welcome to opposite world…

All too often people confuse a debate out of pity or common courtesy for equal standing. And all too often, cranks are happy to take advantage of that perception.

man in denial

Ah, the Templeton Foundation, that bottomless pit of money ready to be doled out to anyone willing to serve as a pawn in their master plan to forcibly merge science and religion. They’ve been very busy lately, buying flash ads on science blog networks, putting together apologetics websites and having their fellows try to ensnare big name atheists into existential debates. Case in point, prominent philosopher Daniel Dennett was asked to provide his thoughts to a Templeton fellow on the subject of materialism. He refused of course, citing an odd anecdote about these sorts of public debates. Here it is, slightly edited for style…

Many years ago I made the mistake of participating, with some good scientists, in a conference pitting us against astrologers and other new age fakes. I learned to my dismay that even though we thoroughly dismantled the opposition, many in the audience ended up, paradoxically, with an increased esteem for astrologers! As one person explained to me I figured that if you scientists were willing to work this hard to refute it, there must be something to it!

First of all, I have to ask what kind of conference that was and who mailed out the invites to the audience. The idea that because scientists are willing to put in the time and effort to refute something means what they try to refute must have some sort of validity is exactly the reason why we need skeptical and popular science blogs. You know what else scientists would go to great lengths to refute? That anti-freeze helps you feel warm when you’re trapped in a snowstorm and your power goes out. Does that mean that next time you’re snowed in, you should drink some anti-freeze because a scientist said not to do it? Because this is exactly what that person’s logic seems to imply. Scientists refute ideas based on erroneous thinking and cast doubt on claims that don’t come with tangible evidence. That’s part of their job. And having some healthy skepticism about what people tell you used to be a good thing.

Funny enough, many people are still skeptical, but they’re skeptical about the wrong thing. Instead of listening to a panel of experts well versed in a particular topic, they rush to praise cranks who present themselves as rebels against the establishment of science and cast a skeptical glare towards those who probably know the topic best. I see the same thing in numerous comments on this blog. People who are so skeptical of almost everything that comes out of a scientist’s mouth and demanding proof that 2 + 2 really does equal 4, seem to blindly trust those who insist it must equal seven and blame the establishment for being too rigid not to give the 2 + 2 = 7 proponents the time of day. It’s almost as if you step into opposite land.

Finally, another thing that bothers me. How come if I were to turn this blog into watered down apologetics, the coffers of religious foundations would open to throw some cash my way but since I write about science, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in a rush to sponsor the subject matter? In fact, newspapers and media channels have slashed science departments and cast out science writers in favor of giving self-important pundits even more opportunities to pontificate. There seems to be a very tight budget for science and skepticism in popular culture while the sheer amount of money people are ready to waste on meaningless, important-sounding fluff is measured in the billions. But then again, like I’ve said before, woo is big business

# science // popular science / science education / skepticism

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