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    John Horgan Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.
  • How to Handle Doubts about Evolution, Global Warming, Multiverses: Teach the Controversy!

    The phrase "teaching the controversy," which intelligent-design proponents coined to describe their strategy for sneaking religion into classrooms, describes my philosophy of teaching and journalism. Image: Discovery Institute.

    I’ve been blabbing a lot about free speech lately–in posts here and here, on New Hampshire Public Radio and the online chat show Bloggingheads.tv, in my classes. I’ve defended the right of all citizens to challenge scientists and other “experts,” who are often wrong. I may have confused matters by mentioning “rights” and “free speech.” [...]

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    “Ecomodernists” Envision Utopia—but What about War?

    The fastest route to utopia--a world in which all living things flourish--is to end war once and for all.

    For an in-class exercise, I like asking students: “What’s your utopia?” I tell them that utopias aren’t fashionable these days; “utopian” is generally employed in a derogatory sense, meaning naively optimistic. Some cynics, notably philosopher John Gray, insist that our utopian yearnings invariably lead to disaster. That conclusion is far too pessimistic. We humans, in [...]

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    Was I Wrong about “The End of Science”?

    In an new edition of my 1996 book The End of Science, I argue that "my prediction that there would be no great 'revelations or revolutions'—no insights into nature as cataclysmic as heliocentrism, evolution, quantum mechanics, relativity, the big bang--has held up just fine."

    One of the coolest—and most stressful–moments of my career took place November 7, 1996, when I was a staff writer for Scientific American. That evening, the New York Academy of Sciences sponsored a “Sneak Preview of Science in the 21st Century” featuring a panel of seven scientific luminaries. I had interviewed four of the panelists–cosmologist [...]

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    Journalist Chris Mooney Is Wrong, Again, about “Experts”

    Philip Tetlock's 2005 book Expert Political Judgment, which journalist Chris Mooney claims supports his defense of experts, is actually a devastating critique of them. Image: Princeton University Press.

    I recently knocked science journalist Chris Mooney for asserting that “You Have No Business Challenging Scientific Experts.” Non-experts have the right and even the duty, I retorted, to question scientific experts, who often get things wrong. Far from reconsidering his stance, Mooney doubles down on it in a Washington Post column, “The science of why [...]

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    How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Beat Rival Treatments?*

    Research suggests that A.A. (logo pictured) is about as effective as other approaches to alcoholism, contrary to an article by journalist Gabrielle Glaser in this month's Atlantic.

    Alcoholics Anonymous, the 80-year-old self-help program, has always had critics, who fault it for being too religious and unscientific. Journalist Gabrielle Glaser revives both these charges in her April Atlantic article, “The False Gospel of Alcoholics Anonymous.” She claims that “researchers have debunked central tenets of A.A. doctrine and found dozens of other treatments more [...]

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    Steven Pinker, John Gray and the End of War

    Philosopher John Gray asserts that the statistics with which Steven Pinker documents the decline of violence "are murky, leaving a vast range of casualties of violence unaccounted for."

    Fisticuffs have broken out in The Guardian between two intellectual big shots, philosopher John Gray and psychologist Steven Pinker. The fight, which features lots of rhetorical flourishes and high dudgeon, addresses a serious issue: Is humanity achieving moral progress? Or, as Gray would put it, “progress”? More specifically, are we becoming less violent? I’ve written [...]

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    Steve Fuller and the Value of Intellectual Provocation

    Steve Fuller has been called "one of the few wild intelligences that I've seen in decades of being around academics."

    Philosopher Daniel Dennett once asked: Would you rather be remembered for being right about something, or for being “original and provocative”? I’ve been mulling over Dennett’s question in the aftermath of sociologist Steve Fuller’s recent visit to my school, Stevens Institute of Technology. After hanging out with Fuller for most of a day and night, [...]

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    Sociologist Steve Fuller: Scientists Aren’t More Rational Than the Rest of Us

    Steve Fuller: "Make no mistake: it is not that scientists are less rational than the rest of humanity; rather, they are not more rational." Photo: University of Warwick.

    In a column last week, I argued that journalists and other non-scientists have the right and even in some cases the responsibility to question the authority of scientific experts; after all, “even the most accomplished scientists at the most prestigious institutions often make claims that turn out to be erroneous or exaggerated.” My post criticized [...]

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    Everyone, Even Jenny McCarthy, Has the Right to Challenge “Scientific Experts”

    Journalist Chris Mooney argues that the views of anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy can be dismissed because she is not a "scientific expert," but by his logic the views of journalists should also be dismissed.

    Years ago I was blathering to a science-writing class at Columbia Journalism School about the complexities of covering psychiatric drugs when a student, who as I recall had a medical degree, raised his hand. He said he didn’t understand what the big deal was; I should just report “the facts” that drug researchers reported in [...]

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    For Pi Day: A Reminiscence on “The Death of Proof”*

    The 1993 article "The Death of Proof" argued that "the doubts riddling modern human thought have finally infected mathematics."

    In 1993, when I was a full-time staff writer for Scientific American, my boss, Jonathan Piel, asked, or rather, commanded me to write an in-depth feature on something, anything, mathematical. Fercrissake, I was an English major! I whined. I could fake math knowledge for little news stories about the Mandelbrot set or Fermat’s last theorem, [...]

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