How to Tell Science from Bunk

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Massimo Pigliucci, professor at Lehman College and author of Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, talks about the ambiguity surrounding science and why people believe "bunk" and pseudoscientific practices. He also blogs at and has a podcast also called Rationally Speaking.


Massimo Pigliucci

Comments [15]

Edward from NJ

@HughSansom, please read the first sentence of your post. Then read the last.

The guest wasn't talking about the "virtue of the moderate middle". He was talking about sound science versus unsound science. Political views come into play when individuals latch on to bad science that happens to fit with their political view or anecdotal experience.

You mention tobacco. The bunk in that debate was put out by the tobacco companies. Sound science told us that smoking causes cancer.

You mention Iraq. I'm not sure what that has to do with science.

Jun. 02 2010 12:15 PM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, CA

Unfortunately, scientific literacy has a very powerful and near-omnipresent enemy: arbitrary authority.

Whether that of a parent over children, bosses (or other employees) over employees, preachers over believers, or in any other form, arbitrary authority is greatly threatened by the existence of people who can observe and reason.

(Note that this is far from the attitude common to many [e.g.] deniers of anthropogenic climate-change: they reject the authority of people who've bothered to learn to speak on things about which they know. [I'm the most anarchic person I know, but in the karate-doh dojo I always obey my seniors to the best of my ability, as they 0.) know much, much,...,much more than I about the Way than do I, 1.) They seem to have no ill-will toward me, and 2.) they have never asked me to do anything untoward or immoral.] Of course, the difference can be hard to tell if you're ignorant, but since it's a very important distinction it is the responsibility of an adult to learn to tell the difference as well as they can do.)

But again: people who can think and reason are the greatest threat to the world as it is currently made.

Jun. 02 2010 11:53 AM

so right! when the media says 70% of americans agree with the new AZ law, I ask what % supported civil rights in the 60s.

Jun. 02 2010 11:50 AM
Taher from Croton

What is this guy talking about, that science is pure? With out politics internal with disciplines and external. Just simply exists for the good of humanity. No greed, no ego, no money.

Jun. 02 2010 11:44 AM

Penn & Teller are notoriously right-wing.

Once again, Brian Lehrer takes what is the most consistent position of his entire series -- the Virtue of the Moderate Middle.

That virtue is entirely mythical. The middle in 1960 opposed civil rights.

Today the middle takes the "he said she said" line on the environment, just as they did 20 years ago on tobacco or 7 years ago on Iraq.

There is absolutely nothing about being moderate that makes you right. The casual condemnation of people just because they are either progressive or conservative is nothing more than an ad hominem attack by people unwilling to actually argue for their non-positions.

Jun. 02 2010 11:41 AM

Would it make a difference in policy if most people believed in Global Warming?

Jun. 02 2010 11:38 AM
Robert from NYC

Exactly right professor. The public too is at fault for lack of curiosity and desire to know what are truths. And of course the media as well who want to give a "balanced view" even when there just is one. Not everything is gray and balanced some things are either black or white.

Jun. 02 2010 11:38 AM
How Science Works from NYC

Why is K-12 science education so terrible in American schools?

And the related question: first generation children of immigrants tend to do better in science (measured by awards to kids) than the general population?

Jun. 02 2010 11:36 AM
Taher from Croton

Now Brian brings in a shill for pharma.
What would call medicines that due more damage to the patient with many side effects? “Gooood Science.”

Jun. 02 2010 11:35 AM
Michael from Williamsburg

The first thing I always check when investigating the validity of scientific claims is the funding source!

What does one make of Velikovsky, who though wildly wrong on some counts, was ostracized by the scientific community for amongst other things, suggesting that a giant meteor hit the earth and lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs?

Jun. 02 2010 11:34 AM

Could he comment on NPR's coverage of Global Warming.

Jun. 02 2010 11:34 AM

As a pediatrician, one of the most troubling issues regarding science v bunk has been the hypothesized and now refuted linkbetween vaccines and autism. Could the speaker comment?

Jun. 02 2010 11:33 AM

seems like we have our own taliban in our country. their clear goal is to return us to the dark ages.
bunk is just one tool in their jihad.
but bigger picture didn't regean start us on the diss education path.

Jun. 02 2010 11:28 AM
Ed from Larchmont

And a fourth category: the bad use of science, for example eugenics, which is very scientific, but it's aims are bad.

Jun. 02 2010 08:29 AM
Ed from Larchmont

There is also a third category: a current scientific belief that turns out to be incorrect.

Jun. 02 2010 07:59 AM

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