Latest update:                 November 19, 2000
As long as this "blackboard" is posted, this section will be under construction under your tutelage.  And, as it develops effectiveness toward helping more people understand what science is really about.  For that, we need input from you. 
 


This temporary"NewConstruction" page

which branches from
the Secret Door

will  be developed to illustrate examples of explanations of pseudoscience (and why that derogatory name is appropriate) and to illustrate how correct science can be useful (to anyone) .


Pseudoscience............&............. Irrationality
.

Let's do something about "pseudoscience."
We think something can be done.
It's a matter of science education.
Let's do something about "irrationality."
We think something can be done. 
It's not really a matter of teaching and learning.
Science education is ineven worse shape than is generally recognized–in ways that are hard to see; in directions seldom looked into. It goes deeper: learning is like feeding your computer data input; what's needed is more like installing new software or hardware.
Science of the past several centuries has qualities that earlier science lacked.  A small percentage of those who learn science "see" those qualities; many more don't. Science of the past several centuries rests on reasoning that isn't limited to science.  All human endeavors can benefit from those subtle skills of information processing.

 
While science has been imperfectly learned for centuries, research done in the past few decades has discovered the imperfect learning, has attended to the problems, and has developed approaches that have begun to solve those problems.  Many students today acquire useful knowledge of science concepts where in the past such skills have been limited to "the gifted few."

 
This Website is an experiment.  It's an experiment in enticing people to look into "the edge of human comprehension" and convincing them that the hard work is worth the effort.  It's an experiment in finding exemplars that can help us understand the difficult points and then realize the power of the skills gained.  It's an experiment in proving that genuine intellectual development is possible after reaching voting age.




Pseudoscience is truly pseudo.

Those ideas which get called "pseudoscience" are not what science calls "tentative hypotheses."  Instead, they are what science calls "misconceptions" because they generally are based on poor reasoning and often are the concepts which have been found wrong and corrected...sometimes centuries ago.

The reasoning which is often missed by "pseudoscience" tends to involve certain kinds of oversimplification.  Too few influences get taken into account leaving these logical errors (among others):

Correcting these errors and filling in the gaps in reasoning has use far beyond science.



Examples:
 
Have you ever seen people trying to get a suntan in the heat of the late afternoon summer sun.  They don't succeed.  They frequently don't realize they haven't succeeded. All the information is available which is needed to discover that the ultraviolet that causes suntan is virtually absent when the sun is below about 45º from the horizon.  We need to sort through many variables and identify which are relevant and which are not.
How many times a day do you hear of someone identifying "the best" . . . the best city to live in, the smartest person in the country, the best athlete in the country,  the best author, the best Web site on the Internet, the best candidate for the position, . . . "The best" is almost always contingent on several (perhaps very many) different factors. Declarations of "the best" should always be met with a skeptical, "It depends..."  In terms of modern knowledge about measurement: 
Most measures have multiple components.
How many people notice that the darkest evening of the year is on December 9, not the winter solstice?  And the darkest morning on January 2 or 3?This is not just another trivial oddity.  Following it up leads to much the same knowledge that initiated today's scientific revolutions.
Wars and tyrannies are almost guaranteed when a culture fails to admit that they contribute to the causes of a controversy: When the decision makers cannot construct a hypothetical situation that is "fair" in the sense that they would make the same decision whichever "side" they are placed on.  That is, when they must first know which is "their side" before they can make the decision. This is the relationship of "mutual reciprocity " that we encounter in Newton's law of action and reaction, in the "complementarity" we see in the wave-particle duality, and in the equivalence of mass and energy in Einstein's special theory of relativity.  It's simple, but it's subtle.
After the year 2000 presidential election, the public learned of "butterfly ballots" and "chads."  This butterfly ballot was said to confuse some voters by being unclear which black dot corresponded to which candidate.  (Punching created the chad, the little circle of paper.)   Former Secretary of State James Baker argued that butterfly ballots are satisfactory ballots because one used in Illinois didn't cause any difficulties as some people claimed that this one, used in Palm Beach County Fla, did.

The relevant issue was not that the ballot is a "butterfly ballot," but whether this version of a butterfly ballot was especially confusing to voters.  The Illinois ballot appeared, in news reports, to have two columns of punchable dots, one for each side (does anyone have a photo of this ballot?).   James Baker, by attending to an irrelevant factor when making a claim about the relevant factor, did not actually address the question he appeared to be addressing.  Because of the common human tendency to see only one issue at a time in multiple-issue situations, such arguments often work when they should not.  This is a powerful tool in the hands of advertisers whose job is to accentuate the positive and elminiate the negative.  Trial lawyers, too, are forced to tango with this oversimplification.


We need exemplars.

We also need more examples and metaphors.  We need more puzzles and problems that can lead a person to exemplars and models, and so to understanding.  We need routes to "Eurekas."  An example of an exemplar is the use of "A vegetable is a potato" to demonstrate the error of "Energy is the capacity to do work."
 

Labeling an idea or a person "irrational"is almost always oversimplification.

(And it isn't going to encourage him or her to listen to you, either.)  Individual errors of reasoning or logic must be isolated and identified.  We can always add to our tools of information processing.  We can always hone the ones we now have.
 

The ideas of today's science are useful.

If they seem not to be useful, they almost certainly are not being understood.  Concepts that are well understood will give us answers in unsuspected ways and places.
 

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