Nonsense on Stilts about Science: Field Adventures of a Scientist- Philosopher

In J. Goodwin (ed.), Between Scientists and Citizens. CreateSpace (2012)
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Public discussions of science are often marred by two pernicious phenomena: a widespread rejection of scientific findings (e.g., the reality of anthropogenic climate change, the conclusion that vaccines do not cause autism, or the validity of evolutionary theory), coupled with an equally common acceptance of pseudoscientific notions (e.g., homeopathy, psychic readings, telepathy, tall tales about alien abductions, and so forth). The typical reaction by scientists and science educators is to decry the sorry state of science literacy among the general public, and to call for more science education as the answer to both problems. But the empirical evidence concerning the relationship between science literacy, rejection of science and acceptance of pseudoscience is mixed at best. In this chapter I argue that—while certainly important—efforts at increasing public knowledge of science (science education) need to be complemented by attention to common logical fallacies (philosophy), cognitive biases and dissonance (psychology), and the role of ideological commitments (sociology). Even this complex, multi-disciplinary approach to science education will likely only yield measurable results in the very long term. Meanwhile science remains, as Carl Sagan famously put it, a candle in the dark, delicate and in need of much nurturing.
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