Friday, March 21, 2008

This is why we have to address anti- and pseudo-science

Chris Mooney has written an article for Science Progress that already has created some debate among science bloggers. He elaborates a little more on it in this blogpost: How Science Defenders Enable Anti-Science Forces.

The basic premise is that by debating anti-science people, scientists gives credibility to their views. Mooney thinks that instead, scientists should focus on doing and communicating science.

I think this is both right and wrong. Certainly, debating pseudo- and outright anti-scientific people will give them some credibility, if done by scientists. This is why scientists refused to debate Creationists and neo-Creationists when the Dover School Board and the Kansas State Board of Education wanted such debates.

However, that doesn't mean that we should ignore the arguments put forward by the anti-scientists. These people have only one goal in mind - to "win" the debate, by making people think that there might be something to their side. They don't care if the arguments they put forward are wrong, misrepresenting, or outright falsehoods, as long as they can be used to convince others that there is something wrong with the science they are attacking.

Since it's hard for laypeople to see through these falsehoods, mistakes, and misrepresentations, it's vital that they are addressed by scientists, who explain what's wrong with the arguments. While this is done, it should also be made clear that the anti-scientists don't have any science on their side.

Relevant to all this is a long article in the Dallas Observer about the current battle for the science curricula in Texas - Battle Against Teaching Evolution in Texas Begins. Here the creationists are using their old tired phrase "teach the controversy" while spreading lies about the problems with the Theory of Evolution. Yes, debating those points will give some credibility to the claim that there is some kind of controversy, but if scientists actively attack their claims (while putting emphasis on the fact that there is no controversy), then the controversy will be move to their field.

In my opinion, the biggest and best coordinated attack on anti-science was done during the Kitzmiller trial, where scientists not only "defended" the Theory of Evolution, but also used the time to explain what science is, educate people about evolution, and attack the bad arguments made by the proponents. This resulted in a very clear defeat of the neo-Creationists, and a victory for science. This is the sort of thing we need to see more of. Hopefully not in the courtrooms, but rather in the elections for school boards and similar political events. We need to make it clear that while people are entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts.

In other words, we shouldn't debate anti-scientists, we should call them out on their bullshit.

Labels: , , , , ,

5 Comments:

Blogger J. J. Ramsey said...

"In my opinion, the biggest and best coordinated attack on anti-science was done during the Kitzmiller trial, where scientists not only 'defended' the Theory of Evolution, but also used the time to explain what science is, educate people about evolution, and attack the bad arguments made by the proponents. This resulted in a very clear defeat of the neo-Creationists, and a victory for science."

Careful, though. The rules of the courtroom, though, are not the same as the rules in the court of public opinion, though. The court is designed to try to keep both sides to stick to the facts and minimize theatrics, while the court of public opinion is almost the polar opposite.

March 21, 2008 2:45 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

I can see why it was misunderstood, but I meant it more broadly. There was a lot of activity going on outside the court-room, where scientists were ready to refute the claims by the anti-science crowd.

A good description of many of these activities can be found in Edward Humes' The Monkey Trial

March 21, 2008 5:07 PM  
Blogger J. J. Ramsey said...

From what I could tell, a lot of what was done outside the courtroom was to point out places where the creationists shot themselves in the foot, e.g. what Behe said about astrology, the "cdesign proponentists," etc., rather than a direct debunking of creationist claims.

March 21, 2008 6:33 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

That might be true during the actual trial, but during the hearing on evolution held by the Dover School Board before they formally decided on teaching ID, the scientists didn't debate with the neo-Creationists. Instead they held press meetings where they explained why the ID falsehoods were wrong, and pointed the journalists to other material (or provided it themselves).

March 21, 2008 9:16 PM  
Blogger The Flying Trilobite said...

Nicely worded post, Kristjan.

One could say you "framed" the issue well, but only as a compliment. :-)

April 10, 2008 11:28 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home