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June 23, 2010



It's an unfortunate fact of the mythology of "Science" that it has left very little public understanding of what science is and is not, and therefore left the ignorant public vulnerable to organizations that claim to be "scientific" yet clearly operate entirely ideologically. Part of the problem, I think, has been the long history of public disinterest from the science community. Only recently have researchers begun to advocate and inform the public about their actual practices and the epistemic reasons for favoring them. That effort may do something to solve the problem, but I doubt researchers will ever have the resources and skills to defeat the misinformers in a political or PR battle. A much more likely solution, I think, would be to include more philosophy of science in the secondary science curriculum (though some might see that suggestion as a bit self-interested).


Cheek, I wonder, in a society like ours with such strong tendencies toward authoritarianism, whether it's inescapable that an institution whose sole purpose is the questioning of orthodoxy (at least in the narrow sphere of models of the world) will eventually itself become an Authority (TM). I'm way rusty on educational issues and pedagogy, but my suspicion is that more philosophy of science in high school would help the middle class kids who are motivated to pay attention to it, but not so much poor kids (they're too busy surviving) or rich kids (they're too busy getting ready to run things).

It's a hard line to walk between "No, seriously, I'm sorry that exponential decay is complicated and therefore you might not grasp radiometric dating, but the earth really is between 4 and 5 billion years old" and "Wait, what are you doing, following this jackass just because he waves his hands and says 'Science' a lot?" I'm starting to wonder if the best solution to promoting scientific literacy might be to ramp up training in social skills, so people get better at analyzing ulterior motives and tracking down political affiliations.

Greg Horton

Perhaps the most insightful thing you've said here, Leighton, and that's sayin something

Sent from my iPhone

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