The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience

The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience

by Lee McIntyre
The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience

The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience

by Lee McIntyre


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262538930
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 296
Sales rank: 640,008
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Lee McIntyre is a Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University. He is the author of Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior and Post-Truth, both published by the MIT Press.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction 1

1 Scientific Method and the Problem of Demarcation 9

2 Misconceptions about How Science Works 29

3 The Importance of the Scientific Attitude 47

4 The Scientific Attitude Need Not Solve the Problem of Demarcation 65

5 Practical Ways in Which Scientists Embrace the Scientific Attitude 81

6 How the Scientific Attitude Transformed Modern Medicine 115

7 Science Gone Wrong: Fraud and Other Failures 133

8 Science Gone Sideways: Denialists, Pseudoscientists, and Other Charlatans 149

9 The Case for the Social Sciences 185

10 Valuing Science 201

Notes 207

Bibliography 251

Index 267

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“This remarkably original book presents not so much a defense of uncertainty and doubt in science as a call to celebrate it—and a method for doing so. Steeped in solid philosophy, McIntyre presents not a simple work-around, but a full-on case for what he refreshingly identifies as the 'scientific attitude'. Forget about the scientific method and all the endless arguments about fallibility and proof—it's the attitude that makes a scientist and that builds a scientific community. What precisely that 'attitude' is, and why it's important, awaits you in the pages of this book.”
—Stuart Firestein, Professor and Chair, Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University; author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science and Failure: Why Science Is So Successful

“After a three-decade career devoted to studying (and often debunking) pseudoscience and science denial, I am emboldened by Lee McIntyre's deeply insightful examination and clarification of what, exactly, science is and how it differs from pseudoscience. In this age of fake news and alternative facts, when creationists, climate deniers, and anti-vaxxers are taken seriously by media and voters, this important book could not come at a more crucial time. Now, more than ever, evidence matters, and the evaluation of evidence is what science does best."
—Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and columnist for Scientific American; Presidential Fellow at Chapman University; author of Why People Believe Weird Things, The Believing Brain, The Moral Arc, and Heavens on Earth

“The philosophy of science owes something to science, something it has never yet provided, not for want of trying: an explanation of its standing as objective knowledge. We've long needed a reliable way to mark the difference between reliable science and seductive pseudoscience. Now we need one to defend the achievements of science against those who deny them by misrepresenting its persistent demands for more and better evidence as weakness instead of strength. Creation science is pseudoscience and climate science isn't. But we still haven't had a principled explanation of why. It's Lee McIntyre's achievement to have finally given us one.”
—Alex Rosenberg, R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy, Duke University; author of How History Gets Things Wrong and The Atheist's Guide to Reality

“What makes science special? According to McIntyre's deeply original yet highly accessible new book, it is not any special principle or method. It's the attitude of those who engage in it. To engage in science is to care about empirical evidence and be willing to change your mind when it doesn't go your way. This is an important book for our post-truth culture.”
—Michael Patrick Lynch, Humanities Institute, University of Connecticut; author of The Internet of Us and Know-It-All Society

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