This category contains 8 posts

Why human sciences studies are so hard to replicate

One of the touchstones of what makes an experiment a good experiment is that one be able to replicate it. The fact that something happened once tells us next to nothing, at least in scientific terms. But in the human sciences, replicating the results of a study can be tricky business. This article by Jay Van Bavel in the New York Times sheds some light on why.… Read the rest

A duty to dissent? What is the role of science in a democracy?

In today’s Guardian newspaper, George Monbiot looks at the role of scientists in a democracy, and alleges that scientists are being pressured to downplay findings and to remain silent as others do so in the name of policy. Do scientists have a duty to play a public role in policy debates? Read the article here.… Read the rest

Scientism and other monsters under your bed

There seem to be certain ideas that most polite intellectuals are quick to shy away from. Fundamentalist religion is one – many believe in God among their college-educated peers they are often quick to point out that they don’t believe it THAT God, the one with beard who does all the smiting. Likewise, atheism is out of the question. Sure, some might say, God is unlikely, but we can’t know, can we? They will call themselves something else – agnostics or skeptics perhaps, but certainly not the Christopher Hitchens sort of raving atheist.

Scientism seems to rank among this catalog of extremes which most thoughtful people hope to avoid.… Read the rest

The  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or D.S.M., has long been the authoritative reference for diagnosing mental illness. But what happens when scientists start claiming that the accepted wisdom has become an straightjacket that inhibits rather than helps progress and treatment?  This article in the New York Times dips into the recent controversy.

How open minded should one be about alternative views in the sciences?… Read the rest

So how do you explain that… the science of Ouija boards

In the summer of 1990 I visited the Avebury stone circle in Britain. It’s a wonderful place, infused with an atmosphere of prehistoric mystery and inspiring no small amount of wonder at the ingenuity, persistence and perhaps bloody-mindedness of our ancient ancestors. While there I was given the opportunity to try dowsing rods. I had seen people perform this simple trick looking for water – supposedly the rods turn downwards when over a water source – and now was being told that the ‘energy’ in the standing stones would push back against these two metal rods, bent at a 90 degree angle, when someone approached the stones.… Read the rest

Can science help us to understand art?

Over the past 50 years science has made incredible advances in understanding the workings of the human mind. With technologies such as FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) we now can actually watch brain activity in real time, which puts us well ahead of the days when psychiatrists and philosophers were limited to extrapolating theories of human motivation from observing behaviour and asking questions of participants in studies. But can such technological advances. The following article in the New York Times explores the intersection of brain science and visual art.… Read the rest

The limits of science

Science has given us almost everything we take for granted in our modern world; one could argue that science as method and outlook defines modernity. But can science answer all valid questions? Scientism – the view that science can answer all questions – is something of a dirty word for most, a term used more often as an accusation than as a philosophy. But while most people seem to feel that science cannot answer all questions – or, as I would qualify, cannot answer all questions in a way that is fundamentally useful in the living of our lives – philosophers of science differ in their ideas of where exactly the limits of science can be found.… Read the rest

Daniel Kahneman on bias, reason and the human sciences

In this recent interview with Nigel Warburton, pioneering psychology researcher Daniel Kahneman discusses how we think vs. how we think we think. We like to believe that we come to conclusions – about politics, for example – by applying our capacity for conscious reasoning. After all, we’re reasonable people, aren’t we? Kahneman explains the more common process of coming to conclusions subconsciously, largely emotionally, and then applying reason to ratify our decisions.… Read the rest

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