Archives For: April 2013

Mark Schulman: Defending Science Against the 'Futurists' and 'Marketing Gurus' of TED

04/10/2013
Saybrook President Mark Schulman

The TED organization isn't the first to censor scientists for having unconventional ideas.  It's just the latest.

It's worth remembering that for hundreds of years, "scientific evidence" was used to justify the convenient assertion that people of color were racially inferior. Today we call that "misusing science" and "pseudoscience" -- but at the time it was mainstream scientific thought.  Nothing about it was true, but the scientific mainstream laughed at radicals who said so.

For years mainstream scientific studies denied the connection between smoking and poor health.  It was "insurgent" scientists who finally made the case.  During the "reefer madness" era, it was considered a matter of settled science that marijuana was a "gateway drug" that would lead to a life of violent crime, and that comic books coarsened the young and destroyed empathy.  For a scientist to say otherwise was to invite censure -- even though they were empirically correct.

Which is to say that there is such a thing as "bad science" and "pseudo-science," but that even scientists have a pretty poor record deciding what it is sometimes.  When social forces try it, when social organizations or politicians or businesses try to tell scientists what is and isn't science ... well, do I even have to mention Galileo?

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