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How well do ‘facts’ travel? a Leverhulme/ESRC project at the department of Economic History.

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Presentation on theme: "How well do ‘facts’ travel? a Leverhulme/ESRC project at the department of Economic History."— Presentation transcript:

1 How well do ‘facts’ travel? a Leverhulme/ESRC project at the department of Economic History

2 Science, Commonsense, & Syncretism Jon Adams

3 Outline What happens when scientific facts contradict or displace folk beliefs? How does the populariser persuade us to accept these new “facts”? Do different types of science require different types of popularisation?

4 The Dominant View Stephen Hilgartner, 1990 “first, scientists develop genuine knowledge; second, popularizers spread streamlined versions to the public. At best, popularization is […] ‘appropriate simplification.’ At worst, it is ‘pollution.’”

5 Folk Belief Folk beliefs or folk theories are the beliefs people hold about a subject before they have been properly educated. A label given by experts for the knowledge possessed by non-experts. “inutitive,” “commonsense” knowledge

6 Science and Commonsense “both the ideas that science generates and the way in which it is carried out are entirely counterintuitive and against common sense. [...] Science does not fit with our natural expectations” Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science

7 Commonsense v. Physics The strangeness of modern physics is a selling point We are indifferent to facts about the very large and the very small

8 Richard Dawkins Encourages direct conflict between folk-beliefs and scientific beliefs Books include A Devil’s Chaplain and The God Delusion

9 Richard Dawkins “Western science, acting on good evidence that the moon orbits the Earth a quarter of a million miles away, using Western-designed computers and rockets, has succeeded in placing people on its surface. Tribal science, believing that the moon is just outside the treetops, will never touch it outside of dreams.” River Out of Eden On “alternative science”:

10 Obstacles Facts about cosmology travel through empty space Facts about psychology travel through space crowded with folk beliefs

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12 Evolutionary Psychology The evolutionary psychologist doesn’t try to offer a new account of how things are, but instead, offers a new account of why things are. They think the answer to this will be found in a sufficiently thorough account of the conditions under which the species evolved.

13 How The Mind Works, 1997 The Blank Slate, 2002The Language Instinct, 1995

14 Steven Pinker Clark and Hatfield (1989) experiment I. B. Singer story: “Schlemiel the First.” Calvin Coolidge and the rooster

15 Steven Pinker The “facts” here aren’t in the existing folk belief that men are more promiscuous than women The facts are about the relative size of human sperm and human ova: the intricacies of reproductive mechanics are the explanation that underlies the folk belief

16 The Mallifert Twins

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18 Separated at birth, the Mallifert twins meet accidentally.

19 The Reagan Case “I notice everyone in favor of abortion has already been born” Ronald Reagan

20 The Reagan Case “there are two kinds of individuals, the born and the unborn. Those are the terms in which abortion opponents want the issue to be framed, and anyone who understands the quip has implicitly acknowledged that the framing is possible” Pinker, How the Mind Works

21 The Mallifert Case Getting the joke requires recognizing that there is a significant genetic component to identity. Those are the terms in which the evolutionary psychologists want the issue to be framed

22 Evolutionary Psychology and Folk Belief

23 Syncretism Syncretism is the “blending” of rival belief systems In practice, it is the absorption of the indigenous belief system into the parameters of the colonial belief system

24 “the process of ‘translating’ an alien deity by equating it with a Classical one ultimately constitutes the superimposition of one belief system on another. … this superimposition [amounts to] cultural imperialism: the notion that the gods were really ‘the same’ everywhere (that is, the same as ‘ours’).” Jane Webster Interpretatio

25 EP and Folk Belief Compatibility with folk theories does not assure acceptance

26 EP and Folk Belief Compatibility with folk theories does not assure acceptance Rather, a folk theory is acceptable only insofar as it is consistent with the evolutionary explanation.

27 Conclusions The manner in which the popularisation treats commonsense folk belief will depend on the nature of the science being popularised


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