by Brant Gaede (Freeman 07656GAED)        (11/22/89)

   A problem in arguing for scientific truth with a demagogue is what
Petr Beckmann has described as his "ten second [nonsensical] state-
ment which takes half an hour to refute." (N-4.)  This is a trap
created by the ten second statement, but sprung by the refutation.
   Giving detailed, technical scientific refutation to an attack on
science, denigrates the former and elevates the latter at the
former's expense by implicit sanction of the attack on the cognitive
level.  The point that needs to be made is that the attack is outside
of science and that there exists a burden of proof on the glib which
is missing from the exhortation.  The proper reply is, "Please give
me all your available references which have been published in peer
review journals or your own personal data and methodology."  Never
mind that you may have been asked a question; this answers the
statement presented by the question and tells all that even qua
question that was a lie.

  "You say nuclear power is perfectly safe--prove it!"  "You prove I
said anything is perfectly safe."
  "What about the contention that a reactor meltdown could render an
area the size of Pennsylvania uninhabitable?"   "What about the
contention?  Who said that?  Where?"  "The movie, 'The China
Syndrome.'"  "Do you consider movies reliable sources of scientific
information?  Do you have any data?"
   "Isn't it true that science and industry are in cahoots to keep
from us the truth about the terrible dangers of nuclear power?"
"What is your evidence for such a conspiracy and for the 'terrible
dangers,' which you did not even specify?"
   The epistemological principle is to go for the roots, not the
foliage.  Be aware of where the burden of proof lies and insist on
   I am not a scientist and frankly I cannot generally give half
hour refutations to nonsense, so I haven't much choice other than to
do the quick and easy.  But what is necessary is to have a scientific
epistemology and it is on this level that science and philosophy
meet.  Logic and reason, the use of the scientific method, are what
human beings everywhere should have in common and seldom do.  (A
scientist can believe in God, but if he mixes his faith with his
reason he ceases to be a scientist.)

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   I found what I think is a good description of the scientific
method for laymen in Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw's "Life Extension, A
Practical Scientific Approach," pp 44-46.  If anyone could provide
additional references or comments, I would appreciate them.

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[Comment by Sysop: The Pennsylvania-sized devastation comes from a NRC
safety study in the early 1960s, as Jane Fonda has often said. The
quick answer here, I think, is to recall that early estimates of
danger with railroads thought speeds of 20mph to be fatal, but it
turned out to be nonsense. The NRC study has been superseded by two
later studies and by experience.]

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