December 18, 2018

Critical thinking is an ongoing process. “The essence of fundamentalism, whether religious, political, or ideological,” writes Kenyan novelist and activist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, “is the idea that there is only one way to organize reality.” This powerful statement demands that we acknowledge the complexity of phenomena and the great responsibility we have for the way we conceptualize them. Scott Stahlecker’s recent post on the Rational Doubt blog called “On Becoming a Freethinker” really got me thinking, as Scott no doubt intended:… Read more

December 6, 2018

The CRISPR babies scandal should deeply disturb anyone who cares about science and ethical research. At the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong in November, researcher He Jiankui announced that he had supervised the creation of two twin girls with gene-editing technology. CRISPR babies are now a reality. The MIT Technology Review article that originally leaked the news reports the optimism that He shared in anticipation of this momentous innovation: “In this ever more competitive global pursuit… Read more

November 28, 2018

You’ll believe anything a celebrity tells you. Don’t believe me? Ask George Clooney! Celebrity Science Fan Says The folks at Science Alert tell us in an article called “George Clooney Can Probably Convince You That Evolution Is True” that celebrity endorsement doesn’t just work for selling sneakers or cars. They cite a published paper describing an experiment performed on Canadian undergraduates in which the students read an article that was either supportive or critical of the theory of evolution, then… Read more

November 20, 2018

Biology is all about variation, but entrenched knowledge narrows our vision, according to a maverick scientist. Last week, Prof. Karen Warkentin delivered the annual University Lecture at BU’s Tsai Performance Center. This marked a long-overdue recognition not only of her unique ideas, but also of the important collaboration between biology and gender studies. (Full disclosure: my wife and I have been friends with Prof. Warkentin’s partner for many years. Neither of them has read my blog and both would probably… Read more

November 8, 2018

Evidence—the word that we love to use even though it means nothing. Francisco Mejia Uribe recently wrote an article in the thought-provoking online magazine Aeon called “Believing without evidence is always morally wrong.” I don’t want to Poison the Well right off the bat, but the fact that the author is an executive director at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong makes my skeptic alarm go off loudly. The day I take advice from a Goldman Sachs exec concerning ethical behavior… Read more

November 1, 2018

Move over, debunkers. Latour is back, and the conspiracists are in trouble. The unlikely savior of science in the not so new millennium is Bruno Latour, the French philosopher infamous for “deconstructing” science with his sociological approach. Latour thinks the current controversies about climate change and vaccination are the predictable result of emphasizing the authority of science rather than its methodology. How Objectivity is Made In a New York Times article from last week, Ava Kofman interviews Latour and reviews… Read more

October 23, 2018

“I shiver with fear/Whenever I hear/Things that debunk in the night.” The weather hereabouts has turned colder, the trees are losing their leaves, and it’s getting to be late October. If anything is scarier than mid-term elections, it’s the coming of Halloween: gruesome costumes, ominous music, and ghost stories. Oh, and debunkers. It’s easier to escape from the clutches of an axe murderer or zombie, it seems, than to avoid articles like 5 Famous ‘Paranormal’ Phenomena (Easily Debunked By Science) by… Read more

October 18, 2018

RIP Mary Midgley, the British moral philosopher who was Dawkins’s most distinguished foe. What Is Knowledge For? Mary Midgley was an author and thinker whose work often dealt with the way we relate to scientific knowledge. Skeptical of dogmas both religious and secular, she celebrated ideas that expanded rather than circumscribed our conception of reality. Her obituary in the New York Times said: Dr. Midgley unhesitatingly challenged scientists like the entomologist Edward O. Wilson and the biologist, and noted atheist, Richard… Read more

October 9, 2018

The hoaxers are at it again. In case you don’t recall the Sokal Hoax of the 90s, physicist Allan Sokal submitted a paper to a cultural studies journal that turned out to be a parody of the way math-challenged academics mangle concepts in the field of physics. Since then it has become an annual tradition for someone in the science-fan community to quietly submit a hoax paper to a lefty journal, then cue the thunderous backslapping and triumphalist grandstanding if… Read more

October 4, 2018

There’s an algorithm for that? Really? Skeptics and humanists are good at attacking religious concepts of humanity, society and the universe, and describing the way these ideas dehumanize and denigrate us. But we should also be able to call out dehumanizing and dangerous rhetoric of the secular sort. I’m talking about the offhand way we use metaphors that compare us to machines. We also have a tendency to describe our modes of inquiry in technological terms, and talk about nature… Read more

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