It is fashionable these
days to accuse scientists of being dogmatic. If a scientist expresses confidence
in some scientific conclusion, and acts as though opposition to that viewpoint
is simply wrong, the opposition promptly denounces him for not having an
The opposition, of course, is fanatically convinced of the truth of their views and will not, under any circumstances, modify them in the slightest, but they are not scientists, you see, and they are not compelled to have open minds.
The result is that many scientists hesitate to attack the various kinds of nonsense that flood American society today, for fear of putting themselves in a bad light and of appearing dogmatic and close-minded. They therefore tend to keep quiet in the face of astrological fancies, pyramid fairytales, Bermuda Triangle myths, UFO mania, Velikovskian fables, creationist lunacy, and all the rest.
Since I am among those scientists who attack nonsense without hesitation, and as strongly as I can, I am sometimes accused of "overreacting," and of "overstating" my case.My usual response to these fainthearts is to ask whether they have the guts to say the same to the opposition. I don't for one minute expect that my defense of rationalism is going to any difference to the many unsophisticated people who enjoy believing the nonsense they read and hear,and who have no way of separating folly from sense, but I do have my own self- respect to consider. However hopeless the fight, I cannot simply surrender.
See here! The earth is not flat!
That is a scientific conclusion, based on careful observation and reasoning, and that conclusion is older than Aristotle. Ever since his time, enormous quantities of additional information have been wrung out of the universe, and all of it supports the conclusion that the earth is not flat and is, indeed, spherical.
To be sure, careful observations have refined the conclusion. The earth is not a perfect mathematical sphere. Because of its rotation, it is an oblate spheroid, but to such a slight degree that the difference from perfect sphericity would be imperceptible if we viewed the earth from space with the unaided eye.
Nor is it a perfect oblate spheroid. Satellite observations have determined very slight departures from that and, of course, there is the lumpiness of hills and valleys.
However, the small deviations from perfect sphericity do not force me to conclude that, therefore, the earth is flat. Yet there are people who believe the earth is flat. I don't mean just primitive tribesmen who accept the hasty evidence of their eyes without consideration. I mean presumably educated Americans and Europeans who argue, with apparent sincerity, that all the evidence cited for nonflatness is either wrong or misunderstood, and that the observations of the astronauts, by eye and by camera, have been '"faked."
How shall I treat these people? With respect? Shall I offer to compromise? Shall I say, "Well, scientific open-mindedness compels me to agree that the earth may be flat, or is at least partly flat"? Is that the only way I can avoid "overreacting, " and "overstating my case"?
And that goes for all other varieties of nonsense. If I think that certain views are crackpot, I intend to say so.