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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 173

Naomi Oreskes — Why Trust Science?

Why Trust Science? (book cover)
Why the social character of scientific knowledge makes it trustworthy

Do doctors really know what they are talking about when they tell us vaccines are safe? Should we take climate experts at their word when they warn us about the perils of global warming? Why should we trust science when our own politicians don’t? In this landmark book, Naomi Oreskes offers a bold and compelling defense of science, revealing why the social character of scientific knowledge is its greatest strength — and the greatest reason we can trust it.

Tracing the history and philosophy of science from the late nineteenth century to today, Oreskes explains that, contrary to popular belief, there is no single scientific method. Rather, the trustworthiness of scientific claims derives from the social process by which they are rigorously vetted. This process is not perfect — nothing ever is when humans are involved — but she draws vital lessons from cases where scientists got it wrong. Oreskes shows how consensus is a crucial indicator of when a scientific matter has been settled, and when the knowledge produced is likely to be trustworthy.

Naomi Oreskes is an American historian of science. She became Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University in 2013, after 15 years as Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Oreskes is author or co-author of 7 books, and over 150 articles, essays and opinion pieces, including Merchants of Doubt (Bloomsbury, 2010), The Collapse of Western Civilization (Columbia University Press, 2014), Discerning Experts (University Chicago Press, 2019), Why Trust Science? (Princeton University Press, 2019), and Science on a Mission: American Oceanography from the Cold War to Climate Change, (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming). Merchants of Doubt, co-authored with Erik Conway, was the subject of a documentary film of the same name produced by participant Media and distributed by SONY Pictures Classics, and has been translated into nine languages.

Shermer and Oreskes discuss:

  • the replication crisis in the social sciences,
  • the demarcation problem: science vs. pseudoscience,
  • verification vs. falsification: From Francis Bacon to Karl Popper,
  • Eddington’s eclipse experiments that verified (or failed to falsify) Einstein,
  • Bayesian reasoning vs. falsification,
  • climate skeptics and evolution skeptics,
  • scientific method: (1) consensus (2) method (3) evidence (4) values (5) humility,
  • model dependent realism,
  • facts and values: when facts conflict with values,
  • eugenics, birth control, flossing,
  • perspectival / viewpoint diversity,
  • how to talk to a climate denier, anti-vaxxer, creationist, Holocaust denier, GMO denier, nuclear power denier, etc.,
  • science and moral values,
  • theistic arguments for: God, origin of life, morality, consciousness,
  • known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

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Retrospective

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