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Education Science

It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom 470

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "'Roughly one in three American adults believes in telepathy, ghosts, and extrasensory perception,' wrote a trio of scientists in a 2012 issue of the Astronomy Education Review. 'Roughly one in five believes in witches, astrology, clairvoyance, and communication with the dead (PDF). Three quarters hold at least one of these beliefs, and a third has four distinct pseudoscientific beliefs.' Now Steven Ross Pomeroy writes in Forbes Magazine that it's time to bring pseudoscience into public schools and universities. 'By incorporating examples of pseudoscience into lectures, instructors can provide students with the tools needed to understand the difference between scientific and pseudoscientific or paranormal claims,' say Rodney Schmaltz and Scott Lilienfeld." (Read more, below.)
"According to Schmaltz and Lilienfeld, there are 7 clear signs that show something to be pseudoscientific: 1. The use of psychobabble – words that sound scientific and professional but are used incorrectly, or in a misleading manner. 2. A substantial reliance on anecdotal evidence. 3. Extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence. 4. Claims which cannot be proven false. 5. Claims that counter established scientific fact. 6. Absence of adequate peer review. 7. Claims that are repeated despite being refuted. Schmaltz and Lilienfeld recommend incorporating examples of pseudoscience into lectures and contrasting them with legitimate, groundbreaking scientific findings. For example, professors can expound upon psychics and the tricks they use to fool people or use resources such as the Penn & Teller program "Bullshit".

But teachers need to be careful or their worthy efforts to instill critical thinking could backfire. Prior research has shown that repeating myths on public fliers, even with the intention of dispelling them, can actually perpetuate misinformation. "The goal of using pseudoscientific examples is to create skeptical, not cynical, thinkers. As skeptical thinkers, students should be urged to remain open-minded," say Schmaltz and Lilienfeld. "By directly addressing and then refuting non-scientific claims, science educators can dispel pseudoscience (PDF) and promote scientific skepticism, while avoiding the unhealthy extremes of either uncritical acceptance or cynicism.""
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It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom

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  • Witches Are Real (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 05, 2014 @08:44AM (#46668805)

    It's a real religion with real practitioners.

  • Re:Witches Are Real (Score:4, Informative)

    by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @08:52AM (#46668841) Homepage

    Beat me to it. []
    And its time to stop ignoring and demonizing them just because of our historic Christian past.

  • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:34AM (#46669031) Journal
    It also only works if there isn't pseudo-science in the survey. One of the questions was "Is an electron smaller than an atom" to which it appears they assumed the answer was yes. This is fine if you thin of the atom as a mini-solar system (the Bohr model) but this is wrong. The size of the atom is determined by the size of the electrons' 3D standing waves that are bound to the nucleus. So actually the size of an atom is literally the size of the electrons in it.

    The problem is that the "size" of an electron depends on its state as anyone with an understanding of undergrad quantum mechanics should know. So did students answering 'no' to this question do so because they had no clue about atoms and electrons or because they actually understood the quantum wave description of the atom?

    Apart from that the survey is very poorly worded for example the statement: "There are phenomena that physical science and the laws of nature cannot explain.". I could easily say "strongly agree" to that and think "dark matter" which is something that physical science cannot explain at the moment but which I'd hope we will eventually explain. So does the statement mean "cannot ever explain" or "cannot at the moment explain"?

    So perhaps the survey authors ought to worry a bit more about pseudo-scientific surveys and a little less about pseudo-scientific beliefs among undergrads.
  • by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:51AM (#46669125)

    After going through the woes of public education with 4 kids I can tell you that it's no fun for the teachers. Teachers are there to teach however nowadays they're overburdened with school administrations and core curriculum/testing laws that give them little leeway to be creative or to inspire kids to learn more and get the best education possible. Couple that with the facts that there are a lot of at-risk kids out there and parents who consider schools responsible for everything and we now have teachers who have to deal with a lot more things that parents should have to deal with vs. just teaching. What needs to happen is more positive involvement in our public schools both by parents and by other people who could help. There are lots of engineers and scientists out there who could contribute to STEM education in public schools if they were only given the chance and that way you would alleviate some of the pressure on teachers to be everything to everybody and focus on curriculum and learning in the classroom instead of whether or not the teacher understood the concepts you were presenting. It sounds like he was trying to inspire your understanding by having you play tug of war with the sphere, nowadays he'd probably have been repromanded for creating a situation that could have injured the students.

  • Re:needs some (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:54AM (#46669139)

    Roughly one in three American adults believes in telepathy, ghosts, and extrasensory perception," wrote a trio of scientists in a 2012 issue of the Astronomy Education Review.

    Yes we must use government institutions to regulate what people believe! If we start young we can change the next generation.

    Really if you want to see pseudoscience in action take a good look at all the assumptions behind cosmology and astronomy. Redshift = distance is an ASSUMPTION and Edwin Hubble himself was the first to point that out. Or start being honest enough to teach students that LOTS of biologists as well as physicists like Sir Hoyle have valid doubts about the theory of evolution, and no they are not creationists. Their main problem with evolution being that it is so often presented as settled established fact when it really has a lot of serious problems that need to be worked out. Just saying that is some kind of heresy in most English-speaking areas. Truth is many scientists would love to replace evolution with a better theory.

  • Re:AGW vs Vaccine (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 05, 2014 @11:04AM (#46669569)

    1. Don't believe something because "a scientist" says it. A scientist should provide evidence for the claims they make. Once lots of evidence has been collected, scientists form a consensus about the claim. That doesn't mean the claim is correct, but if you're going to argue that the claim is incorrect, you had better put forth very compelling evidence if you want to convince anyone.

    2. Just because you prove some evidence provided by a scientist is incorrect does not mean a particular conclusion is incorrect. There was a recent fraudulent study of stem cells that used fraudulent data. That doesn't mean all stem cell research is fraudulent. Similarly, if one climatologist falsifies data, that doesn't mean AGW isn't happening.

    3. There is a consensus among medical researchers that there is no link between vaccinations and autism. There is a consensus among climatologists that AGW is occurring.

    So, no, it's not a political issue. It's just science as usual.

"It's the best thing since professional golfers on 'ludes." -- Rick Obidiah