Thursday, May 15, 2008

Excerpt from Fox News...Science vs. Magic

Kelemen this week told the story of anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, who detailed the thinking of Trobriand Islanders in his book, "Magic, Science, and Religion" (1948).

"He said the distinction between magic and science for those Trobriand Islanders was that for magic you only count confirming cases," Kelemen said. "And so, say you had this idea that earthquakes occur right before or after volcanic eruptions, so when that happens you notice and you put a notch in your stick or whatever. When there is earthquake that doesn’t occur with a volcanic eruption, you don't notice at all or say there must have been mitigating circumstances in this case."

Scientists can fall into the same trap.

"Scientists do an awful lot of what Malinowski would've called magic all the time," Kelemen said. "We filter data and come up with reasons why our [results] in one instance are not correct and that allows us to overlook that instance. Nevertheless, it's a trap."


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