Archive for pseudo-science

Philosophy of Science, a very short introduction (and review)

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by xi'an

When visiting the bookstore on the campus of the University of Warwick two weeks ago, I spotted this book, Philosophy of Science, a very short introduction, by Samir Okasha, and the “bargain” offer of getting two books for £10 enticed me to buy it along with a Friedrich Nietzsche, a very short introduction… (Maybe with the irrational hope that my daughter would take a look at those for her philosophy course this year!)

Popper’s attempt to show that science can get by without induction does not succeed.” (p.23)

Since this is [unsusrprisingly!] a very short introduction, I did not get much added value from the book. Nonetheless, it was an easy read for short trips in the metro and short waits here and there. And would be a good [very short] introduction to any one newly interested in the philosophy of sciences. The first chapter tries to define what science is, with reference to the authority of Popper (and a mere mention of Wittgenstein), and concludes that there is no clear-cut demarcation between science and pseudo-science. (Mathematics apparently does not constitute a science: “Physics is the most fundamental science of all”, p.55) I would have liked to see the quote from Friedrich Nietzsche

“It is perhaps just dawning on five or six minds that physics, too, is only an interpretation and exegesis of the world (to suit us, if I may say so!) and not a world-explanation.”

in Beyond Good and Evil. as it illustrates the main point of the chapter and maybe the book that scientific theories can never be proven true, Plus, it is often misinterpreted as a anti-science statement by Nietzsche. (Plus, it links both books I bought!) Continue reading

the dangers of pseudo-science

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , on October 26, 2013 by xi'an

“The borderlines between genuine science and pseudoscience may be fuzzy, but this should be even more of a call for careful distinctions, based on systematic facts and sound reasoning. To try a modicum of turtle blood here and a little aspirin there is not the hallmark of wisdom and even-mindedness. It is a dangerous gateway to superstition and irrationality.”

“This is a standard modus operandi of pseudoscience: it adopts the external trappings of science, but without the substance.”

Interestingly enough, the New York Times paper on Traditional Chinese medicine that I discussed in a previous post induced a new (reply) column in the New York Times by Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry. It is called the dangers of pseudo-science and it rightly separates empirical hypothetico-deductive reasoning (like bark helping with headaches) from irrational beliefs like qi, which cannot be tested or falsified. The authors echo (much more eloquently) my surprise at Asma’s discourse as being opposed to the fundamentals of the philosophy of science and as using particularly weak philosophical arguments… Of course, the difference between science and pseudo-science has always been a fuzzy one, dixit the above quote, as illustrated for instance in the first issues of the Proceedings of the Royal Society, which mixed articles introducing calculus with articles attempting to prove the existence of God and articles about witchcraft experiments. But there are cases like astrology (and qi) that are demonstrably pseudo-science, for being both non-falsifiable and inoperative at explaining (and predicting) phenomenons and effects. (As a coincidence (?), I bought a very short introduction to Philosophy of Science while in Warwick. And may even post about this book! I think I will abstain from Pigliucci’s and Boudry’s, Philosophy of Pseudoscience, though, as it would take me a bit far from home.)

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