March 19th, 2020

pWNED!!! by Science

The Scientific Attitude, by Lee McIntyre

 subtitled: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience

I was maybe suckered too much by the subtitle, hoping for some good hulk smash of nonsense, and didn't read the fine print before buying. McIntyre is a philosopher of science, and so much of the book is more about not-solving the demarcation problem, i.e. how do you tell science from nonscience. In the main, I'm sympathetic to his treatment. It's just not a question that keeps me up at night.

As much as I've seen creationists and other pseudoscientists approvingly quoting Popper and Kuhn, I'm glad McIntyre craps on both of them. Or at least craps on Popper and what people generally think Kuhn said.

I say he not-solves the problem, because he doesn't find a 1-to-1 definition that would include all science and exclude all non-science. And I agree with him that this is probably a fools errand.

But he does find something to help, what he calls "The Scientific Attitude", and this is something that is found in science (but not exclusively in science). So one might be able to bake cakes with the scientific attitude, but that doesn't necessarily make baking a science. On the other hand, if you can show that a creationist is NOT adopting the scientific attitude, then we know that her version of creationism is not science. 

In brief, phrasing things somewhat my own way, if you're doing science, then the ultimate decider is the universe. The scientific attitude is to be humble in the face of empirical data. If the data slays your theory, the scientific attitude is to take it with good grace, and modify your opinions and ideas, rather than trying to modify the data (fraud) or ignore the data (denialism) or play pigeon chess (pseudoscience).

He addresses how economics and the other social sciences could make better use of the scientific attitude (without having to become particle physics in the process). This is probably the most thought-provoking chapter of the book.

And he does hulk smash some stupidity, which is always agreeable.