moby Dick and Call of the Wild. I don’t want to read about Alaska. I want to go to Alaska and live on the bleeding edge.

    • Andrew says:


      I recommend that instead of going to a free blog and expecting personalized content just for you ever day, you instead pay real money and hire a statistical consultant who can help you with your problems. You could also consider hiring someone who will be careful when blogging to never be snide, to never write about people you’ve never heard of, and to never write about topics you’re not interested in. If you pay enough, I’m sure you can get what you’re looking for!

  7. Klaas van Dijk says:

    I am annoyed about the behaviour of Pippa Smart, a Director of WAME, the World Association of Medical Editors and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Learned Publishing

    Pippa Smart reflects in a recent article at about her experiences with a “difficult author”. The article was received on 18 March 2020 and it was published on 29 April 2020. I refer in my preprint at about my recent experiences with Pippa Smart.

    I state in this preprint: “Extensive correspondence between October 2019 and March 2020 about an earlier version of this manuscript with Pippa Smart, EiC of Learned Publishing, ended on 4 March 2020 with a 995 times repeated decline to communicate about the existence of the raw research data. It needs to be underlined that no response on queries for access to the raw research data, even if they are repeated 995 times, does not automatically imply that it has been proven that the data do not exist.”

    I detected the article by Pippa Smart in the beginning of July. I have soon afterwards contacted Pippa Smart with some questions. There is until now no response. I have submitted on 2 August a response to the journal. A desk-rejection was received on 22 August. The journal stated in this rejection letter: “we cannot independently verify that you were the subject of her article, so we have no way of evaluating these claims.” I have sent on 24 August an e-mail to the journal with a request for “an anonymous version of the full set of the raw research data to substantiate the claim that I was not the topic of Smart (2020)”. There is until now no response, also not on a reminder.

    Pippa Smart states in her article that she had contacts about this “difficult author” with (1) “two reviewers”, (2) “another member of our editorial team / the North American Editor”, (3) “the entire editorial board”, (4) “our publisher (Wiley)”, and (5) “our parent organisation (the Association of Learned and Professional Publishers, ALPSP)”.

    I fail to understand how the journal can state in their response to me that it is impossible for them to compare my correspondence with Pippa Smart with the correspondence of Pippa Smart with all these entities about this “difficult author”.

    Pippa Smart is not sick / unreachable etc.

    I am looking forwards to some responses.

    • Jonathan (another one) says:

      Dude: I’m annoyed by *your* behavior spamming this blog, but I’m not going to post it everywhere.

      • Klaas van Dijk says:

        Jonathan (another one), Andrew wrote over here:

        “Astrology don’t bug me so much cos it doesn’t pretend to be science. I’m more bothered by PNAS-style fake science because it pretends to be real science. (….). Similarly, if Prof. Susan Fiske and Prof. Robert Sternberg were Rev. Susan Fiske and Rev. Robert Sternberg, bishops of the Holy Church of Embodied Cognition and editors of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Christ, I’d be less annoyed, because their experiments would be reported in the religion section of the paper, not the science section.”

        The article “Dealing with difficult authors” by Pippa Smart was not published in the religion section of the journal ‘European Science Editing’. This implies that Pippa Smart does not report about fictitious experiences with a fictitious author.

        Pippa Smart published on the same day in this journal an article with the title “ESE and EASE call for high standards of research and editing”, see The other author of this article is Ksenija Bazdaric, the Editor-in-Chief of this journal. This article reflects on editorial standards of publications in scientific journals which are related to COVID-19. Also this paper by Pippa Smart was not published in the religion section of the journal.

        Ksenija Bazdaric was contacted in July and August 2020 about the article “Dealing with difficult authors”. There is until now no response. So “high standards of research and editing” implies that Ksenija Bazdaric and Pippa Smart do not need to respond on requests from a reader to get access to raw research data of the article “Dealing with difficult authors”, see for backgrounds.

        Ksenija Bazdaric has until now not substantiated that my comments alongside “Dealing with difficult authors” needed to be removed because they “contained potentially libellous content”. So “high standards of research and editing” once again implies that Ksenija Bazdaric does not need to substantiate that it was correct to remove my comments alongside this article because they “contained potentially libellous content.”

        My dear Jonathan (another one), I am annoyed about this behaviour of Ksenija Bazdaric, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal which has published the article “Dealing with difficult authors”.

        My dear Jonathan (another one), I am also annoyed by this behaviour of Pippa Smart, a Director of WAME and owner of

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