Seis lições sobre heresia científica

sábado, novembro 05, 2011

4 November 2011

Six Lessons on Scientific Heresy


“When are scientific heretics right and when are they mad? How do you tell the difference between science and pseudoscience?”

This was the theme of the annual Angus Millar Lecture, entitled “Scientific Heresy,” delivered by noted popular-science author Matt Ridley earlier this week at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh.

Ridley, who holds a PhD in zoology from the University of Oxford, was science editor of The Economist magazine for many years. He is perhaps best known for a distinguished series of books making various aspects of contemporary neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory accessible to a wide audience. His most recent book is The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (Harper, 2010).

In his lecture, Ridley entertainingly recounts some of his investigations into pseudosciences of various sorts, from which he distils six lessons.

First, Ridley tells the story of how journalists working for respectable employers like Channel 4 and Science magazine began speculating about the causes of so-called “crop circles,” thus launching a media frenzy and the pseudoscience of “cereology.” From which he concludes:

Lesson number 1: the stunning gullibility of the media. Put an “ology” after your pseudoscience and you can get journalists to be your propagandists.

Next, he tells how the media continued to take crop circles seriously, even after two men admitted they were the result of a drunken prank.

Lesson number 2: debunking is like water off a duck’s back to pseudoscience.

For his next lesson, he recounts how an 18th-c. Scottish physician named Alec Gordon anticipated Ignaz Semmelweis’s famous insight into the cause of “childbed fever”—doctors were infecting women themselves by coming directly from the dissecting room to the delivery room without washing their hands. But Gordon was also a fervent believer in bleeding, just as the great Isaac Newton was an enthusiastic alchemist.

Lesson number 3: We can all be both (a scientist and a pseudoscientist).

Then, he goes on to list a number of scientific results that are now accepted by the consensus, but which started out as heresies, including, in addition to antisepsis, continental drift and the bacterial etiology of stomach ulcers. (This list could be extended indefinitely). He also mentions the case of the recent Nobel laureate in chemistry, Dan Shechtman. From all of this, Ridley rightly infers:

Lesson number 4: the heretic is sometimes right.

Ridley’s fifth lesson is perhaps his most interesting one. He discusses how we all tend to attach more weight to evidence that confirms our preexisting beliefs, and to discount evidence that contradicts them. This well-supported psychological phenomenon is known to researchers as “confirmation bias.” He then discusses studies which show that experts are actually more, not less, prone to confirmation bias than ordinary folks.

This problem is at the heart of many public disputes involving science, such as the validity of neo-Darwinian theory, climate change, myriad health claims, and similar controversies. 

Therefore, we would all do well to heed Ridley’s:

Lesson number 5: keep a sharp eye out for confirmation bias in yourself and others.

Finally, he refers to studies which have shown that experts such as political scientists, economists, and journalists have no better than chance success at predicting future outcomes. Again, the list might well be extended to include evolutionary biologists, climatologists, medical experts, and others.

Lesson number 6: Never rely on the consensus of experts about the future. . . . Futurology is pseudoscience.

In the last half of his lecture, Ridley applies his six lessions to the problem of climate change.

We won’t enter into that particular mare’s nest here, but will instead conclude with a few more quotes from this outstanding talk:

Many scientific truths began as heresies and fought long battles for acceptance against entrenched establishment wisdom that now appears irrational.

Handing the reins of power to pseudoscience has an unhappy history. Remember eugenics. Around 1910 the vast majority of scientists and other intellectuals agreed that nationalizing reproductive decisions so as to stop poor, disabled and stupid people from having babies was not just a practical but a moral imperative of great urgency.The remarkable thing about the (climate change) heretics I have mentioned is that every single one is doing this in his or her spare time. They work for themselves, they earn a pittance from this work. There is no great fossil-fuel slush fund for sceptics.

Source/Fonte: TheBestSchools.Org Blog 



Para pensar cum grano salis - qual teoria científica é hoje considerada pseudociência e heresia pelo konsenso da Nomenklatura científica, embora seja embasada em fatos encontrados na natureza - complexidade irredutível de sistemas biológicos e informação complexa especificada como o código do DNA como sendo sinais de inteligência?

Eu só conheço uma teoria científica que qualifica assim: a teoria do Design Inteligente...