Thursday, March 22, 2012

Academic "Fights"

Two neuroscientists wrote an extensive review of Jonah Lehrer's new book Imagine. The comments section under the review is a fascinating example of how scholars "fight".

The reviewers point out some serious concerns in their review, for example:
"He is at his best when putting his considerable talents to the task of telling a story that is true according to the facts as we know them, rather than telling a story people want to hear."
Students could critically examine how well they support these criticisms (what evidence do they provide? How do they "prove" their criticism?)

Then students could look at Lehrer's response to the critics. He starts his response with the polite phrase "Thanks for the thoughtful and critical review" and then goes on to try to answer each critique. Students could examine this "debate" and decide which evidence is most important, etc. Later in the responses, the two critics respond to the responses.

I worry sometimes that the argumentative tone of the national debate on science topics (e.g. climate change, etc.) sounds like matters of opinion and bias. Cognitively productive, scientific "arguments" like this one are great examples about how disagreements in science can be PRODUCTIVE. The history of science is full of debates like this one, and without these disagreements, science wouldn't progress!

I'd love to hear your thoughts: does anyone help students work through "scientific disagreements" like this one?



posted by Rob McEntarffer

1 comment:

Rob McEntarffer said...

An update: The publisher recalled all copies of this book after the author admitted to self-plagarism and manufacturing Bob Dylan quotes! Very strange story: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/03/opinion/freewheelin-bob-dylan-jonah-lehrer-and-the-truth.html?pagewanted=all