The Enemies of Reason – Part One

I really enjoyed it. I was a little worried it might just be a look at the bizarre things people believe, which would probably have been entertaining enough, but there was also an excellent explanation of the reasons we all stumble into supersition – I thought of Skinner’s pigeons seconds before they turned up1 – and probably the best tv explanation of the scientific method I’ve seen. Rather than being overwhelmingly negative about the reach of the paranormal into society, there was a healthy dose of wonder: ‘science is the poetry of the universe’.

I particularly enjoyed RD2 calling out the cold-reading card guy, and the discussion with the magical-thinking astrologer was very revealing – the guy refused to validate anything he believed! I was also amused that Jonathan Cainer’s name was blurred, but it was obvious anyway 🙂 I liked the swipe at postmodern/relativists – Melanie Phillips take note – and the dowsers, while demonstrated to be completely wrong, were treated humanely. I’d be interested to see more of the interview with the “I’ll be around for billions of years” spiritualist, although it was probably all as bonkers as the clip we saw.

I didn’t think the Warwick Uni sociologist’s point was followed up as well as it could have been. He claimed that people could interpret evidence in different ways, and that a stalemate could result. I can see that refuting this is fairly complex, though. Do you go with the concept of a scientific consensus, or argue that interpretations cannot be inherently opposed if taken from the same data – that any differences must be resolveable through logic3?

There could possibly have been more time spent on the reasons irrational belief is bad for society, but I suspect that’ll come in next week’s show on alternative medicine and the NHS. Astrology and psychics irritate and worry me, especially when you realise how much money they bilk from gullible-but-often-desperate victims, but it’s alternative medicine that’s the really despicable, dangerous area. Looking forward to it.

(update: this Richard & Judy interview sums up some of the main points. Richard M talks sense, Judy seems…less impressed)

  1. I must have read about them in a Dawkins book, I guess []
  2. who channel 4 seem to have decided is ‘Mr Grumpy Face’, given the not particularly representative pics they’re using on their website []
  3. which I’m not claiming is necessarily true, but seems possible []