Thursday, March 6, 2008

Good Science or Bad Science?

New York, March 6, 2008—For Atheists, science is the god that has replaced all mythical gods. Most of us put science on a pedestal, if not an altar, and proudly make our judgments and decisions based on scientific information. But is our complete and absolute trust in science always warranted?

No, says Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, professor of evolutionary biology at Stony Brook University, Long Island, who is writing a book for Chicago University Press on how to distinguish between good science and bad science. (Its working title is “Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell the Difference Between Science and Bunk.”)

“The point of the book is to help you distinguish between science, pseudo-science, bad science, well-meaning-but-not-so-good science and plain old bunk,” says Dr. Pigliucci.

Science is a huge enterprise funded by both private industry and government, he points out, and therein things can go awry—particularly when one sector has a vested interest in the results of a scientific study. For example, Dr. Pigliucci points to the eugenics movement at the beginning of the 20th century. “It was based on bad genetic science but had a huge influence—tens of thousands of people in the U.S. were sterilized against their will or without their knowledge.”

“You need to be aware that you can’t trust everything you read, not even if it’s written in a scientific journal,” cautions the professor. You should be paying attention, he says: “Your baloney detector should be on all the time. Science is a wonderful, powerful tool but like all tools, it has some defects, weaknesses and flaws. ”

This Sunday, at a New York City Atheists’ brunch, Dr. Pigliucci, who is, astonishingly, the holder of three Ph.D. degrees (one in genetics, one in philosophy and one in evolutionary biology) will tell us how to distinguish good science from bad and how to keep this very important tool—indeed, the most important tool mankind has for discovering the truth—from being sabotaged by those who would usurp it for their own purposes.

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