Episode 12 – Skepticism and the Bad Astronomer

Bad Astronomer

Bad Astronomer


Today’s guest calls himself the Bad Astronomer. Phil Plait is an astronomer, an author, and a well-known blogger at www.badastronomy.com. Phil talks to us about myths and skepticism in the science classroom.

Preview from the show:
Plait: I am in fact a skeptic. In the public mind – if you ask somebody “what’s a skeptic” – most people think it’s a cynic or a denier, somebody who just doesn’t believe in anything. And that’s not strictly true. All a skeptic is, is someone who demands evidence for a claim. If you come up to me and say the sky is pink, I’m going to say “what is your evidence for this?”. Or I’ll say, “that’s an interesting claim, but here’s the evidence against it.” It’s someone who applies critical thinking, logic, evidence, observation, the scientific method to any sort of claim.
Science is all about skepticism. They are hardly different – I mean skepticism is a tool of science. Richard Feynman (the physicist) said “science is a way of not fooling ourselves. It’s a way of figuring what’s out what’s really going on”. And skepticism is just a way of looking at things. It’s making sure that if you’re thinking about something, if there’s a claim that’s being made – whether it’s by a person or even yourself, there’s a way of examining it so that you can test its reality or not. And the problem is, it’s not something we teach our kids. In fact, we teach them exactly the opposite. We teach them to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. We go to movies where the skeptic is always a jerk, and the end is always the supenatural cause or trust in humanity or whatever.”

Plait: Scooby Doo was a great cartoon because in the end, it really wasn’t a ghost or whatever, it was always old man Marley wearing a mask, who didn’t want the developers to come in and destroy his farm or whatever.”

Plait: When you’re teaching kids to the test, and you’re saying “here’s how you do the math” without explaining why, “here’s what you’re supposed to get in the results in the lab” without explaining why, we’re not teaching our kids science. We’re teaching them nothing, we’re teaching them belief, faith – and that’s not what science is about. Science is not about belief, science is about evidence.

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Direct download: nstalol12.mp3