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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.


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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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