Thursday, July 19, 2007

Someone else discusses the sociology of science

Alternative medical researcher and author Dr. Larry Dossey has written an interesting essay about the sociology of science and why the public's image of science has been deteriorating over the past several decades. Here are a few extracts:


Some observers believe that CSICOP and other debunking organizations are a major cause of the science blues because, in their attempt to save science, they are creating a public backlash. Consider, for example, that more than half of the adult popula­tion in the United States has had psychic experiences and believes in the reality of these phenomena. As Hansen states: "Those who have had [these] experiences but encounter the debunking attitudes of apparent 'scientific authorities' are likely to conclude that science is a dogma and inapplicable to impor­tant aspects of their lives." Parapsychology researcher Jacques Vallee goes further. He suggests that debunkers "are among the primary contributors to the rejection of science by the public.". . .

Over the past 2 decades we've seen many CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] therapies condemned as implausible--acupuncture, exercise, nutritional supplementation, meditation, biofeedback, and others--only to win eventual endorsement and acceptance within conventional medicine. No wonder the public is leery when experts say a par­ticular CAM therapy can't work because it's implausible.

Experts who are hung up on the plausibility of CAM thera­pies ought to get out more. They might actually try biofeedback, acupuncture, or yoga--not because personal experience consti­tutes irrefutable proof, but because personal experience shapes our worldview, our concept of what is possible and plausible.

A ruckus over plausibility took place in England between famous scientists over a century ago. The dispute involved telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis, which suggest that consciousness can operate remotely. Nobelist Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), the discoverer of thallium, favored the investigation of these phenomena even though they could not be explained. He contrasted his approach with that of fellow physi­cist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), famous for his work in electric­ity and magnetism, who bitterly opposed them. Crookes stated:

Faraday says, "Before we proceed to consider any question involving physical principles, we should set out with clear ideas of the naturally possible and impossible." But this appears like reasoning in a circle: we are to investigate nothing till we know it to be possible, whilst we cannot say what is impossible, outside pure mathematics, till we know everything. In the present case I prefer to enter upon the enquiry with no preconceived notions whatever as to what can or cannot be.

We should be cautious in rejecting events as implausible, because subsequent developments may reveal that our notion of plausibility reflected little more than our own ignorance. For example, when Newton advanced the notion of universal gravity in the 17th century, his colleagues condemned his ideas as implau­sible and a sellout to mysticism. Most scientists today probably believe they would not have been as hidebound as Newton's doubting colleagues, but in 1995 "an editorial in the journal Nature questioned whether Newton would have been able to pub­lish his theory today, given its self-evident preposterousness .... "




hat tip to commentor "anonymous" on Michael Prescott's blog. . .

3 comments:

dobson said...

Nature questioned whether Newton would have been able to pub­lish his theory today, given its self-evident preposterousness

The problem with parapsychology research is not so much the self-evident preposterousness of the proposition, more it's advocates inability to move on beyond collecting anecdotal evidence and onto a systematic testing of their theories.

M.C. said...

inability to move on beyond collecting anecdotal evidence and onto a systematic testing of their theories.

Perhaps you need to go read some research. . .

Jim said...

I don't know if alternative medicine is useful or not, but I know for sure that professional pseudo-skeptics like Stephen Barrett aren't a realible and objetive source of information.

Barrett was exposed as a liar in court:
http://www.canlyme.com/quackwatch.html

He's lost many trials because U.S. courts consider him "biased" in his testimonies and he couldn't present evidence of his owncounter-claims:
http://www.healthfreedomlaw.com/
http://www.bolenreport.net/archives/california_superior_court_judge_.htm

Recently, Barrett have been humilliated again in court:
http://www.bolenreport.net/feature_articles/feature_article060.htm

Jim