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Saturday, May 02, 2009
Scientific Literacy -vvw vww

It should not come as a surprise to many people that I am one hell of a skeptic. I generally do not consider it a good idea to believe in anything that has not be rigorously tested. Perhaps I was influenced by my father, or maybe it was all those science and scientific philosophy books I used to read for fun. Regardless of the cause, the result of it was that I get very irritated when people try to pass something off as science when it clearly is not.

Most Singaporeans are reasonably tech-savvy. However, scientific literacy goes beyond understanding technology and keeping up with the latest scientific discoveries. The scientific method is one example of a vital part of science that sadly, is unknown to most people. At the very least, I think it is important to be able to distinguish between science and pseudoscience.

Wikipedia has a very good article on that but I will just list some of the more easily understood indicators of poor scientific reasoning here.

1. Lack of progress.
Scientific theories evolve over time as new evidence surfaces. Pseudoscience tends to stay the same since they are often not self-correcting. So if you think your particular school of Feng Shui is a science because it has existed for thousands of years, sorry to burst your bubble but you are wrong.

2. Over-reliance on personal experience.
"Oh my gawd, my horoscope is so accurate. It says I will lose money this week and I really did ... to Singapore Pools. And all my friends born in the same month didn't win Toto either."

3. Reversed burden of proof.
In science, it is the responsibility of the person making a claim to prove it true. Pseudoscience, on the other hand, places the burden of proof on the skeptics to disprove them. Now that I've said it, the next person who challenges me with "you can't disprove it" is gonna get punched in the face.

4. Occam's Razor (this one's my all-time favourite)
Resorting to an explanation that requires more assumptions than is necessary. For example, attributing electromagnetic activity to invisible ghosts when it can be explained by my cellphone receiving an SMS.

5. Use of vague terms and jargon that prevents other people from testing the so-called theory. If there's only one thing you can remember from this article, let it be this: Science should be TESTABLE.

-- permalink --
Yiheng made
9:20 PM


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