Fooled by Pseudoscience: A Philosophy of Science

The “huge quantities of data” collected on the subject show that the principal reason people are deceived by pseudoscientific claims and alternative therapies is not intellectual ability, but personal experience: a bad personal experience with mainstream medicine is the overwhelming reason, regardless of medical training.

That’s from Ben Goldacre in an interview for The Philosophers’ Magazine where he discusses at length the philosophy of science, pseudoscience, and the medical practice.

One important thing to recognise always is that an extremely good tool has to be used in the right situations […] Philosophy is one of those tools, but I’m not sure it’s the meta-tool which tells you which tool to use.

There’s something very seductive about the absolute precision and clarity you can get in some philosophical arguments that I think can be self-flattering and a bit misleading, and that’s a real danger. Because one thing that you really learn in medicine is that having a particular professional qualification or educational background is certainly a risk factor for competence in a particular area, but it is not a guarantee.

Asked if he overestimates the competence of the general public in being able to research the overwhelming number of pseudoscientific claims and discover the truth, Goldacre replies:

There are two problems here. One is are you intellectually capable? Do you have the basic intellectual horsepower? And the second thing is, are you motivated? And I think what people are generally lacking is the motivation, But to an extent it’s habit. […]

It’s often not about failures of reasoning that lead people into these blind alleys, into irrationality. It’s not because of a lack of intellectual horsepower or reasoning skills. It’s because of something else. It’s because of a whole complex interlocking web of social and cultural and political and personal issues that people bring to a problem. When somebody says standing next to a boiling kettle can give you birth defects, as a pregnant woman, what they’re actually saying is, ‘I’m really freaked out by modernity. I just don’t like new stuff. I wish it could be a bit like it was when I was a kid, and I think that means rural, because I remember spending a lot of time in the garden.’ That’s a very crude, stylised version of it, but, you know this world.

via The Browser