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Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

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Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby really? » 20 Sep 2012, 04:53

Written by Brian Regal
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 09:00

The following is a contribution to the JREF’s ongoing blog series on skepticism and education. If you are an educator and would like to contribute to this series, please contact rjblaskiewicz@gmail.com


Having spent the previous three years at Kean University assembling a core curriculum in the history of science, technology, and medicine I thought a philosophy of science course would round out the program nicely. I did some assessment in the form of asking faculty, students, and colleagues from other institutions what they thought of this idea. The response was a collective pointing of fingers into mouths with the accompanying “aaahhkkk” of distaste and boredom. Rethinking my position, I proposed a course on the history of pseudoscience instead. The gagging stopped, replaced by smiles and nods of affirmation and many suggestions on case studies, text books and papers to read. I went right to work.

A course on the history of pseudoscience solves several pedagogical problems. A course involving ghosts, UFOs, spirit mediums, and monster hunters draws in students who otherwise would never go anywhere near a philosophy of science class. It teaches them how to tell the difference between what science is and what it is not, it teaches them to think skeptically and critically, and it does this within an historical context. It also allows me to spend time in the classroom on my specific research. I work on the fringe aspects of scientific thought focusing on the relationship between amateur practitioners and professional scientists, particularly surrounding questions of biological evolution and its impact upon culture, religion and politics. Drawn in by ghosts and monsters, students learn the tenants of the philosophy of science almost without realizing it. They learn how fascinating and useful philosophical, skeptical, and critical thought can be to the everyday experience.

My course proposal was sent to the university curriculum committee and once accepted and
http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swi ... ience.html
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby SydneyPSIder » 20 Sep 2012, 15:31

What, they're going to teach the history of pseudoscience such as Randi's and Mythbusters pathetic attempts at double-blind and triple-blind trials that don't involve any blinding at all? Amazing.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby really? » 20 Sep 2012, 21:37

SydneyPSIder wrote:What, they're going to teach the history of pseudoscience such as Randi's and Mythbusters pathetic attempts at double-blind and triple-blind trials that don't involve any blinding at all? Amazing.


A course on the history of pseudoscience solves several pedagogical problems. A course involving ghosts, UFOs, spirit mediums, and monster hunters draws in students who otherwise would never go anywhere near a philosophy of science class. It teaches them how to tell the difference between what science is and what it is not, it teaches them to think skeptically and critically, and it does this within an historical context.


As you not noticed the author makes no mention of Randi or Mythbusters. This would be a perfect course for you because it's a course for people like you.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby Arouet » 20 Sep 2012, 22:02

SydneyPSIder wrote:What, they're going to teach the history of pseudoscience such as Randi's and Mythbusters pathetic attempts at double-blind and triple-blind trials that don't involve any blinding at all? Amazing.


Neither Rnadi nor Mythbusters are scientists- nor (as far as I know) do they purport to be.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby NinjaPuppy » 20 Sep 2012, 23:01

Arouet wrote:
SydneyPSIder wrote:What, they're going to teach the history of pseudoscience such as Randi's and Mythbusters pathetic attempts at double-blind and triple-blind trials that don't involve any blinding at all? Amazing.


Neither Randi nor MythBusters are scientists- nor (as far as I know) do they purport to be.

No they are not (as far as I know either). All of the above are first and foremost "entertainers" but of course, they all have rather impressive backgrounds and interests that they have turned into profitable careers in the media. The other thing that they tend to have in common is "visual trickery". Randi with his magic talent and showmanship and Mythbusters with their commercial visual effects & special effects in television commercials as well as the ability to actually build and produce the necessary props.

What I did find strange is that it was difficult to find any reference to any scientific research department directly associated with MythBusters. I guess they just have some gopher Google up the necessary scientific research and/or consultants to begin their process and take it from there.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby NinjaPuppy » 20 Sep 2012, 23:10

As for this paragraph:
A course on the history of pseudoscience solves several pedagogical problems. A course involving ghosts, UFOs, spirit mediums, and monster hunters draws in students who otherwise would never go anywhere near a philosophy of science class. It teaches them how to tell the difference between what science is and what it is not, it teaches them to think skeptically and critically, and it does this within an historical context. It also allows me to spend time in the classroom on my specific research. I work on the fringe aspects of scientific thought focusing on the relationship between amateur practitioners and professional scientists, particularly surrounding questions of biological evolution and its impact upon culture, religion and politics. Drawn in by ghosts and monsters, students learn the tenants of the philosophy of science almost without realizing it. They learn how fascinating and useful philosophical, skeptical, and critical thought can be to the everyday experience.

If you ask me, I think that this should be a required course in the elementary school level. Naturally it would have to be modified BIG TIME for that age level but some basics sure wouldn't hurt. A good dose of critical thinking never hurt anyone.

This is what I remember James Randi teaching to children 50 years ago. Critical thinking, the difference between slight of hand and reality, what is a good magic trick vs. what is physically possible. It has stuck with me to this day.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby Arouet » 20 Sep 2012, 23:19

Ummm, Ninja, you may want to delete that post. The proponent police do not tend to take kindly to positive comments being made about Randi. You may be excommunicated! :shock:
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby NinjaPuppy » 20 Sep 2012, 23:21

Oh, and sorry if I'm being a wet blanket on the "science" of MythBusters as that is not my intention. Building duct tape canoes and bubble wrap protection devices don't sound very scientific. The show seems to take on exactly what the title implies: Myths. I see a pattern for Hollywood vs. reality in their show titles.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby NinjaPuppy » 20 Sep 2012, 23:24

Arouet wrote:Ummm, Ninja, you may want to delete that post. The proponent police do not tend to take kindly to positive comments being made about Randi. You may be excommunicated! :shock:

I say "Bring it on baby!". Our fearless leader believes in free speech and thinking outside the box more than you think.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby NinjaPuppy » 20 Sep 2012, 23:28

Aside from the fact that if he decides to cancel my subscription, this place will be taken over by spammers and atheist haters with too much time on their hands. Not to mention the shoe salesmen, jewelry hawkers and t-shirt bots.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby SydneyPSIder » 20 Sep 2012, 23:39

really? wrote:As you not noticed the author makes no mention of Randi or Mythbusters. This would be a perfect course for you because it's a course for people like you.

People like me? I already have a science degree and studies in the sociology and philosophy of science and quite a few other things... Popper and Kuhn, logical positivism, etc. I think I'll pass, I'm already over-educated... Some of us are logical, scientific, well-versed practitioners of the hypothetico-deductive method, but still open-minded and open to evidence when it's presented from various sources...
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby SydneyPSIder » 20 Sep 2012, 23:45

Arouet wrote:
SydneyPSIder wrote:What, they're going to teach the history of pseudoscience such as Randi's and Mythbusters pathetic attempts at double-blind and triple-blind trials that don't involve any blinding at all? Amazing.


Neither Rnadi nor Mythbusters are scientists- nor (as far as I know) do they purport to be.

How would you define a 'scientist'? (After all, that is what the course is apparently all about.)

I was just deeply unimpressed with some of the video of Randi's challenge on another thread -- the experimental 'design' was appalling, an utter failure. No reliable repeating measurements, no double or triple blinds etc etc. Just seems to be a circus set up to humiliate people who have some pretty wacky ideas.

Further, the OP seems to be trying to associate a philosophy of science course with the JREF, but as you say, the members of the JREF do not claim to be practising scientists (presumably meaning 'technologists' really) of any sort.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby Arouet » 21 Sep 2012, 00:01

SydneyPSIder wrote:How would you define a 'scientist'? (After all, that is what the course is apparently all about.)


Someone engaged in the practice of science?

Here's how the free online dictionary defines it:

sci·en·tist (sn-tst)
n.
A person having expert knowledge of one or more sciences, especially a natural or physical science.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
scientist [ˈsaɪəntɪst]
n
a person who studies or practises any of the sciences or who uses scientific methods


sounds reasonable

I was just deeply unimpressed with some of the video of Randi's challenge on another thread -- the experimental 'design' was appalling, an utter failure. No reliable repeating measurements, no double or triple blinds etc etc. Just seems to be a circus set up to humiliate people who have some pretty wacky ideas.


If you're talking about the MDC, it doesn't purport to be science. Both Randi and DJ Grothe have explicitly said so. It draws on scientific principles, but its a contest - not a science lab.

Further, the OP seems to be trying to associate a philosophy of science course with the JREF, but as you say, the members of the JREF do not claim to be practising scientists (presumably meaning 'technologists' really) of any sort.


Well, some individual members of the JREF are scientists. But the JREF itself promotes science, its not a scientific institution itself - and Randi certainly isn't a scientist and doesn't seem to claim to be.
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby SydneyPSIder » 21 Sep 2012, 00:05

Arouet, if you re-read your supplied dictionary definition of a 'scientist' and your own definition, you will see they are circular definitions. You haven't actually said or explicated anything, or you would now have to supply a reasonable description of what is meant by 'science'. No criticism, just sayin'... Although if it was handed in as an answer to a 'philosophy of science' course, even in the first week, let's say I would not give it high marks...
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Re: Teaching the History of Pseudoscience

Postby NinjaPuppy » 21 Sep 2012, 00:10

SydneyPSIder wrote:How would you define a 'scientist'? (After all, that is what the course is apparently all about.)

Since I can't define 'scientist' for the OP or Arouet, I can tell you that most of the self proclaimed skeptics here tend to lean towards people with degrees from reputable universities, in their respective fields.

What I believe you are relating this to are 'men of science', which is also correct but differs by personal opinion.

SydneyPSIder wrote:Further, the OP seems to be trying to associate a philosophy of science course with the JREF, but as you say, the members of the JREF do not claim to be practising scientists (presumably meaning 'technologists' really) of any sort.

I don't believe that the OP (really?) was trying to associate anything about his post as he made no personal commentary for or against the topic material. You'll find that both sides here will post articles of personal interest in the hope that it spawns a quality discussion on something to their interests.
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