Thursday, March 12, 2009

On teaching about pseudoscience

Recently, when Richard Dawkins was invited to speak at Oklahoma University, that state's legislature decided that it would try and censure Prof. Dawkins by passing House Resolutions 1014 and 1015. Never mind that under the United States Constitution, the creation of such laws (called a 'bill of attainder') is not allowed, since the legislature of Oklahoma would have declared Dawkins guilty without a trial (which is still illegal).

Nevermind that Dawkins provided a well-reasoned and comedic eviseration of the resolutions:

there are still people who just don't want to listen to what the man says (this one says he is a biologist, doesn't ask a question, and walks out before he can hear the response; not one for open dialogue, I suppose):

In a recent post over at, the topic of Dawkins' lecture and the state house resolutions were discussed. One of the comments at the site:
Creationism and I.Design can be covered as just two theories and then discussed along with evolution. It can be done by presenting evidence and discussion that is NOT based on blind faith. We as a state probably have the most backward outlook and I bet there are people who think the earth is flat and that rapture and witches are all true.. But I see no reason a scientific mind cannot humor the faith based pseudoscientists. All you need is to say some people believe Creationism is science and that it is a theory with not many evidentiary trails. Same goes for I.Design. NO need to be afraid of alternates because ignorance abound in our state. Afterall we are not very high on college educated percentages.
raised an interesting point in my mind. Why not teach a science course on how to detect good and bad science? Why not force university students to think critically upon various different types of scientific and pseudoscientific endeavors and discover what science really is and what it isn't. Don't forget to include pseudoscience from not just the US, but from around the world; not just with regard to contemporary topics like intelligent design, but also include historical debunking like phrenology; and not just with regard to Christian-based pseudoscience like creationism, but also those related to other religions like the sanctity of the waters of the Ganges River.

By having students learn about the framework of what science is and what it is not; what scientific evidence needs and needs to show; and what the implications are between dogmatic faith and deductive (and inductive) reasoning, you circumvent the sticky issue of forcing people to confront an apparent conflict-of-faith (creationism's pseudoscientific nature). What will (hopefully) happen is that you provide students with a methodology of defining and determining the quality of what is a science framework and challenge them to apply that framework to what they see around them and read about.

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