imageFrom his site: Jeff Schweitzer is an internationally recognized authority in bridging science, conservation, development and ethics. He has been a guest speaker at dozens of international conferences in Asia, Russia, Europe and across the United States.

Dr. Schweitzer began his scientific career in the fields of marine biology and neurophysiology. He earned his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. His research focused on the evolution of sensory systems (hearing, sight, touch) with the goal of understanding how brains interpret the external world. Dr. Schweitzer chose to work with sharks because of their exquisite sensitivity to their environment. The results of that research, published in prestigious scientific journals, demonstrated that the structure and function of the brain has been amazingly conserved across time and species, further emphasizing the humble position of humankind on the evolutionary bush of life.

Dear Jeff,

Be very careful about being ignorant when claiming others are ignorant. You tripped up in the Huffington Post  with the article you wrote on April 5th: “Dye’s Death or Dragon’s Breath.”

Even if you are a well known scientific writer, when you make a statement like this, you are likely to confront many people, even many who are not scientists, who are better informed than you. You come off looking, well, uninformed.

Without an ability to reason critically, people believe in weeping statues of the Virgin Mary, the existence of a carved face on Mars, out-of-body experiences, and Christ’s image captured on the Shroud of Turin. 

Is it because I believe in something religious that I lack an ability to reason critically? I’ll give you the weeping statues, the silly face on Mars, and out-of-body stuff. You are probably right. In the first two instances, the evidence is clearly against such things. In the third case there is little evidence other than personal testimony in favor out-of-body experiences. And, so far, cognitive science studies suggest that these are only sensations (though the work is far from complete).

When it comes to the Shroud of Turin, there is a rich body of scientific research (by real scientists, dozens of them, who I suspect can reason critically)  that suggests that the relic might be or could be authentic. If we confine ourselves to prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journals, those with the highest standards, there is not a single standing argument against authenticity. Extend thinking beyond science to history (by real academic historians, dozens of them, who I suspect can reason critically) and there is a body of evidence that suggests it is probably real.

You are absolutely right when you write that, “Ignorance of science allows the public to be deceived by a barrage of dubious claims.” But if the Shroud of Turin is to be one such deceptive claim, we must then wonder why other real scientists, dozens of them, who certainly can reason critically, are so busy trying, simultaneously,  to prove it is a painting, a reverse bleaching, a photograph, an acid etching in linen, or something else just so long as it is a form of fakery.

For another article you wrote, “Redefining Life: God Need Not Apply,” Victor Stenger, author of God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist commented that,

Christian apologists think it’s rational to seek out evidence that supports their preconceived beliefs and ignore the evidence that doesn’t. Scientists, even if they have preconceived beliefs, still go wherever the data lead.

I think, regrettably, that Stenger is correct in the first sentence. But I don’t think he is necessarily right on the second point. I have seen far too many examples of scientists being unable to move beyond preconceived beliefs about God or some aspect of religion. Even in the field of shroud studies, it cuts both ways.

Sadly, Jeff, your readers might wonder if you can be so wrong about the Shroud, might you also be wrong about food dyes, vaccines, cell phone radiation, creationism, etc. You write:

[V]accinations however are only the tip of a dangerous iceberg. Scientific illiteracy is pervasive, and the list of consequences almost endless. The public is unable to filter exaggerated claims by environmental groups (remember Alar in apples) from legitimate concerns (global climate change). People opposed to irradiated food ignore the existence of more than 50 known strains of E. coli that can cause bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, and death. This is a typical case of poor risk-benefit analysis. People are duped by claims of harmful emissions from cell phones. Life-saving diagnostic x-rays are eschewed from fear of radiation, and vulnerable people are persuaded to rely on crystals and astrology for guidance.

Don’t be part of the problem, Jeff Schweitzer. Follow the data. Reason critically.

Dan Porter