Unit 4: Science, Anomalies, and Skepticism

Introduction

In general, scientists do three things: document or discover facts, apply research methods, and draw conclusions. We think of facts as data, the raw material gathered from observations and experiments. Methods refer to the discipline-specific practices that scientists use to go about gathering, analyzing, and reporting that data. Conclusions or findings are the ways that scientists explain the facts and the theories behind those explanations, as well as potential applications of the information.

So how does the culture of science respond to claims that fall outside the normative boundaries of mainstream scientific research and knowledge? Sometimes scientists and proponents of fringe scientific theories disagree over whether or not anomalistic phenomena can be legitimately studied as science. These debates over the borders of science and pseudoscience frame the five readings in this unit:

  1. Are there reasonable arguments for why research into paranormal or anomalistic experiences should be taken more seriously as scientific investigations?
  2. Are there reasonable arguments for why anomalistic claims should be rejected as science?
  3. How do these debates provide insight into how we define and interpret science?
  4. What pseudoscientific claims have been debated in scientific circles?
  5. Has society become too skeptical of scientific findings? When does skepticism go too far?
  6. Should society place more trust in science?
  7. Do you think scientists should take anomalistic claims more seriously?
  8. Have you ever experienced something science cannot explain?

Readings

“Separating the Pseudo from Science”

Gordin, Michael D., “Separating the Pseudo from Science.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 Sept. 2012.

In this trade newspaper article, Princeton University history professor Michael D. Gordin explores the “emotive work” performed by the label “pseudoscience” in demarcating certain ideas, and the individuals who perpetuate them, as threatening to the empirical authority of science. 

“Two Wrongs Make A Right: Using Pseudoscience and Reasoning Fallacies to Complement Primary Literature.”

Stover, Shawn. “Two Wrongs Make A Right: Using Pseudoscience and Reasoning Fallacies to Complement Primary Literature.” Journal of College Science Teaching, Jan. 2016, p. 23+.

In this peer-reviewed article, biology professor Shawn Stover explains how some university science programs are incorporating pseudoscience case studies into coursework to teach the hierarchy of scientific evidence and how common reasoning mistakes are made by the general public when topics like global warming and evolution are debated.

Must be logged into UO library account to access article. 

“The Perspective of Anomalistics”

Truzzi, Marcello. “The Perspective of Anomalistics.” Skeptical Investigations, The Association for Skeptical Investigations, 2008.

Should scientists take research into the paranormal and other unexplained phenomena more seriously? In this article, sociology professor Marcello Truzzi defines the key features of Anomalistics, an “emerging interdisciplinary study of scientific anomalies,” and explains how researchers in the field are serving scientific aims.

“An Anomalistic Psychologist”

French, Chris. “An Anomalistic Psychologist.” Interview by Lance Workman. Psychologist, vol. 27, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 26-27.

In this interview, neuropsychologist Chris French tells Lance Workman how he became interested in investigating the psychology of paranormal beliefs and experiences, as well as the insights such research gives into scientific culture and the scientific process itself.

Must be logged into UO library account to access article. 

“Abuses of Skepticism”

Mooney, Chris. “Abuses of Skepticism.” Skeptical Inquirer, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, 5 Dec. 2003.

In this article, science writer Chris Mooney explores how the skeptical impulse, when taken to extremes, “can lose its usefulness and even lead to perverse outcomes.” 

License

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The Culture of Science by University of Oregon Composition Program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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