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Steve Dutch weighs in on the Cook cult
Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. This excerpt from: http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/acstalks/acs-psci.htm
1983 TV "docudrama"
Cook and PearyThe Race To the Pole
Americans are taught to revere explorers and innovators as heroes (Lindbergh, Lewis & Clark).

In reality, many Americans resent those who succeed through hard work and effort.

We often reconcile these conflicting emotions by making heroes out of anti-intellectuals and cranks and pretending they were really persecuted geniuses

(1982 TV Docudrama)
Cast: (Dr. Crook) Richard Chamberlain, (Peary) Rod Steiger.
Summary: Separate claims of the North Pole's discovery result in controversy in this account of the famous explorers' travels

Pseudoscience and American Values
Cook Versus Peary: the Race To the Pole (1982 TV Docudrama)
This docudrama seems to have launched a steady movement to vindicate Dr. Frederick Cook's claim to have reached the pole first, or at the very least, to discredit Robert Peary's claim.

The Career of Dr. Frederick Cook
Circa 1900—Attempts to pass off ethnic study of another worker as his own
1906—Fakes first climb of Mount McKinley
1908—Claims first visit to North Pole
1920's—Imprisoned for mail fraud
1982—TV docudrama made Cook, not Peary, the victim

In Theory:
Peary represents the values Americans are supposed to admire: perseverance and self-sacrifice

In Theory:
Cook represents everything Americans supposedly despise: dishonesty and theft of others' rewards

So Why Does the Cook Cult Exist?
Americans are taught to revere explorers and innovators as heroes (Lindbergh, Lewis and Clark). In reality, many Americans resent those who succeed through hard work and effort. We often reconcile these conflicting emotions by making heroes out of anti-intellectuals and cranks and pretending they were really persecuted geniuses.

Steven I. Dutch
Professor, Natural and Applied Sciences
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Green Bay, WI 54311-7001

"...controversy is good ...because it generates new effort to find the truth... But beyond healthy controversy lies darker and more dubious ground...a “docudrama” broadcast on national television ...reached that ground with the portrayal of an innocent Cook being victimized and deprived of his rightful claim by a malevolent Peary."

Gil Grovenor, NGS, 1990.


Science and pseudoscience; some framework
Pierre Abelard ca. 1100 A.D.
1) Use systematic doubt and question everything
2) Learn the difference between statements of rational proof and those merely of persuasion
3) Be precise in use of words and expect precision from others
4) Watch for error, even in Holy Scripture --Sic et Non

Bad Models of Science
Science is Tentative
Scientific progress is Non-directional
Science does not find Truth
Quantum Pop Philosophy
Everything is relative
There is no such thing as certainty
Perception determines reality

Cognitive Development (Perry, 1970)
I. Dualism
1. Knowledge is dualistic: right-wrong, good-bad
2. Ambiguity recognized but seen as illegitimate (bad information) or a test
3. Ambiguity legitimate but temporary (incomplete knowledge)

II. Relativism
4. Ambiguity is real but either separate from right-wrong (special case) or it's what instructors want to hear
5. Ambiguity is general, right-wrong knowledge is a special case
6. Need for orientation and commitment recognized

III. Commitment
7. Initial commitment
8. Implications and responsibilities of commitment seen
9. Need to continually redefine commitment seen

The Baseball Analogy. Of all possible ideas, all but an infinitesimally tiny fraction are trivially false. The Earth is not a cube, tetrahedron, cylinder, torus, etc. Of the remainder, all but an infinitesimally tiny fraction are non-trivially false. The earth is not a perfect sphere, or flattened by 1/10, 1/100, 1/1000, elongated along its polar axis, etc. Of all possible ideas, the range occupied by valid ideas is an infinitesimally tiny point.

To Nolan Ryan, the strike zone is a big target. There are many different correct ways to throw a baseball, none necessarily more correct than any other. To a Little Leaguer, however, the strike zone is a tiny target. Now imagine the stands are full of people who have no idea at all how to play baseball. Some think you throw the bat at the ball, some think the object is to hit the batter, others think the object is to throw the ball as far as possible into the stands.

From out in the bleachers, the strike zone is a pinpoint and there is only one correct way to throw a baseball. At that distance, fastballs, curves and sliders are trivial variations on a single theme. This analogy is to baseball exactly what pseudoscience is to normal science, and the study of pseudoscience is important because it helps to develop an external perspective on science that most scientists, immersed in the minutiae of their own specialties, do not have.

Relativistic concepts of science work well in a graduate student bull session or a faculty tea where the participants, for the most part, are well educated and share a common set of assumptions. Just as a group of major league pitchers might enjoy discussing the many ways to throw a baseball, scientists enjoy discussing the role of alternate viewpoints about science and the way it works. This approach would not only be utterly irrelevant to a totally naive audience, it would be positively misleading. Discussing all the ways of throwing a pitch would be meaningless to somebody who didn't know the rules of baseball; worse yet, it might actually mislead him into thinking that hitting the strike zone wasn't crucial. Similarly, discussing science as a social construct serves to mislead many non-scientists into thinking there's reason to doubt many findings that are rock-solid.

=========================
Steven I. Dutch
Professor, Natural and Applied Sciences
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Green Bay, WI 54311-7001
Phone: 920-465-2246, Fax 920-465-2376


© 2002 Steve Dutch