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Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies Paperback – July 14, 2004
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"Bauer develops persuasive arguments for anomalistics, including the historical studies. Its various topics attract popular interest and generate important issues for science studies. It is a useful subject in university courses, as it encourages students to think for themselves rather than following authority."
About the Author
Henry H. Bauer, professor emeritus of chemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, is the author of _The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery_ and _Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method_, among other books. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ix: those who sneer at "pseudoscience" reveal scientism, the belief that only science is authoritative when it comes to knowledge.
2: as things stand, there is available no quick or easy guidance about what to believe, not only on the many matters over which apparently competent people differ but also over some where the experts seem to be in agreement. At times we do well to believe what we're told; at other times we had better not. Sometimes there's no better guide than the experience of what you've seen for yourself; at other times your eyes deceive you. We should be open to new ideas-but on the other hand we should always be skeptical and critical before accepting a new idea, for old beliefs are often well tested by experience whereas new ones may just be untested hunches. It's good to see the whole picture, to be holistic, to be interdisciplinary-but on the other hand in many fields progress requires concentration on ultraspecialized techniques, theories, and facts.
5: Science has itself become a sort of church, and scientists are in that sense also priests (Knight, 1986). Science nowadays like the church in earlier centuries feels responsible for the intellectual orderliness of society. Thus pseudoscience is heretical belief-not merely wrong but an actual danger to the proper functioning of society and the welfare of humankind. The passion that authority always vents against heresy is directed nowadays in the name of science against pseudoscience.
6-7: Confronted with what they do not yet properly understand, those who claim to speak for science are reluctant to admit ignorance, and therefore their answers often discount or evade.
7: much popular wisdom idealizes science. Perhaps the most common illusion is that science uses a "scientific method" that guarantees objectivity (Bauer 1992a; Bauer and Huyghe 1999).
7: My ulterior motive is not to disparage science but to suggest that serious anomalistics be allowed a measure of respect as an honest seeking of knowledge ....
14: the distinction between natural science and social science is clear enough for the present purpose: between, respectively, certain and merely probable consequences of a given set of circumstances. That's the essence of it, and for many purposes it is a world of difference.
16: The "skeptical" in Skeptical Inquirer and the "skeptics" in the names of many groups employing that label interprets skepticism in the sense of those ancient Greeks who actively disbelieved, the atheists, rather than in the nowadays more commonly understood sense of agnostics, people who suspend judgment, who maintain an attitude of doubt. [I've dubbed such persons "scoftics"--RK.] CSICOP and its "Skeptics" are doubtful only about unorthodox beliefs, which they judge in the light of contemporary scientific knowledge that they do believe.
18: in most cases the contrast [between serious and cranky anomalistics] is clear enough: it is between, on the one hand, the assertion that here are mysteries to be solved and, on the other, blandly dogmatic assertions of "truths" that contradict established scientific knowledge.
26: Mainstream disciplines behave as though the unknown unknown doesn't exist; perhaps just because it cannot be directly investigated.
27: Social science ... seems to assume that it can establish expertise only if, as in the natural sciences, it is able to command a body of understanding that the laity cannot share because it runs counter to common sense: "what the sociologists say about common sense is the self-serving ideology of a vested interest group seeking to establish and maintain a monopoly over `its' professional turf" (Pease 1981:266).
27-28: some anomalistic researchers are as competent as any in the mainstream of science ....
29: The media feature the accomplishments of the sciences; the "news value" of anomalistics lies in its absurdities.
29: Research in anomalistics suffers from lack of resources ....
30-31: Anomalistics lacks any such organized literature. ... Compendia of data are not often available, even when they would be highly desirable, as for instance comprehensive listings of reported sightings of Nessies.
33: There exists no comprehensive account of all the premature or false trails that science has taken. By and large the history of science has focused on the successes of science.
36: The jockeying for prominence in science is well disciplined ... In anomalistics, jockeying for position often is less a matter of seeking approval of peers or making contributions to the field than of attracting attention from the media. Anomalistics therefore makes news more through the charlatans, hoaxers, and absurdities that plague it than for its serious investigations.
36: eyewitness testimony proves little if anything in science-just in a few pockets like field biology. [!]
37: Personal experiences are not repeatable on demand .... if their facts were reproducible, cryptozoology would be zoology and parapsychology would be psychology.
38: organizational differences then amplify characteristics of the fields' practices. Thus much of the strength of science stems directly from the efficient, workmanlike, task-oriented procedures of the scientific community; and the weaknesses of anomalistics have much to do with the lack of such communally governed practices.
41: Within the various anomalistic fields one sometimes sees attempts at an appearance of solidarity in the face of the dismissiveness and contempt displayed by science, media, and "skeptics." The clearest instances of this are the typical refusal to discuss their differences publicly or to admit, as they privately believe, that some of their number are incompetent or worse. ... Of course this is misguided and self-defeating in the longer run, but it's typical of all guilds and groups.
41: Bigfoot enthusiasts and those who hunt dinosaurs in the Congo may respect one another when they stop to take notice, but they rarely communicate with one another and have little natural of instinctive affinity with one another. There is no general feeling of commonality between ufologists and cryptozoologists, or between either of those and parapsychologists.
47: "How could anyone believe that?" ... The underlying presumption is that everyone ought to have the same beliefs because we believe-or should believe-only things that are true.
Many people tend to believe whatever they're told-even by con-men. Others tend to believe the opposite of whatever they're told. Few indeed are skeptical and empirical in a disciplined fashion. The real mystery about belief is not how we come to believe something, but rather how some of us are able sometimes to change our minds under the force of evidence and logic rather than emotion.
The passion in many arguments ... [is] an inevitable corollary of a human wish for certainty.
48: "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proofs," is a common aphorism. But fundamentally the issue is, rather, whether to trust empirical evidence or contemporary scientific theory. The opposing sides usually fail to recognize how close this lies to the root of their polarization. ... In anomalistics, the true believers tend to pose as determinedly empirical .... The debunkers, on the other hand, stand on the existing theoretical paradigm; such things didn't or don't happen because they cannot. David Hume is constantly cited as to the possible occurrence of miracles .... But current scientific knowledge is not necessarily the last word.
49: It seems natural to reject reports of some happening when there's no plausible conceivable mechanism by which it could occur.... But ... are there not many things that we accept to happen even though we don't understand how they do, such as psychosomatic illness and the placebo effect?
The implacable demand for "mechanism" reveals a strict materialism. Those who insist on it are not really relying on science ...
50: even some purely material phenomena are indubitably real despite our inability to explain them. Cosmic rays are generated by a phenomenon whose energy is of a magnitude that baffles our ability to conceive of a mechanism. The homing instincts and communicating ability of insects are unquestioned, while our explanations for them are tentative at best. The ice ages did occur, but we don't understand how or why they came about. And so on.
In the past, some of the most excellent arguments proved to be false, as to why something just could not be so. [Listed are meteorites, drifting continents, and charged ions in water.] These all seem fine arguments. It's just that they were incorrect, as in many other cases of resistance by mainstream science to the startlingly new. ...
53: It takes much longer to explain why a point is erroneous than it took to assert the point. It can be very tiresome to answer in full detail what seems like a poorly based, incoherent case for something highly improbable. ... The frustrations of arguing with a crank have been described with feeling by some who have had or witnessed the experience (Russell 1956; Shaw 1944). ... Drawn into dispute, frustrated experts may become arrogantly dismissive ... and they lose debating points and public credibility.
55: Rarely if ever is anomalistics given credit for grains of truth. Velikovsky was and is said to be "wrong" .... One arguably less-than-competent laboratory is asserted to typify all of parapsychology, whereas one less-than-competent forensics laboratory is hardly taken to show that forensics is pseudoscience.
55: Rhetorical questions abound. ... "How could bones of Bigfoot not be found if they exist, with so many people finding footprints of them?" And so on and so forth. Once a given issue is settled one way or the other, answers to such questions will be evident enough; indeed, they are likely to appear obvious in hindsight. Before the issues are settled, however, the inability to provide conclusive answers proves nothing.
56-57: Debunkers typically seek to establish guilt by association. It's no easy task to discredit entirely the major anomalist claims by careful discussion of the evidence. It's much easier-and so it's done all the time-simply to include them all in the same list, as "pseudoscience." But this lumping also has disadvantages. ... [It] can backfire if even one of the unorthodox claims turns out to be valid, as some do. For decades there were those who decried as wasteful, or worse, the use of vitamin supplements, but they will (or should) have been mightily abashed when in 1998 the Institute of Medicine recommended such supplements even for people enjoying an apparently adequate diet.
Debunking loses credibility when it calls "paranormal" or "supernatural" the search for such entirely material albeit as-yet-uncaptured species as the giant sloth .... Debunkers often cite their concern for public rationality and scientific literacy; but by their lack of discrimination, and by their doom-saying and exaggerated assertions of the harm that supposedly flows from what they call pseudoscience, they fail to practice the rationality and scientific approach they preach.
57: pundits will insist that science is not characterized by always being right, or in any other particular result, but only in the process of using the scientific method. Yet when right results are obtained by people who flout the scientific method and other norms of science-as with high-temperature superconductors-their lapses are not criticized.
58: There exist no reliable, accredited repositories or museums of ufology or cryptozoology, so specimens or artifacts mentioned in the literature often cannot be retrieved for reexamination.
58-59: In anomalistics, where by definition the evidence is not utterly compelling, believers and debunkers are thereby free perpetually to reach opposing conclusions, to fit the evidence into their opposing stories. ... Concerning yeti or Bigfoot, and the fact that apemen are featured in folklore across the world, Bayanov has pointed out that ... "the existence of mythological hominoids is a necessary, though not sufficient condition, of the existence of real hominoids" (Bayanov, 1982). Their absence from folklore would even speak against the creature's existence, which is the opposite of the debunkers' usual argument.
The most original aspect of this book is the way that Dr. Bauer has of defining normal, revolutionary, premature, and "pseudo" science in terms of the three facets of data, method, and theory. He makes detailed comparisons of the actual working practices in natural science, social science, and denigrated science and reexamines notorious cases from this fresh perspective. Normal science doesn't try to do anything revolutionary in any of these three facets, according to Bauer. As he says, "Scientific "revolutions" (quantum mechanics, relativity) change only one of those at a time. Looking for novelty in two of the three simultaneously produces "premature" science: Mendel's theory of genetics, Wegener's theory of drifting continents - ignored or rejected by science for decades. Novelty in all three areas characterizes looking for Loch Ness Monsters or UFOs or studying psychic phenomena; the difficulties are enormous and the chances of success slight, but that doesn't make the quest useless or to be criticized."
Some of our favorite subjects that have been dismissed as "pseudo science" are reexamined as "scientific" with this perspective, and Bauer relates the search for the giant squid, the search for extraterrestrials, pre-Clovis people in the Americas, cold fusion, the idea that HIV causes AIDS, and much more.
Bauer is a humorous writer and acknowledges that his critics will probably not be able to keep from being nasty. He recommends that if the skeptics insist on being nasty, they should at least distinguish genuine knowledge-seekers from self-promoting confidence tricksters. As he points out, many cryptozoologists, parapsychologists, and ufologists are perfectly honest, genuine seekers of understanding (while some mainstream researchers are not very honest).
For an unusually unbiased, yet scientific, approach to some of the subjects that are "borderland" respectable - sometimes called pseudo-science, sometimes admitted into science, but generally still controversial ("how much don't we yet know about electromagnetism and living processes! About archaeoastronomy!") you must read this book.