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Welcome to Matt Ridley's Blog
Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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How to be open-minded without your brains falling out

The limits of scepticism

The brilliant philosophical writer (and my old friend) Anthony Gottlieb has been ruminating on whether science should be sceptical about itself.

There is no full-blown logical paradox here. If a claim is ambitious, people should indeed tread warily around it, even if it comes from scientists; it does not follow that they should be sceptical of the scientific method itself. But there is an awkward public-relations challenge for any champion of hard-nosed science. When scientists confront the deniers of evolution, or the devotees of homeopathic medicine, or people who believe that childhood vaccinations cause autism-all of whom are as demonstrably mistaken as anyone can be-they understandably fight shy of revealing just how riddled with error and misleading information the everyday business of science actually is. When you paint yourself as a defender of the truth, it helps to keep quiet about how often you are wrong.

Very true. On scientific questions where I am orthodox (eg, alternative medicine, evolution), I notice that the heretics use precisely the same sorts of arguments as I do in those fields where I am a sceptic (eg, climate projections, crop circles). There seems to be no easy answer to the problem: when should you go for a heresy.