Science gives us an opportunity to understand our world

Les Frazier

By A Contributor

“Nonsense on Stilts” separates science from fantasy. I found that the book cuts through the ambiguity and tells us what our beliefs mean to our society.

The book should be required reading in science classes in public schools. Such information would have helped me see more truth in the world if it had been part of my high-schooling. Science was not a field of choice for me, because calculus and trigonometry would have been problems, but the author, a professor of philosophy at the University of New York, helps us understand the complex territory separating science from pseudo-science.

Reading this book will help persons understand the world by encouraging more open minds.

The book is eminently readable, insightful, and sensible.

Massimo Pigliucci, author, points out parents who refuse to vaccinate their children and climate change deniers are some of the believers in “false science.”

Their ignorance threatens us all.

We are in constant danger of being duped by false science.

According to Dr. Philip Plait, a “frightening percentage of the American population cannot tell the difference between sense and nonsense: astrology and creationism-propaganda is rampant, despite overwhelming evidence against them.”

I believe there are levels of science with some scientists more credible than others. We are pretty sure we can mix sodium and chloride and get salt. Someday, this may be disproved. Fossils and other remains of ancient animals and birds give evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs, but it cannot be replicated. Thus, it is not as near to truth as to making salt.

In this book, we encounter notions and people that have shaped western culture and also human thinking.

The United States is producing much fewer scientists than some other countries. Will we fall behind them in production in the future?

I think science has no business getting into the supernatural, such as the existence of God, but science can criticize creationism. For this it takes experimentation, observation, and prediction.

This applies to belief and interpretation of the bible. At one point, people believe the earth was flat.

Science, explains Pigliucci, is complex and carried out by limited human beings. There is no simple solution to global warming. We need to accept truths and reject non-truths. What we do has a bearing on politics, economics, quality of life and a large part of our taxes. Fake science can kill people.

Our obligation is to study and learn for our benefit and others. “Nonsense on Stilts” can help us do this.

Knowing the difference between the sciences is not an easy task. We need to spend time reading various opinions pertinent to issues, and make up our own minds the best we can. But don’t forget to turn on your baloney detector, states the writer.

Philosophers such as Thomas Paine and David Hume said we have a moral duty to distinguish sense from nonsense.

Pigliucci wrote on two kinds of evolution.

The female swordfish prefers males with long tails; yet if this results in mates with tails too long, they are more vulnerable to their enemies.

The writer pointed out that the trait common to all science, is the ability to produce and test hypotheses based on empirical data by observation.

This formula can help us answer the question: Is there intelligence on other planets?

He reported the reserach of two physicists at Cornell University, who believed if there was other life outside, that with modern science, we should be able to receive communication.

However, hundreds of millions of dollars, decades of research by several teams of scientists and millions of hours of time have not turned up any.

There is much controversy about evolution and creationism, believes Pigliucci.

It is not neccesssarily false science, but is close to historical research.

No hard data on it exists. With hypothesis, creationism seems ridiculous. We are not likely to find out the truth.

“Science gives real power to understand the world,” said Pigliucci.

For example, we have been shown alleged instances of telepathy, clairvoyance, ghosts, psychic abilities and astrological forces, but there are limited resources at universities and other places to investigate.

We have a gullible public and people who have not the least amount of shame about blabbering nonsense.

Everyone has biases. There is one more example of the sorry state of public discourse in modern society, according to Pigliucci. Aldona Huxley said, “An intellectual is a person who has discontinued something more interesting than sex.” Sex, sleep, and food are important and the survival of the human race depends on it. For the reason, evolution has made them more pleasurable. Science, according to an article in Skeptic Science Magazine, has found that people were almost wiped out about 50,000 to 70,000 years ago by an unknown catastrophe.

They were close to extinction with only approximately 1200 people left on earth.

A decline in the quality and quantity of intellectualism is occurring in the United States, observes Pigliucci.

This makes the task of science more daunting. Despite the odds being stacked against the world, a few shining lights of bright persons have emerged over the years.

Two of those are Carl Sagan and Stephen Gould. Sagan for his cosmos televisions series and Gould for his numerous contributions to scientific progress and public understanding of science.

The modern face of science led David Suzuki, a biologist, two write, “we’re in a giant car heading toward a brick wall, and everyone is arguing over where they’re going to sit.” We have a 15 trillion dollar debt and will not compromise for a solution.

In the early stages of the search for knowledge, it was directed toward two goals: to solve practical problems and to figure out what the gods were to; this occurred in the area that is now Egypt, Greece, Iran, and Syria.

Many problems exist, now in these places that are difficult to solve, wrote Pigliucci.

A number system was developed about 3000 B.C.

The study of science started when attention was shifted from medicine and agriculture to how the world works. People had to defend their conclusions about reality with logic and rationality, and hence, there is a split between science and philosophy.

But two philosophers, played an increased role in the development of science.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in Athens, in approximately the 4th century B.C., played a huge part in the development of science.

Modern science started in the 17th century. Two factors were mostly responsible for this change: war and urban expansion. The rise of universities was also a crucial event. The political and economic rebirth of Europe was necessary for progress.

Philosophy and science, despite their differences, are the more formidable weapons against nonsense.

While science has given us a number of great innovations, it does not come without its own set of controversy.

Human genetic engineering is one of those controversial issues.

We prize personal freedom in America, but should we commercialize humanness, we have enough of that now, states Pigliucci. A couple may want to have a child with blue eyes, when it could not happen naturally.

It is possible for experts to do this.

With knowledge, we can soon learn to eliminate genetic defects and produce healthy levels of cholesterol, sturdier bones and longer lasting hearts and so on, writes Pigliucci.

Should meddling with millions of years of evolution give us pause.

We must be cautious when taking control of our own long term biological future.

Scientists are prone to blunder because of lack of information or having big egos. However, science continues to make progress after one partially wrong theory after another.

Empirical testability is one characteristic separating science from non-science. Also it must be natural and not supernatural when with dealing with natural phenomena and processes.

Another requirement is there must be a theory or hypothesis.

Astrology is a false science because its theoretical structure is flawed (e.g. constellations do no exist). Data does not support this.

If your vote at the ballot box depends on issues which science has something to say, by all means listen to what experts are saying, said Pigliucci, but don’t forget to turn on the baloney detector. Set it at least on yellow alert most of the time.

Time magazine reports that air, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers to be “moderate” quality and relatively safe for our health can boost risk of stroke as much as 34% within 12 to 14 hours of exposure.

Everyone is exposed to air pollution regardless of lifestyle choices. Stricter regulation by the EPA is necessary to protect public health. I think any coal pollution should be stopped soon.

Natural gas is about half as polluting as coal but is more expensive. Essentially, we are killing people to save money.

Industrial activities are the main source of CO2, which plays a part in global warming.

I am convinced governments should spend significant amounts of money and other resources on new cleaner energy technologies. Pigliucci was a research scientist and later became a philosopher and I think he charts a course for all scientists to follow.

Les Frazier is emeritus professor at Kansas State University in Organization and Leadership Development.

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