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RS10 - Nonsense on Stilts

Release date: June 6, 2010

The focus of this episode is Massimo's new book, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. The book, broadly speaking, is about what philosopher Karl Popper famously called the demarcation problem: how do we tell the difference among science, non-science and pseudoscience?  We explore the complex relationship among these, ranging from solid science like fundamental physics and evolutionary biology to definite pseudosciences like astrology and creationism. In the middle are the more interesting borderline areas that include the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, evolutionary psychology, and even superstring theory, to name but a few.

We also discuss other topics covered in the book, including  the whole issue of expertise and Think Tanks, which plays such an important role especially in media presentations of issues such as evolution, climate change, HIV-AIDS, or the alleged connection between vaccines and autism.  Julia and Massimo also address the ultimate question about pseudoscience: why do we care?

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "Historians' Fallacies : Toward a Logic of Historical Thought"

Massimo's pick: The Ask a Philosopher! blog

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Response: Liga 1 live
    There are some very great sources here and thank you for being so kind to post them here. So we can read them and give our opinion on subject.

Reader Comments (7)

`love this podcast! would like more picks from both at the end...`kind of a guide to thinking...thanks

June 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBill R

First of all, thanks a lot for the great podcast; not only this episode. I found the podcast recently and heard all old episodes. The podcast ist (opposed to some other sceptical podcasts) serious and intelligent, the hosts very well informed. Some podcasts focus, it seems more on entertainment. In your podcast I always have the feeling that you really know what you are talking about. Yet, the shows are involving and also entertaining.

Now one concrete comment to this episode: I was thinking about the demarcation problem. I have slight problems with the "acumulativeness" argument, particularly in pseudosciences. You bring the example of astrology, and you rightfully remark that the "theoretical foundation" is rejected and simply wrong.

Now, that is a reason, however, acumulativeness? If I were a proponent of astrology, I could rather easily produce new "theories" as I go a along; as the foundation theory is already wrong and I do not care to reject my foundations, I could as well build up on the old (wrong) theories, hence "acumulativeness" could be easily reached.

I have the feeling, that more important is in fact the actual testing of the theories available. The theory should be falsifiable, this is the basis, which is fulfilled in astrology. But the second step, the actual testing is not.

June 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexander Schatteb

In the previous posting: A typo in my own name, great ;-)

June 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexander Schatten

This episode gave me an idea for a request: Could you do an episode about what a 'theory' really is? That term was all over the place in this particular episode, and if we know anything about the problem of publicizing/popularizing science, it's that most people don't understand the difference between a theory in science and the generic conception of a theory as a best guess.

If you were to do such an episode, here would be my wishlist:

1.) Definitions that show the differences between a scientific theory, a philosophical theory, and a popular theory.

2.) Explanations of the functions of scientific theories and philosophical theories -- what are their purposes, what frameworks do they offer, what they are meant to predict, and why do scientific and philosophical theories differ from the generic conception of a theory.

3.) Examples showing how a scientific theory works, how a philosophical theory works, and why the generic popular conception of the term doesn't live up to the other examples.

Man would that be useful... what say you?

June 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermxyzptlk
Very informative Show. Learned something new. Thanks
September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
I know there are some people who are hesitant to call Psychology, Sociology a Science but I think that all the work that these fields are doing are providing Significant & Relevant information in Human behavior that is explaining a lot. Economics though, not so much. To me it Fails in actually explaining what really goes on in the Economy. I see it as being more full of Hypothetical senarios than real World factual explanations.
September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
We may properly regard Psychology as science. Economics and Sociology have lots of math, and some scientific methods, but we cannot properly regard them as sciences.

SETI does have all the qualities of a science. An extremely difficult science with few results, but a science nonetheless. Many sciences we now take for granted originally had difficult origins. One day in the future, we may very well consider exobiology an entirely commonplace scientific area of study.
February 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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