Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
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.""
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom

Comments Filter:
  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:25AM (#46668993) Homepage []
    "The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) program, which flourished for nearly three decades under the aegis of Princeton University's School of Engineering and Applied Science, has completed its experimental agenda of studying the interaction of human consciousness with sensitive physical devices, systems, and processes, and developing complementary theoretical models to enable better understanding of the role of consciousness in the establishment of physical reality."

    Disclaimer: I worked in a joint program with them when I was managing the PU robotics lab in the 1980s. The program was funded in part by the McDonnell Foundation (of McDonnell-Douglas) in part because supposedly strange unexplainable things happened in fighter cockpits especially to pilots under stress in emergency situations. Rather that give the money just to the PEAR lab, it was decided to give the money to a group of labs that would work together somehow exploring aspects of human consciousness (or something like that, not saying how effective all that was). Dean Radin is the researcher who connected the groups back then and has been active in parapsychology work since: []

    Another person active in this field of consciousness studies is Charles Tart (unrelated to PU, but interesting in the field). [] []

    Related items at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (founded in 1973 by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell) which include mention of Dean Radin and Charles Tart: []

    Mainstream science has been apparently useful, even if it is more the tinkerers and engineers who actually invent and bring to production useful things. But ultimately, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit we don't very much understand the nature of consciousness or the deeper nature of reality, which together, as much as we think we know about them, still form a "great mystery" (a term some Native Americans used for God and such). And, no, mapping a few or even many neural pathways or having a chemical analysis of brain neuro-transmitters does not equate to understanding the mystery of consciousness. As Charles Tart points out, there is a step where many otherwise good scientists move from apparently solid ground in their specialties to claiming fallacious things like "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" and so create essentially a new religion of "Scientistic Materialism". []
    "His [Tart's] and other scientists' work convinced him that there is a real and vitally important sense in which we are spiritual beings, but the too dominant, scientistic, materialist philosophy of our times, masquerading as genuine science, dogmatically denies any possible reality to the spiritual. This hurts people, it pressures them to reject vital aspects of their being."

    Anyway, mass compulsory schooling in "classrooms" (intended by 1920s eugenicists to segregate people by social class so they interbreed and stratify, see Gatto) is also in general another way of hurting people: []
    "The shocking possibility that dumb people don't exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the millions of careers devoted to tending them will seem incredible to you. Yet that is my central proposition: the mass dumbness which justifies official schooling first had to be dreamed of; it isn't real. ... Our official assumptions about the nature of modern childhood are dead wrong. Children allowed to take responsibility an

  • Dangerous territory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @09:38AM (#46669059) Journal

    Any time you are trying to tell someone what not to think, or what not to believe, you are entering dangerous territory. This is even more important when state sponsored - aka the public educational system. If schools do their job right, then students will be able to make their own informed choices on what to believe or what not to believe, and even if a student does not adhere to what the school "wants" them to believe, that is okay - the school has done their job either way. Direct comparisons against things schools do not espouse is not necessary or appropriate in any shape or form.

    To be perfectly clear, let me explain what I'm NOT talking about. Take cigarette smoking for example. There are hard scientific studies showing that smoking causes specific health problems, so it is appropriate for a school to teach that smoking is bad and then provide the evidence. Now on the other hand, suppose there are people in the world who believe smoking is beneficial (and certainly those people are out there). Is it the school's job to incorporate that into their anti-smoking teaching and attempt to specifically discredit or call out the opposite viewpoint? No. That isn't necessary or even feasible. What this story is talking about crosses far into this kind of territory.

  • No, I am afraid that you are in grievous error.

    You do not suggest a theory and claim the inability to of an ecperiment or observation to falsify it as verifying it.

    You do not, clearly, but that is actually how science works. We have two categories of scientific theory, the falsified and the yet-to-be falsified. Theories (mark you, not hypotheses) which have yet to be falsified are considered true.

    Support and verify are completely separate things...

    Not in the context of science. [] There is no such thing as "proof" or "certainty" in this context, either. If you want to continue playing semantic games you'll have to find another player: these are well-defined terms.

    "...when you indirectly test a concept by indirect measurments..."

    Most measurements are in some sense indirect. They can still be strong evidence for a theory; even null results (notably, Michaelson-Morley) can be valid and useful observations. I'm sorry if you wish, like Thomas, to personally probe the mysteries of the universe, but we are not endowed with a universal perspective nor even vision beyond a tiny spectrum. You cannot directly observe subatomic particles; they exist regardless. However, to most definitions of the term, the CMBR is a direct measurement: it is residual radiation from the Big Bang. We don't have to be there to see it; we have a snapshot. We have other evidence, but that alone should be sufficient grounds for the theory. There are no competing theories for this observation -- one might say that it is "settled science". In the same way with AGW, almost everything we know about physics would have to be (wildly) wrong for it not to be true.

    You don't seem scientifically literate, and I include the adverb as a courtesy. You may feel free to redefine "evidence", but it won't change anyone else's definition, and it definitely doesn't discredit the observations. It's a pretty bizarre departure from reason; I'd ask what belief you're sheltering from reality, but I think we'll all be the better for not knowing.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun