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.
“How can we decide what counts as science? That is the central question of this brilliant book, which ought to be required reading for, well, everyone.”Amanda Gefter, New Scientist
andldquo;The problem of demarcationandmdash;distinguishing credible science from pseudoscienceandmdash;is a crucial one, but one that has generally been neglected in recent philosophy of science. It is the issue that underlies such topical debates as that between evolutionists and creationists or intelligent design theorists, for example. This volume does a great service by bringing an impressive range of leading philosophers of science from a wide variety of perspectives to reconsider the issue. It is much to be hoped that its publication will spark a revival of interest in this vital issue.andrdquo;and#160;
andldquo;Philosophy of Pseudoscience is a remarkable contribution to one of the most vexing problems in science: the andlsquo;demarcationandrsquo; problem, or how to distinguish science from nonscience. The well-designed diversity of topics and the collective breadth of knowledge of the authors make this book the most comprehensive and authoritative treatise on a majority of the traditional and current demarcation issues. . . . You have a jewel in your hands.andrdquo;and#160;
"A manual to overcome our natural cognitive biases."
and#8220;If the philosophical problem of demarcating science from pseudoscience has a stale reputation, this book is a revitalizing gust of fresh air. Philosophers Pigliucci and Boudry assemble 23 essays that challenge Larry Laudanand#8217;s famous 1983 proclamation of the demarcation problemand#8217;s demise. Renewed attention to the philosophical questions that pseudoscience raises mirrors an uptick in interest in pseudoscience among historians, as exemplified by Michael Gordinand#8217;s The Pseudoscience Wars. Complementing such work, these essays bring focused attention to the practice and historical development of science. . . . A superb introduction to foundational questions that every philosophy student should confront. . . . Accessibly written . . . intellectually adventurous. . . . Essential.and#8221;
and#8220;In Gary Larsonand#8217;s cartoon and#8216;Scientist Hell,and#8217; a smirking devil ushers an apprehensive man (beard, spectacles, white lab coat) into a room of nattering enthusiasts. The sign on the door reads, and#8216;Psychics, Astrologists and Mediums Eternal Discussion Group.and#8217; If a similar room awaits philosophers, the present volume might come in handy.and#8221;
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 Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk and, most recently, Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to a More Meaningful Life. Maarten Boudry is a postdoctoral fellow of the Flemish Fund for Scientific Research at Ghent University and wrote a dissertation on pseudoscience, Here Be Dragons: Exploring the Hinterland of Science.and#160;and#160;
Table of Contents
Introduction Why the Demarcation Problem Matters
Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry
Part I Whatand#8217;s the Problem with the Demarcation Problem?
1. The Demarcation Problem: A (Belated) Response to Laudan
2. Science and Pseudoscience: How to Demarcate after the (Alleged) Demise of the Demarcation Problem?
3. Toward a Demarcation of Science from Pseudoscience
4. Defining Pseudoscience and Science
Sven Ove Hansson
5. Lokiand#8217;s Wager and Laudanand#8217;s Error: On Genuine and Territorial Demarcation
Part II History and Sociology of Pseudoscience
6. The Problem of Demarcation: History and Future
7. Science, Pseudoscience, and Science Falsely So-Called
Daniel P. Thurs and Ronald L. Numbers
8. Paranormalism and Pseudoscience as Deviance
9. Belief Buddies versus Critical Communities: The Social Organization of Pseudoscience
Part III The Borderlands between Science and Pseudoscience
10. Science and the Messy, Uncontrollable World of Nature
Carol E. Cleland and Sheralee Brindell
11. Science and Pseudoscience: The Difference in Practice and the Difference It Makes
12. Evolution: From Pseudoscience to Popular Science, from Popular Science to Professional Science
Part IV Science and the Supernatural
13. Is a Science of the Supernatural Possible?
14. Navigating the Landscape between Science and Religious Pseudoscience: Can Hume Help?
Part V True Believers and Their Tactics
15. Argumentation and Pseudoscience: The Case for an Ethics of Argumentation
Jean Paul Van Bendegem
16. Why Alternative Medicine Can Be Scientifically Evaluated: Countering the Evasions of Pseudoscience
17. Pseudoscience: The Case of Freudand#8217;s Sexual Etiology of the Neuroses
18. The Holocaust Denierand#8217;s Playbook and the Tobacco Smokescreen: Common Threads in the Thinking and Tactics of Denialists and Pseudoscientists
Part VI The Cognitive Roots of Pseudoscience
19. Evolved to Be Irrational? Evolutionary and Cognitive Foundations of Pseudosciences
Stefaan Blancke and Johan De Smedt
20. Werewolves in Scientistsand#8217; Clothing: Understanding Pseudoscientific Cognition
21. The Salem Region: Two Mindsets about Science
John S. Wilkins
22. Pseudoscience and Idiosyncratic Theories of Rational Belief
23. Agentive Thinking and Illusions of Understanding