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February 15, 2005

End of the Enlightenment; follow-up

I keep stumbling across great pieces on rational thought, scientific inquiry and then also, unfortunately, stuff about Intelligent Design'ers. A quick round-up of several good ones.

Here is a fantastic piece written by Anthropology professor James Lett about how to test evidence of some claim, featured on CSICOP, which aptly stands for Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. A brief excerpt:

The rule of falsifiability is essential for this reason: If nothing conceivable could ever disprove the claim, then the evidence that does exist would not matter; it would be pointless to even examine the evidence, because the conclusion is already known -- the claim is invulnerable to any possible evidence. This would not mean, however, that the claim is true; instead it would mean that the claim is meaningless.

I am a big fan of Michael Shermer who writes the Skeptic column for Scientific American. His February 2003 article entitled "Psychic Drift" is an excellent primer on rational thought:

Data and theory. Evidence and mechanism. These are the twin pillars of sound science. Without data and evidence, there is nothing for a theory or mechanism to explain. Without a theory and mechanism, data and evidence drift aimlessly on a boundless sea.

Finally, the Global Consciousness Project (amazingly, run out of Princeton) is the massive exercise in rabbit chasing that I mentioned in the previous post. An sound critique of their claims is made by Claus Larsen after he went to a talk by Dean Radin of GCP.

Another serious problem with the September 11 result was that during the days before the attacks, there were several instances of the eggs picking up data that showed the same fluctuation as on September 11th. When I asked Radin what had happened on those days, the answer was:
"I don't know."
I then asked him - and I'll admit that I was a bit flabbergasted - why on earth he hadn't gone back to see if similar "global events" had happened there since he got the same fluctuations. He answered that it would be "shoe-horning" - fitting the data to the result.
Checking your hypothesis against seemingly contradictory data is "shoe-horning"?
For once, I was speechless.

Finally, in subsequent conversations with Leigh, I made an observation that's worth repeating. The Church was having it out with natural philosophers (i.e., proto-natural scientists) about whether the earth was flat, or if the sun went 'round the earth as long ago as c.1500 if you count from Copernicus (c.1600 if you count from Galileo). A rough estimation on the length of that battle is 300 years before the general public agreed with the brave gentlemen who stood against ignorance. Charles Darwin kicked off the battle over whether biological complexity requires design or not, that is, the "debate" over evolution, a little over 150 years ago. So, if history repeats itself (which it inevitably does), then we have a long way to go before this fight is over. As a side note, Darwin's birthday was February 12th.

posted February 15, 2005 01:53 AM in Thinking Aloud | permalink