Re: Button Pushing

Aaron Lynch (
Sat, 02 May 1998 11:36:32 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 02 May 1998 11:36:32 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Button Pushing
In-Reply-To: <>

>Much has been made of the idea of "pushing people's buttons," and to some
>it would seem that memetics is the amazing new scheme for fooling all of
>the people just by pushing a few buttons. The idea of "pushing buttons" is
>not new to memetics, however.
>Nevertheless, there are some interesting "buttons" being pressed in our
>field. One of these is the "science funding" hot button. Push this button,
>and everyone from starving post-docs to noted authors will do what you
>want--at least in theory.
>That theory does not always work, however. Last year, a certain book author
>attempted to push my "science funding" button by telling me a lie that he
>had gotten Charles Simonyi to fund Richard Dawkins. He subsequently
>suggested that I write a plug for his book. If I had been a spineless and
>complete dupe, then I would have broken with my scientific standards
>written the book plug. Instead, I saw through the lie.
>My advice to other scholars is to adhere to your scientific and
>intellectual standards, rather than succumb to "button pushing." If someone
>wants you to depart from your intellectual standards, it is a safe bet that
>they are only too willing to tell lies themselves in order to get you to do
>it. A bit of healthy immunity from fraud is in order. Getting yourself
>known as a dupe will not help your funding or your career in science.

Another way that scientists may find their "science funding" button being
pressed is by way of the "Microsoft millionaire" idea. Needless to say,
there are indeed many real Microsoft millionaires. Yet not all
ex-Microsofties are indeed millionaires: some may merely use "Microsoft
millionaire" as another "button" to push. If a programmer leaves the
company when it was much smaller, writing the year 1986 in his first book,
then that would leave plenty of time to participate fully in the "contagion
effect" known as the stock market crash of 1987. One must have a certain
amount of sympathy for anyone in that situation, and understand how they
might turn to selling popular psychology books and self-help seminars. We
might also regret the loss of a potential patron of sciences. Nevertheless,
neither the sympathy nor science funding "buttons" warrant any departure
from scientific standards.

Even if we could assume that everyone who claims to be rich is in fact
rich, we cannot assume that they will actually reward us for doing favors
that depart from good science. Dawkins, for instance, did not have to
endorse any self-published books in order to receive the Charles Simonyi
professorship. Indeed, if Simonyi had seen Dawkins as trying to "sell out"
his scientific standards, then Dawkins would probably not have attained his
current professorship. But Dawkins has stayed with his scientific
standards, and done quite well in matters of funding. A good example to

--Aaron Lynch

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