9-22-12 Hodgepodge

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Scientism as Anti-Science

Reader Snedcat emails me a link to an article titled, "Your Brain on Pseudoscience: The Rise of Popular Neurobollocks", calling it, "[a]n amusing and on-the-mark review of several recent books trying to justify flapdoodle by sticking 'neuro-' on the front of it". Here's an excerpt, which might sound familiar to regulars here:

[H]ere is a recipe for writing a hit popular brain book. You start each chapter with a pat anecdote about an individual's professional or entrepreneurial success, or narrow escape from peril. You then mine the neuroscientific research for an apparently relevant specific result and narrate the experiment, perhaps interviewing the scientist involved and describing his hair. You then climax in a fit of premature extrapolation, inferring from the scientific result a calming bromide about what it is to function optimally as a modern human being. Voilà, a laboratory-sanctioned Big Idea in digestible narrative form. This is what the psychologist Christopher Chabris has named the "story-study-lesson" model, perhaps first perfected by one Malcolm Gladwell. A series of these threesomes may be packaged into a book, and then resold again and again as a stand-up act on the wonderfully lucrative corporate lecture circuit.
This is a very worthwhile article and one whose lessons apply to popular books about other areas of science. I particularly agree with the following observation: "[S]uch books are 'anti science, given that science is supposed to be our protection against believing whatever we find most convenient, comforting or compelling.'"

Weekend Reading

"As a property right, copyright ... defines the boundaries of where the right to free speech ends just as the fence around your yard defines the boundaries of where someone's right to liberty and right to free speech end as well." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Copyright Doesn't Limit Online Speech" at The American-Statesman

"While any product if consumed in great enough quantities can cause negative health effects, the greater danger we face as Americans is in giving up the right to make our own choices." -- Michelle Minton, in "Sugary Drinks Ban Begs the Question -- Who Has the Right to Decide What You Consume?" at Fox News

"For democracy zealots like Mr. Obama, the most important thing about the Muslim savages ruling Egypt is not that they are savages and U.S. foes, but that they were 'democratically-elected'." -- Richard Salsman, in "The Religion That's Killing The World Isn't Just Islam, It's Also Democracy" at Forbes

"The fact that therapists find failing students with high self-regard is proof that the now decades-old philosophy of telling kids they're great regardless of how they perform is not working." -- Michael Hurd, in "Self-Esteem vs. Narcissism " at DrHurd.com

"The problem is not taxpayers vs. non-taxpayers. The problem is that Americans on all income levels have been indoctrinated with the entitlement morality-the idea that need is a claim." -- Harry Binswanger, in "Virtually Everyone Has Missed What's Wrong With Romney's 47% Comment" at Forbes

My Two Cents

I found Hurd's and Mossoff's pieces particularly worthwhile because each countered fashionable -- but wrong -- notions in our popular culture about freedom of speech and psychology, respectively.



Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

I read the New Statesman article and found the following eerily familiar.

The true function of such books, of course, is to free readers from the responsibility of thinking for themselves. This is made eerily explicit in the psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, published last March, which claims to show that “moral knowledge” is best obtained through “intuition” (arising from unconscious brain processing) rather than by explicit reasoning. “Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason,” Haidt enthuses, in a perverse manifesto for autolobotomy. I made an Olympian effort to take his advice seriously, and found myself rejecting the reasoning of his entire book.

Dr. Floyd Ferris was more succinct. "Why do you think you think?"

c andrew

Gus Van Horn said...

Well said.