Sigal Tifferet

Senior Lecturer, Ruppin Academic Center

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Can people who deny science be educated? How?

Some of my undergraduate students deny scientific research with the following claims: (1) my experience shows otherwise, (2) scientific results are always changing, (3) each person has his own truth.
Is there a way to change their way of thinking, or should it be treated as a belief, similar to religion which is unfalsifiable?
If it is subject to change, how would you go about achieving that change?
Please do not answer the question "Should people who deny science be educated?", that is a different issue.

  • Feb 20 2011: There’s much egocentrism displayed here. Many of the comments are about what science is and how to display the truth of science, as if a denier would automatically see the error of their beliefs when confronted with logical arguments and demonstrations.

    The false assumption that makes many of the comments here beside the point, is that deniers are cut from the same cloth as most of ‘us’ here. They are not. Logical arguments or demonstrations work for people who think, who are willing and excited to reappraise their beliefs, opinions, knowledge, etc, in the face of new facts.

    Not everybody wants to think. Not everybody has the interest to think as we (me? TEDdies?) do. Many don’t even have the ‘luxury’ to think, especially if their primary concern is scratching enough calories out of the ground. Yet, as humans, they still seek (are cursed?) an answer to satisfy their need for a meaning to their world. IT DOESEN’T MATTER whether the answer makes sense or not. What they want is to satisfy an itch so they can get on with their lives, or feel part of a group, or be feel assured their vision of the world is right. Without which they feel insecure.

    To teach science deniers, you have to at least offer something to satisfy their need for the meaning of their world before threatening them with something that would invalidate the beliefs they hold. This is especially hard for those deniers who have committed many years to such beliefs, or have a vested interest in them. It would be like saying to them, “Your life was wrong.” If they were of a mind to appreciate logic and rationality, they wouldn’t be deniers in the first place. You have to find another method of persuasion than displays and arguments of logic and rationality.

    Efforts to assuage their fears of seeming or being irrelevant or mistaken may prove beneficial. Basically, ask them what they are afraid of and show them there is no harm in being wrong.
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      Feb 20 2011: I've been watching this debate closely, and so far this is the most astute comment. Thank you.
      • Feb 20 2011: What I would have added if I hadn’t run out of characters was: You need to give people something to ‘run to’, that THEY understand, not just tell them what to ‘run away’ from. (I’ve been never been accused of being astute before. Thankx, I think.)
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      Feb 20 2011: I agree. The key is, as you say, "ask them what they are afraid of" and understand where they are coming from rather than simply jumping ahead to show them another way.
      • Feb 22 2011: I think what most people are afraid of is death. Science and reasoning doesn't give them the warm fuzzy feeling that the religious indoctrination does.

        Ask them to ask themselves what it was like before they were born and they will have the answer to what it will be like when they die.
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      Feb 21 2011: I don't think a petitio principii (begging the question) is astute,

      but indeed... thorough reason and logic are not necessary when it comes to making a living.

      Knowing something useful or learning a rule of thumb that is sufficient is that. Sufficient.

      If someones denies science, I gather the person has already passed the level of gathering food and shelter.
      If he/she wants to go beyond sufficient, we call that further education.

      I don't think the question was "do we need to educate everybody?" or "has any new born human the capacity to become more rational?"

      I would even argue that saying that "some people don't need education" is worse than saying "we should offer everybody education" or "we should educate everybody"
      • Feb 21 2011: I don’t know that I was particularly astute either, but as your response seems directed at my response, here is my response to your response (is there a better way to say that?).

        I think we agree, maybe. I fear I may not be as articulate as I should, your patience please.

        I don’t understand petitio principii (begging the question). The question was: How do I teach science deniers? My answer was: It depends on why they deny science.

        Toward your other comments:
        There are many who go to school seeking education, formally called training, sufficient to make a living. This is NOT to be confused with going to a ‘University’ to learn about the universe, which I agree is beyond sufficient. That it enables one to make a living too (usually) is almost besides the point. Some do it for the knowledge, some only for the sheepskin.

        Yes, most are beyond hunting and gathering, but they can still be exhausted by work even if they do not have a heavy physical job. Off the shelf explanations that deny science may satisfy their need; for meaning & purpose, or community, or validation. They are adequate. No more work (thought) is required.

        Do we need to, or who should, or who can, or whether anyone needs to, be educated, etc. were not questions I meant to ask or imply. I’m sorry if my response was perceived that way.
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          Feb 21 2011: I also think our opinions don't differ very much (and I might have misinterpreted your response, not a native English either ;-) )

          "Begging the question" is, in rhetoric, a way of false reasoning by changing or altering the basic premises that were put forward.

          In this case "Can people who deny science be educated? How?"

          So there are 2 terms that are open to interpretation (or to discussion): what is science?, and what is education?
          I think that we can, for sake of argument, use the "science" definition I coined?

          For education...
          => in that contest, I must agree and say: science is not necessary, as non-university knowledge is also education (i.e. education in kung fu is possible...)

          Although I could try and argue that in principle everything in education needs to at least a lesser degree an acceptance of science... but that would lead this whole debate too theoretical and academical imo.

          So let's keep it practical and think if we can give Sigal more suggestions about the "how" part?
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      Feb 22 2011: I have nothing against religion I don't follow Christian morals myself but I actually think society can benefit very much from Christian morals.

      What irks me about the deniers is not that they are religious but that they are blatantly ignorant people. I'm fine if as a person you hold true to Christian values but at the same time when you flat out deny fact I think that is a very dangerous way to think. I am not trying to make people denounce their religion, but these deniers can still man up and acknowledge responsibility in their lives.

      Acknowledge that the world is factual and God is absent, no amount of wishful thinking will bring Him to earth and get Him to solve all your problems. I think coming to terms with such an idea is not just a process of learning it is also a process of maturation and you don't have to deny your religion to accomplish it. You just have to let go of the fear and anxiety that comes with acknowledging that you might be alone in the universe and the big guy upstairs is not gonna tell you what to do and give you a pat on the back for a job well done, acknowledge that you might be responsible for the things you do,
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        Feb 22 2011: Hi Budimir,
        As a former atheist, I'll tell you, it was in what I experienced of what I called God, that makes me cringe over religion. Honestly, it is impossible to convince someone about the existence of something as profound as one's creator. Because when you are inside the ocean, you cannot perceive that you are all wet. God is what God creates as God becomes. God, to my experience, is the ever-evolving being, since time began with a bang; and we can talk back to it and it to us because it made us that way. Just as we create our artificial intelligence to respond to us, so too did our creator because it wants to know what it is. We cannot see it because it created us to see ourselves so we can tell God what God is. All of nature was designed to show God what God is.

        The great I AM, is more than fact, it is you.
        • Feb 22 2011: I couldn't disagree more.

          I can perceive that I am indeed all wet when I am in the ocean. In the same way I can perceive that I am running out of breath when there is no air.

          "he created us to see ourselves so we can tell god what god is". Sounds like complete nonsense to me.

          Man created god in his image, to serve mans own purpose.
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      Feb 22 2011: Vincine-

      I agree wholeheartedly with John. You have boiled this down to its core.
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    Feb 16 2011: It's interesting that you tagged the topic with skepticism. The denial of science at its root is skepticism, which is something science should embrace. Denying scientific research is in many ways the foundation of science itself. If we never denied science, we would still be searching for phlogiston instead of dark matter.

    Granted, denying scientific research is not the same as denying the methods of science. But even a little bit of mistrust of the methods of science is healthy because it moderates scientism and prevents the blind trust in science from being used to make arguments beyond the scientific domain. It also encourages a needed humility in practitioners of science who should always be mindful of our limits and the vastness of our ignorance. Let's not forget that while science has brought us many wonderful things it also brought us eugenics.

    Science does not have a monopoly on truth. The philosophy of science has never really answered Hume's basic complaint about inductive reasoning. Unless you are willing to tackle the arguments put forth by the likes of Karl Popper, Paul Feyerabend, and Imre Lakatos, it might be better not to ask 'can deniers be educated?' but rather can they be engaged in the search for meaning and truth?
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    Feb 16 2011: No, they can not.

    Not if you understand what science actually is and implies.
    "Science is the set of methods that can uncover truth" (As a very very short definition)

    If you use this definition, you cannot uncover truth, hence not be propper educated.

    To go into the claims:
    (1) sure, experience shows otherwise... and experience can be delusional... show them examples of illusions (visual, auditive, taste, cognitive,...) And explain that even knowing those illusions doesn't free you from perceiving them.

    (2) Indeed. As our knowledge about the world is always incomplete and default.
    There are however results and laws that don't change, and can be asserted as true with a probability approaching 1.
    If they don't want to believe the laws of Newton, ask them to do the '10 high' test (jumping from a 10 storey building) and see whether gravity is real or not...

    (3) This is false: each person has his own image of the world and his own assumptions of what is true or not. There is only one truth. Each person has his or her own understanding of it.
    You can compare each others understanding, see where there are differences, and put them to the test (in which case you are doing scientific research!)

    Hope this helps
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      Feb 16 2011: I beg to differ that they cannot be educated. I totally understand your premise for making such statement but what about thinking outside the science box? They are probably non believers of science & have beliefs in religion etc. God vs. Darwinism... A different view! Are you saying that people who believe in religion or anything other than science are uneducated?
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        Feb 16 2011: "Are you saying that people who believe in religion or anything other than science are uneducated?"

        Not to speak for Christophe, But, as for me, I think the simple answer to that question is "Yes".

        The longer answer is that I would say, if they deny legitimate Science and its findings, they are under-educated regarding the true nature of scientific inquiry and/or operating under a cognitive disconnect about it...To me, I don't see how anyone can examine the evidence for Evolution, for example, with sufficient understanding of what the evidence presents as fact, and come away saying that it is not a valid explaination for describing the progress and diversity of life.
        • Feb 22 2011: I'm with Michael here too. To believe in anything without reproducible evidence is an act of ignorance.

          A good example:-

          A few years ago I put down my religion as "Jedi" on the UK census. I don't pretend to have super powers nor do I actually have them. I did it to prove a point. My mother was outraged, perhaps even more so than when I told her I was an athiest. My response was perhaps not the most diplomatic but I think summarises the point most other athiests will agree with.

          Being a Jedi is based on a belief in a recent film. ( at least films have special effects)
          Being a Christian/Muslim/etc requires belief in an ancient book.

          I know the film was man made, and fictitious. I also know that the book(s) are man made and fictitious. Yet she is prepared to believe the contents of a book that is largely contradictory and written by multiple parties a significant time after the events they attempt to describe. Why? A simple lack of education or simply brainwashing. Those books are no more a source of historical truth or "real truth" than any film.
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          Feb 24 2011: Not everything in this world is quantifiable and measurable, reproducible, and able to have its mystery sucked out of it so it can be properly categorized and made small. Not all science does that either. The social sciences, that so many in the scientific world don't like or do not understand, try to apply much of what you just said to things that are harder to understand.

          When you are attracted to a person of the opposite sex, neurons fire, hormones are released, and who knows how many other processes happen during the course of "mating". But when we make love, the feelings we have, the possible connection we feel, which may or may not be reproducible(and may never happen again) or any other way scientifically studied(except abstractly through statistics maybe?), should not be chalked up to ignorance. It is why science is not, in my opinion, absolute and undeniable.. it doesn't take into account all the many special things that can't be explained, or maybe SHOULDN'T be explained..

          I know you are arguing religion specifically, but I am arguing extremism.. any belief taken too far, too absolutely, is EQUALLY fallible, and likely just as bad. I thank god, or whatever the hell it is that allows us to exist, be it strings, or one of those ancient religions, that there is so much diversity in life and in people for us to all be able to type on keyboards, and send information flying every direction simultaneously so we can all see it. Yes, science made it possible, and so did whatever it is that made science possible, be it potential, big bangs, or anything else.

          I have a few characters left, so here are last thoughts. Everything is amazing, and nobodies happy

          I don't try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.

          So much to consider that I could never, ever, ever, make my world so small as you sound like you have.
      • Feb 16 2011: One slight comment, which makes my argument relevant, is that he asks whether they should, not whether they could. But that is not my point...

        A person who denies science, usually doesn't do so from ignorance, but rather a conflict of emotions that forces him to deny that which he can (or could) recognize as a truth.

        We can all choose in what to believe. Similarly, we can choose whether to challenge the very forces that drive us, or simply believe in them blindly. Therefore, I believe that in that sense, a person could not become an educated scientist...

        Nevertheless, they can still be educated on the interpersonal relations that we have, be charitable, or perhaps even good business men. We musn't generalize too much, for there are a thousand forms of intelligence. Just because a person refuses to believe in science doesn't mean a person cannot read and learn about other areas. Similarly to how a person who doesn't believe in religions, God, etc., can still be educated on the subject.

        Short answer: Yes.

        But not in areas that require scientific knowledge.
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        Feb 17 2011: Chandra:

        "Are you saying that people who believe in religion or anything other than science are uneducated?"

        I do not say that (It would be folly to state such at thing)

        I would claim that they either believe something contrary to truth, or something redundant (i.e. something that cannot be proven nor dis-proven).
        Which I think indicates they are either irrational or ignorant.
        As happens, education can reduce both....

        So I'd agree with
        "people who believe in religion or anything other than science are undereducated"

        @ Roberts: agree
        @ Bruno: Knowledge about interpersonal relationships or about charity or anything can be either backed or refuted by science.
        One does not need to follow the scientific method to learn something (It would be cumbersome).

        I would like to add a nice quote of John Stuart Mill in 'on Liberty'
        "In the opinion, not of bad men, but of the best men, no belief which is contrary to truth can be really useful"
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          Feb 24 2011: You said:"I would claim that they either believe something contrary to truth, or something redundant (i.e. something that cannot be proven nor dis-proven)."
          I have this instructor teaching sociology that made a point the other day that was pretty powerful.. regardless of how true or untrue what someone's belief is, if you take the example of a terrorist who destroys his body during a suicide bombing, he believes in what he believes more than anyone else can ever claim.
          Science is fallible because it is in our heads, being used by words, that are so very flexible and fragile. We all accept that what goes up(like when we jump) will come down, even if some don't accept the explanation of gravity that makes it possible. Not all science is so concrete I think, so many things science has explained, then re-explained or theorized when it didn't have it quite right the last time, or the time before.
          The sun revolved around the earth at one point remember? That was until some other "scientist" proved that it didn't. Both used science as the basis of theories that were widely accepted by the scientific community of the time. What if there is an ever BETTER explanation, the last theory not quite being wrong, just not being complete..

          Does that make science imperfect, or just so flexible in our minds that we forgive it for it's transgressions, blaming those individuals who were the REAL culprits.. right?

          Until science can prove or disprove everything that is, we need alternate perspectives to be able to look at those things, because as far as I know.. there are many legitimate questions that science, as it is now, is inadequate to even frame as a question, much less find an answer for. For some that is the faith, for others the mystery, and others(myself would be one) the beauty of whatever this reality we are all coexisting on/in.
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      Feb 19 2011: Thanks Christophe, this is the direct answer to my question. Very helpful.
    • Feb 23 2011: I want to stress what you say about "(3) each person has his own truth.", Christophe.

      As you say, "There is only one truth" - if we can ever reveal that truth or not. So the expression "own truth" is semantically paradox though widely spread because it even appears in philosophical and psychological publications. What people want to express with this term should be named "personal opinion". Personal opinions may be as close to truth as human perspective allows, even congruent, but are never identical with truth itself as being a different category. An opinion may be true ur false but never is "the truth".

      I want to point this out because the term "own truth" or "personal truth" is highly suggestive and even purposefully used for manipulation.
    • Feb 23 2011: Christophe, it's always fun to take a strident hard line of them vs us. We're kinda hardwired to do it.

      But we're also quite adept at knowledge partitioning. That is to say, we can readily and easily hold multiple incongruent pieces of information in our head and believe them all nonetheless, because it requires a degree of effort to cross reference their information and make them congruent with each other.

      It's why even in the NIS, you have 15% of scientists there been religious, while their achievements in the field of science are generally without reproach.

      Taking advantage of knowledge partitioning means that we need to find and seed ideas and information that doesn't 'raise red flags' in a denier's head. With enough of these ideas in there, you can eventually start to challenge them on the congruency of that information. They'll go through a good deal of cognitive dissonance attempting to reconcile opposing facts and ideas.

      And maybe they'll come out better, or maybe they won't. They'll probably just end up confused, but that's ok. Because you can just continue the cycle.

      The trick I suppose is in figuring out what exactly it is that you can 'seed' a person with without 'triggering' other negative mental associations that makes them reject an idea out of hand. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending on your perspective), each person is wired differently, the same idea will produce different set of associations that may or may not trigger another set of mental processes that ends up in the rejection of that idea.

      As a societal level, you can only really immerse people in a 'culture of science'. Ideas, media, things that glorify rationality, science, technology... all that good stuff. Something like TED, but more of it, and probably for a younger age group.

      At an individual level, it just means talk to your friends, challenge their assertions, talk about all the good stuff without going out of your way to press buttons.
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        Feb 24 2011: George,

        I think I can agree with most of what you say...

        Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
        "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
        (Through the Looking Glass)
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    Feb 18 2011: so long as science is improving our understanding of the universe (and it is) all current "conclusions" are tentative and subject to change.

    It's not your job to convince anyone - that's a salesman's job. it's your job to present the facts as they are objectively. the people who want to will resonate with it and agree with your conclusions.
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      Feb 19 2011: I would not want to be a salesman, if that means hiding crucial facts and presenting false claims.
      I would want to give them tools of scientific thought that they could use to evaluate different claims. For instance: Is the claim falsifiable? Have the results leading to the claim been replicated? Is the research method convincing (i.e. case studies vs. double blind with placebo).
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        Feb 21 2011: thats very good, there will be plenty of people who love truth enough to learn from you. I say don't worry about the unwilling they'll change their minds someday and if they don't that's ok too. let the people believe what they want - I enjoy that privilege, and I think everyone else should too.
      • Feb 22 2011: I understand and appreciate your wishes expressed here. What teacher would not have this desire? On the other hand I agree much to Vicine's view. And I think there is no general answer to the problem. Answers to your question are as individual as human beings are.

        But I do ask, how people who deny science get to study scientific subjects? What are their motives?
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          Feb 23 2011: Reply to Hans (comment below?).

          Perhaps the best form of "evangelizing" for rational thought is simply keeping up the debate. Truth (hope that's not too dogmatic a term) will eventually emerge.
        • Feb 25 2011: Other than good grades and the hope for a better career I don't think they can honestly be motivated to learn.
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        Feb 22 2011: This statement clarifies your question for me, Sigal, because I didn't know everything that science makes claim to to be falsifiable. It sounds as strange to me, however, as "If it cannot be measured, it does not exist." To which I ask, "Can you measure the mind?"
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        Feb 22 2011: Sigal - I think that "evangelizing" for rational thought is a very worthwhile endeavor.

        Although I think, that given enough time, humankind will move in the direction of reason, it still concerns me that dogmatic thought may result in a major catastrophe before we get there. Any push in the right direction should reduce the probability of apocalyptic thinkers getting their way.
        • Feb 23 2011: Are you aware, Tim, that science deniers do not only consider but feel science as dogmatic as e. g. you consider and feel e. g. religious statemants dogmatic? You used the expression "evangelizing". Well, that is what priests of religious confessions use to do, but isn't it just a soft form of indoctrinating, i. e. spreading opinions without the need of scientific proof?

          It can be very efficient, as we can see, and its efficiency depends on the "evangelizer`s" skill or charisma. Wouldn't this be somehow like robbing Peter to pay Paul?
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          Feb 24 2011: @ Hans-

          Is that an academic question? I mean, do you think allowing someone with no training in cosmology to believe that the world rests on the back of a turtle as morally equivalent to allowing them to believe in a heliocentric solar system?

          If you do then yes it's robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you don't, it isn't.
        • Feb 25 2011: @ B. Reynolds

          From the moral point of view you are right. "Cuz we are the good, the moral, the educated ones!" ;)

          But I wanted to point out the impression of the "stupid", the untrained, the uneducated ones, because the answer depends much on their mental and their emotional condition. The question was not if they should be educated but how, respectively if there is a way.

          It can only be answered individually, I'd say. Some may be reasonable enough to accept arguments so that you need not put them into a space shuttle for them to see that there is no turtle underneath the world. But who has not the slightest notion of logical thinking, will regard scientific "evangelizing" the same as religious or other evangelizing. He will either turn down all of it as indoctrination or choose what he simply likes better. Thats's his sensation of moral.
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      Feb 21 2011: well said. indoctrination is bad, even if the plan is to indoctrinate something good. children want us to present our knowledge the best we can, so it becomes available for them to take.
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    Feb 18 2011: This is great topic and so important to ensuring the safety and prosperity to our scientific and technologically dependent society.

    What's missing in our education is learning about skepticism; the many ways in which we fall prey to self-delusion through cognitive errors. If you can show people how unreliable personal experience is and the many ways in which our minds can deceive us, then they can be less prone to "denialism".

    You can't reason someone out of a position which they didn't reason themselves into. It's much easier to fix ignorance than misinformation. Perhaps a start is to teach students about cognitive bias and logical fallacies using examples which they are either ignorant about or already accept as true. If they can begin to see how others are fooled by self-delusion and irrationality then it may lead to them questioning themselves as well.

    Does that make sense? It may be too difficult to tackle issues they are emotionally invested in, but if they can be shown how confidently self-deluded others can be they might think "If it happens to them, it can happen to me" and begin to question their own views.

    You might not be able to change what people think, but if you can change HOW they think, there might be hope.
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      Feb 19 2011: Yes. it makes sense. This what I try to do. In my Psychology classes I teach about optical illusions, cognitive illusions (Tversky and Kahneman), using Graphology in work selection, the Minnesota twins study which is enlightening in the question of Nature and Nurture and more. If the topic is more controversial I Insist on bring them raw data so that we can study it together, and not just the study conclusions.
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    Feb 26 2011: There's a wonderful line at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

    "Archaeology is the search for fact...not truth. If it's truth you're interested in, Philosophy class is right down the hall"

    I think this distinction is powerful. When your students think that science is attempting to take away from them their understanding of the *meaning* of the world, then they will resist it. But if they understand that the goal of science is narrowly limited to exploring the reliability of facts then they may be able to properly partition those concepts in their head.

    This is how professional religious academics maintain their personal faith. They understand that their work is an exploration of historical fact but their religious practice is an exploration of meaning. This skill helps them freely uncover facts that would otherwise ruin their personal spirituality.
  • Feb 16 2011: I think the answer to how is based in the Socratic method.
    Student "Scientific results are always changing"
    Teacher "Oh? and do those changes invalidate the scientific method or do they use the scientific method to further validate a set of data?"
    Student "You know, it is like they keep saying a thing causes cancer then it does not etc. "
    Teacher "So is this vague example an example of science or one of how the media reports on science?"
    Student "I had not thought of that maybe it is the reporting"
    Teacher "Yes I suspect so as most good science tents to support previous studies and often adds additional data to an existing scientific question."

    .. and so on. They often need to reason threw notions of empirical vs scientific evidence. They often don't understand the nature of a specific scientific truth. For instance I have associates that scoff at global warming due to recent trends of cold in North America. But that only stems from the false perception that global warming means every place experiences warmer temperatures. Education is a process that takes time and patience.

    Now as an aside on this topic. Those who choose "willful ignorance" are another question as they value some idea of the world above all other to the point that any other truth is false purely because it challenges their particular world view.
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    Feb 16 2011: 1. They need to understand that personal experience is not reliable.

    2. Scientific results are very rarely overturned (if ever). They are refined.

    3. Each person has their own view of reality. Truth, however is objective. It is the aim of science to try and cut a path through the most objective understanding possible.

    See this link to a letter, by Isaac Asimov, for a great explanation of how science works:
  • Feb 17 2011: I think most people naturally understand the concept of true/false real/not real. If they talk about "individual truth" or "there's no such thing as objective truth" they're either really interested in philosophy (and hopefully open minded to interesting ideas) or more likely, trying to hide behind this paradox of reality in order to protect some belief that they cherish.

    Truth is real. In order to understand what's real on a deeper level you must look at the real world around you. I believe everyone gets this. It's obvious that a belief system that changes and adapts whenever new data is discovered is going to be superior to a system that says "this book is the only truth". Well there's an awful lot of things not mentioned in that book that are also true.

    I say you should do some kind of extremely pedagogical exercise. Maybe tell a story of two people that believe differently about the weight of a bag of sand and then finally they get to weigh the bag of sand and it turns out one of the guys where right. Then move on to a more complex example of "turns out this guy was right and this guy was wrong". And then an even more complex example and so forth. Don't start with the controversial stuff, then people will just get defensive. Start with the trivial obvious stuff, make them see that anyone can be wrong about their assumptions, and that the way towards being right about things is to base your assumptions on something logical and observed.
    My idea is pretty vague but it shouldn't be impossible. I'd think.

    And also, remember, almost no one admits losing an argument to your face. Even tough most people don't have the humility to admit that they were wrong they sometimes change their mind. I know I have. Not on the spot but afterwards, when it had really sunken in.
  • Feb 16 2011: Yes of course you can change their way of thinking, it is called brainwashing (maybe they have already suffered this). To change, you need only teach those individuals that already have a strong belief in what they are studying and not to those who study a subject merely to re-affirm their own beliefs.
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    Feb 16 2011: Sadly I am truly afraid not. As the saying goes - "don't try to teach a pig to sing - it is a waste of your time and it annoys the pig" I do not know the cause of this situation. I suspect there could be genetic factors similar to the difference between people who are left or right brain dominant. In the "nature vs. nurture" bull pen the war rages but I suspect the environment has the upper hand.

    Recently (a couple years back?) there was a great conference at the National Press Club where 400 prominent scientists, military leaders and highly respected intellectually aware people gathered to express their knowledge based on direct observation or of "suppressed classified information" of UFO / ET existence.

    One of such people told the crowd that all were aware of their minority status and said, "take heart my brothers and sisters - it will only take one of our stories to be proven true to the world to silence all the nay sayers once and for all time.

    All are waiting for that day. Some pass the time differently than others.
  • Feb 16 2011: First off, we have to define what you mean by "denying science".

    Everyone has their own lens, their own coloured spectacles through which they view and interpret the world around them. It is impossible to be completely objective. This is a basic philosophical concept.

    It is impossible to prove anything using empirical data: your mind can be easily tricked into seeing experiencing something that isn't there (the Veil of Perception). Science is based on empirical data, thus it is impossible to fully prove anything. Yes, you can get closer to "the truth", but there will always be some doubt there. Imagine it like the tangent curve: getting closer and closer to 90 degrees, but it only reaches it after the y-value reaches infinity. You cannot prove anything fully without doing an infinite amount of tests.

    So, as Timmoty Wigboldus pointed out earlier in this conversation, wrong is relative, to a certain extent. You cannot be completely sure of anything if you look at all the facts and be objective, as there is always some doubt there. So if you are completely sure of something, you are losing objectivity and becoming more and more subjective until you deny any other view.

    Unfortunately, this is common in modern science. People like to be "right". So, with regards to Christophe Cop's comment "Science is the set of methods that can uncover truth", this is not really true. It should read "Science is the set of methods that bring us closer to the truth." And besides, you should let your students "deny truth" if they wish: as long as they have a reason for not believing the given norm, this is fine. As Christophe Cop said earlier, comparing views and understanding, observing the differences, and coming to a conclusion (maybe several different conclusions) is what science is all about.

    Edward B.
    • Feb 16 2011: I view everything as objective, with private, protected and public "address spaces", to borrow a computer science term.
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      Feb 16 2011: " ... And besides, you should let your students "deny truth" if they wish: as long as they have a reason for not believing the given norm, this is fine ... "

      They only valid reasons they can give for not "believing"[sic] in science is by showing them not to be true using better empirical data (e.g., more data, different data ...) that shows that the previous results are wrong.

      Science gets pretty close to finding the truth of how the world works. How do we know that? Because the results of scientific endeavour give us things. Things that work. Not coloured by any lens. They work! Science does a very good job of getting past that "veil of perception".
      • Feb 17 2011: "Science does a very good job of getting past that 'veil of perception'."

        Really? If we view everything through our own lens, how can we ever see anything without viewing it through that lens?

        It's the old Brain in a Vat/Plato's cave problem. In Plato's cave, there are prisoners tied up so they can only see the back wall of the cave. A fire is a few yards behind them, and between the prisoners and the fire is a walkway. People walk on this walkway carrying objects that cast shadows on the wall. All the men can see, and have ever seen, is these shadows. They presume them to be true, and make inferences based on their observations. But when they are released, they see that the images they saw on the wall were false: mere shadows cast by the real objects behind them.

        "The results of scientific endeavour give us things. Things that work. Not coloured by any lens. They work! Science does a very good job of getting past that 'veil of perception'."

        Surely you can see this is wrong. Science is based on inferences, which are in turn based on observations. Those observations are subjective: you could be hallucinating. If you make inferences based on those (false) observations, then those inferences are false. That is why scientists perform many experiments to verify their claims, and get other scientists to verify their claims as well. Yet despite that, these results may not necessarily be true, due to the fact that your senses can lie.

        So science can never *fully* get past the veil of perception. There will always be some doubt there. For example, Newtonian physics works on an atomic level and higher, but not at the quantum level. So is Newtonian physics correct? Yes, in certain circumstances. But not at the quantum level, where particles can be in two contradictory states at the same time.

        Science can never provide us with hard truth: only something close.
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          Feb 17 2011: Myth about Cave - there is only one person who is free to move and find out reality. This person is philosopher :-)

          Scientific reaserch gives us things which works but they work only with proper scientific training to use them. Every button to press is part of scientific world.
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          Feb 18 2011: Sigal-

          This is an great opportunity. Edward B. well articulates the kind of argument you asked about. Now this is a poor forum for debate but look at his arguement:

          Its structure is to take things back to the basic Descartean question of "What can I believe in? What do I really, really know?" Descartes (as we all know) concluded "I think, therefore I am" and built on things from there. Edward B. is basically arguing "I think, therefore I am, but I can't really know anything else."

          This meme is easily dealt with because it's not an argument about science. It's an argument about argument. It calls into question the basic rules about what's acceptable in the conversation. So in class:

          Edward B., you're points are great but let's make sure we're on the same page. You do, of course accept that there is in fact an Objective world, right? I mean, we could all just be brains in vats being stimulated electrically but that's not what you accept as Reality. If you don't accept that there is a world around you and that there are facts to be learned about it there's really no point in attending this or any other class. Go to a local supermarket, sit down in the ice cream isle and start eating rocky road until you grow old and die. In this classroom we're operating as though we are all here and can in fact learn things. If you look at Plato's argument you never find the men turning around after seeing a hook-shaped shadow and find that it was cast by a round ball. They see a hook-shaped shadow and turn to see something hook-shaped making it. Science isn't in the observation (about which we can and sometimes should disagree). No the only science in your example is when the man TURNS from the shadow to the fire. The science is when he adopts a new method of observation that reflects a more accurate view of the objective world. The science of the quantum doesn't replace Newton. It refines Newton. But we first have to agree that there are things called facts.
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          Feb 18 2011: The act of using science is removing the lens of our own bias and errors in cognition. We cannot distinguish between what is true and what we want to be true without using the scientific method.

          Appealing to the argument that everything is subjective is simply a way to rationalize denying facts that don't agree with our preconceptions. Science never claims absolute certainty about truth, so to claim otherwise is a straw man. What science does is tell us what is unambiguously untrue.

          So no, we don't really have to define what denying science is. It's a derailment of the topic and only serves to justify our desire to believe in what is objectively untrue.
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          Feb 18 2011: Sarah, I think you do need to define what denying science is because the question is not unambiguous. The question is titled, "people who deny science," but the body uses the phrase, "students deny scientific research." Denying science and denying research are two different things. People often accuse those who deny specific research with denying science in general. This gives those who use scientific approaches to problems too much authority in fields where the research is a little less secure.

          While the goal of science may be to remove bias and errors in cognition, the practice of science, historically, is full of bias and errors in cognition, especially confirmation bias. You could test your hypothesis that to use science is to remove bias, but you might find it to be unambiguously untrue. (You also might find yourself in a Zeno-like paradox where you try to test the test, etc.)

          Also, you can often distinguish between what is true and false without scientific method because there are kinds of truth that don't require inductive reasoning. The syllogism is a easy example. You don't need to experimentally test that Socrates is mortal if you already know that he is a man and all men are mortal.

          I've found many people who get labeled as anti-science are not actually denying scientific method. They are usually convinced by the outcome of an experiment that disproves a hypothesis. What they often deny are predictive assertions made by scientists where the assertions are not based on an observe-hypothesis-experiment paradigm, but rather on the model-predict paradigm. Often the only way to test the validity of a model is to wait and see because the scientists are modeling large, complex, feedback-laden systems. Yet the pundits ask us to accept these predictions with the same force as a physics experiment. We see this frequently in areas like economics, sociology, and climate science. It's a problem because we need to make policy decisions based on these models now.
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          Feb 19 2011: Mark,
          If you're investigating a claim in a manner where you're attempting to reduce bias, then you are doing science. Science is a verb. Science is critical thinking. It's really quite that simple. Wishy washy post-modernism need not apply.

          I thought it was pretty clear in the original question what denying science meant; relying on personal experience and preconceptions to decide what is true and lacking the ability to accept disconfirming evidence.

          Debating what science is and how useful it may be isn't the topic at hand. Assume science is the only method we have to obtain accurate information about the world--can you/how do you educate people who deny this approach?
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          Feb 19 2011: Thanks for the reply Sara. I hate to stoop to semantics, but science isn't a verb. I could be convinced otherwise if you could use it as a verb in a sentence or tell me its past tense or infinitive form.

          I think you missed my point. There was no intention of being wishy-washy or postmodern. My point is that there is a big difference between one who denies science and empiricism in general along with the power of experiment and reason, and one who denies specific findings by scientists. In my experience the former is actually very rare. Most people who are accused of denying science as a whole usually only deny a specific theory or finding such as evolution or climate change. They are quite happy with the speed of light and the reasons airplanes can fly. And so it's not really the case that they deny science, but rather don't really understand how science is supposed to work. These are the people who offer nothing other than the "it's only a theory" argument against evolution. On the other hand, sometimes people do understand how science works and still disagree with specific scientific findings. Historically, this group has been called scientists and many of them have also been called deniers of science usually as a way to discredit their ideas.

          The canonical example here is Ignaz Semmelweis who came up with the idea that you could reduce childbed fever if doctors washed their hands. This contradicted the consensus in the medical community which still focused on bodily humors. Semmelweis was ridiculed as being unscientific and people thought he was going crazy. He was committed to an asylum where he died. This should be a cautionary tale to those eager to educate people who disagree with their theories because sometimes your theories, despite wide acceptance and consensus, are still wrong.
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          Feb 19 2011: @ Sara

          Post modernism actually works to the benefit of science, but not truth. The instrumentalist approach which is highlighted in Stephen Hawking's latest book is a very post-structuralist idea. It maintains that theories are valid and consistent within their own limits. And sometimes in science it is impossible to understand a phenomenon by applying complete reductionsm. Sometimes it's necessary to apply the right level of reductionism. For instance as a chemist it would be hell for me to apply the principles of quantum mechanics in organic chemistry every time I tried to illustrate a reaction mechanism. As oppossed to doing rigorous math I would simply use the Bohr model of the atom, which is a false oversimplification but it predicts the reaction perfectly. If I tried to explain the shape and properties of the DNA molecule through quantum chemistry I would fail miserably. By the instrumentalist approach however, I can still claim that the theory is valid as long as it predicts consistent results.
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          Feb 19 2011: For Sara, Mark, Budmir-

          I think it's worth noting that this kind of tangent is precisely how the argument is lost by intelligent, well-meaning people who have the facts on their side. Mark, your disagreement with Sara is out of the context of the question. We don't need to define what science denying is because that isn't the point. This is about what an educator should expect is possible with a college level student who makes an incredulous statement. This isn't a semantic question it's a practical one. The real irony here is that the scientific method hasn't been applied to the efforts of educators in overcoming this kind of human roadblock. If it was I think you'd find evidence that like any other type of denial, it often has little to do with the facts and that facts alone won't easily correct the situation. As psychology and neuroscience already know, persuasion is about more than what is. Persuasion is mostly about creating the conditions for an emotional reaction that will encourage acceptance of an idea now so that it can be backed up by logic AFTER it has already been accepted.
        • Feb 23 2011: Mark, obviously folks can witness something and report things differently. In fact, some could have motive to lie about what they experienced.

          The relevant question is whether one account is more accurate or truthful in reality than the others? The answer is yes - the actual or more truthful account. The excellent film "Rashomon" dissects this matter beautifully.

          The facts of the basic physical sciences are essentially black or white for the undergraduate. You either get the answer right or you get it wrong. You're not entitled to select or make up your own fact(s) to justify a wrong answer. You may get points for creativity, but not for comprehension of the real world.

          To deny science and have a college degree is worse than being uneducated, it fosters ignorance because these individuals now have credentials.
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          Mar 1 2011: While science may give you the absolute truth, it comes closer than anything we have seen thus far. There are no superior ways to proceed.
      • Feb 17 2011: Also, why did you put "believing"[sic] in your post? I spelled it right. From the Collins dictionary: "Believe: to accept something as true or real."

        Sorry to double-post, but I forgot to ask before
      • Feb 18 2011: @ Michal Spacek

        I can't reply to you, or myself, so I have to put this comment here...

        I never said that "There is only one person who is free to move and find out reality. This person is philosopher." The point I was trying to make was that we can only get close to "truth". True, we have things like Newtonian physics that "work", but only inside our perception. We draw observations from our perception, draw inferences from those observations, and then apple these inferences to our perception. They may "work". That doesn't mean that they are actually real. They are only real in our perception, which may or may not be the *actual* world. Again, that is what the cave allegory is: the Brain in a Vat analogy is similar too (think The Matrix).
        • Feb 20 2011: Why does it really matter whether our world is real or just illusionary Matrix or shadows on a wall? Perhaps the Universe has no meaning of what is 'real' anyway. For our purpose what we observe is what matters at this point.

          Science is ever growing knowledge of how things work and it is continuously improving its understanding.

          When prisoners in a cave saw shadows they could observe and create theories about it. After seeing the fire the slaves can improve their theories but their new knowledge will not not change the facts they observed while facing the wall. The speed and shape of those shadows stay the same regardless. What changes is their understanding of what is actual source of these shadows, which is just a new information.
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        • Feb 25 2011: Some will simply point to the Bible (or whatever) as the 'Word of God' as proof. No research required, which is want they want, absolute answers, not more questions, which is what science inevitably leads to.
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      Feb 18 2011: Thanks for adding the nuance

      I do sometimes take the probabilistic approach for granted, as such forgetting to ad it explicitly.

      So i could rephrase:
      "Science is the set of methods that can reduce uncertainty about truth"
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        Feb 19 2011: Very good working definition, thank you.

        Sara Mayhew - Thank you too. Unfortunately my English doesn't allow me to be very clear in philosophical issues. I agree totally with your reply.
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        Feb 19 2011: "Science is the set of methods that can reduce uncertainty about truth" is a very good way of putting it, I wonder how many people can deny that...

        Thank you, that phrase will come in handy!
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      Feb 19 2011: Everything should be doubt, and nothing we know for sure? That kind of thought, be careful when you put in your head, once you put it in, it's hard to get out.
      • Feb 28 2011: I didn't say "everything should be doubt": just that there will always be some doubt there. Science is a series of interpretations: people interpret things differently. Yes, the scientific method provides a framework to give rational explanations, but the point I was trying to make was that you can never be *completely* sure about a scientific theory's truth. Thus meaning that you shouldn't reject someone's (different) conclusion: as long as they have observations they can back their conclusion up with, their conclusion is just as valid as yours. Of course, that's where scientific debate comes in :D
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    Feb 16 2011: YES - most people can be tought science, not just about science.
    However, there is not a universal prescription.
    Being ignorant is caused by lack of opportunity, and negative view of science,
    for example in case of creationism vs evolution.
    Krisztián Pintér says:
    science education is way too abstract and formal.
    well, often it is, but it does not have to be. Most people can understand that science is source of technology.

    People negative, and therefore ignorant of science, have more often emotional rather then rational reasons.
    They believe that 'scientists co-invented hoax of global warming' to bring in NWO
    'scientists are using vaccination to depopulate planet'
    How do you deal with that? Each case is different - but we should not ignore such people.
    They vote.
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    Feb 16 2011: People who deny science can only be educated if they stop denying science. If they stick with it long enough, have good educators, and personally experience science, then it seems impossible for one to deny science. The problem might be in the "stiffness" of current education systems and the inaccessibility of science. Call it a light bulb moment, but I find it hard to believe that someone would really be able to make an educated decision to deny science.

    It seems as though most undergraduate students who deny science do so in accordance to claim (1). The problem with this seems to be that these students think that they know everything (or at least most things), and these things have been 'proven,' whether it be by science or personal experience. In that, I'm saying they haven't been humbled by the amount of information that we don't know, but are always trying to discover.

    The only way to combat it? Education and truth (or Truth?). There are some things we do know, some we don't, but as was said earlier, each scientific discovery is an incremental step towards what is correct/true/right. This relates to claim (2), but also draws on what many scientists are taught in training: A "good" hypothesis is one that is (in one way) falsifiable. At the core, scientists develop an idea to test it, not to push an agenda (not mentioning problems with current science - sticking with the idea of research). If we present science as infallible, then one erroneous claim (even if taken out of context) can shatter the whole establishment. Remember, the Titanic was "unsinkable."

    The fact that science is changing is what makes it exciting. There's a place for everyone in research due to this. Who isn't excited by discovery? Unlike other fields (ie religion) we're not beating the same stories and "facts" into oblivion. Rather, we're developing new explanations that are better and can even be improved upon.
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    Feb 15 2011: science education is way too abstract and formal. no surprise many kids feel that they are disconnected, or rather, science is disconnected from reality. it is the task of science education to show kids that science IS experience, and they do it instinctively and intuitively on their own every day. science is nothing more than observing the world around us, and describing what we see there.
    • Feb 24 2011: Undergrads should be able to handle a subject that's a little abstract and formal. Science is indeed experience, but they need the tools to make sense of it all. Logic, statistical mathematics and the scientific method. Knowing the history of science might be good too.
  • Feb 15 2011: These are common claims. I think they can be refuted, but it takes some effort.

    #1 shows overconfidence in subjective experience. Sometimes, simple demonstration of optical illusions, cognitive biases, limitations of memory or intuition can help recalibrate this false sense of personal objectivity. Also, basic education in statistics and data sampling can help to show difference between reliable and "freak" data.

    #2 is a misunderstanding of science and misinformation about scientific results. Simple use cases can show how science improves on its theories, how Newtonian mechanics has not been proved "wrong" by special relativity or quantum theory - it was merely shown to be incomplete

    Also, people use to believe bad headlines in papers, such as "Scientist now say smoking is healthy". Teach them to mistrust journalists. Examples of bad journalism can be fun and eye-opening.

    Relativism of #3 usually not so much a philosophic stance as it is a demarcation line. People do not like to change their minds, so they invent these excuses as a discussion truce: "you have your beliefs, I have mine". It's more of a symptom then a cause. I think it's best, as a sign of respect, not to press on it. Still, you could gently show how everyone knows there is an objective truth out there, and that wrapping your own mind around it can be hard.
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    Feb 28 2011: I have found much to my chagrin that you cant educate someone against their will. All we can do is make sure that as many people as possible have access to a secular education with strong science and reason components.
  • Feb 28 2011: It is not nessesarily bad that they question the truthiness of something. There is a lot of bad science out there. Scientific reseach could prove that doing the rain dance every day at noon cures cancer if you get a sample size of one student. There was 'scientific research' that claimed that looking at erotic images makes people more able to predict the future. This was accomplished by setting up an experiment where a person would look at erotic images (or not, if in control group), then guess whether a light to the left would light up, or if one on the right would light up. ~53% of people guessed correctedly after looking at said images, and ~49% guessed correctly with out looking at the images. I don't really need to explain what is wrong with this situation.

    Anyway, the point is that 'known' truths in science are just temporary explantions for what happens. These explanations only last until a new explanation, which works better, is formed. Therefore, I recomend that you encourage independent thought, and explain that science is just the best explanation that we currently have available, and does not nessesarily correctly explain every possible situation. I think this will be the most effective tool for making your point.

    Best of Wishes
    • Feb 28 2011: I just love the fact that you used the word truthiness.

      The sum total of human knowledge is but a drop in the true nature of our universe. Socrates only called himself wise because he acknowledged the fact that he did not know really much of anything.

      Putting that aside, we can use scientific experiments to build an education as long as we acknowledge the boundaries of our instruments and methods. We can never measure a meter to its exact length because there can be an infinite number of significant digits, but we can do a lot of cool things if we estimate or settle for a certain amount of accuracy.

      It may be true that each person has his own truth for moral issues, but scientific education is about a universal truth about the nature of the universe. But, that's just my opinion.
      • Feb 28 2011: If scientific tools are used in a critical way, it could be nice criteria in dicision-making. What we should be concerned about is blind faith in science. Sometimes, we forget science is one of imperfect ways of humans to view the world. As you can see in economic crisis in 2008, just one step before the huge catastrophe people couldn't realize (90% of them even recognize) the seriousness of financial crisis. They had believed their omnipotent mathematics(you know, a representative of science) could predict and control all kinds of risks. Maybe now, we should be more careful about the way to use science than before
  • Feb 27 2011: Don't confuse Science with truth. Even in my life things that were "given" in science have been irrefutably changed. Science is a process of learning, testing, validating, and then extrapolating.
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      Feb 23 2011: Yes however I wouldn't mind a world where milk can turn into whisky at will.
  • Feb 22 2011: (1) my experience shows otherwise =(my response) = Well, what is it, and how does it stand up to this, this, and this...

    , (2) scientific results are always changing = Yes, that is true, but usually it is in small incremental steps that are slightly more accurate than the Law or Theory before.

    (3) each person has his own truth.= Wrong, Each person has his/her own "opinion." It is not truth until it is objectively agreed upon. And even then it has to survive the test of time and new technological scrutiny and testing.

    Best put I think:

    "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. "
    ~~~Donald Rumsfeld
  • Feb 22 2011: I seen this in a PBS show from Annenberg. Students from elementary to ivy league were asked, "where does the mass of a log (tree) come from?" 99.9% of response was from another solid mass, "the dirt (soil)". They then told them about an easy experiment to prove that answer wrong. Soil in a pot was measured by weight before and after having a tree grow in it for three years. The before and after was the same, so again were did all this mass of the growing tree come from? Air, carbon gas is taken from the air and used by the plant to grow mass. Even some of the best colleges had students that found this really hard to comprehend.

    Yes, all learning is a process of changing belief to a new understanding. I have found that the over relied upon system of repetition to be lacking. The best way to change a belief is through rapport and/or the students interest. I have found that connecting any science, lit, math, etc. to a students individual interest gains a rapport of the actual material.

    I hope this helps, I am working on an article about this very topic.
  • Feb 21 2011: "Science" as we've come to think of it was born at the trial of Galileo. A question that needs to be asked of those who endorse the scientific world-view is why? What did Galileo do that was so important?

    The answer gives us the reason why we have a nearly 500 year old debate that's still raging strong to this day. Galileo was put on trial for heresy for endorsing heliocentricism, or more specifically, for providing the evidence that proved its validity. If he were not put on trial, another person providing evidence would have been put on trial instead.

    Geocentrism is NOT about the Earth being the center of the universe. It's about human beings being the center of the universe. Galileo's trial wasn't a debate between geocentrism vs. heliocentrism so much as was, and is, a debate between anthropocentrism vs. omnicentrism. If you listen to religious points of view, they will often justify the existence of their god(s) because they "need" god. It's not about god but them.

    You will never get a person to agree with your point of view if their economic or psychological well-being depends on them not understanding. It is easy to deny science so long as education glosses over the scientific method. What we need is to spend at least a semester building the philosophical foundation that gave us the scientific method (empiricism and skepticism), and only afterward narrow the subjects that are taught. Empiricism was born from Francis Bacon's landmark book the "Novum Organum." It is no coincidence that he wrote it as a juxtaposition against Aristotle's "Organon," for which the Vatican depended.

    If the philosophy of the natural is to ever fully drive out supernatural mysticism, we need to meet the same social needs religion does, and in a format that has widespread appeal. Science does well on matters of content, but it leaves much to be desired on matters of style. The main reason why educated people deny science is packaging.
  • Feb 20 2011: Societies are steeped in dogma much of which is extensively disputed by the sciences of biology, etc., and the faithful or mystical confronted with this conflict usually stick to their sacred traditions.

    So these programed students are not coming into a science class receptive to learn. Teachers are not debriefers. Multiculturalism is respected politically and gives cover for these attendees. They are only taking part in the science class because it is a required course for a degree.

    Obviously graduates ignorant in science are uneducated. I say excuse them from education in science with a note from their leader. They only lower the competitive grade curve and upset conscientious teachers and are disruptive to the ideals of what it should mean to be a true student of the classroom and higher education.

    Perhaps graduates of higher institutions of learning should be required to take an achievement test in basic science that would be posted on their degree like a credit score to warn employers of their ignorance in the knowledge of the physical world. Just kidding!! The devil made me say it.
    • Feb 22 2011: Richard Dawkins did a very interesting documentary that demonstrated exactly what you have mentioned Dan.
      The more I see of organised religion the more I see it as a replica of a major business. It creates a product, that can't be proven to not exist, and then begins to build a dependency on it in the of the young who become so addicted that their thought processes can't function outside of their addiction.

      remind you of anything?
  • Feb 20 2011: Everyone is entitled to have his/her own belief but belief system should not be used as an excuse for scientific ignorance. Scientific ignorance and pseudo logic have been used again and again as a tool to spread hatred and misunderstanding in the society. Holocaust, ethnic cleansing gender discrimination are results of such faulty beliefs. @2) scientific results are always changing and it is the power of science. Science is a living and ever changing doctrine which seeks to explain the observation in the real world and not like religious doctrines which are vague and secondly not for amendments.One of the great problem of science class is that the lectures or teacher removes the fun part from fact. And most of the students perceive it as a dull rather than a interesting subject.
    @1) My experience shows otherwise. I have been recently faced same problem during discussion. It is all natural for people to weigh their feelings and experiences more than that of other. It also brings in light a fundamental problem in the school curriculum. We teach students math of certainity but not math of uncertainity (Statistic and Stochastic) are underweighed. Basically people holding such thought seem to lack statistical judgement.
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    Feb 19 2011: For kids, you just need a spark to ignite their curiosity. Just make them want to know more about the world.

    It worked for me and my little brothers.
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    Feb 19 2011: By understanding what motivates each person, and tailoring your message that way. Some people believe things because their peers or charismatic leaders believe them. Others go the other way - like to stand out. But the majority will listen to reason if they see some personal benefit in doing so.
    Of course, this is just my opinion. What you really need is some peer-reviewed double-blind scientific studies on how and in what circumstances people change their opinions.
    • Feb 19 2011: I agree, or ,“That’s what I would’ve wrote if I wasn’t so lazy.”
  • Feb 19 2011: Ask these people if they have a doctor or if they use medicine. These things are not not possible without research and science. If they use them then they are hypocrites.
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      Feb 19 2011: or anyone reading this, what about those electrons that the computer is "supposedly" using? but "hypocrits" is perhaps taking it a bit to far.
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    Feb 18 2011: Tough question.

    I believe you can sometimes change peoples opinion, and sometimes you can't.

    Rather than trying to change your students directly, IMHO the best thing to do is to provide them with lots of stories about superstitious morons and how much suffering these idiots caused humanity and let your students figure it out for themselves.
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    Feb 17 2011: My fantasy is that the benefits of science somehow be rationed to those who deny science. That might provide an object lesson. Find a way to equate the use of everyday items with the science behind them, and model what the implications would be if the only method available to the inventors of those items was "his own truth", and any item where scientific method bested "own truth" as a means for inventing an item would be denied to the student for a day, week whatever.

    My fantasy began when flu shots were being rationed and I thought rationing should factor in whether the recipient was hostile to the science that enabled effective vaccine, including evolution through natural selection. Those who believed in and supported the science move to the front of the line. Those who deny and are antagonistic could pray that they wouldn't get the flu.

    The scientific method should be taught at a very practical level before delving into science. Rather than rejecting the introduction of "creation science" or "intelligent design" in science classes, welcome them in and subject them to the scientific method, and let the chips fall where they may under scientific scrutiny, or demonstrate why they aren't really testable within the domain of scientific inquiry and so are not sciences.
    • Feb 18 2011: Hold on a minute... you're saying that people who don't agree with all scientific conclusions shouldn't be allowed the benefit of other areas of research? i.e. If I don't agree, that, say caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies, I shouldn't be allowed a heart transplant?

      I do, however, agree wholeheartedly with you on the third paragraph. If pupils were really left to decide for themselves about evolution and creationism, I think we'd have a lot more balanced people.
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        Feb 18 2011: No, I'm not saying that, Edward. The fantasy isn't about denying benefits to those who disagree with the scientific conclusions, it's about those who are antagonistic and obstructive to the scientific methods that lead to scientific theories and their applications. In this fantasy, if you are forbidding or preventing children from learning the scientific theories behind metamorphosis and teaching them instead that fairies turn caterpillars into butterflies, then you should also depend on the fairies to fix your heart. In this particular fantasy of mine.

        The first paragraph is what turns the fantasy into a teachable method, so you aren't really denying anyone a heart transplant.
        • Feb 28 2011: I still think this is wrong, although I can see your standpoint from certain angles.

          Surely if you can fix someone's heart, you should? I don't, however, think natural selection really has anything to do with flu jabs. On a very, very broad level, yes, but it's not that close!
  • Feb 17 2011: Of course. Begin by genuinely attempting to connect with and understand their point of view. When is skepticism healthy and when is it unhealthy? When does disagreement drive better science, and when is it simply a defense mechanism for our "pet" beliefs? Acknowledge that history is filled with bad science that has been replaced by better science. Educate them on how to read data and research, how to identify the traits of neutral, data-driven science and separate it from science that serves an agenda. Educate them on the difference between science and, as Specter put it, issues of law, morality, and ethics.

    You may have a rare opportunity to encourage these students to become objective researchers themselves.
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    Feb 17 2011: Steven Hawking said:

    "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

    Given enough time it will work itself out. Would be nice speed up the process though. I guess that's why I've always considered teaching as the noblest of professions (wish I was one).
  • Feb 17 2011: 1. Clean water, antibiotics, clothes made from rayon, exercise techniques, electricity, etc etc. these are all in most peoples 'experience', they are the fruit of scientific research. So the questioner needs to understand their own question, it would seem.
    2. of course they are. As knowledge expands our ability to interpret results will hone our findings. Some aspect of our life are more mature than others. Certain scientific results are closer to fixed than others. The temperature that water boils at is fairly fixed, we have a long way to go to understand the brain.
    3. Each person has his own perception of the truth. By definition their is only one Truth.

    I believe that you have to teach people how to think. If they can think clearly most of them tend to gravitate to the right answer. Thinking does not come naturally to most people. They would rather believe that the Earth is flat. Recent examples.... We all know how a plane flies. The wings create lift as it pushes forward and the plane flies through the air. This is a very common belief. It is accepted. So then how does a plane fly upside down? Once you ask that question it shakes apart the belief and encourages listeners to investigate. Here is another one. The world has time zones. So what time is it at the North Pole, and if I were to walk 50 feet off of the pole and walk clockwise in a circle would I have to turn my watch back an hour with each step? Simple question. When you take something that is very commonly believed and start a conversation you encourage people to think differently. Is Violet a color? Its in the rainbow but is it really a color. Recently BBC has an article about a boy thought to have cerebral palsy. When they sent hi for an MRI he turned out to be missing his cerebellum. Look it up, now thats a conversation starter and something that starts people thinking.

    Pique their interest, engage their curiosity, change their thinking
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    Feb 17 2011: It may be worth trying with very young people for those who have a vested interest in those young people's future, however once people mature, it's typically futile to try.

    Besides, people who reject science have abdicated their responsibility to think rationally and objectively on their own, so what's the point of trying?

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      Feb 17 2011: I think it's fair to say that as an academic argument you may be right. Sadly, the point remains that irrationality spreads like a disease and the irrational person can still vote. Can still invest. Can still donate to powerful causes which stand at odds with reason.
    • Feb 17 2011: i prefer to see the colours than to know the theories about the colours and wave lenghs.
      i prefer direct experience than scientifical knewlegde. and so do children.
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        Feb 18 2011: Okay.. so when a child asks about how a rainbow is formed, then what do we say? I mean can we deny scientific knowledge and the scientific method?
  • Feb 17 2011: I am pessimistic as to the question if people with religious mindsets can be educated to think differently about their beliefs. Beliefs are strongly indoctrinated into a person, particularly a young person. Beyond that, social pressure are strong to retain those beliefs. All one can do, I think, it to continue to show the contradictory evidence to their beliefs and hope that their cognitive dissonance eventually gets so loud that it cannot be ignored.
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    Feb 17 2011: Very much a philosophical question. I recall speaking to a gentleman from Turkey who was not sure I existed, that merely i was an extension of his own consciousness.

    I think that scientific education is not the sole educational avenue. Take math for example, can you say 'my experience in math shows me otherwise'?

    'Truth' is a very philosophical debate. The answer to my experience shows otherwise, is to vet there experience and to give them new experiences.

    As a fairly contrarian person myself, I can understand the appeal to think that science is in flux. Science could make a massive discovery that changes the previous interpretation of facts. Scientific agreement does not guarantee scientific truth has been found. In reality, scientific understanding is continually in flux. More often than a move to heliocentricity, is a little bit of new evidence that sheds light to a greater detail than before.

    A distinction between personal truth, and measurable scientific truth is in order. Mixing a statistical understanding of a group of items, and a singular understanding of an item, are two different aspects of truth. Mixing philosophy of truth and scientific measurement is also two different usages of 'truth.'

    Anyone who appeals to experience must be taken on a philosophical journey to validate, through experience, that science can be a collective pursuit of measurable experience. When it is boiled down to the repeatable, then you have divided what can be and what cannot be argued via thought experiment. I encourage an appeal to the great philosophers.
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    Feb 16 2011: I suppose the ability to learn effectively is dependant on your "philosophy of truth". Maybe the best way to teach or educate would be to begin with a short course on the meaning of; truth, logic and the transmission of information. Over the millenia we have contemplated these issues before. Help them by giving them the history of this endeavour i.e. in practice they all don't have a lifetime to work these things out.

    These students may in fact be demonstrating the very qualities that led us to define many of our scientific and philosophical standards.
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    Feb 16 2011: People who deny science should simply be educated in other areas: creative writing, painting, sculpture, and so on. In the arts these folks can express their unique experiences, reflect change, and show their personal 'truths' (which may only exist in their own minds). Just as some folks refuse to learn Latin, or try to invent perpetual motion machines, or only swim using the backstroke, there's plenty of space in the world for folks who don't want to learn anything about science. (We all know 'educated people' who don't speak Latin, waste their time on crazy projects, and are horrible swimmers, right?)
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    Feb 16 2011: Most responses seem to agree this can be done so I'd like to steer the conversation back to "HOW?"

    Three things are operative in how you change a mind: the audience(not the questioner), Charisma, and what success/failure looks like. Let's start by admitting that this problem yields very divergent answers depending on if this is your undergraduate students, a co-worker, a neighbor, etc... but you asked about students so lets start there.

    Audience:Undergrads are proud and in the business of challenging their peers and professors. If this issue comes up in a group/lecture your most important task is to win over everyone but the questioner. A crowd of the student's peers who are clearly in your corner will do more to affect a change of mind than you can alone. Confused looks of "come on dummy" from a girlfriend go further than any logical argument you could muster. Outside a crowd though any SPECIFIC student's objection is often just a veiled request for more information (i.e. telling you then because they aren't sure enough of their beliefs to object in public).

    Charisma:To oversimplify this your argument needs to be more COMFORTABLE than their reasoning. Denial is a self-preservation mechanism when core beliefs are threatened so start with a comfortable premise. Whoever or whatever convinced the questioner of their current position simply gave them a greater sense of comfort than you have. Use humor as much as possible and smile a lot (after all you know something they don't) Your argument is that science is a PROCESS not a THING. "I don't believe that science" makes the same logical sense as "I don't believe those push-ups". Force an objection to a part of the process itself.

    S/F:Decide when to cut your losses or push on. YOU won't ever convince everyone. Sometimes all you can do is point out that if they understand the PROCESS then they're not being intellectually honest with themselves at which point the conversation becomes about their behavior.
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      Feb 16 2011: A very practical if somewhat Machiavellian approach. It maybe worth noting that all of these techniques have been equally effective promoting the opposite idea. Charism, peer pressure, and understanding success/failure are great tools for cult leaders too.
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        Feb 17 2011: Agreed, Mark. I think it's a tactical failure to not employ strategic persuasion in the effort to move people to a more factually correct view of the world. I've found it disheartening that for all the painstaking effort employed by those on the side of a functional, rational view of the world, frequently little though is given to actually winning the argument. Please don't take my comments as too craven, I'm just tired of being told that the world is 5000 years old.
  • Feb 16 2011: (1) "my experience shows otherwise" Step outside. You're experience shows the earth is flat, and that it is the center of the "universe". This could lead to a discussion with them that they are selectively believing what they want to believe. Eventually, the students are taking almost everything they "know" from a belief in something someone else has taught them. To pursue that method of logic to its logical course would carry with it some ramifications, particularly failing your class. By the same measure though, if you are engineering a building or a bridge, Newtonian physics works perfectly well. If you are studying the farthest reaches of the galaxy, or the smallest particles, or the behavior of energy, the Einstein will be more useful.

    (2) "scientific results are always changing" It would be more correct to point out that what is really happening is our understanding of scientific results are always changing. Currently, there is a bit of a problem with how peer reviewed papers are done, or climate change science, or medical research. But, the underlying science has not changed at all, only our understanding of how the results were obtained and interpreted. For example, the weather has always behaved according to the rules of physics. Our understanding of how the weather works is what is changing. Scientific models get better, but are really in their infancy.

    (3) each person has his own truth. In a philosophy class you can discuss objectivism (the truth can be known) vs. subjectivism (the truth is relative). However, it might be useful to define a scientific "truth" vs a philosophical "truth". When students start talking about their philosophical truth, you can steer them back to the scientific truth that is more useful within the context of a science discussion. That said, If everything were subjective, then if a million people jumped off the top of a building, then you could expect a million different outcomes.
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    Feb 16 2011: Both science and religion search for truths that can be replicated and that can contribute to evolution and maturation. Both science and religion lose their integrity all too easily. Education is a state of mind that values transparency, truth, and the trust that truth can create. My favorite book that depicts all that the indigenous peoples "knew" that science has denied until now, is 1491. My summary review is here:
  • Feb 16 2011: 1. It's completely normal/rational to trust what we've seen with our own eyes rather than take the word of a stranger. I would try to figure out why their experience differs from what's shown in research.
    2. They are always changing. The fact that science is constantly changing and trying to get closer to the truth is one of its merits. But there are many instances where multiple research studies will have contradictory findings, which makes research seem unreliable. Is there some way to identify what research is reliable and what isn't?
    3. We all have our own, differing concept of what the truth is, but there's only one truth, one shared reality. Anyone who believes they're automatically right about everything, or that opposing statements can simultaneously both be true, probably can not be educated. When someone doesn't believe in facts or reality there's really not much you can do without first reversing their opinion. Since they don't believe in objective reality, there's no empirical evidence you can convince them with, so maybe you should expose them to some philosophical works that will encourage them to change their opinions.

    Regarding 1. and 2., their skepticism should be applauded and used to your advantage. Maybe have them do a small research project that will demonstrate the material, and then they can see it with their own eyes.
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    Feb 16 2011: There are a few books that have been quite influential. Perhaps the best-known is "The Demon Haunted World", by Carl Sagan.
    A few, clear topics on history of science would be helpful. I do not mean a whole course on history of science, but an introductory lecture showing how the scientific method worked in a few significant developments, such as the discovery of bacteria and its effects on humankind.
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    Feb 15 2011: Please consider all of what I'm about to say as preceded with a huge "in my experience".
    People who think this way can of course learn about things like evolution or plate tectonics and I know some people who can elegantly explain these but still think they are untrue. As this way of thinking is as far as I have seen always rooted in (religious) belief people are not going to let go of it quickly and easily. And that was your question, is it not? But people can change their minds about this. The realisation that the three claims you mentioned are perhaps flawed can set in motion this change, as I have understood from a number of people that this happened to. Therefore I present three answers to the claims that could perhaps make the people that Want to be educated think. But even if it makes someone think, it would probably still take months or years before they change their position.
    'My experience shows otherwise'
    People should realise that even the most profound of our experiences can be nothing but a product of our mind. This does not have to make it worthless, I don't think it does, just not something to base your understanding of the world on.
    'Scientific results are always changing'
    I could never improve on this:, or see:
    It basically sais that scientific understanding is not just changing randomly, but getting incrementally closer to reality. People for example once thought the world was a perfect sphere (except for the mountains of course), which it is not. It is however closer to the truth than the idea the earth is flat.
    'Each person has his own truth'
    Well, no. Each person has their own view of reality, but that does not mean that reality is different for different people. If I think the earth is a perfect sphere, it doesn't change the shape of the earth. What I think doesn't change reality, but I can change what I think to make it fit reality.
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    Feb 28 2011: Ask your students if they'd worry about science when they, or a loved one, was in dire straights and needed a doctor. No sane minded person doubts the power of science when it comes to the health.

    Or remind them that essentially every modern convenience that they enjoy is the result of result of what was first an understanding of physics. Consider at least, electricity and everything that relies on it.

    Your points, one and three, are virtually the same. Remind your students also that their singular subjective experience is objectively meaningless (we take this as the very least) and personal 'truths' are just wishful thinking.

    No matter how hard I wish it, no matter what lengths I go to to convince myself otherwise, physics rolls on, despite me.
    Personally I believe that the sun won't rise tomorrow, my cellphone runs on voodoo, and penicillin is a sham.

    We notice immediately how little my beliefs matter.
    The sun still rises, my cell phone still emits microwaves, and penicillin, and its like drugs, are still remarkable cures.

    Each of these items are a testament to our extraordinary understanding of the workings of the world and the resultant ability to take advantage of our understanding. These are the direct results of skilled, patient, and honest scientific endeavors.

    To deny the validity or usefulness of science is absurdity in the highest degree.

    Finally, While science is indeed always changing, these changes are rarely radical alterations and they are never erratic. Scientific changes are almost always refinements that, while dynamic to some degree, are always marching along the same path. Science is convergent, you see. The changes bring us closer to a full understanding and in no way warrant a question of validity.
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    Feb 28 2011: Whatever we teach, science or not, must be known, and knowledge is described as justified true belief. Can your students defend their claims as justified true belief? If they can than what they are stating is probably worth investigating, otherwise you can explain to them why it is simply not known even if they think it's true. Then go you can give them a simple explanation of what Knowledge is which you cab find in a Theory of Knowledge IB book and show them how science has come to be justified true belief. I hope this helps :D
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    Feb 27 2011: Can people who deny the wisdom of Elder cultures which have persisted for thousands of years be educated?
    The Scientist and the Shaman need to have a talk.
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    Feb 27 2011: By its very nature, science is constantly changing and enlarging. Therefore, there isn't a simple principle that people can latch onto and accept in it. Religion, on the other hand, has basic tenets that remain constant, so people can latch onto them and remain committed to them. Therefore, the answer to you question might be to teach science like a religion to those people that need to understand it that way.
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    Feb 26 2011: This conversation will close in 3 days. When I started it I had no idea it would interest so many people.
    I want to thank all of the participants for their interesting ideas and insights, they have been very helpful.
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      Feb 26 2011: I agree, it has been a really interesting, thoughtful discussion.
  • Feb 25 2011: My answer is : yes they can be educated. Science is not the reigning orthodoxy of all fields of knowledge, it is but a separate field of investigation of nature built upon a method. Science does not underpin all thinking or all knowledge.The conclusions or the theories or the applications growing out of science are not the sum totality of truth. In fact much of what we know about nature through the investigations of science are constantly being revised. A scientific truth one day is the fable of tomorrow.Just for the record I personally am an agnostic and I am proffering these comments outside of any religious viewpoint.
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    Feb 25 2011: This is a very tricky problem. People can change, but the durability of belief systems varies with the time invested in them. The great irony is that science deniers are not above benefiting from the fruits of science: cell phones, modern medicine, TV, computers, the internet, automobiles, etc. They fail to acknowledge that most of them would be dead by 35 if it weren't for the advances in medicine and technology. It's as if science and technology is another form of magic to them.

    One way of reaching into their walled complacency is to be subtle instead of confrontational. Screaming "Darwin was right, and you're an idiot" won't benefit both parties. Instead, point out some examples of evolution, such as bacteria adapting to penicillin within a few decades. You can also tie in common technologies with scientific phenomena. In essence, people can be educated out of their science denial, but science denial and an educated state cannot be maintained in the long term simultaneously. Disaster looms if current trends continue.
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    Feb 24 2011: Not enough words allowed to say it all at once, but I will keep it short.
    My answer: I think you asked the wrong question.
    Specifically, can all people who deny science be INFLUENCED? If that was the question, I would give a resounding yes.
    You said: "Some of my undergraduate students deny scientific research with the following claims: (1) my experience shows otherwise, (2) scientific results are always changing, (3) each person has his own truth."
    You would try to get them to disbelieve their own experiences, rather than over time let them experience the truth you shared with them(if it turns out to be an absolute truth)?
    Do you argue that scientific results(theories) aren't always changing?Are atoms the smallest? Protons? Quarks? What happens when you bring in string theory..? Results can be looked at from more than one way, and support more than one answer, and nothing can be more frustrating. I understand their frustration.
    Each person does have their own truth. We all see through different eyes, our senses(as in the quote in previous post) are possibly inadequate to share what is all around us, or perhaps they are all unique. One of the few fundamental truths, of an absolute certainty, is that we shall all one day die. Let them have their own truth, because none of us truly and absolutely know what we do after death.. and although you try to arm them for this life, maybe they are arming themselves for whatever is next, if anything.

    I don't mean to sound too critical or maybe cynical, I would just say maybe you expect too much of yourself or others. You see the beauty in what you are trying to teach them(I hope), and you want nothing other than to communicate that beauty. Perhaps just putting in their head that that beauty may exist will one day lead to a revelation you will never get to see, but do you do it for that reward, the knowledge that you have changed someone?

    If you are teaching right, only one person may be changed, but they may change the world..
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    Feb 24 2011: I definitely have not read all of the comments, but I have a feeling not many will share this viewpoint without looking at it in a more general way.
    "I don't try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it."
    There are a few things I would say or ask.
    What I would ask:Why do you want people who deny science to be educated? Who in particular do you think needs this education, or at least more specifically, and what would this education accomplish really?
    I will say:
    I think that you would want people to be educated for a number of reasons, a big one being that "science makes sense", and I am sure numerous others. To strike down ignorance maybe? But although science does make sense, and in a general way it adds up.. is science the end all be all way to look at the world? I am sure there are a number of ted talks that could give possible explanations(education kills creativity is one that comes to mind), but the question is, science as it is right now or will grow up to be, is this the most accurate way of looking at the world?

    I also think I have an idea of who you would be talking about, most likely people who believe so strongly in something else that they don't know how they can believe in science and still have their beliefs coexist. The easiest to come to mind(and really one of the only) would be the religiously devout. Unbending people who believe in stories more than they believe what is in front of their eyes. Extremists maybe? Although not the best viewpoint for co-existing and prospering, their perspective may be one of the few left to bring us under scrutiny, and keep us "honest".. keep us from making logical fallacies that everything can and should be explained away, that it is better that way.

    And what would this accomplish.. perhaps you haven't seen how many(not all) scientists look at the world. Clinically. Factually. It can be sad.
  • Feb 23 2011: Great question to ask, because there are so few good answers to it.

    To be sure, it's difficult and to some seems intractable. But they're humans like the rest of us; can we developmentally paint ourselves into a corner from which we cannot extract ourselves?

    I'd say no. But at the same time, I think the fact that people continue to seek the company of their own (on both sides of the fence), that they look for an echo chamber of thoughts, feelings and emotions, means that for many afflicted with this mindset, they'll never find themselves in a situation, scenario or environment that will allow themselves to be properly 'deprogrammed' (for want of a better term) from the self reinforcing (il)logic of denying science and it's related tenets (i.e. critical thinking, logic, rationality, empiricism, etc).

    On a wide scale, what can we do to increase the spread of rationality at a faster rate than which the spread of irrationality is growing?

    I don't have all the answers, but I know that whatever we do, it's going to have to dramatically reimagine the state of world education at all levels, especially at the 'highest levels' to which we aspire.

    For starters, you'd not only have to dramatically change and reinvision the environments and methods in which we learn, but also the content and aim of learning.

    And to me, that starts bringing up questions of what exactly we are trying to achieve with society (what should we teach/learn in order to help us get to those places). Hard sorts of questions that I don't really see been asked.

    Once we have a clear resonant idea of where we want to be, where we want to go, why we're heading there, then, I think we can look at restructuring our system of education in a manner that will best help achieve those goals.

    Otherwise, at this point in time, we're just pissing in the wind, excuse the language.
  • Feb 23 2011: I have been teaching for 20 years. During that time, I have had many students who deny science. For years, I tried to help them see science as a tool, not an end in itself. A carpenter would not deny a hammer. A writer would not deny a pen. This worked for some students. Other students continued to reject science.

    Then I tried to present students with the history of the development of science. I offered them two "paths" in this history: 1) pantheism and creation myths as an early attempt at a kind of science and 2) the development of prehistoric to more modern tools for agriculture and warfare. In juxtaposition, these two "events" demonstrate how ravenous humans are to understand our world. But the development of modern tools from prehistoric ones shows that we base our understanding on trial-and-error and observation of results. Pantheism and creation myths demonstrate our narrative ability to create a "truth" from unreliable observable information: the earth is flat. the sun is all-powerful, the night sky is dotted with tiny holes through which light passes. When the observable information becomes more reliable, we no longer see the sun as a mighty deity or the earth as flat. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive, but in fact come from the same source: human curiosity. This helped some students to become more comfortable with science. Other students just shrugged their shoulders and said, "No way. Can't be."

    Recently, I've started keeping files of hard data that clearly indicate the overwhelming likelihood of evolution and the age of the earth. These 2 scientific theories are among the most "denied" by students I've met. When I ask students to look through the data, some of them begin to question their ideas. Others just shrug and say, "I don't care. The scientists must have made mistakes."

    I'll keep on trying, though. When I don't want to anymore, I'll quit.
  • Feb 22 2011: The first one is easy to refute. Personal experience is by its very nature extremely limited (to a single person's small number of lived experiences). Listing examples that are obviously not true, but can't be disproven through personal experience, should give your students something to think about. For example, all the people I know personally who own iPhones are men, while all the people I know personally (myself included) who own Android phones are women. Should I conclude that men prefer iPhones and women prefer Android phones? Maybe. But collecting data and analyzing it tells a different story. In fact, buying trends are the exact opposite of my personal experience. More women buy iPhones and more men buy Android phones. What does this say about the reliability of personal experience?
    The second is obviously true, but over-hyped by science denialists. What you need to do is explain the context in which this is true. Real examples of widely-accepted theories being overturned are very rare; instead, what happens is that our understanding becomes incrementally better... small ideas change all the time; big ones rarely do. But science reporting in the media is so bad that preliminary, inconclusive results are reported as carved-in-stone facts... and then of course they are overturned because they never WERE solid results to begin with, just portrayed that way by a journalist. This is the cycle that leads people to believe that scientists don't know what they're talking about. We need to combat this!
    The third is hard, but I try to counter with the idea that "you are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts." Which is to say, people can disagree about what the facts MEAN, but unless the discussion is to devolve into meaninglessness, we must be able to establish that the facts we discuss are observable and repeatable = actually factual! Each person may have his own interpretation, but they are not all equal. Some are better than others.
  • Feb 20 2011: Essentially you are dealing with indoctrination so it is useful to see how experts unindoctrinate cult members. Usually the motivation to change has to be there. The person has to acknowledge problems with movement which originated the questionable ideas-perhaps questionable actions in the lives of leaders or failure to deliver the outcomes promised.

    On a larger level, this is a problem in the educational system. While we need freedom of religion, likewise schools should teach students how to evaluate evidence so they can spot cults and questionable religious tactics. Later we can work to eliminate private religious schools from indoctrinating students by stripping their licenses because surely they will try to block public interference.

    To learn more about cults read Steven Hassan's book "Combatting Cult Mind Control".
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    Feb 20 2011: Great Question!
    As an undergrad student, I'll throw my 1/2 cent in on each of the 3 "claims"...

    (1) "my experience shows otherwise"
    - This provides you with a fantastic opportunity to present scientific concepts! Have the student construct a framework to convincingly present the "experiences". Allow them to argue their hypothesis by their "data". As a professor, point out the shaky/false logic. You are not there to indoctrinate them. You are there to cultivate the understanding- enrich their intellect & broaden their range of perception.

    (2) "scientific results are always changing"
    - Well so is EVERYTHING! Every aspect of life undergoes some type of growth/decay with every moment that passes... that does not justify the denial of life, does it?

    (3) "each person has his own truth"
    - All forms of science are philosophies-in-action, not fundamental principles. Teaching the methodology of a religion is not the same as requiring belief in that religion... science is no different. Understanding scientific methods and the results of its research can open up a fascinating view point of this Crazy Life! It is random and chaotic... but also beautifully orchestrated and symmetrical.

    While it is fascinating to debate the classic Rationalist/Empiricist tangibility of the universe, your objective is to expose the students to a world outside of the one they are accustomed to. We are entering into (are presently in) an unprecedented Global Age. We can't afford to be so polarized and skeptical if we hope to live well and live rich. Knowledge gives way to Understanding. Understanding gives way to Wisdom. You are there to cultivate the students' knowledge- not convert them. Stay focused and don't let the "Edward B.'s" of the classroom divert you from your course!

    Best of luck! Hope this helps!
  • Feb 20 2011: Unfortunately i think often times the motive behind science denial is more rooted in political beliefs. It is harder for folks to change their political beliefs.
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    Feb 19 2011: As for the "how", the best thing you can do is to ask questions. Find the students that are the biggest skeptics. Take time to understand their reasons. Caution: you need to go into those meetings with an open mind. You want them to have an open mind to science and you, likewise, need to have an open mind to reach them. If you go into the meeting with the goal of "showing them the truth" then you are wasting their and your time. Take the time to learn why they see things from their perspective. Once you know that, you can better understand their reasoning. You can then better address them and other students to lead them to knowledge. Even better, you may learn something new.
  • Feb 19 2011: Q) Can people who deny science be educated?

    A) ‘People’ is too broad a brush. Some can, some can’t. It has to do with many of the issues raised above, re: accurate understanding of what science is, etc. It also has to do with individuals’ different capacity to manage cognitive dissonance. Some can manage the stress of modifying or abandoning beliefs. Others will retreat further into denial of measurable results. They will cling to unsubstantiated beliefs because the beliefs may be at the core of their identity. Some people are adaptable and flexible at changing their self-conception, some less so. Some retain their ability to be influenced when they age, some do not. Some require the validation of the group who believe as they do, others, not so much.

    Q) How? A) I dunno. :-)
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    Feb 19 2011: I'm gonna go ahead and answer the question anyway, the answer is: YES! they are in the most need of it.

    So the problem seems to lie in the fact that they don't believe in facts... I think that it may be good to start with a "simple universal truth" like "the ball will fall to the ground". In my experience it is often intelligent (or at least logical) and articulate people that lack belief in science and that that's mostly due to the lack of scientific education. So what we need to do is convince one person at a time that:

    (1) Your experience may be veiled, likely more veiled than the experience of many (the scientific communion).

    (2) Change is good! How can there be progress otherwise? Science never claims to have the ultimate truth, it is simply trying to interpret data in a way that makes sense. Data (information) can either strengthen or break a theory, BOTH bring us closer to the truth.

    Explain the word "theory" and all the words needed to explain the word.

    (3) NO THEN IT'S NOT TRUTH!!! truth is NOT the word for what they believe, send them to English class if they want that kind of debate or explain the word (and all the words needed...).

    I believe that everyone can change the way they think but that sometimes that's not going to happen, try convincing them but don't put too much effort into a single individual, perhaps the person just isn't ready yet or never will be.

    The worst thing we could do is to treat it as a religion, to leave people in ignorance just because they are ignorant cannot be tolerated. (sorry for the harsh words)

    More and above all earlier scientific education to help kids get an early grip that there is a word called truth and that it has a lot of different meanings. Teach them about "scientific truth"
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    Feb 19 2011: If science were always conducted scientifically (objectively), they would have no point and there would be no point in talking to them. But, too often, they are right about scientific evidence contradicting other "scientific" evidence. If science could be done more independently and was not motivated by people trying to demonstrate what they already believe, and, if it was not funded by those who hope to profit from findings, then we would know that science is real. But, as long as money and politics are tied to science, every test is going to be set up to yield the results that are most beneficial to the people behind it...
    • Feb 23 2011: Scientific research is not always done or funded by people with a vested interest in a particular result. I agree that when it is, it undermines the search to 'reduce uncertainties about truth.' However, many scientific studies are conducted under the best possible conditions by researchers and funding sources that want to find reliable results. The experiments are often reviewed by unbiased peers. These studies are reproduced by independent scientists to provide more data to either confirm or deny the original results. (Even the studies done by tobacco companies to 'prove' that cigarettes are not unhealthy, for example, are a part of the scientific process, however, because peer review & independent studies clearly show the flaws in their method.)

      People who insist on denying science can not be fully educated because science is a part of the world and 'educated' means (at least in part) knowing about the world.

      I have had students who absolutely deny that humans and apes evolved from common ancestors. I have had students absolutely refuse to accept that the Earth is 4 to 5 billion years old. I present these students with the data that overwhelmingly support these claims. Some of them begin to ask questions. Others just shrug their shoulders and say, "I don't care. It can't be true."

      The ones who shrug sometimes terrify me. How many people who decide to walk into a supermarket parking lot and start shooting people use the scientific method to help them make this decision? I am not claiming that every person who denies science becomes a sociopath. I am suggesting that one can not base one's actions on irrational thought if one truly understands the scientific process.

      Students who resist new understandings can not be fully educated. To be a student means to ask questions, to be open to new interpretations and to test preconceived notions.
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      Feb 28 2011: umm...
  • Feb 19 2011: I don't know. Mostly due to the fact that their minds are closed to new information. Science tests itself - that's a good thing not an admission of weakness
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    Feb 19 2011: When I thought chemistry lab I used to actually discourage my students from taking science, my argument would go along the lines of "don't go into science, it's rigorous, it's complex, and even if you solved a unified theory or the mind body problem the guy who invented Reese peanut butter cups will still make more money than you. All of you are either grandly delusional or masochists if you think science is the right career choice for you." Strangely this made them love my class even more and they showed even more interest in what I had to say. I guess I was using reverse psychology or it could be that it's just cool to do the opposite of what the teacher tells you.

    Anyway, I really do have a love/hate relationship with science and I can't say with certainty that it will ever reveal anything remotely close to absolute truth but I do believe it is incredibly useful(the most useful kind of knowledge there is). This is how I would address some of the points raised by your students.

    1. Personal experience is not a statistically good indicator of fact, when one bases their inductive reasoning on personal experience alone, outside of an experimental setting one makes very rash and incorrect generalizations about nature.

    2. Science is constantly changing and paradigms are also subject to change. It is important to keep in mind that a theory is never empirically apprehended and neither is it a property of nature but it is a human construct in which the relations of observations are grouped into a structural framework. However that doesn't make the theory a religion. There is no inductive or deductive logic to faith, it lacks consistency, science doesn't because the theory operates on principles which take facts and their logical relations into consideration.

    3. Each person experiences his own meaning, but to say that truth is purely a property of a each person is to disconnect people from mutual existence with others.
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    Feb 19 2011: Education is a very personal thing.
    It requires learning to trust your own distinctions, intuitions and abstractions at least enough to test them in reality.

    We all start out with simple binary distinctions, things like true/false, right/wrong, good/evil; and it is only with much time and experience that we get to see those simple distinctions are very poor approximations of infinite spectra.

    At some point, that will bring people to the point that they get to view things as probabilities, rather than as absolutes, and they will start to talk about their level of confidence in particular assertions.

    In my understanding, science does not deal with "truth" as such, it deals with levels of approximation and levels of confidence in particular hypotheses. Specific tests may falsify an assertion, but no amount of tests can prove an assertion true in all possible tests (there will always be more tests potentially available).

    Reality may be finite (though very large), yet the realm of the possible seems to be not merely infinite, but composed of an infinite array of infinities.

    So show them how ideas progress - use an example like "flat earth":

    If one is building a house, then considering that the earth is flat is a perfectly adequate first order approximation.

    If one spends one's life travelling from village to village within a local area of a hundred miles or less, then the approximation holds up, and is useful for all practical purposes.

    It is only when one starts travelling long distances, of a thousand miles or more, that the discrepancies between flat earth and round earth start to become far more than simple measurement error can account for, and we need to reconsider our model, and use something closer.

    As a second order approximation, the earth can be considered a sphere.
    That works well for most navigational purposes, and will allow you to travel around the world and return home.

    One can continue that story through several more phases, as a good example
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    Feb 18 2011: what is science but study of nature and what is social science but study of lived nature as in human creation so denying any of those would not make sense.

    We should accept the fact that science result would be changing and the truth is relative but doesn't one discovery leads to another so this isn't strong point to avoid science. However, if someone has more capabilities to explore social science and humanities research then s/he should be encouraged without getting worried about the validity.
  • Feb 17 2011: I see the questions as - why do people believe what they believe?, and what causes someone to change their belief?

    My experience is that no-one else can change my belief, and interestingly, neither can I. All I can do is be open to my views not being 'right', listen, read, and meditate on what I find, and consider whether a different belief could be as true or truer - a very scientific approach, but the actual change of belief (if it takes place) seems out of my control.

    When it comes to the science I do, changing ideas is relatively easy, because the method becomes everything, and I understand it deeply. But areas outside my own expertise are different. I happen to believe in man-made climate change, and that if I spent a lot of time and energy and read 500 papers that I currently am not qualified to understand, I would come to the same conclusion. But hearing someone lecture me that this is 'the overwhelming consensus in the field' is no different from asking me to accept any story you care to mention - the existence of fairies, or of WMD in Iraq, for example.

    Someone quoted Stephen Hawking saying that religion is based on authority, and science is based on observation and reason. When it comes to eg climate change, this also feels a question of authority, because I have no connection with the evidence. And that is not so very different from religions that would tell people that their priests and prophets have the evidence of God's will, and we should just trust them.

    So I think a little humility in scientific circles would help; a realization that everyone is doing their best to make sense of the world, and 'scientists are always right' is both likely to be only partially true, and is competing with a complex mixture of other beliefs.

    Getting back to the question, I suggest the best way is to teach scientific method, as experientially as possible, and leave people to work it out for themselves. And respect whatever conclusions they come to.
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    Feb 17 2011: Sigal-

    Is any of this helping?
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    Feb 17 2011: yeah...why not?

    just bcos you don't know something doesn't mean it doens't exist
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    Feb 17 2011: My answer is based on my diploma thesis - Philosophical problems in work of Zdeněk Neubauer - whos Czech biologist and philosopher. If my statement isn´t properly english it´s caused by my weak knowledge of English. So i´m using google translator for check my statement.

    Science (experimental type) is extending world by finding how it could works in specified situation. Philosophy is looking to our experience - it´s way how to understand our world.

    Science is sort of religion - it makes world reasonable and understendable.
    Most important part of scientific reaserch is publication, which makes (finally) hypothesis proven. But we can´t verify piece of knowledge without knowledge of scientific methods or know-how. In philosphy is verification based on our experiencies with world. That makes diferent ways of knowledge useable for finding how world could be and how it is.

    To denial of science has no reason, but we have to know what is it, and what science looking for. It´s verified by every click on button switch, but button switch is part of scientific world - it´s one instrument of scientific know-how. Science can´t answer basic questions of life, universe and so on, but science can makes live easier.

    My statement might be out of topic but could be useful.
  • Feb 17 2011: As an educator, I have found that knowledge is best learned through discovery. Like a case being tried in court, lay out all the evidence and let the student come to the appropriate conclusion. If the case has been made, there should be one logical conclusion. Any time there is room for thinking and reflection, I believe learning is taking place. "Being educated" is a process that may develop over many years depending upon the student's experiences and beliefs. That being said, I also understand that not every lesson/topic can be approached through this process due to the restraints of time & standards.
  • Feb 17 2011: "My experience shows otherwise". This is actually a very scientific way of seeing things. Denying some research or some theory referring to experience should, in fact, be encouraged. Personal experience can be limited, can be deceiving and so on, but lest not forget that experience (facts, data from the real world, experiments... call it whatever you want) is the source of science and of science value. If someone denies gravity based on "her experience" obviously there is something wrong is her reasoning, her understanding of gravity or somewhere, and discovering what's wrong would actually be a very fruitful learning experience. If instead of "gravity" you say "evolution"... then it gets much harder, but even more fruitful!

    "Scientific results are always changing". Of course! That's why they are scientific, because they can be challenged and improved. Science is historically cumulative knowledge and understanding, in contrast with any other kind of knowledge you can think of. That's what's so powerful about it. I think giving a positive view of science evolution, as a series of achievements, rather that a series of failed theories, from the very early stages of education, is very important.

    "Each person has his own truth". This claim might be simply an excuse to avoid discussion, as someone already mentioned, but there might be something deeper there. People can see science as threatening to their own individuality, as a social equalizer, as the only valid answer to any question. It is important to clarify that science is, at it's core, purely "practical knowledge", knowledge that allows us to understand and predict things and benefit from it, even science that might seem too detached from common things. Science is useful, and that should be enough reason to learn it, rather that whether it's "true" or not.
  • Feb 16 2011: I noticed many commenters here do not answer your 2 questions directly, despite your admonishment.

    Yes. By educating them not to deny science.

    ps: Do not harangue, lecture or impose your opinions. 'Discuss' case studies, like Kurt Wise, Francis Collins. 'Ask' if it would be more dangerous if politicians deny science, like .... heh heh heh.
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    Feb 16 2011: 'One can't learn to love if one doesn't know hate' .. I'd apply the same principle here too. Personally, I'll say science is the study of nature and social science/humanities/art is the study of the beauty in nature. Both are equally important. An important side note: to say that science, scientific method, analytical understanding are emotionless or cold is unjustified!

    So my answer to the question is NO. If you ignore any one side, you are lacking something important. And it doesn't matter whether you are trained formally through an education system or not.
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    Feb 16 2011: People don't flatly deny science, they use it everyday. They deny some of its models because those models, as expressed in popular culture, are outdated.

    The popular misguided image for Evolution, for example, is an ape to man (male), linear 'progression.' People see that that is impossible. They deep down know that Evolution can neither be linear, all male, nor progressive. There must be a new model proliferated.

    The new model must demonstrate Evolution's opportunistic and creative aspects. It must look more like other natural systems people can identify with. It must look like a huge three-dimensional tree. It must show networks like a brain, it must be so deep and fundamentally huge that it can only inspire awe and questions. And science must admit it is still putting the pieces of the puzzle together, but here is what we observe.

    Shapes and patterns repeated in nature need to start to make connections to one another. It needs a new, more compelling model like fractals for example. Make cell biology the introduction to the story of evolution, find the mechanism that mutates a cell, introduce the network principle.

    Consider using God as a metaphor because if you really start to look at the AMAZING feats of evolution, there is design, will, and consciousness evident in every organism's drive to survive.

    Stop dumbing it down, stop denying human experience as being outside of science. Stop denying that each person has his or her own truth and simply express that as one learns one's own truth evolves; the same is so with science.

    Consider showing that science has a creative side, because frankly, if every great mind had accepted his/her predecessor's observations, where would we be?
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    Feb 16 2011: We have seen that throughout time science is not merely affected but driven by the political climates of the present era. There are the overt controls put on science inquiry through legal exigencies and funding of scientific endeavor. There are the less overt but still plausible constraints of industrial funding of scientific results and even less regarded but no less troubling restriction of dissemination of results. You can educate the inquisitive mind regardless of the preconceived notions. It is much harder to gain a skeptical inquiry and I would suggest that is a good thing.

    Into this mix we add the near intransigent policies of journals and organs of dissemination that restrict through cultural controls the research of scientists. There is extensive literature that looks at the peer-review process and how it drives a group think instead of innovative agendas. This is not a rejection of the Karl Popper principles of falsification, or the Thomas Kuhn allusions to revolutionary concepts rejection by scientific establishments. This is saying that science is not perfect. The specter of perfection when cast on science is a shadow of the reality inherent in the falseness of the problems.

    Consider the myriad political, cultural, economic, and taste issues inherent in the American diet corresponding with the legislative and industrial scientific processes. It would not be wild speculation to suggest that the scientific processes are impacted significantly when considering the various lobbies determining the direction of results, or the legal impediments to publishing results inherently counter to specific interests. This too is well documented. It would be a valid position for a person to be speculative of scientific results accorded the value of truth.
  • Feb 16 2011: I think for many people now, especially the outh, there is a revulsion of science. And this is because there is basically a confusion between science and scientism. We are all of us scientific, in that most of us have a proclivity to ask questions. Many children have that spirit of inquiry (which I thankfully have kept), but often the 'education' system dumbs it down> A great person to read the where and whyfores in more depth about this is John Taylor Gatto.

    Scientism or the CULT of Scientism tends to insist that there is 'only materialism', and any talk of spiritual experience is attacked as 'woo woo' and that 'OK we may not be able to anser now, but soome we will KNOW'. So you have this oppressive attitude which is imposed on everyone --as soon as children go to the enforced schooling system. And it also supports the mental illness myth where people, seen as machines, must take the 'medication' to put their chemicals right so they can once again be productive or at least be 'maintained' in the idea of 'normalcy'. A child doesn't fit in school? Drug him! But they must NOT be allowed to have access to entheogenins---oh no. 'Just say no'. And the culture is a liar, and makes wars for profit and is corrupt right to the top, and the youth are not dumb and they can sense this utter confusion all round, and the pretentious message that science is the utlimate truth getter--yet depsite that the planet earth has never been so under attack on all side from blind greed and soulesshness. So is it any wonder that young people (and other ages) massively distrust science?

    You as tutor must become aware broadly what is going on in this world to understand the question your inquiring about (hope that is not patronizing. it's not meant to be), because many youths not are very savvy thanks to the Internet, and have a broader vision that others pre-WWW who could be more eaily controlled by the propaganda

    So I recommend that you really study about scientism.
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    Feb 16 2011: Firstly, education encompasses is a very broad spectrum of learning. It includes some of the following types.. science, non science, philosophy, religion, psychology etc. etc. Human beings have vastly different curiosities and interests, therefore we are educated in many different areas, not only in science by scientific results. The mere fact that one is denying science by tangible proof, is actually educating them by engaging in disproving scientific theories and facts. Too simple? Well, I think it is.
    How? People are just educated in disproving that results can actually change based on an ever evolving set of variables. I believe the world is changing, so is nature, our natural elements, our foods, our bodies, our thinking, why not the results when these changing variables are applied to some old established experiment. Hey! Man has evolved from a single cell...ape...Neanderthal advanced man....who knows what's next?
  • Feb 16 2011: I think fundamentally, we need to get stuff like set theory and the cartesian coordinate system on more firm foundations. This might be done by category theory. When set boundaries are permeable (or there's percent membership in a set), and the cartesian coordinate system is based on uncertainty instead of points and lines, I think this will be a more honest approach to science and mathematics.