By Michael McGettigan
PHILADELPHIA (UPI) -- A Michigan sociologist said Wednesday outrageous claims by scientists and pseudo-scientists will always be with us.
But Marcello Truzzi told students and teachers at Temple University that skepticism must not become cynicism. Truzzi, a professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, is the founder and director of the Center for Scientific Anomalies Research in Ann Arbor.
Truzzi said he founded the center to pursue what he calls "anomalistics -- the study of facts in search of theories."
Truzzi said such unexplainable facts are at the heart of many great discoveries. "Maverick ideas, unconventional claims, and scientific anomalies should not be viewed as crises, but as opportunities." Truzzi said.
"After all, unexplainable facts are what drive science forward. If there were no anomalies, we would not have any progress. We would just sit there -- with our model of the universe never changing."
Truzzi maintains it is just as big a mistake to ignor a significant scientific advance as it is to mistakenly announce one.
Truzzi noted that Edison saw no great future for the electric lightbulb, and that in 1943 the chairman ofInternational Business Machines foresaw no customers for the
"True skepticism consists of doubt followed by inquiry."
Truzzi said. "It's unbelief rather than disbelief. The first priority of any scientist is to do nothing that will block inquiry. There must be no closing of doors."
Unfortunately, the image of scientist as rational individuals who calmly weigh the facts, no matter what their source, is only an image, Truzzi said.
"Much of this image has come from the scientists themselves." Truzzi said. "No one really comes out there and says, 'I'm a dogmatic scientist and I think hazily and emotioally.' And of course we now have major industries promoting the image of the scientist as well."
The raising of the stakes by industry and government has helped create what Truzzi calls "big science," an establishment that tends to reject theories from outside its boundaries.
Truzzi cited the recent controversy over cold fusion as an example o fhow the scientific communuty treats unconventional claims made by individuals outside the establishment.
Physicists first ridiculed the two chemist who announced cold fusion, then unsuccessfully attempted to duplicate their experiment.
Truzzi said that only after these two steps were taken, did scientists reluctantly begin more serious inquiries into the claims made for cold fusion.
Truzzi also warned against the tendency of our technoloical society to ask more of science than it is capable of.
"We've also got to be careful that in trying to advance science, that we don't become involved in scientism," he cautioned, "where we simply substitue scientists for thepriesthood, with moral and ethical decisions being made in the name of science."
In this era of UFOs and Bigfoot, many scientist are insisting on a rigid division between legitimate science and pseudo-scientific fields like parapsychology and astrology.
But Truzzi says the true scientific spirit means leaving the door open to discoveries from all sectos of society. "We can't just say they're the bad guys because they don't wear white hats -- or white lab coats."
upi 11-30-89 07:20 acs