The Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: How Not to be a Gullible Rabbit. Opening Chapter

How about we team beta-read this thing? I’ll throw up chapters as I get them finished, and you all can, in your exceeding mercy, take a look and tell me where things are not clear or otherwise have problems. You will earn my undying gratitude. You can put your comments in the comments, or email them to me.

(To those who offered criticism so far – my thanks, and I will get back to you soon!)

There will be a few preliminary chapters before getting to the nuts and bolts. I need to establish why anyone should care about this, and try to put a crack, however tiny, in the stone certainty of the many.

The table of contents as it now stands, to show the order in which I want to discuss things, followed by a Goals preliminary chapter.

Table of Contents

  • The Goal: Filtering Out the High-Level Nonsense
  • Taming the Beast
  • Preliminaries
  • Chapter 1: What Is This Science Thing, Anyway? A Note on Studies Some Studies to Ponder
  • Chapter 2: Why Should You Care About Science Claims?
  • Chapter 3: The Toolkit Outlined
  • Chapter 4: Appeals to ‘Scientific Consensus’
  • Chapter 5: ‘Believe’ the Science
  • Chapter 6: ‘Trust’ the Scientists
  • Chapter 7: The ‘Science is Settled’
  • Chapter 8: You Are Commanded to Have and Defend a Position as ‘Scientific’
  • Chapter 9: Science Dictates Policy
  • Chapter 10: Thoughts, Feelings, and Other Non-Physical Objects
  • Chapter 11: Model Output Presented as Evidence
  • Chapter 12: Some More Technical Considerations (If You’re Up For It)
  • Who Is This Guy, Who Thinks He Can Tell Me All About Science? About the Author

The Goal: Filtering Out the High-Level Nonsense

Let me break it to you up front: you’re not going to learn all about science from one 200 or so page book. But you might learn how not to get snowed by obvious nonsense masquerading as science. That’s all we’re trying to do here. These days, being able to tell the difference between science and hokum is becoming a more and more important skill. Don’t be a gullible rabbit. Think for yourself.

I’m a layman when it comes to science, and wrote this book for other laymen. You’ll need to go to the experts, and put in the years of work, if you want to know the details of any particular scientific field. Here, we’re only hoping to pass along enough understanding of what science looks like so that you can perform a sniff test on claims that ‘the science’ demands you do or believe something.

I’m here to tell you that those details, as beautiful and thrilling as they often are, are not the problem. Rarely does anyone try to snow us using the actual details of any scientific field. That’s too much work. Rather, the con men and quacks want you to believe them because they speak for science and you’re a smart little rabbit, and you know that you must do whatever science tells you to do, or you’re a bad person. This works, when it does, partly because science – actually, it’s technology, but we’ll get back to that – has delivered to us peons so many life-enhancing and life-saving tools, not to mention all the cool gadgets. iPhones are cool; it takes science to make iPhones; therefore, science is cool! Every snake-oil salesman wants you to think he’s all aglow with the beneficent aura of SCIENCE when he tries to compel us to buy what he’s selling. It behooves us all to be able to spot the snake oil, even, especially, when the dude selling it is wearing a lab coat.

But mostly, these manipulative and abusive claims made in the name of science get accepted because we humans are naturally more interested in our good standing with our tribe than with some abstraction like ‘the truth’ or ‘the evidence.’ We will tend to believe, and think it evil not to believe, whatever everybody else in our tribe believes.

If I am able to make you instantly suspicious of any claims that ‘science has shown’ this or that thing to be true, with the implied threat that you will be a stupid, if not evil, person if you don’t go along, this book will have achieved its goal. Shaming and threatening is not how science works. That’s how fraud, manipulation, and propaganda work.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

7 thoughts on “The Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: How Not to be a Gullible Rabbit. Opening Chapter”

  1. What I see looks great! … I’ll save my destructive/constructive comments for the “What is this science thing, anyway?” chapter.

    1. Thank you. The comments you emailed have sparked some thoughts that I’m trying to figure out how to deal with. Math just scares people, and not just the formulas & concepts – numbers are just magic to many people, it seems. You had to deal with this issue in Quantum Catholic, and did well, I thought.

      I’m a fool rushing in…

  2. Completely unrelated.

    I picked up a “Make Orwell Fiction Again” mask, which you recommended last year. I’ve gotten lots of compliments on it.

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