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Thursday, 9 March 2017

STEM to STEAM and Integrating Higher Education in the Arts, Humanities, Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: Is the National Academy of Sciences Being Sold Art-Science Fakes?

In the US, the National Academy of Sciences is undertaking a study that has the title IntegratingHigher Education in the Arts, Humanities, Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

This is indeed an interesting topic to study. I wish them well. Perhaps here in the UK we might learn something that can be applied to STEM education in the UK? Or perhaps not! I say this because the study involves the idea that goes by the name of STEM to STEAM. People who are advocating the use of art in STEM education are having their say, which is good, for it allows people to reflect on what exactly they are saying and if it has any legitimacy, which is the matter that I now address.

Looking at the material already presented to the Expert Committee, I find that some material that falls into the category of Art-Science Fakes has already made an appearance, which is why in this blog I ask: Is the National Academy of Sciences Being Sold Art-Science Fakes?

On Christmas Day, I posted a blog with the title: Desideratafor People STARTing to STEAM. Note the verse:

“…pick your acronyms carefully, lest poetics be used to expose shallow graves, where lay foul phantoms of inaccuracies, myths and disingenuous claims, ready to lead astray unwary travellers lost in art’s romantic mist.”

Let me explain:

In 2013 I became involved at my own expense in a European Commission initiative called ICT-ART CONNECT, run by a FET-Open project called FET-ART, which made the claim that it was doing something new – artists and technologists collaborating. To be a genuine FET Open project, it would have to be doing something new, otherwise public money would be mis-spent. Having an academic upbringing, and thus dedicated to understanding the state-of-the-art before embarking on any research, I started a study to establish the state-of-the-art in this so-called new area, and found that my suspicions that it was not new were well founded. Evidently this project was not a true FET project at all, but just an attempt by artists to lay hands on STEM public funds – no critical thinking evident! And they had in this process a willing accomplice in the form of the European Commission’s DG CONNECT – no critical thinking evident there too! And I have also more recently discovered that one of the partners in the FET-ART project was subject to a fraud investigation by the European Commission, the findings of which led the European Commission to suspended all pending and future payments to the company concerned, which has now, according to the company’s own web site, ceased trading, as it was, it seems, solely dependent upon income from European Commission projects.

DG CONNECT is a long story of the failure of technocracy and now also of a State institution using art for propaganda purposes, image making, etc. A familiar tale from continental Europe’s past. Thus did they become the muse for my book that goes by the title: STARTS– Science, Technology and the Arts: The Artistic Voices that DG CONNECTsilenced.

By mid 2014 it was evident that I needed, partly for ethical reasons and partly because I was tired of the nonsense that ICT-ART CONNECT had become, to DISCONNECT from ICT-ART CONNECT. I also then added to my research into the state-of-the-art, an investigation – it is an investigation – into the reason why there is a group of artists, and some STEM people, in effect rewriting history, creating myths and half-truths, and, it would seem, telling lies. I have uncovered many examples. I will return to this matter at the end.

There must surely be words and phrases that are relevant to this. What are they?

The problem seems to be centred on a very noisy group who talk about art-science (mostly actually it is art-technology) that are part of what I have come to call the Leonardo Cult, but not uniquely so. They are characterised not just by the making of a lot of noise, but also by the making of claims that do not stand-up to close inspection. These claims have inspired the investigative journalist within me, to undertake the investigations that I mentioned above.

The nonsense of C P Snow is an example of the rubbish that these people talk. Evidently most of them have not read or understood Snow, or choose to misrepresent him. Did you know that Snow only mentions artists 4 times in three documents, yet he mentions scientists 113 times and engineers 19 times? I know this because I counted! Big data telling you something? The three documents I refer to are the 1956 New Statesman article, the 1959 Rede Lecture, and the 1963 Second Look.

Artists are supposed to be critical thinkers. This is another myth. Some artists – a few – are critical thinkers, but it seems the vast majority of those in the Leonardo Cult do not engage in critical thinking, otherwise they would have discovered that Snow had an agenda, a technocratic one, and was willing to talk any nonsense to further his agenda which he reveals in another book called Science and Government, where he praises the leadership of the Soviet Union. Snow’s belief in technocracy probably links back to Cambridge in the 1930s – a hot bed of idealist communist/socialist thinking. They were taken in by Stalin – some people are easily fooled, especially, I have discovered, STEM people. This is another long story, but another scientist, also at Cambridge in the 1930s, Conrad Waddington, sets the scene well, for he wrote a book in which he announced that the future was totalitarian government, and that the Soviet and Nazi totalitarian systems should be analysed! And so on. The matter gets fuller consideration in my forthcoming book, 366 (see below).

People who know about painting in the 20th century will know that new scientific thought (particularly quantum mechanics) had an influence on art movements. The Surrealists are the most obvious case. The influence of science and technology was part of several artists’ milieu. This sometimes also led to critique of science (e.g. Wolfgang Paalen). Today there is still a group of artists – usually more interesting and quieter than the noisy lot – who still engage in critique. But generally they stay away from the STEM establishment for obvious reasons. Some of them also share my concerns about those that make all the noise! These concerns have turned out to be well founded.

One of my concerns about involving artists from the noisy Leonardo Sect in STEM education is that they will just perpetuate the myths and misunderstanding that surround Snow, and contribute to the ignorance that already stalks the domain of STEM – people who know  a lot about very little. Whereas, I would suggest, a social scientist might well use the case of Snow as an exercise in critical thinking and writing, showing the importance of not accepting what you are told, of using original source material, of extending the search to other material, and of developing arguments based on this material. I learned to do this by working with social scientist, not artists. Evidently C P Snow was also ignorant of the social sciences, for which he had to make an apology in the Second Look. His ignorance on this matter is staggering, but not surprising, because, as he said himself: “I am the prisoner of my English upbringing, conditioned to be suspicious of any but the established intellectual disciplines, unreservedly at home only with the hard subjects.” The same ignorance is evident in DG CONNECT – hence STARTS!

If you care to look in the documentation published so far by the National Academy of Sciences on their web site, there is in a document pga_175504.pdf available on the link called Program Book for the Committee Meeting held July 2016. In this document there is reference to a research paper called Arts Foster Scientific Success. Do they?

I came across this particular paper in 2016 when I was working on a new book (366 – A Scriptovisual Composition Unknown). My initial reaction to this paper was that the research method is flawed because it is based on biased material (obituary notices, biographies, autobiographies, and biographical memoirs) and the bias inherent in this material, and possibly also the bias on the part of the researchers, has not been taken into account. Social Scientists will understand what I am talking about. On checking (I have learned that this is essential) some of the reported facts, I found several errors (inaccuracies/biased statements/mis-quotes?):

First, the Royal Society is not a membership based organisation. It is an endowed society that elects eminent people from the world of STEM to the status of Fellow. A minor error perhaps, but it illustrates the lack of rigour that permeates the paper.

Second, there is in the paper a Table (No. 2) with the title: Scientists Who Publicly Exhibited and/or Sold Visual Art or Sculpture, Published Works of Fiction, or Publicly Performed Musical Pieces. In this table CP Snow is listed (as someone who published works of fiction) followed by (RS), indicating that he was, (according to the paper) a member(!) of the Royal Society. I suppose this means Fellow of the Royal Society as there are no members of the Royal Society, and becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society is a mark of outstanding scientific success.

I checked the List of Fellows of the Royal Society 1660 – 2007. This is easy enough to do as it is in the public domain and available on the Royal Society’s web site. C P Snow’s name does not appear. This is because he never made any contribution to science to warrant election to fellowship. Actually the contrary applies – he was a failed scientist who gave up science in the 1930s. The reasons for this relate to the publication of (at the time) widely celebrated scientific results that had to be withdrawn because they were wrong. This is a matter of historical record, which also shows that C P Snow then pursued a career as a civil servant and novelist, later becoming a minister in a Labour Government. So he was not a scientist with an arts avocation and arts did not foster his scientific success, because he had no success. Probably he was a novelist with a science avocation. Already you see that some of the evidence for the argument that arts foster scientific success is flawed. But there is more!

Conrad Waddington’s name also appears in this Table 2. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, but, having examined the material that was used in the research, I can find no evidence that he was an artist who publicly exhibited or sold visual art or sculpture as the Table states. I searched the biographical memoir of Waddington that was published in the Royal Society’s Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Vol 23, Nov 1977, pp 575-622). I looked electronically for the word painter or painters. There is no reference to the word painter being applied to Waddington, just the word painters, as in other people, not Waddington. The word artist also appears several times in the biographical memoir, but not with reference to Waddington.

Waddington did write a book however: Behind Appearance. It is a book about the relationship between painting and science in the 20th century. It is not though, as is stated in the paper Arts Foster Scientific Success, linked to the idea of “that which has not been drawn has not been seen.” Neither does Waddington, as is reported in the National Academy of Sciences document pga_175504.pdf, “assert(ed) that the hands-on requirements of science and art profoundly connect(ed) the two domains.” The text from Waddington’s book that appears in pga_175504.pdf, is significantly truncated. It is part of a very long argument in Waddington’s book, extending over 35 pages, that deals with the characteristics of the new painting, e.g. Abstract Expressionism. This quoted and truncated text is part of a quite long sub-section of that 35 page long argument, that is dealing with the matter of gesture and calligraphy, in the context of the new art. The text in question starts: “There is a peculiar affinity, but also an important difference, between the experimental scientists and the painter in their experience of coaxing parts of the material world …” You will note that “but also an important difference” has been excluded from the quote appearing in pga_175504.pdf.

Waddington’s book is actually a very well researched piece of work, and in it Waddington demonstrates that there is no clear or simple relationship between the paintings he addresses and scientific thought, and thus no clear conclusions can be drawn. This is because the relationship is in fact a very complex one, as anyone who understands how artists think would know from knowledge and experience. This well researched piece of work also stands in sharp contrast with what scientists today produce. I will return to the matter of Erik R Kandel and Arthur I Miller later.

In the paper Arts Foster Scientific Success there is another quote of Waddington, this time from a different book with the title Biology and the History of the Future. The paper says that: “For Waddington, understanding how art was made was a way to understand his own field of embryology, because, ‘an art object is always an instruction, to do or to experience, not a piece of information; and living things are organised instructions, not organised information.’ What Waddington actually said was: “Your silence, Cage, is an instruction to listen. An art object is always an instruction, to do or to experience, not a piece of information; and living things are organised instructions, not organised information.” This is actually part of a dialog with John Cage, and others, about The End of Faustian Man and the Limits to Progress and in this there is discussion about silence. This is part of a discussion with the title Towards a Post-Industrial World. If you think that the statement “for Waddington understanding how art was made was a way to understand his own field of embryology,” is far removed from the content of the discussion reported in Biology and the History of the Future, you are right – there is no connection.

The name Richard Feynman also appears in Table 2 of Arts Foster Scientific Success. I have yet to fully research Feynman. It is known that he did engage in the visual arts, but so far, what I have discovered is that he did so later in life, after he had become a successful scientist. If this is the case then art did not foster his scientific success! Perhaps science fostered his artistic success? Feynman also states in the book Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman, that some artists are fakes. This is true! What would he have said about modern STEM people involved with the arts?

All of the above documents are in the public domain so can be checked. I wonder if the National Academy of Sciences are checking?

Is the paper Arts Foster Scientific Success just an isolated case? Sadly no! The European Commission and the STARTS initiative is a gold mine of nonsense, inaccurate statements, half-truths, falsehoods, and so forth. Watch any of the online recordings of the discussion sessions that have been held – no critical thinking evident – and they leave one asking this question: what illegal substances did they all take that provided the stimulus to spend 45-60 minute talking utter nonsense? Or is it the intoxicating aroma of money driving people to START talking nonsense?

There is more to come too in this rather stupid STARTS initiative which is more like a circus act – of clowns! Soon the affects of VERTIGO will be felt, and sensations of whirling and loss of balance, associated particularly with looking down from a great height, way out of touch with reality, will be felt, as organisations like the V&A in London, START talking nonsense too. Did I not say that people should pick their acronyms carefully lest poetics be used to expose shallow graves, where lay foul phantoms of inaccuracies, myths and disingenuous claims, ready to lead astray unwary travellers lost in art’s romantic mist? Expect much of this, as the giddiness of VERTIGO affects DISCONNECTED minds.

And what of Leonardo? Once just an artist and an engineer (but not in the modern sense), because painting went together with engineering as part of the mechanical arts, he has become not just an artist and engineer, but also a scientist, a mathematician, an architect, an anatomist, an inventor, a designer, and (why not add something else as well?). Why is this so? Is it because new convincing evidence has come to light which proves the case? Or are there other reasons why history is being rewritten? They say that no one like Leonardo has ever existed, not before or since. Perhaps this is because this Leonardo is a myth. What next then for Leonardo? Perhaps we will hear about his miracles – how he healed the sick, walked on water, fed the 5000, raised people from the dead? Perhaps soon there will be a meeting of the Leonard Cult to consider and decide upon his divinity?

This now brings me back to Kandel and Miller! At this moment in time, as I finish work on 366, in which these two characters make a brief appearance, I begin to turn my attention to my next work which will be called Art-Science Fakes: An Epistolary Tale of Scientific Reduction to Ignorance. This is what we are now seeing – a scientific reduction to ignorance. Surely you did not think that this would go unnoticed and that that you would not become the subject of artistic enquiry? You can see what I have done to the European Commission’s DG CONNECT and their art-science lovers. My alteration, as I call it in the Preface to the book about STARTS and the artistic voices that DG CONNECT silenced, is just a warm-up exercise. Now that I wield both the pen and the brush simultaneously, who can tell what will come next! The answer is 366. Then will come Art-Science Fakes: An Epistolary Tale of Scientific Reduction to Ignorance. Then the world will START to understand just what is going on and why. Something to do with what John Berger stated in …

And then too, those who learn that this STARTS nonsense is a worst practice case study, will begin to understand that they can use STARTS as a pointer towards what not to do, and then to do something different – something that DG CONNECT will not be able to do. We are back now to my state-of-the-art study. Go armed with knowledge, and you will begin to see what needs to be done – not STARTS for sure, which will, in the end, just have to contribute further to that growing collection of art-science fakes. Then shall the world laugh at the ignorance, incompetence and arrogance of DG CONNECT, for their true nature will be revealed to those who care to see – the Chinese for example! Are you listening to me in that ancient culture that became technologically advanced while Europe in medieval mud dwelt, in that longest ever continuously existing civilisation, in that country whose destiny is to eclipse the Europe Union economically, technologically and scientifically, in that city known as Beijing? Elsewhere too? Perhaps even in Washington DC, where fiduciary responsibilities and due diligence should, I would expect, be taken far more seriously than in that little city of golden stars, sitting in a rainy country called Belgium.

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