I’m putting together a class that focuses on denialism, science, and rationality. So I’m thinking about what topics to include. I’ll want some cases of legitimate scientific controversy and some cases of denialism, so we can explore how to tell the difference.
I’ll definitely include climate change denialism and creationism, since both are politically important. And I’ll probably include some discussion of the anti-vax movement for the same reason.
I haven’t decided yet what legitimate scientific controversies to cover. Continental drift is a strong contender. Maybe the endosymbiotic account of eukaryotic cells (although the fact that Lynn Margulis continues to be controversial figure might make this a tad tricky). Information loss in black holes is up my alley, but it will probably be too esoteric for most of my students.
I’m posting this because Steven Novella has a post up on facilitated communication, which is another great/sad example of woo. Basically, it’s a case of assistants thinking that they’re playing the role of computer voice to Hawking, but really they’re just using people with neurological disorders as Ouija boards. (It just occurred to me that the name must come from “Yes Yes” board. Heh. Funny that.)
Other items I’m considering chatting about (maybe I’ll just draft up a huge list for my students) include PowerBalance bands; conspiracy theories about the moon landing, 9/11, and reptilians ruling the Earth; phrenology; 19th century science on “race”; homeopathy; UFO sightings and crop circles; and on and on. (Boy there’s a lot of crazy out there.) Oh, and maybe cold fusion . . .
If you’re reading this, feel free to let me know what you think the best examples would be to present to undergraduate students — either as examples of denialism or examples of legitimate scientific controversies — whether it’s because they’re particularly enlightening, or entertaining, or important, or whatever.