Sunday, November 6, 2011

Scientific Heresy

Bishop Hill – A dissentient afflicted with the malady of thought

I'm grateful to Matt Ridley for allowing me to post the text of his Angus Millar lecture at the RSA in Edinburgh.

It is a great honour to be asked to deliver the Angus Millar lecture.

I have no idea whether Angus Millar ever saw himself as a heretic, but I have a soft spot for heresy. One of my ancestral relations, Nicholas Ridley* the Oxford martyr, was burned at the stake for heresy.

My topic today is scientific heresy. When are scientific heretics right and when are they mad?

How do you tell the difference between science and pseudoscience?

Let us run through some issues, starting with the easy ones.

Astronomy is a science; astrology is a pseudoscience.
Evolution is science; creationism is pseudoscience.
Molecular biology is science; homeopathy is pseudoscience.
Vaccination is science; the MMR scare is pseudoscience.
Oxygen is science; phlogiston was pseudoscience.
Chemistry is science; alchemy was pseudoscience.
Are you with me so far?
A few more examples. That the earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare is pseudoscience. So are the beliefs that Elvis is still alive, Diana was killed by MI5, JFK was killed by the CIA, 911 was an inside job. So are ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, the Loch Ness monster and pretty well everything to do with the paranormal. Sorry to say that on Halloween, but that’s my opinion.
Three more controversial ones. In my view, most of what Freud said was pseudoscience.
So is quite a lot, though not all, of the argument for organic farming.
So, in a sense by definition, is religious faith. It explicitly claims that there are truths that can be found by other means than observation and experiment.

Now comes one that gave me an epiphany. Crop circles*.

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