Because the universe is beautiful enough without having to lie about it

A level playing field

July 22nd, 2008 Posted in General

I was thinking about debating pseudoscientists again today. I often do that… It struck me today that one of the main problems scientists have with defending the scientific consensus is that it takes a whole lot longer to explain the scientific side than the pseudoscientific side.  For example, it takes about five seconds to say “you know what, radiometric dating methods are just plain bunk. They have been shown to be unreliable in many studies.”  It takes a very long time to show that this statement is nonsense (which it is).  It takes only a couple of seconds to say “there are no transitional fossils” and a very long time indeed to explain why this is not true, and to list them all.

So I think I’m beginning to come round to Eugenie Scott’s point of view, that scientists shouldn’t try to debate the craziest of pseudoscientists in a public context, not just because it gives them undeserved credibility, but also because it’s a losing game. There is no way you can win, because a pseudoscientist can come up with dozens or hundreds more false claims than any scientist can ever disprove. Science doesn’t work on ‘who argues best’, it works on evidence.  Science can’t resort to relying on appeals to intuition, because often scientific results are counter-intuitive.  That’s not to say that it isn’t a good intellectual discipline to know how to defend science in the face of ridiculous claims; it’s not even to say that it isn’t a good bit of fun to ridicule pseudoscientists in a public setting; just remember one thing – the majority of people will come away from such a debate thinking that you lost.

Be Sociable, Share!

Post a Comment

To protect against spammers, please enter the letters you see below

Please don’t bother posting "you’re wrong, you jerk" comments, unless you can back them up with valid scientific research papers.