Science provides tools for examining extraordinary or unexpected observations and scientists are well-known for refuting claims that cannot be supported with verifiable evidence and controlled experiments. Do they have special training in skepticsm and should we believe them?
This Meetup was inspired by a re-reading of Carl Sagan's last book, "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Darkness." It was published in 1996, shortly before Sagan's death. For this Meetup, we'll focus mostly on chapter 12: "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection." The book is still in print and widely available in libraries. There's also a good summary of the book in a televised interview with Charlie Rose. You can see it at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8HEwO-2L4w (20 minutes). I recommend it whether you have time to read the book or not.
The baloney detection kit consists of tools for skeptical thinking, which we will examine in detail. We'll discuss how Sagan uses it to evaluate claims of spiritualists, religous fundamentalists, astrologers, sightings of ghosts and UFOs, reports of extraterrestial abductions, and other phenomena that seem to contradict what's known to science. But skepticsm, according to Sagan, should lead all of us, not just scientists, to look for other, more plausible, explanations of phenomena that are not easily explained. For example, he draws on psychology and neuroscience to understand how hallucinations work. He discusses the gullibility of consumers, business leaders, government regulators -- even professors, psychiatrists and research scientists.
We'll also take a skeptical look at science itself. How can we have confidence in scientific findings when contradictory results are presented to the public year after year? Is this an indication of incompetance, unwitting bias, greed or fraud? Confidence in scientists in the U.S. is at an all-time low. Sagan says his skepticism tool kit, if used, could have prevented a lot of damage caused by biased forecasters, greedy marketers, unscrupulous scam artists, and power-obsessed politicians. He gave some examples; we'll look for some more-current ones.
Sagan's open-minded discussions of "paranormal" phenomena were unusual for a leading scientist. He was widely recognized as the world's top expert on inter-planetary exploration, having served as lead scientist on many NASA programs. His popular Cosmos television series presented not only what was then known about the universe, but also the importance of rational and critical thinking.
Join us whether or not you have time to read the book. If you RSVP and later find you must cancel, please do so as early as possible, but not later than 48 hours before the Meetup. Someone on the waiting can take your place if you don't cancel too late.