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Sigal Tifferet

Senior Lecturer, Ruppin Academic Center

TEDCRED 500+

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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 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?"
        • Feb 22 2011: "If it cannot be measured, it does not exist."
          - That would be the rather large field of quantum mechanics

          "Can you measure the mind?"
          - People are always measuring the mind. A quick scan round TED will show up plenty of interesting things: http://www.ted.com/talks/sebastian_seung.html

          Also New Scientist is a good bet: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18150-signature-of-consciousness-captured-in-brain-scans.html
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          Feb 24 2011: @Sondra

          I don't think your question, "Can you measure the mind?" serves your argument. Although Ben and Patricia could be argued with (if for no other reason than that the mind is a tricky thing to pin down) that doesn't support the notion that measurement is equivalent to falsification. It's a rare thing indeed that the scientific community agrees is "good science" that isn't falsifiable.
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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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