Pseudo-science Affect the Image of Science?

It is clear that belief in the paranormal is still widespread as evidenced by a series of surveys conducted over the last twenty years by the Sofres and the last survey (2000):

Beliefs% Sofres survey

Healing magnetizer, laying on of hands


Dreams that foretell the future

Astrology (explanation of characters)

Blind prediction

Horoscopes, astrological signs prediction



In addition to the surprising stability of these beliefs throughout these two decades, another lesson must be emphasized: the level of education does not seem to prevent these beliefs. Thus, people like teachers or primary school seem to adhere more broadly than the average beliefs. Similarly, according to the same study, the interest shown for the science bit only affects the beliefs identified. However, complement the table by other survey results. To the question “Who do you trust most to resolve the problems of humanity? “38% of respondents answered: scientists, coming in first place and well before the political or religious figures. Finally, a very recent study published in the journal Research indicates that 33% of youth aged 15 to 25 years, astrology is a science, thus coming in 12th place, just behind the psychology or sociology, but to the geography , ecology or linguistics.

An important and lucrative business

The other side of the table, this is a fabulous growing trade, where each of the scammer to tax, by way of recruitment consultancies and media groups, takes his share of profit. Thus, the turnover of the only clairvoyance was estimated in 1988 to over 20 billion francs. To fix ideas on the importance of this amount, such amount at the time represented three times the expenditures made in consultation with GPs. Around the same year appropriations to the Department of Research. A consultation with the astrologer or the light is between 50 € and 100 €. And an estimated 10 million people of French sitting in front of a light year.

Seen, the pseudo-sciences are essential when it examines the image of science and the diffusion of science. With regard to students, it is not always certain that make a great distinction between science and pseudo-science, and these are probably more prevalent than the former in emissions that may follow in the evening at television.

What are the dangers?

“Of course, everyone is free to believe what he wants. But the idea of network effects suggests that beliefs are far from limited to individuals who adhere to it. And rationalist criticism can only be effective if it attacks simultaneously at different pillars of the irrational, sometimes including certain ideas, philosophical example, which at first sight seem not to harm anyone. “(JB)

Should we let people believe what they want? What danger would there be to let the pseudo-science to develop without criticism? Three examples, very different in appearance, will serve to illustrate the idea suggested by Jean Bricmont network.

The “sociology thesis” of Elizabeth Teissier

On 7 April 2001, the famous astrologer Elizabeth Teissier supported at the Sorbonne, in front of a jury at the University of Paris V, a sociology thesis. The thesis has been analyzed in detail by a group of people recognized in their field: philosophers, sociologists, astrophysicists and pseudo-science specialists. There remains no ambiguity: the thesis contains nothing serious in sociology and is a pro-birth advocacy worthy of the best pages of TV-7 Days. But specify what problem in this thesis.

Firstly, given the manuscript of the thesis, one can only wonder about the malfunction procedures, if not more, who led a jury to accept an academic text that violates any of the rules in academic purpose. As the sociologist Bernard Lahire “the thesis of E. Teissier is, at any time or in any manner, a sociology thesis. It is not even talk of a lesser quality (“bad” sociology thesis or dissertation “average”), but a total lack of sociological point of view, as well as assumptions, methods and “empirical” sociological in nature “… We will not dwell on this aspect, which is certainly not one of the least scandalous matter.

The second point to remember, and most importantly for our purposes, is given legitimacy to astrology by academic recognition given to a text, advocacy pro-birth. That teachers who have a doctorate awarded to Ms. Teissier not probably believe astrology does not change much in the matter: there is overall legitimacy of astrological practice, the alleged serious scientific horoscopes in newspapers and astrological consultations neighborhood.

The final result is the negative stigma or the confusion thrown in the humanities and sociology in particular.

Experience of “astro-education” in college

Contrary to the thesis of Ms. Teissier, an experience of “astro-pedagogy” conducted in 1992 among a college in southern France has been little publicized. Fortunately no doubt.

The responsibility of the principal of the college, an experience of “astro-pedagogy” was underway in September 1994. The story had begun three years earlier with a statistical survey on “moons” whose purpose was “to find a correspondence between the information given by the primary school teachers on the child’s behavior, and those resulting from the lunar potential. ” Thus, at the start of 1992 and on the basis of an alleged unanimously process was the “creation of four experimental classes of sixth and associated teaching staff according to dialectical sun / moon.” The following year, new experimental classes are created: 6th in the “Slow (moons of water and earth)” are separated from “Quick (moons of fire and air).” In the fifth, three classes distinguish the “Assets”, “Dreamers” and “Serious” joined by “Curious”. For the 1994-1995 school year, the promoters of experience proclaimed their intention to continue and refine their observations. Alas, the stars had not expected that teachers’ union seize the inspection of the academy. The response of the inspector was a clear opposition to any use of a so-called “astro-education.” Being a school project, the School Inspector points out that it could not be conducted with the consent of the Board.

Which is ultimately the most surprising aspect of this story is likely good faith teachers: astrology has, in their eyes, no less legitimate than astronomy.

Darwin against creationism in U.S. schools

In the previous example, the French school system and his organization that he has been put an end to a rather unfortunate and isolated experience. But look at the other side of the Atlantic to imagine that, in a different context, could happen …

“Within the state, public schools must provide education equivalent of creationism and evolutionism.” Law passed by 69 votes against 18 in the House of the State of Arkansas in 1981. Since many twists legal and legislative … but the question is highly topical in the USA but also in Australia for example.

The story goes far back at the beginning of the century, with what was called the “Trial of the Monkey.” July 21, 1925, a judge sentenced a teacher Tennessee Thomas Scopes was fined $ 100 for teaching evolution to students in public schools of Dayton. It retains most of the tremendous event that kindled debate the United States.

Creationism today resembles the bottom than at the beginning of the century: it seeks to achieve a legislative level. But in addition to the version before the war, he claimed a status of “science.”

Seminars are organized public debates on “creation and evolution” multiply, “official science” is described as dogmatic and conservative. The campaign, supported by radio and television, even get the support of President Reagan, while serving in the White House, which says: “If we must teach evolution, which is only a theory then we should also teach the biblical account of creation. “

Following the campaign is instructive. A teacher supporter of creationism in schools is to change the agenda of programs and textbooks. Parents who support themselves into organization involved in “school office” put pressure on other teachers. Finally, the director of secondary education decided to prepare a curriculum for students with “several competing theories of evolution.” Immediately, the local press gives immense echo the news. So the beginning of the process leading to the legislative decision at the State of Arkansas in 1981. Pressure groups, media campaigns, meetings, pressures on teachers, such ingredients are used in many places across the U.S..

But another more pernicious method is implemented by “creationists” reform textbooks. The school edition is indeed one of the most important links of the American education system. Efforts are first brought to California represents 10% of the textbook market. Pressures are organized: commercial interests require, publishers sanitize their textbooks each year. Darwin increasingly difficult to find place.

Incredulous long before this, biology teachers, researchers, lay people will be really surprised and shocked by the decision of the Arkansas. They discover a deep gangrene, based on a carefully maintained obscurantism.

What are the lessons?

These three examples are quite different, although all affect the school or university. But they finally show the possible consequences of this “network” mentioned by Jean Bricmont, who go to a university thesis that perhaps neither side really believed in astrology, the “everyday life” in a college responsible for train our children, where no doubt all the teachers were good faith, a more worrisome to the United States.

Pseudo-science and the image of science

Parasciences attitudes vis-a-vis science is paradoxical. On the one hand they denounce science official jealous of its prerogatives and its territory who would not take into account the “new Galilee”, on the other hand, they proclaim themselves “outside of science” to justify a rejection of conventional methods of assessment. They then claimed as an art or as a “human science” (understood in human science could say and there would be no evaluation method, scientific method). At the same time, parasciences displayed with the quality of their followers ‘scientific’ guarantee credit and seriousness.

This question is probably not without effect on the image of science that contribute to make the pseudo-sciences, especially among students, pupils or students:

* Discoveries are individual works of genius misunderstood and often rejected by an official called science;

* Is the science of inner circles and access to scientific knowledge is more than the initiation or extension learning;

* “We hide things,” scientists do not tell us everything (the grand conspiracy of the so-called official science).

* Scientists do not like not having the initiative of the issues that arise (variants: there are unexplained phenomena);

* Science has all the answers and do not like it can not explain;

* There is no objective truth (various forms of cognitive relativism)

The strongest message is probably that of an official science that should be wary, responsible for all the evils of pollution, war, etc.. This argument is built on a confusion between the different meanings that can be put behind the word science, criticism can be brought to one of the meanings below are generalized to the “science” as a whole … :

* An approach to a rational understanding of the natural and social world, or at least some aspects of this world;

* A given set of knowledge, accepted at a certain moment;

* A social institution, scientists with their own standards and their social and economic ties with the surrounding society;

* Applied science and technology.