The null hypothesis: what skepticism reveals about science


Michael Shermer has published his 100th opus in Scientific American and on his own blog. Dr. Shermer has effectively described why the scientific method is our best tool at distinguishing shinola from bullcrap.

The postmodernist belief in the relativism of truth, coupled to the clicker culture of mass media where attention spans are measured in New York minutes, leaves us with a bewildering array of truth claims packaged in infotainment units. It must be true — I saw it on television, at the movies, on the Internet. The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, That’s Incredible, The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist, Loose Change, Zeitgeist the Movie. Mysteries, magic, myths and monsters. The occult and the supernatural. Conspiracies and cabals. The face on Mars and aliens on Earth. Bigfoot and Loch Ness. ESP and PSI. UFOs and ETIs. JFK, RFK and MLK — alphabet conspiracies. Altered states and hypnotic regression. Remote viewing and astroprojection. Ouija boards and Tarot cards. Astrology and palm reading. Acupuncture and chiropractic. Repressed memories and false memories. Talking to the dead and listening to your inner child. Such claims are an obfuscating amalgam of theory and conjecture, reality and fantasy, nonfiction and science fiction. Cue dramatic music. Darken the backdrop. Cast a shaft of light across the host’s face. The truth is out there. I want to believe.

I don’t think that Dr. Shermer hates entertainment, but is probably tired of entertainment devices being the sole means of enlightenment for much of the public.  In my opinion, entertainment has a purpose in stimulating our imagination, but should not typically be the basis for believing in extraordinary, hard-to-believe claims and concepts.

Read more on Shermer’s blog and sharpen your skepticism skills.


3 Responses to “The null hypothesis: what skepticism reveals about science”

  1. Science fiction should be based on good science, don’t you think? Good science should not be based on science fiction or any other fiction, The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist, loose change, Zeitgeist the Movie. mysteries, magic, myths or monsters etc.
    I also agree that the scientific method is our best tool for distinguishing that which is truth from that which is not but occasionally common sense seems to get the job done too. And what about the God particle.

    • iyokobat Says:

      I was talking with my friend Matt about how lately I have not had much interest in science-fiction anymore. Not so much because I don’t find it interesting (because I do), but because I find that there are so many real science stories to digest and so many real science mysteries to investigate that it’s just a matter of time management.

      Science-fiction and fiction in general have great value in their ability to inspire and to stir imagination. And what we see as science fiction today, can become science fact tomorrow. Sir Arthur C. Clarke and geosynchronous satellites come to mind.

      On a somewhat related note, I saw a great performance/presentation today of something called “Bella Gaia”. Will post on it shortly.

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