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Forced to read this book in university, I found that it opened a new world of critical thought: rebutting pseudo-science, its claims and methods. A must-have for managing dinner-table conversations about alien abduction, telepathy, and so on.
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For the most part, this book delivers good value for its price and size. The exception is Chapter V, “The Perils of Fact Gathering,” which is unclear and unconvincing. It attempts to point out the errors of Charles Hoy Fort, who spent most of his life collecting accounts of inexplicable phenomena, like frogs falling from the sky, and parapsychologists, like J. B. Rhine. The tool that the Radners use to do this is the concept of the paradigm, which Thomas Kuhn introduced in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." A paradigm for a particular discipline tells what facts are relevant and how to interpret them. Before a discipline has a paradigm, fact gathering is haphazard. The Radners give early paleontology as an example of a pre-paradigm stage. In the 18th Century, Johann Scheuchzer identified a fossil as a victim of Noah’s flood. A century later, Georges Cuvier reclassified it as a giant salamander.
What are we to do, once we have a paradigm? The Radners are emphatic: “The only useful collection of mushrooms is a sorted collection. Likewise, you will never build up a scientifically useful collection of data unless you are willing to do some sorting and leave some of your ‘facts’ behind.” This is the unconvincing part. Just because systematic fact gathering is better than unsystematic fact gathering doesn’t mean that the facts obtained unsystematically are invalid. The unclear part is deciding what facts to get rid of. Should we discard facts that contradict the paradigm? If we do, we’ll never abandon an established paradigm. (The Radners never mention paradigm shifts. You aren’t getting full value from a study of scientific revolutions if you leave out scientific revolutions.) Should we discard them because the paradigm tells us that they’re irrelevant?Read more ›
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There is a fine line between science and pseudoscience. What sets them apart is the general understanding of what science and pseudoscience have to offer, but through careful observations. Michael and Daisie Radner distinguish the two terms in numerous ways in their book Science and Unreason. The book builds the reader to understand terms by using them in relatable examples followed by the main point of the subject. The different aspects of how to reason with science are what helps the reader to avoid the belief in "science" when it's really pseudoscience behind it all. The book begins with the opening chapter where it discusses the fringe of science. The chapter is divided into 7 subjects: Flat Earth, Ancient Astronauts, Biorhythm, Creationism, Immanuel Velikovsky, The Bicameral Mind, and Parapsychology. Most of the subjects contain references from other scientific books and the views of writers. In one of the subjects, Radner briefly explains the beliefs and history of a flat-earther and even previews an instruction on how to get a subscription of Flat Earth News and a membership card containing the inscription of proof that the world is flat. In the section of Creationism, it explains the theory of evolution and creation and discusses both sides to avoid a biased view. The chapter itself defines uncommon words in order for the reader to proceed with comprehension of the subject, and uses quotes from other books to get a point across. The section of The Bicameral Mind was relatively easy to understand and interesting. It starts off by explaining how a specific procedure of severing the corpus callosum, the connection between the two hemispheres of the brain, work independently.Read more ›