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Fwd = UFO UpDate: Concern Over Widespread Belief In Pseudoscience

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  • Frits Westra
    Forwarded by: fwestra@hetnet.nl (Frits Westra) Originally from: UFO UpDates - Toronto (by way of UFO UpDates - Toronto
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2002
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      Forwarded by: fwestra@... (Frits Westra)
      Originally from: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates@...> (by way of UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates@...>)
      Original Subject: UFO UpDate: Concern Over Widespread Belief In Pseudoscience
      Original Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 19:57:13 -0400

      ========================== Forwarded message begins ======================

      From: Chris Rutkowski <rutkows@...>
      To: updates@...
      Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 15:29:45 -0500 (CDT)
      Subject: Concern Over Widespread Belief In Pseudoscience


      In a news item on CNN today, the National Science Foundation
      released a report on Americans' poor understanding and knowledge
      about science. The report found that many Americans believe in
      "pseudoscience" and that this is considered harmful;
      pseudoscience is cited as contributing to scientific literacy
      and the lack of critical thinking skills. In other words, the
      fact that 45% of Americans think that lasers work by focusing
      sound waves (as one question revealed) may be due to belief in
      pseudoscientific topics, not just simply a failure of science
      educators to teach scientific process in schools. Furthermore,
      only 54% of Americans know that it takes one year for the Earth
      to orbit the Sun. Is this because 60% of the population believe
      that "some people possess psychic powers or ESP," as the study
      found?

      The NSF study relied on CSICOP to provide its definition of
      pseudoscience, of course. This included: yogic flying,
      astrology, fire walking, voodoo, Uri Geller, alternative
      medicine, psychic hotlines and reincarnation, as well as UFOs.
      In the report, it is pointed out that:

      ............................................................


      A sizable minority of the public believes in UFOs and that
      aliens have landed on Earth. (45% according to a 2000 poll in
      Popular Science.) In 2001, 30 percent of NSF survey respondents
      agreed that "some of the unidentified flying objects that have
      been reported are really space vehicles from other
      civilizations"..., and one-third of respondents to the Gallup
      poll reported that they believed that "extraterrestrial beings
      have visited earth at some time in the past."


      ............................................................

      (The link to this is:

      http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/c7/c7s5.htm#c7s5l2)

      What is most interesting, however, is the NSF's rather arbitrary
      definition of what is and what isn't pseudoscience:

      ............................................................


      Pseudoscience is defined here as "claims presented so that they
      appear [to be] scientific even though they lack supporting
      evidence and plausibility" (Shermer 1997, p. 33). In contrast,
      science is "a set of methods designed to describe and interpret
      observed and inferred phenomena, past or present, and aimed at
      building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or
      confirmation" (Shermer 1997, p. 17).


      ............................................................

      The reference is to:

      Shermer, M. 1997. Why People Believe Weird Things:
      Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.
      New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

      It is interesting that, in complete concordance with what Stan
      Friedman has pointed out in a MUFON article refuting Shermer's
      definition (available online at:

      http://www.mufon.com/zperceptions_pseudoscience.html

      the NSF's use of the definitions is remarkably inappropriate. In
      a review of current serious research and investigation into the
      UFO phenomenon, advanced ufological research is easily
      categorized as: "a set of methods designed to describe and
      interpret observed and inferred phenomena, past or present, and
      aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection
      or confirmation," defined as science by Shermer. The difficult
      word in the definition is "testable", and while ufologists can't
      test the ETH hypothesis as it applies to observed UFOs, they can
      test demographic data, witnesses' testimony and possible
      explanations for their viability, all acceptable as scientific
      endeavours.

      Similarly, it is easy to see where debunkers' comments about
      UFOs can often be shown to be "claims presented so that they
      appear [to be] scientific even though they lack supporting
      evidence and plausibility," exactly as pseudoscience is defined.
      (Friedman cites comments by Sagan, Asimov, menzel and Bova as
      examples.)

      If we look at the survey's results themselves, however, we also
      get an idea of where the scientific community is having
      difficulty in categorizing UFOs. The actual question the survey
      asked about UFOs was whether UFOs are space vehicles from other
      civilizations. But in the text of the report, the question's
      wording is cited as: "*some* of the unidentified flying objects
      that have been reported are really space vehicles from other
      civilizations." Semantically, there's a big difference there,
      asking if all or just some UFOs are extraterrestrial.

      But what wasn't asked was a question about alternative
      explanations. Are UFOs psychosocial phenomena, as suggested by
      many European ufologsists? Are they secret military experiments,
      as suggested by many manistream UFO investigators?

      The NSF, in effect, has forced ufology into an indefensible
      position by showing that many Americans believe UFOs are alien
      spaceships, something which is lacking incontrovertible proof.
      (Circumstantial proof is another matter.) Therefore, belief in
      UFOs is neatly classified as a pseudoscience, as defined by
      Shermer and CSICOP. However, this in no way defines
      investigative and research-centered ufology, which is simply the
      study of a widespread phenomenon.

      The NSF, representing the broad scientific community, has
      invalidated research into UFOs not by the scientific process,
      but by a definition which automatically excludes ufology from
      'mainstream' science. Therefore, scientists are justified to
      ignore UFOs as a legitimate field of study and can express
      concern that the general public is foolish to believe in such
      nonsense, an attitude which can only further alienate the
      scientific community from the audience they claim to want to
      educate.

      As further indication that the NSF study was out of focus, it
      cited articles by CSICOP members and associates expressing
      concern that the X-Files TV show misinforms people about
      science, feeds the uninformed UFO subculture and "systematically
      purveys an anti-rational view of the world which, by virtue of
      its recurrent persistence, is insidious." That a television
      program as fanciful as the X-Files could be viewed as insidious
      is outlandish at best, and sad at the least. Ufologists have
      been accused of engendering poor understanding of science among
      Americans, whereas it seems that the scientific community and
      its milquetoast approach to public education is somehow
      faultless.

      Fortunately, the study noted that most Americans have their
      critical thinking skills intact. This will allow them to use
      their insight into the NSF's narrow view of UFOs, a phenomenon
      that deserves more objective study by true scientists.


      Nobody in particular


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