New Point of Inquiry: Massimo Pigliucci, Nonsense on Stilts

By Chris Mooney | November 6, 2010 3:35 pm

The guest this week on Point of Inquiry is blogger, podcaster, and philosopher-skeptic Massimo Pigliucci of “rationally speaking” and CUNY. Here’s the show description:

Nonsense on StiltsIt’s a longstanding debate in the philosophy of science: Is “demarcation” possible? Can we really draw firm lines between science and pseudoscience?

Massimo Pigliucci thinks so. In his new book Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, Pigliucci attempts to rescue the notion that there are claims we can rule out, and claims we can rule in—a real means of determining what’s science and what isn’t.

Along the way, Pigliucci touches on howlers like creationism and astrology, and borderland areas of research like SETI—and weighs whether science can ever hope to test claims about the supernatural.

Massimo Pigliucci is chair of the philosophy department at CUNY-Lehman College. He was formerly a professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook. He’s a prolific blogger and commentator on issues concerning science and skepticism and a prominent battler of creationists and other nonsense peddlers.

Once again, you can listen to the show here, and you can order Pigliucci’s book Nonsense on Stilts here.


Comments (4)

  1. Sean McCorkle

    Great show. I especially loved the comparison/contrast of implications of perturbations of Uranus’ orbit vs the perihelion precession of Mercury. The history of Astronomy is in so many ways the history of Science.

    Nice discussion about SETI. I liken SETI it to pure exploration: lets take a look to see whats out there. Its not hypothesis-driven but I think its an important part of the scientific endeavor. The earliest naturalists collected and observed – even Darwin got started that way. The questions and hypotheses come afterwards.

    Regarding “border cases”, I’m fascinated by cases of extremely rare phenomena, observed only sporadically. For example: ball lightning -is it real? if it exists, its so rare that confirmation is difficult. Basically there’s only eyewitness descriptions to go on. Yet high-altitude lightning (Sprites & Jets) were once in a similar position: pilots reported seeing them for decades and were disregarded by scientists, until a low-light camera system was flown on a U2 and recorded the phenomena.

  2. Thanks for a great podcast. Massimo said science makes a metaphysical assumption of (philosophical) naturalism. I’ve always thought of it more that science treats (p) naturalism as a kind of meta-hypothesis – something that science constantly corroborates – without the need for a metaphysical root. In a way science *is* that corroboration (methodological naturalism). It’s also a good refutation to arguments from theists etc that science is rooted in an arbitrary ideology like their own…

  3. Chris

    What happened to the PointOfInquiry website? I click on “Why is this page displayed?” and get a page written in German.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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