Radio: Simon Nightingale on “Anti-Science”

Last Sunday, Simon talked about “Anti-science” on the “Pause for Thought” on BBC Shropshire Radio. It can be heard by going to https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08b54q8 and listening on the timeline between 1:19:30 and 1:23:00.

If anyone wants too discuss the issues raised, they can contact Simon on chair@shropshire.humanist.org.uk

Simon’s original draft was shortened for the talk, but the full text is given below.

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Don’t worry I’m not going to talk lockdown, but my subject was prompted by some of the extraordinary things we hear coming out of the mouth of the current President of United States. It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t trust science or scientists or evidence or reason; he prefers to rely on his gut instinct, making it up as he goes along and listening to like-minded anti-science friends.

It got me thinking. Why are so many people against science and scientists? It’s hard to believe but there are international societies claiming the world is flat and that, if you walk far enough, you fall off the edge! And over 40% of the United States are young earth creationists and believe that the world, the universe, was created much as it is now about 8,000 years ago. And then there’s climate change. Despite a vast amount of high-level evidence that the world is warming up due to human activity, there’re many, including Trump and some UK politicians, who deny it.

Humanists like me believe it’s really important where we get our knowledge. So how do we know if ideas are true – or not. Humanists believe that the world, the universe, and everything in it, even the thoughts and emotions in my mind at this very moment, are best understood through natural laws and natural forces rather than the supernatural or superstition.

On the other hand there are others who prefer to use their gut instinct. You know, gut instinct is probably right more often than wrong, but when it’s wrong, it can be very wrong. There was a time when everyone knew in their gut that the world was flat! It was obvious! And there are many who believe stuff they read in sacred books written hundreds or sometimes thousands of years ago or they get their knowledge through personal revelation from what they believe is some ultimate source of truth somewhere out there.

A humanist like me believes that the best way to find out about something is to study it – carefully. That gives me an idea, a hypothesis if you like it. Then I look for things that agree with my idea, but more importantly, I look for things that disagree with it, so I may have to give up my clever new idea or more often change it a bit, so that it’s more likely to be true. It’s the constant questioning and challenging of our ideas by which science moves forward; each idea being refined with new evidence – not claiming to know it all; just claiming to have the best idea so far. Very different from ideas taken from ancient sacred books that don’t change over time. Moreover the challenging of ideas that’s so essential for the scientific method isn’t always welcome with sacred matters.

Some say that science is just for weighing and measuring and test tubes and the like, but really has no place in studying with complex and personal experiences, like our emotions and our thoughts. Well just think about the amazing advances in the science of psychology and particularly neuroscience, which has shown that how we think, the ways we behave and all that we experience, including emotions, beliefs, even consciousness and freewill, are the result of electrochemical changes in our wonderful brains.

Some sorts of questions can’t be answered by science or anyone. Okay so answer me this “Does the colour green sleep badly?” Well there are some things that sleep but the colour green isn’t one of them – so no one can’t answer this question. It’s what philosophers call a category error. Some seemingly straightforward questions of this kind can’t be answered by science, particularly questions asking about the purpose of things (like evolution) that actually have no purpose.

Then there is the mad scientist much loved by film makers. Yeah, there are a few rotten apples in any group, but actually there aren’t that many mad or bad scientists.

Some say scientists seem arrogant, but actually science is humble; science merely says “the evidence strongly suggests that such-and-such is very likely to be true, but we’ll keep an open mind, especially if new evidence turns up”. Rather different from those who say “well, I just know I’m right – I’m 100% sure.”

Does science have all the answers? Of course it doesn’t! No scientist would claim that it does. Brian Cox said on telly the other day that “it’s the not-knowing that so exciting about science!” But so far we haven’t come across anything that can’t be studied. There’s no secret area forbidden to the scientific method.

Who is to blame for these misunderstandings about science? I think to some extent the scientists are to blame. Those of us involved in science need to explain it better.

Sometime ago one of our cabinet minister said he was “fed up with experts” and this was a man claiming to be an expert on politics!

So don’t be fed up with experts. Listen to them. Listen to the health scientists about health; listen to the economists about economics and listen to the politicians about politics. Listen to people who know what they’re talking about because they’ve spent their life studying it. Don’t be a Trump!!

Hmmm Squad meeting, Thursday 27 July

Humanists may be interested in the meetings of the Hmmm Squad, which is Shrewsbury’s premier science and philosophy discussion group (…believed to be Shrewsbury’s ONLY science and philosophy discussion group).

Each month a group member or invited guest gives a topical presentation. Questions and discussions are encouraged at the end of the presentation and members of the group are invited to continue those discussions over a drink or two after the event.

This month, desktop support analyst Mike Smith gives a brief history of computer viruses, spyware and scams. Despite a growing culture of fear, worry and paranoia, Mike hopes to convince members that computer viruses are in fact nothing to be frightened about and do not cause computer problems. Mike will explain how to laugh at suspicious emails and how to patronise friendly callers from India who offer to work miracles on your computer and credit card.

No computers will be harmed during the course of this presentation and any fraudulent payment transactions will be fully refunded.*

Everyone is welcome at Hmmm Squad but a voluntary donation towards refreshments and room hire is much appreciated.
Thursday 27 July 2017 at University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell, SY3 8HQ at 7.30pm.

10 pseudoscience theories we’d like to see retired forever

Pseudo-science theories are a little like puppies. They’re fun, fluffy things to talk about, and most of the time they’re harmless. Sometimes, however, they get big, mean, aggressive, and have to be put down. Here are a few pseudo-science theories that need the Old Yeller treatment.

http://io9.com/10-pseudo-science-theories-wed-like-to-see-retired-fore-1592128908

10 scientific ideas that scientists wish you would stop misusing

Many ideas have left the world of science and made their way into everyday language — and unfortunately, they are almost always used incorrectly. We asked a group of scientists to tell us which scientific terms they believe are the most widely misunderstood. Here are ten of them.

http://io9.com/10-scientific-ideas-that-scientists-wish-you-would-stop-1591309822/

19 June meeting: Ask for Evidence presented by the charity Sense About Science

This is a talk about things you can do.

Every day, we hear claims about what is good for our health, bad for the environment, how to improve education, cut crime, and treat disease. Some are based on reliable evidence and scientific rigour. Many are not. These claims can’t be regulated; every time one is debunked another pops up – like a game of whack-a-mole. So how can we make companies, politicians, commentators and official bodies accountable for the claims they make? If they want us to vote for them, believe them, or buy their products, then we should ask them for evidence, as consumers, patients, voters and citizens.

The Ask for Evidence campaign has seen people ask a retail chain for the evidence behind its MRSA resistant pyjamas; ask a juice bar for the evidence behind wheatgrass detox claims; ask the health department about rules for Viagra prescriptions; ask for the studies behind treatments for Crohn’s disease, and hundreds more. As a result, claims are being withdrawn and bodies held to account.

Come and hear what the campaign is going to do next and how you can get involved.

Thursday 19 June, 7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG.

How do we know what’s true?

Darwin Festival and Memorial Lecture, February 2012

In February next (in place of a Thursday evening meeting) we are arranging for groups to attend events during The Darwin Festival.
This year the Darwin Memorial Lecture is given by Dr Jim Endersby, with the title Sympathetic Science: Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker and the passions of Victorian Naturalists. It takes place at 2:30 pm, Sunday 12 February, Walker Theatre, Shrewsbury, and all tickets are £10.
If you are a Shropshire Humanist Group member, or would like to join and attend as part of the group, please contact Chris Smith, the group’s secretary. Payment is required by 15 December.
Nearer the time we will suggest a venue where we could meet for lunch before the lecture.
Details of the lecture and of other Darwin Festival events can be found at http://www.discoverdarwin.co.uk/darwin-festival/

Darwin Festival 2012 – the Café Scientifique, February 2012

Shrewsbury Café Scientifique will launch in February 2012 as part of the 2012 Darwin Festival.

Give your grey cells a good work out with a series of evening events at The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse which is situated between the station and the library (see contact details below).

Each café is FREE, informal and innovative and will run from 7pm-9pm. The Café Sci have managed to get some pretty inspirational speakers too. Come along for a coffee and see what you think. Full details of the five events can be found below.

There will only be 65 seats available at each talk. I have taken on the role of coordinator for Shropshire Humanist Group members and supporters who would like to attend one or more of the events, with a view to making our initial reservations by mid December. If you are interested in attending any of these evening talks  please let me know by Friday 16th December.

To contact Café Scientifique  directly: Sarah Bellis, The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse, 5 Castle Gates, Shrewsbury, SY1 2AE

Phone: 01743 242610 / 07582 601272 Email: SaraB@ShropshireWildlifeTrust.org.uk

Monday 13th February 2012

Randomness, Boeing 747s and Kylie Minogue – Jeremy Pritchard

Jeremy Pritchard is a scientist with a Twitter feed and a Facebook fan page. He has been described as “awesome”; his ability to defend evolution has “flair few can muster”. Join us for a lively evening of chat covering randomness, Boeing 747s and Kylie Minogue.

Tuesday 14th February 2012

Celebrating Mr Darwin – How should Shrewsbury celebrate its links to Charles Darwin? Shropshire Council, Shropshire Wildlife Trust and The Darwin Birthplace Society are in the same room for just two hours to hear your thoughts and opinions.

Wednesday 15th February 2012

The natural history of The Marches – Andrew Allott

Stretching along the bordering counties with England – Cheshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire – the Welsh Marches are made up of a mixture of mountains and moorlands, farms and wooded river valleys. The natural history of the region is like most parts of the British Isles – inextricably linked to the activities of man across many thousands of years. Andrew Allott brings together a wealth of material into a beautiful presentation celebrating our local wildlife.

Thursday 16th February 2012

@CharlesDarwin? – Jon King

Would Darwin have used Twitter? You may laugh, but social media has proved to be a powerfully effective means to spread new ideas and change the way we think. Darwin’s dangerous idea rocked the world- can we dissolve boundaries to create “biospheric” communication? Jon King is the Founding Director of the Shrewsbury Darwin Festival and is presently the senior eCommunications Officer at Shropshire Council.

Friday 17th February 2012

Citizen Science – Martin Harvey

Join Martin Harvey from the Open University for a chat about wildlife recording and Citizen Science. What is it? How does it work and what are the benefits and drawbacks of large scale science experiments? Martin will give a demonstration of the OPAL iSpot website, linking novice wildlife spotters with experts in the identification and mapping of British wildlife, and some of the other OPAL citizen science surveys. If you have even the slightest interest in wildlife, this cafe is for you.

2012 Ancestor’s Trail

From the Ancestor’s Trail Team:

We wanted to give you as much advance warning as possible for the 2012 Ancestor’s Trail.

It’s later in the year but still over a Bank Holiday weekend on Sunday 26th August in the same location – over the Quantock Hills in Somerset (although we are also actively preparing for a 2013 Northern Trail).

We have already booked Kilve Court Outdoor Education Centre with whom we will offer an all inclusive 1 or 2 night package for food, accommodation and entertainment (with camping options too).

When we have some more acts finalised, we’ll give you a link to our new Crowdfunder pitch so you can book to secure a place. We already have plenty of potential music acts lined up, and some exciting names showing interest as pre-trail speakers on the Saturday night. In the mean time, pencil us in your 2012 dairies!

Just in case you haven’t already heard it, here is a link to Clare Balding’s ‘Ramblings’ Radio 4 programme about the 2011 Trail.

Libel news

There is an update on the legal harassment of Shrewsbury hospital consultant Dr Peter Wilmshurst here:

http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/other/552/

If you haven’t signed the petition for libel reform, please do so.

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