Sunday, April 8, 2012

Science Denial & Acceptance

Here's some summaries of my recent reading relevant to this blog.

By Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg
Link to Article
My Notes:
This article emphasizes the importance of cultural factors in science denial, recognizing that the problem probably cannot be solved by science education alone (therefore sites such as mine can only address PART of the problem).  Children can have difficulty understanding the idea of a spherical earth.  Our experience reinforces Aristotelian ideas of motion - and this is certainly the case for the Geocentrists and Electric Universe supporters.  Real world experience can break some of these notions.

But how do people accept that earth is not flat or that objects are made of tiny particles?

One in five American adults believes sun moves around Earth with about the same proportion in Germany and Britain.

This type of learning is based on 'common knowledge' which can bypass critical analysis.
Asserted information, not established by direct experience, is very difficult to evaluate directly, so we evaluate the source (Note how many Electric Universe supporters doubt Big Bang cosmology because Lemaitre was a priest).

Resistance to science arises when scientific claims clash with intuitive expectations.

Distinguishing Science from Pseudoscience
Barry L Beyerstein (wikipedia)
Link to Article
My Notes:

Science is so successful that a great many endeavors that lack the characteristics of science have begun masquerading as science to raise their status.  But they always fail under closer examination.  The author tries to nail down a complete definition of what qualifies as science.

William K. Honig founded a journal, "Speculations in Science and Technology", for unconventional theories (link).  However, he gave up the effort after five years with the realization that there were good reasons to ignore these 'visionaries' that advocated these crank ideas.

Provides a brief summary of a number of pseudo-sciences in the 20th century, from Lysenko in USSR to polywater and medical claims.

Characteristics of pseudosciences (some of these overlap):
  •  'researchers' work in isolation from the scientific community
  •  non-falsifiability
  •  misuse of data
  •  sciences are cumulative & self-correcting, while pseudosciences are not.  
  •  Special pleading - they want special treatment by the scientific community to 'iron out' the problems in their 'theories' 
  •  Pseudoscience purvey uplifting, congenial beliefs
  •  Impenetrability - unshakable in their committment 
  •  Magical thinking - that imagination and will-power will make things true
  •  Ulterior motives attributed to the scientific community
  •  Lack of formal training by the practitioners
  •  "bunker mentality" attributing their lack of recognition as a result of suppression or persecution by establishment science
Check out John Baez's: The Crackpot index

Contents of Pseudosciences:
  • lack of replicability by the uninitiated.
  • size of claimed effect inversely related to stringency of experimental controls.
  • large effects attributed to causes of barely detectable magnitude.
  • unusually high precision, sensitivity of detection or accuracy of measurement is claimed.

What's the harm of pseudo-scientific beliefs?
  • deception of the public
  • monetary harm
  • diversion from tested products that really do live up to their claims
  • promotion of magical thinking
  • pseudosciences encourage false hopes and unreasonable expectations
  • Failure to surmount these obstacles can lead to self-recrimination, deterioration of self-images, and depression
  • decline in scientific literacy and critical thinking skills
  • detracts from ability of citizens to make informed choices on pressing policy issues.
For some real-world examples of the harm perpetuated by pseudo-science see "What's the Harm".

Integrating Science and Religious Belief
It is not uncommon that people can integrate science and religious belief.  Martin Gardner (Wikipedia) had a strong understanding of science but was religiously a fideistic deist.  Ken Miller is a biologist who has successfully integrated concepts of faith with science (see Ken Miller's Evolution Page). 

Here's an article about Dr. Miller's teaching approach:  Teaching science to the religious? Focus on how theories develop

A Humor Break
Quote-mining established science is one of the more bizarre methods of pseudo-science to justify their claims.  For a good laugh on how easy it is to quote-mine well-established science and turn it into a conspiracy, check out:

Carbon Fixated: Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’

I wonder how many of the Geocentrists who follow this blog may mine this article for ideas to justify their claims?


Jeffery Keown said...

Asserted information, not established by direct experience, is very difficult to evaluate directly, so we evaluate the source (Note how many Electric Universe supporters doubt Big Bang cosmology because Lemaitre was a priest).

I have actually encountered this exact issue several times. It is as if, by virtue of his being a priest, that made the whole idea wrong (casting it as Creationism), even after verification by "real" scientists, it remained a Creationist idea.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Jeffery Keown,

I probably should have clarified that many EUers like to consider themselves purely atheist, even though probably over half the EUers I've dealt with support EU from a creationist perspective (since it is in opposition to Big Bang from standard cosmology).