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Academic & Professional Books  History & Other Humanities  Philosophy, Ethics & Religion

Getting Science Wrong Why the Philosophy of Science Matters

By: Paul Dicken(Author)
202 pages, 5 b/w illustrations
An entertaining book on how scientific practice is often mischaracterised that suffers slightly in its structure.
Getting Science Wrong
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  • Getting Science Wrong ISBN: 9781350007284 Paperback Jan 2018 In stock
  • Getting Science Wrong ISBN: 9781350007277 Hardback Jan 2018 Usually dispatched within 6 days
Selected version: £16.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

When Galileo dropped cannon-balls from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, he did more than overturn centuries of scientific orthodoxy. At a stroke, he established a new conception of the scientific method based upon careful experimentation and rigorous observation – and also laid the groundwork for an ongoing conflict between the critical open-mindedness of science and the recalcitrant dogmatism of religion that would continue to the modern day.

The problem is that Galileo never performed his most celebrated experiment in Pisa. In fact, he rarely conducted any experiments at all. The Church publicly celebrated his work, and Galileo enjoyed patronage from the great and the powerful; his ecclesiastical difficulties only began when disgruntled colleagues launched a campaign to discredit their academic rival. But what does this tell us about modern science if its own foundation myth turns out to be nothing more than political propaganda?

Getting Science Wrong discusses some of the most popular misconceptions about science, and their continuing role in the public imagination. Drawing upon the history and philosophy of science it challenges wide-spread assumptions and misunderstandings, from creationism and climate change to the use of statistics and computer modelling. The result is an engaging introduction to contentious issues in the philosophy of science and a new way of looking at the role of science in society.



Part I: The Scientific Method
1. Making the Earth Move
Observation, Experiment, and the Politics of Science

2. A Habit of the Mind
Causation and Correlation in Computer Simulation

3. Learning From Our Mistakes
The Critical Testing of Scientific Theories

4. Living in Different Worlds
Scientific Theories and Scientific Revolutions

5. 88.6% of All Statistics Are Made Up
The Evolutionary Basis of Bad Scientific Reasoning

Part II: Science and Society
6. The Bankruptcy of Science
Evaluating the Track-Record of Scientific Practice

7. The God in the Machine (and the Devil in the Details)
Some Heretical Thoughts About the Relationship Between Science and Religion

8. On the Secret Lives of Atoms
Free Will and Quantum Mechanics

9. How to Fail the Turing Test
Rethinking Artificial Intelligence

10. The Return of the Magician
The Academic Study of Science


Customer Reviews (1)

  • Entertaining read on science mischaracterised
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 5 Feb 2019 Written for Paperback

    So you think you know what science is? I thought I did. I mean, we notice patterns, formulate hypotheses, gather observations to see if our ideas are supported or not, and discard or accept our hypotheses. And this is what we do. Yet, as philosopher Paul Dicken shows in this lightly written introduction to the philosophy of science, there is no good definition of the scientific method, though there are plenty of misconceptions.

    Dicken's narrative prominently features examples taken from the history of physics (Copernicus and Galileo's model of heliocentrism overthrowing geocentrism, Newton's theories on mechanics and gravitation, and Einstein's theories of general and special relativity), with some reflections on creationism and climate change denial thrown in.

    In accessibly written prose, Dicken takes us through the problems with Popper's ideas on falsifiability, on which Popper wrote in his Conjectures and Refutations. Because scientists reject unsupported hypotheses, this sets them apart from conspiracy theorists who will not change their mind no matter the evidence marshalled. But every practising scientist knows that when interpreting data there are judgement calls to be made. In practice, data not in support of an idea rarely lead to its immediate dismissal. Faulty equipment, unaccounted for outside factors etc. could all influence your results. But that does not put scientists and conspiracy theorists on equal footing, as scientists have a different attitude and will eventually change their mind if refutations are repeated and convincing.

    Dicken links Hume's "problem of induction" and the idea that you can never have enough data with the failures of the Big Data revolution, pointing out that more data is not always better. You can find all sorts of correlations in large datasets, but you still need educated guesswork (conjecture) and explanation to tell apart correlation and causation. And Thomas Kuhn's work establishing that groups of scientists can work within different, broadly accepted frameworks (so-called paradigms – Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is where the term "paradigm shift" originates) is shown to often be confused for relativism. This is the idea that we're all right from our point of view, something that has made a vicious comeback with Trump's declaration of "alternative facts".

    In what is probably the most relevant chapter on the misconception of science, Dicken deals with the circus around creationism and its demands for "balanced treatment", and climate change science and "the argument from history". Creationists appeal to the open-minded spirit of scientific investigation to endorse a view that is itself dogmatic. Climate change deniers see the track record of failed environmental predictions (from Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population to Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb) and extrapolate from there that we therefore have no reason to trust future predictions. Both are examples of what Dicken's PhD supervisor calls "epistemological judo": trying to use principles of scientific methodology against itself (here these principles are open-minded assessment of alternative options and extrapolating from past instances to make predictions about the future). Especially climate change deniers conveniently forget that science is a process of gradual refinement.

    Getting Science Wrong was branded as fun and accessible in one review, and I agree with that. For a book on the philosophy of science it is very readable, and Dicken does not shy away from lampooning venerated philosophers and scientists of the past, exposing all their foibles and human quirks. But the book does suffer somewhat in its structure. Writing this review I realised it was hard to summarise what misconception of science each chapter dealt with, and in my opinion the book would have benefited from chapter conclusions. Nevertheless, the book's message is an important one and should serve as a great springboard for further discussion and exploration of the literature, or perhaps even as an introductory read to coursework.
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Paul Dicken received his PhD from the University of Cambridge, and has held academic positions at universities in the UK, Germany and Australia.

By: Paul Dicken(Author)
202 pages, 5 b/w illustrations
An entertaining book on how scientific practice is often mischaracterised that suffers slightly in its structure.
Media reviews

"Paul Dicken takes us on a romp through the history and philosophy of science. This is a fun and accessible resource for anyone who wants to think more carefully about how science works."
– Kevin Elliott, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, USA

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