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Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunkby Massimo Pigliucci
Synopses & Reviews
Recent polls suggest that fewer than 40 percent of Americans believe in Darwins theory of evolution, despite it being one of sciences best-established findings. More and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children for fear it causes autism, though this link can been consistently disproved. And about 40 percent of Americans believe that the threat of global warming is exaggerated, despite near consensus in the scientific community that manmade climate change is real.
Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and—borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham—the nonsense on stilts. Presenting case studies on a number of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a “taxonomy of bunk” that explores the intersection of science and culture at large.
No one—not the public intellectuals in the culture wars between defenders and detractors of science nor the believers of pseudoscience themselves—is spared Pigliuccis incisive analysis. In the end, Nonsense on Stilts is a timely reminder of the need to maintain a line between expertise and assumption. Broad in scope and implication, it is also ultimately a captivating guide for the intelligent citizen who wishes to make up her own mind while navigating the perilous debates that will affect the future of our planet.
What sets the practice of rigorously tested, sound science apart from pseudoscience? In this volume, the contributors seek to answer this question, known to philosophers of science as andldquo;the demarcation problem.andrdquo; This issue has a long history in philosophy, stretching as far back as the early twentieth century and the work of Karl Popper. But by the late 1980s, scholars in the field began to treat the demarcation problem as impossible to solve and futile to ponder. However, the essays that Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry have assembled in this volume make a rousing case for the unequivocal importance of reflecting on the separation between pseudoscience and sound science.and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; and#160; Moreover, the demarcation problem is not a purely theoretical dilemma of mere academic interest: it affects parentsandrsquo; decisions to vaccinate children and governmentsandrsquo; willingness to adopt policies that prevent climate change. Pseudoscience often mimics science, using the superficial language and trappings of actual scientific research to seem more respectable. Even a well-informed public can be taken in by such questionable theories dressed up as science. Pseudoscientific beliefs compete with sound science on the health pages of newspapers for media coverage and in laboratories for research funding. Now more than ever the ability to separate genuine scientific findings from spurious ones is vital, and The Philosophy of Pseudoscience provides ground for philosophers, sociologists, historians, and laypeople to make decisions about what science is or isnandrsquo;t.and#160;and#160;
About the Author
Massimo Pigliucci is professor of philosophy at the City University of New York. He has written many books, including, most recently, Making Sense of Evolution, with Jonathan Kaplan, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
Introduction Science versus Pseudoscience and the “Demarcation Problem”
Chapter 1 Hard Science, Soft Science
Chapter 2 Almost Science
Chapter 3 Pseudoscience
Chapter 4 Blame the Media?
Chapter 5 Debates on Science: The Rise of Think Tanks and the Decline of Public Intellectuals
Chapter 6 Science and Politics: The Case of Global Warming
Chapter 7 Science in the Courtroom: The Case against Intelligent Design
Chapter 8 From Superstition to Natural Philosophy
Chapter 9 From Natural Philosophy to Modern Science
Chapter 10 The Science Wars I: Do We Trust Science Too Much?
Chapter 11 The Science Wars II: Do We Trust Science Too Little?
Chapter 12 Whos Your Expert?
Conclusion So, What Is Science after All?
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