"The popularity of
Oregonian Battles Pseudoscience
|By Jeanine DeNoma|
The Forum section of the September 21, 1997, Sunday Oregonian carried an outstanding two-page article covering skepticism and the dangers of pseudoscience. Under the bold headline "Peddling the Paranormal," Oregonian science writer Richard Hill writes, "The popularity of pseudosciences obscures complex scientific issues that require thoughtful attention." The article included lengthy interviews with Ray Hyman, Loren Pankratz and Barry Beyerstein, all outspoken critics of pseudoscience.
Citing the Heaven's Gate suicides, Hill presented a thorough discussion of the attraction of paranormal and new-age mythologies and the harm they can cause to individuals and society. "[Pseudoscience] caters to fantasies about personal powers we lack and long for," quotes Hill from Carl Sagan's book Demon-Haunted World.
While 37 percent of respondents in a 1994 Harris Poll reported believing in astrology, only nine percent of people polled last year by the National Science Foundation knew what a molecule was, writes Hill.
People "need a better understanding of the scientific method and what differentiates science from pseudoscience," he writes, paraphrasing Ray Hyman.
Hill, however, does an excellent job of conveying these differences. "The scientific method is basically a set of rules for not getting fooled. It involves scientists asking, 'Why?', making observations, forming a hypothesis ..., preparing experiments to rigorously test the hypothesis and predicting an outcome. It allows other scientists to verify or fault the hypothesis. The method requires scientists to be willing to change their views."
In a side-bar, Hill described the activities of Oregonians for Rationality, quoting from an interview with our secretary and acting president, Josh Reese. The article provided an address for individuals interested in contacting us. Josh has received numerous inquiries and recruited a number of new members as a result of the article.
A suggested reading list included Skeptical Inquirer, Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted
World, Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, and
Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn's book How to Think About Weird Things:
Critical Thinking for a New Age.
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