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« Memorial Day | Main | Udderly Amazing! »

May 30, 2007


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» More than just Resistance of Science from A Blog Around The Clock
In the May 18th issue of Science there is a revew paper by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. An expanded version of it also appeared recently in Edge and many science bloggers are discussing it these days. Enrique has... [Read More]


In your "ball exiting a curved pipe" experiment, wouldn't the spin placed on the ball from rubbing against the far wall of the pipe cause the ball to curve? If travelling only through the air, the ball would curve to the right, but if rolling on the ground, the ball would curve to the left as in figure B. Perhaps the college students have played a lot of kickball...

In the curved pipe illustration, we seem to be missing a lot of information. For instance, exactly where is the surface and pipe? Somewhere in outer space? In a gravitational field and, if so, what is the pipe's alignment relative to the pull of gravity?

I am assuming the pipe is in the earth's gravitational field. Also assuming that the axis perpendicular to the curve of the pipe is parallel to the earth which would be a position similar to holding a lawn hose in our hand while watering. Even if the pipe is lying flat on the surface of the earth, the ball will exit in a straight line.

I could go on, nearly line by line, resisting the article that prompted this post. Funny, for instance, how "resist" in the title morphs into "reject" in the body of the source article, and resistance to "science" is elided with resistance to "some scientific ideas." The pairs of terms represent significantly distinct notions to my mind and, although it's arguable the authors meant to include rejection simply as a species of extreme resistance, the result is just sloppy, another instance of what I resist and deplore: science (really, its public persona) gobbles up everything and claims for itself a monolithic permanence. Do scientists no longer credit Kuhn as a springboard for reflection? Does the science these authors are describing not have a history propelled in part by resistance?

The authors take with one hand what they give with the other, presumably as occasions for legitimate scientific skepticism (the intra-disciplinary resistance that motivates progress): "In fact, some skepticism toward scientific authority is clearly rational." This seems to me to be a token of skepticism required in this public setting to satisfy those who expect science to make such a gesture to its credit. Shortly thereafter: "The community of scientists has a legitimate claim to trustworthiness that other social institutions, such as religions and political movements, lack." This is stunning, audacious...or unremarkable. The converse holds, as well, for one thing. And the legitimacy and trustworthiness afforded science (correctly, to my mind--I'm not resisting this) are scientific parameters. Science can only prevail in such a contest...but why the contest in the first place? (Take for another example the contest of "cultures"--the United States is for these investigators a "culture"--illustrated by the elegant diagram regarding acceptance of evolution.)

So much more I could say, but I lack the time or clearheadedness. To wrap up, though, I'm puzzled by the authors' blithe propensity to shift from science (as a discipline, a "community," an industry, a methodical doctrine) to scientists (people vulnerable to human error and stereotyping). For one thing, as you, Ruchira, point out in your post about sexy scientists to which you refer in this post, there are countless groups who are routinely stereotyped. And good scientists would, I assume, take care to keep the two distinct. They, after all, have to deal with the human beings who provoke their own irrational responses (envy, anger, for instance, at other scientists with whom they compete or work each day), while remaining committed to the overarching disciplinary goals. Just look at Bloom and Weisberg's closing paragraph. There's "a general decline in the extent to which people trust scientists." But we must "persuade children and adults that the institute of science is, for the most part, worthy of trust." (My emphases.) This is intolerably sloppy. Yet it serves "science" well by reminding those who don't "resist" that they have confidently resolved a conundrum with which others continue to struggle, derailed by stereotype and misplaced trust.

I'm glad you are a science teacher. If I was a student, I think I would enjoy your classes.

I like science, I don't resist it. I tend to trust it, for the most part, more than I do religion because it is capable of answering many of my questions with concrete evidence. I am a "show me" kind of person.

While I understand the need for religion in societies around the world, I like the following quote from Ferdinand Magellan: "The Church says that the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the Church."

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