SCIENCE SALON # 77
Michael Shermer with Dr. Lee McIntyre — The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience
In this engaging conversation on the nature of science, Dr. McIntyre and Dr. Shermer get deep into the weeds of where to draw the line between science and pseudoscience. It may seem obvious when you see it (like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography — “I know it when I see it”), from a philosophical perspective it isn’t at all easy to articulate a formula for science that perfectly weeds out all incorrect or fraudulent scientific claims while still retaining true scientific claims. It really comes down to what Dr. McIntyre describes as a “scientific attitude” in an emphasis on evidence and scientists’ willingness to change theories on the basis of new evidence. For example, claims that climate change isn’t settled science, that evolution is “only a theory,” and that scientists are conspiring to keep the truth about vaccines from the public are staples of some politicians’ rhetorical repertoire. In this podcast, and in more detail in his book, McIntyre provides listeners and readers with answers to these challenges to science, and in the process shows how science really works.
McIntyre and Shermer also discuss:
- the strengths and weaknesses of Karl Popper’s “falsification” criteria for the line of demarcation
- how conspiracy theorists draw their own line of demarcation between their version of the conspiracy vs. that of others within their own community
- the problem of anomalies that are not explained by the mainstream theory and what to do with them
- McIntyre’s adventure at the Flat Earth conference
- Graham Hancock and alternative archaeology
- Creationists and why they are wrong (and how evolution could be falsified)
- similarities between Evolution deniers and Holocaust deniers
- anti-vaxxers and their motives
- climate deniers and why they’re inappropriately skeptical of climate science, and
- how to talk to a science denier of any stripe.
What constitutes “acceptable” speech? In some places, offensive posts or insulting comments on social media can get you arrested. Dr. John Glynn reflects on our ever-increasing sensitivity to the perception of harm.
Concept Creep and the Policing of Words
According to Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Paris, when it comes to press freedom, the UK remains one of the “worst-performing countries” in Western Europe. Why? A number of worrying trends are at play, including a heavy-handed approach towards the press — often in the name of national security — and a climate of hostility towards the media. This hostility is not just directed towards the media, however; it’s also directed towards the general public.
Ostensibly, the UK is a bastion of liberality. However, on closer look, you find a society dominated by PC culture. As writer Brendan O’Neill asks, “which country’s police force just called on its citizens to report offensive speech? Not libelous speech or death-threat speech, just plain old insulting speech. Speech that is merely hurtful or hateful. Which nation’s cops instructed the citizenry to snitch on haters? North Korea? China? Maybe Turkey?”
No, rather shockingly, it was the United Kingdom, where offensive speech has become a police matter. One would expect this in the likes of Russia, where, in 2017, law enforcement opened 411 criminal cases against Internet users. That same year, in the UK, in an effort to combat social media hate speech, police arrested nine people a day (yes, a day). That’s 63 people each week; 252 people a month; 3,024 people in a year.
These people were arrested for posting allegedly offensive messages online. I stress the word allegedly, because some of these “crimes” border on the ridiculous. In 2018, for example, a 19-year-old woman was arrested for sending a “grossly offensive” message. In reality, the teenager simply posted rap lyrics that included the N-word on her Instagram page. Just a few weeks later, a Scottish man was charged for committing a hate crime. In reality, he taught his pug to do a Nazi salute, then posted the footage on YouTube. Controversial? Yes. Criminal? No. […]