Antiscience slidecast

I prepared a presentation with narration for a graduate class. It’s about antiscience – a rather complex social topic, actually. This is about 31 minutes long with my narration. You can also skip slides with the forward button and the narration will still sync with the slide you are on. Questions are welcome!

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Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news. Doubtfulnews.com SpookyGeology.com

0 thoughts on “Antiscience slidecast

  1. Hi
    The presentation is unsatisfactory on several levels:

    1. That science is universal and that the same answers would appear whoever did the research. This is untrue simply because of science’ need for a single theory that eventually excludes other theories. Basically the research will follow lines that support the single preferred theory.

    2. No definition is given for the word science. Is the science referred to academic science or the dictionary version of universal science where anything studied by anyone is science?

    3. Science (and academic science is assumed) is information and any opposition to science’ opinion is disinformation. This is illogical propaganda pure and simple; it gives science a high ground by circular argument.

    4. Science’ extreme materialism has a problem with its own theories. For example how matter was created during the Big Bang before matter existed. This supposes that matter from nothing is possible.

    5. Objections to evolution are not all religious. Some are, in fact, scientific.

    6. Academic science often makes no contribution to technology. For example the development of flight.

    AL

    1. You, sir, have no substance for your claims. They sound very much like obstructionist arguments made by cynics. However, I see that you are familiar with anti-science attitudes. You provide a fine example. Thanks.

  2. A few comments:

    I think you’re a bit too dismissive of feminist and sociological/anthropological/science studies critiques of science. There are clear cases in the history of science where biases have infected theorizing–perhaps most noticeably within the social sciences themselves. Research on race and IQ, on gender roles, on female hormones (e.g., look at the history of DES as a medical treatment for miscarriage in the 1950s), for example. Carol Tavris’ book, _The Mismeasure of Woman_, points out other examples (and, in the process, also critiques feminists who go wrong). There are social factors that affect how science is done, even in the “hard” sciences. (That said, I’m far more sympathetic to Susan Haack than Sandra Harding.)

    While the Sokal hoax and the “science wars” revealed numerous absurd claims by social constructivists, postmodernists, and relativists, the hoax itself was unscientific and not particularly good evidence of anything other than that it was submitted to a journal that didn’t do peer review. It was successful in mobilizing response via PR, but not in reaching scientific conclusions. Stephen Hilgartner’s “The Sokal Affair in Context” makes a comparison that puts Sokal’s hoax to shame as science. I also highly recommend Gabriel Stolzenberg’s writings on the “science wars”:

    http://math.bu.edu/people/nk/rr/

  3. Kudos to you for this outstanding presentation! I watched the whole thing and was fascinated by the many great points you make, which I couldn’t agree with more. As a public health professional working with administration and public policy, I’m interested in the elements of antiscience that creep into decision-making (or a lack thereof) when it comes to developing policies:

    How vaccines are deadly, how HIV was created in a laboratory or doesn’t exist at all, abstinence-only education, or even the outright hostility toward the new HPV vaccine…

    Keep up the great work!!

  4. I’d like to respond to the argument that your presentation is dismissive to feminist, sociological/anthropological studies.

    In doing so, I’d like to point out that the argument itself raises two themes that seem to be present across the spectrum of anthropology: Interpretive anthropology versus scientific anthropology. In terms of the “Science Wars”, these two schools of thought seem to be at odds with each other regarding what is constituted as “scientific”.

    According to the postmodernist argument, one must interpret the symbols within our cultures that have powerful influences upon our psyche. Thus, interpretive anthropology attempts to bring about a postmodern interpretation of human activity, not as a physical science, but rather as psychological phenomena. Therefore, interpretive anthropology is based on the notion that culture does not exist beyond the individual, but rather how culture lies in the interpretation of the events around that individual. Interpretive anthropologists sometimes frown upon objectivity because they believe their work involves the exploration of the metaphysical realm and thereby expose the supposed reality of humanity.

    Scientific anthropology, on the other hand, is a research strategy that uses scientific reasoning such empiricism, objective observation, and falsifiability to draw conclusions and develop theories. In the case of cultural anthropology, this strategy is referred to as “cultural materialism” since it focuses on material conditions to understand culture—i.e., climate, food supply, geography, etc. The primary goal of scientific anthropology is to find out about the world through empirical observation. Because they do not attempt to answer questions about the world using metaphysical explanations, they are left with the difficult task of monitoring and measuring human activities.

    Clearly, there is a concern among anthropologists regarding what qualifies as an “observation”. Should the observation be measurable, repeatable, testable, verifiable, etc.? Or can we simply rely upon interpretation? How can we all agree upon what constitutes as “reality”? Should we rely only upon the interpretative, etic experience of the anthropologist? In other words, can the anthropologist really interpret or is there a possibility that the anthropologist’s own bias may enter the equation?

    In all fairness, this is not to dismiss interpretive anthropology in its attempt to understand the subjectivity of human experience. There is a valuable aspect of knowledge regarding how a person or group of people feels and thinks. However, to label this approach as “scientific” has the unfortunate effect of muddling science and belittles the importance of the scientific method. It is because of our subjective experiences that people will always be at odds with each other concerning what each considers “real”; so ultimately, this leaves people with relying upon a methodology that is rooted in naturalistic observation, empiricism, and falsifiability.

    So, in my opinion, does the presentation dismiss these feminist and sociological/anthropological studies? No, it does not dismiss them. But, it does capture what I just discussed: How postmodernists have attempted to push such areas as interpretive anthropology into the realm of “science” at the expense of jeopardizing the principles of science that I mentioned above: Observation, empiricism, falsifiability. While some may argue that this definition of science is dogmatic and narrow, then I challenge them to develop any other set of principles for science that would allow us to share knowledge that can be deemed non-biased, repeatable, factual, and not merely left to one person’s interpretation or imagination.

  5. Thanks to Jim and Tim for their comments to help me think more about this. My view of the postmodernism aspect was more like Tim’s – though his version was far deeper than my thoughts about it.

    The examples of bias Jim mentions are acknowledged as being an ever-present hazard. But, they were overcome eventually. That is different than the academic left sentiment that science itself was always culturally relative which isn’t true. That was the angle I saw.

    I hardly knew anything about this topic beforehand. I was surprised by this aspect but the postmodernist theme was the first that came up regarding searches on “antiscience”. I think it is important in the history of the topic.

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