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Fatal Attractions: The Troubles with Science [Paperback]

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Item description for Fatal Attractions: The Troubles with Science by Henry H. Bauer...

The modern world has become fatally addicted to science. In the beginning, the natural sciences were simply humankind's storehouse of knowledge about the mechanics of the world. But increasingly, since the late 19th century, science has become a universal role model for how to acquire knowledge. Science-based metaphors pervade our words and thoughts. Science is now our very arbiter of truth, and has even become a surrogate religion. Science now occupies an impossibly demanding cultural role and, inevitably, misconceptions about it are rampant. Therein lies the root of the troubles with science. Curing those troubles requires that we understand what science's manifold faces are and allow each to have only as much influence as it really deserves.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   240
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.6" Width: 5.82" Height: 0.61"
Weight:   0.76 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 1, 2001
Publisher   Paraview Press
ISBN  1931044287  
ISBN13  9781931044288  

Availability  0 units.

More About Henry H. Bauer

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Bauer is a professor of chemistry and science studies at Virginind State University.

Henry H. Bauer currently resides in the state of Virginia.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > General
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Popular Culture
3Books > Subjects > Science > General
4Books > Subjects > Science > History & Philosophy > Science

Reviews - What do customers think about Fatal Attractions: The Troubles with Science?

The trouble is not with science but with the perception  Feb 18, 2003
This is a curious book written by a man who really ought to know what he is talking about. Professor Bauer was first a scientist himself (in electrochemistry), then a college administrator, and most recently the Editor of the Journal of Scientific Exploration. He is also the author of several books, including Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method. He is also an avowed believer in the existence of the Loch Ness monster (he wrote a book on it) and a defender of quasi- or pseudo-scientific ventures from the debunking of people such as those at, e.g., the Skeptical Inquirer.

Bauer's main thesis here is that scientific knowledge is not absolute, and indeed that scientific knowledge at any given time in history has been wrong. I believe he is correct in this assertion. His extrapolation that scientific knowledge is not entirely accurate today is also something I would not want to argue against. But his understanding of the purpose and goal of science, and his understanding of the method and function of science seems at times a bit Quixotic.

One of the charges he makes is that the common perception of the scientific method itself is wrong. He delineates this on page 35 as "hypothesize, test, accept-or-reject." I am astonished that he considers THIS the scientific method. (After all, he wrote a book on the subject.) He is leaving out the first two essential steps, namely that of "observation" and "questioning." First a scientist observes. The scientist (or anybody) sees something happening, or sees something of interest, or hears something, or smells something. It could be anything at all. That observation then raises a question in the scientist's mind. The scientist asks why? How did this come about? What caused this? What IS this?

So we have two steps ignored by Bauer, after which we do have the hypothesis, that is, the idea or theory or guess as to what this is or why it happened, etc. Then comes the testing of the hypothesis, and then the sharing of the results with others, and finally the testing by others for conformation.

That's the scientific method, and it is really just common sense codified. The reason that it has proven so revolutionary, and has brought about the advanced technology we enjoy today (technology is a result of science) is that it differs fundamentally from the very poor methods that previously held sway in human history, mainly that of following authority and accepting authoritative knowledge without question. By the way, the usual complaint made about the scientific method (and Bauer makes this complaint as well) is that it is not actually how scientists work. Instead of working from observations to a hypothesis, sometimes they have the hypothesis first and then look for ways to support it. True, but humans can be creative; or indeed, the observations might be purely mental, or even subconscious.

Another misunderstanding implicit in Bauer's book is the idea that scientists think science is working toward some sort of objective truth, or that there are absolute laws of nature that science is incrementally getting closer and closer to unraveling. But what science really does is extend our ability to manipulate the environment to our advantage (or in some cases, to our disadvantage). Science allows us to see further into the past, into the cosmos, into the very small. The idea that science could actually discover the ultimate laws of the universe is really a popular misunderstanding not believed in by most scientists today. In a sense it's a holdover from the "clockwork universe" concept derived from Newtonian mechanics that ended with relativity and quantum mechanics.

Belief in absolute knowledge or ultimate law is anathema to science, and is instead the stuff of religion. I believe Bauer knows this, but for some reason didn't find it convenient to present that view in this book. I wonder why. I also wonder why he believes in the Loch Ness monster. He mentions Nessie several times in the text, but never gives a hint as to why he would believe in something seemingly so unlikely. Perhaps he is saving that for a revision of his opus on the subject from 1986.

The really strange thing about this book is that sometimes Professor Bauer indicates that he does understand what science is about, as for example on page 68 he writes, "Scientific theories are very useful, but they are not true." This is exactly right. More saliently, we can add, even if they were "true" how would we know it? We only know what works, what is "useful." Science works and is very useful indeed. In fact, one of the glaring failings of this book is to spend two hundred and thirty-some pages denigrating science without giving the slightest hint of anything better, or indeed of anything nearly as good.

So what he's done is set up a straw man (a misconception of what science is, its methods, and its presumption) and then shoot it down. This is a familiar tactic usually employed by New Age pundits or postmodernist socialists. It is rare in professors of chemistry.

Despite all this I think Bauer makes many valid points and serves a public good in drawing our attention to the limitations of science. Clearly science in not in any sense a way of deriving concepts of good and bad or distinguishing right from wrong. Sometimes it is good to be reminded of that.


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