The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience (The MIT Press)

by Lee McIntyre

Book, 2019


The MIT Press (2019), 296 pages


An argument that what makes science distinctive is its emphasis on evidence and scientists' willingness to change theories on the basis of new evidence. Attacks on science have become commonplace. Claims that climate change isn't settled science, that evolution is "only a theory," and that scientists are conspiring to keep the truth about vaccines from the public are staples of some politicians' rhetorical repertoire. Defenders of science often point to its discoveries (penicillin! relativity!) without explaining exactly why scientific claims are superior. In this book, Lee McIntyre argues that what distinguishes science from its rivals is what he calls "the scientific attitude"--caring about evidence and being willing to change theories on the basis of new evidence. The history of science is littered with theories that were scientific but turned out to be wrong; the scientific attitude reveals why even a failed theory can help us to understand what is special about science.  McIntyre offers examples that illustrate both scientific success (a reduction in childbed fever in the nineteenth century) and failure (the flawed "discovery" of cold fusion in the twentieth century). He describes the transformation of medicine from a practice based largely on hunches into a science based on evidence; considers scientific fraud; examines the positions of ideology-driven denialists, pseudoscientists, and "skeptics" who reject scientific findings; and argues that social science, no less than natural science, should embrace the scientific attitude. McIntyre argues that the scientific attitude--the grounding of science in evidence--offers a uniquely powerful tool in the defense of science.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member antao
If Scientists want to be trusted they should start with purging the corruption and arrogance within their own ranks. “Scientists” have claimed that cigarette smoking is safe, that dental mercury fillings are safe, that lead in gasoline is harmless, that water fluoridation is safe, that the food
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additive aspartame is safe, that hormone mimicking chemicals are safe, that trans fats are safe, that a number of pharma drugs that later got banned where safe, that GMO is safe, that the weed killer glyphosate is safe, that organic food is dangerous, that vitamins are dangerous, that saturated fats in coconut oil are dangerous, etc. etc.

In all these cases it is easy to follow the money and identify the glaring conflict of interests from the “scientists” who act as mouthpieces for big industry and/or big government. The vested interests have even managed to corrupt the government authorities who are supposed to protect the public and offer impartial “scientific” assessment. Just look at EFSA (the FDA in the EU). Their so called “expert panels” are stacked with people from the junk food manufacturers and the chemical pesticide industry.

Science is supposed to be an area for intellectual openness, respect for empirical facts, critical scrutiny and the pursuit of new knowledge even if it is controversial. Instead it is driven by deference to authority, extreme arrogance in the way status quo is defended. Harassment and bullying is an institutional way to suppress competing theories. Just look at all the bio-tech scientists who have been fired and/or had their funding cut because they published empirical evidence for the hazards with GMO. Another example is scientific journals who retracted accepted peer reviewed articles after pressure from big industry.

Dear scientists, if you want to be trusted, clean up your own mess. Stop serving Big Money and start to live up to your own ideals. The general public is smart enough to identify corruption when they see it.
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