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Title: Myths, Superstitions and Propaganda in Scientific Age
Authors: Banyal, R. K
Issue Date: Jan-2012
Citation: International Conference on Science Communication for Scientific Temper 10-12 January, 2012 New Delhi, pp. 325-333
Abstract: From prehistoric times, humans have evolved as pattern seeking and storytelling species. While the capacity to find patterns and infer meanings had obvious advantages for survival, the brain is not always successful in distinguishing meaningful and meaningless patterns. In fact, "pattern finding" and "order seeking" mechanisms form the basis for nearly all existing myths, superstitions, cultural taboos and ritual practices all over the world. The same mechanism also makes us extremely vulnerable to all kinds of deceptions and manipulative techniques that impair our critical faculties. We may imagine things that don’t exist, make false judgments, accept uncritical claims, misinterpret facts and arrive at conclusions that are completely at odds with reality. The scientific age is riddled with intriguing contradictions and man-made follies. The technology-driven consumer culture and entertainment industry has fueled the growth of primitive superstitions, myths and new age beliefs. The need to promote a rational discussion on science, technology and equitable social development has never been so pressing. The first thing to guard against such trends is to be aware of the subtle persuasive techniques, marketing strategies and advertisement gimmicks that make us increasingly helpless consumers in the scientific age. Conveying the excitement of science and scientific discovery is no doubt an essential part of science education and public outreach activities. But equally important is to learn to draw the distinction between unsubstantiated claims and factual findings based on sound reasoning and evidence. Discerning magical thinking and vague ideas from the realm of possibilities that lie within limits of physical laws is therefore important to inculcate scientific temper. In this article, some major ways that can lead to sloppy thinking, misplaced apprehensions and faulty reasoning in our daily lives are discussed. The paper includes examples to illustrate how erroneous beliefs are formed and why healthy skepticism and critical inquiry is necessary to avoid common pitfalls.
Appears in Collections:IIAP Publications

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