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13 March 2013 @ 05:18 pm
Science and Antiscience  
I often feel that I am fighting in a war. And probably losing. Anti-science is everywhere. In our culture, pseudoscience is more powerful than science. It has no burden of proof and can change to fit the whims of public opinion. By comparison, science is rigid, constrained by facts and evidence, unable to be influenced by the desires of people. Pseudoscience is like a ghost: something that is not really there, not concrete. Science is like a sword: mechanical, simple, real, cold, constrained by this reality-- it cannot do more than a sword can do, for it is a sword. Scientists think, "We have the world's finest sword; we should be able to defeat all enemies." But how do you defeat a ghost? How can you kill something that doesn't really exist?

I am so sick of hearing pseudo-scientific claims. I get it. For whatever reason, you have invented a reality that you want to be true. In this reality, the Earth is not warming or it is warming for natural reasons, sea levels aren't rising, the Bermuda triangle is controlled by aliens or some crystals in Atlantis, the moon landing never happened, aliens are visiting Earth right now and also did in the past and built the pyramids, vaccines clearly cause autism, midichlorians in your blood make you a Jedi, the random arrangement of stars in our sky tells you everything about who you are and what will happen to you on a daily basis for your entire life, dinosaurs are still alive but really only one dinosaur and the only surviving dinosaur is living in Scotland, probably because that was where Noah threw him off the ark, and none of this matters because we'll all die on the next predicted doomsday when Planet X appears.

I don't care if you think those are awesome stories. I love fantasy and science fiction stories. But I have the ability to differentiate between reality and fantasy. Even if you cannot differentiate fantasy from reality, at least do not try to convince other people that your delusions are in fact reality.

I can use all the arguments possible to convince someone that something is/isn't true, but in the end it doesn't matter because if they honestly believe they are a Jedi, they likely are not swayed by things like logic and reason and reality. So why do I waste my time trying to steer them away from their fantasies and towards reality? They probably just think I am part of some vast government conspiracy to subdue the American population in order to feed them to our alien overloads. I ought to give up. And yet, I still teach students, many of who come to me with these pseudoscientific notions firmly implanted into their worldview.

This is not why I like teaching science. I don't want to teach this. I want to teach science to people who believe in science and just want to learn more about science in order to become doctors/engineers/scientists. But I also recognize that if someone doesn't try and help these misguided people, nothing will get better. They will become our non-scientists, our lawmakers and journalists, and spread and enforce misinformation. They will have the power to constrain the doctors, engineers, and scientists. In fact, looking at Congress now, I already see this occurring. In which case it won't matter that I teach science-loving people, because they won't be able to practice science.

Which begs the question, how do you teach science to someone who rejects reality? I've taken courses and read books about strategies such as allowing students to identify their own misconceptions, but this works better when they have a passive understanding of pseudoscience-- perhaps they have not been taught to differentiate pop culture and scientific reasoning before. More and more I'm seeing students who come equipped with a toolkit, prepared to go to battle with Science. How do you teach them in a science class?
j.: [myth] adam - think about it.jamie_love13 on March 14th, 2013 12:58 am (UTC)
I wasn't a big science nut when I was in school. Okay, no, that's a lie. A huge lie. Let me rephrase that. I wasn't a big science nut in high school, when compared to elementary/middle school. I like knowing things based on reality, and to me, science in high school didn't seem like that (other than pheno/genotypes). And because I didn't really like science in HS, I kind of tuned it out. Which, admittedly, I regret.

/my two cents. which, admittedly, doesn't include much
Jillianananasparachute on March 14th, 2013 01:21 am (UTC)
I've admittedly never had a mind for science (I was terrible at it in high school, which is as far as I went with it), but I do find many scientific concepts fascinating.

I don't know if students that won't think outside the box are teachable in that way. You can teach them what you know, and what science has to offer, but if they refuse to believe it, it just won't go anywhere. Part of being a student is supposed to mean that you open your mind, but many students seem to want it slammed shut.
Julie: El Cazador ★ solid AIRragnarok_08 on March 14th, 2013 01:25 am (UTC)
I'm not a huge science nut, even if I got good grades in the subject in high school, but I totally understand people just taking pseudoscience as the be all end all, which it isn't.

I like knowing things based from reality and other than me and another kid, most students I had the misfortune of spending an extended amount of time with couldn't care less than science and that's really sad :/
night_owl_9: Amy Pond - impossible to tellnight_owl_9 on March 14th, 2013 03:15 am (UTC)
I've never had the mind for science myself, but science informs and explains how we are. Things grounded in reality do make sense.
dance with those lions: dawniedance_the_dance on March 14th, 2013 03:35 pm (UTC)
I agree with this post so much. SO MUCH.

the random arrangement of stars in our sky tells you everything about who you are and what will happen to you on a daily basis for your entire life
Gah. The fact that anyone would believe in astrology just makes me rant. And I was actually told that I'm intolerant when someone asked me what my sign was and I replied that I don't believe in nonsense. But if I don't believe in nonsense, why would I have to sugarcoat it? :]
Name: pic#70429759i_beam on March 16th, 2013 06:05 pm (UTC)
Rant on girlfriend! I'm right there with you.
Constructive Interferencegoodguyseatpie on March 17th, 2013 03:03 am (UTC)
Nice second paragraph!

I say battle back, and go on the offensive. I say straight up that "if you're really into the paranormal and it's a big part of your life, then you won't like this class very much".

We spend a lot of time on science v. pseudoscience in my course. I used to come at pseudoscience early and harshly, but now I'm doing a slow burn up to it. Students are prepped with readings and journaling based on this site: http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/us101contents_01

I actually find the confrontation fun, and I try to defuse the cognitive dissonance a lot of them must feel by using a lot of humor. Of all the things I've used over the years, these two videos have the biggest impact:
http://youtu.be/haP7Ys9ocTk (Derren Brown demonstrating the Forer Effect)
http://youtu.be/xyR_WHEmO_4 (Gas Station "Ghost")

I point out many times that those who reject scientific explanations and accept pseudoscience are often the close-minded ones. Students have to be shown, and reminded, that science is tentative, willing to accept uncertainty, and also willing to think outside the box.