At the Fringes of Science

At the Fringes of Science

At the Fringes of Science

At the Fringes of Science

Synopsis

Scientific discoveries are constantly in the news. Almost daily we hear about new and important breakthroughs. But sometimes it turns out that what was trumpeted as scientific truth is later discredited, or controversy may long swirl about some dramatic claim. What is a nonscientist to believe? Many books debunk pseudoscience, and some others present only the scientific consensus on any given issue. In At the Fringes of Science Michael Friedlander offers a careful look at the shadowlands of science. What makes Friedlander's book especially useful is that he reviews conventional scientific method and shows how scientists examine the hard cases to determine what is science and what is pseudoscience. Emphasizing that there is no clear line of demarcation between science and nonscience, Friedlander leads the reader through case after entertaining case, covering the favorites of "tabloid science" such as astrology and UFOs, scientific controversies such as cold fusion, and those maverick ideas that were at first rejected by science only to be embraced later. There are many good stories here, but there is also much learning and wisdom. Students of science and interested lay readers will come away from this book with an increased understanding of what science is, how it works, and how the nonscientist should deal with science at its fringes.

Excerpt

Scientific discoveries are often front-page news. Whether it is the identification of the gene responsible for some hereditary disease, the observation of a gigantic stellar explosion as a supernova, or a further decrease in the stratospheric ozone, science retains an aura of the magic with which it was so long associated. For the nonscientist, that aura often has two parts: a sense of wonderment combined with a sense of incomprehension. Some discoveries may later be applied to alleviate suffering; others will remain far removed from any application, markers along the way toward a deeper understanding of our universe and its wonderful complexity.

Surrounding this domain of science there is a fringe, a penumbra zone with no sharp boundaries, filled with claimants for recognition as parts of science. In this border zone are honest errors and sloppy works; instances of fraud; "discoveries" that have been neither confirmed nor rejected. There are "scientific" determinations that represent political fiat based on expediency or dogma. Close to the region of accepted science are observations and new theories that are the current products of science, subjects of continuing research that will lead to the acceptance of some and the rejection of others. Adjacent to this region and overlapping it in places is what Irving Langmuir has termed "pathological science, the science of things that aren't so," "discoveries" that may result from careless experimenting and theories based on the selective assembly of some data and the careful ignoring of others. Somewhat further from the core is an outer region, the home of pseudoscience -- observations and theories that have been made to resemble science, at least in the eyes of their originators and the nonexpert. Science always has this fringe -- uneven, sometimes entertaining, sometimes irritating, but overall illuminating in challenging us to clarify just what constitutes science without achieving a clear and final definition of science and its methods. The examination of these regions and their boundaries is the focus of this book.

Pseudoscience is a permanent companion to science. It survives in part because there is a large reservoir of people for whom the methods and much of the content of science remain unknown, hazy, or confused. Another reason for the attractiveness of many of the pseudosciences is that they claim to provide answers to puzzles that science has not solved. Some pseudosciences resonate with deeply felt yearnings. Parapsychology, with its early ties to spiritualism, is still in this cate-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.