We are concerned with two related issues. What is good science, that is, what are reasonand evidence?, and how can we be most effective in putting it to good use in society? One of us (Alan Sokal) will attempt to answer the question posed in his title, stressing the importance of adopting an evidence-based worldview. He will discuss several groups of adversaries of this worldview: academic postmodernists and radical social-constructivists, advocates of pseudoscience, and advocates of religion. The other (James Robert Brown) will stress the difficulty in approaching some issues armed with reason and evidence as the only tools.The way to deal with some views, especially when social and political matters are at issue, is with mockery, ridicule, and hoaxing in addition to reason and evidence. Tactics matter. Dramatic confrontations are sometimes the handmaid of reason and evidence.This should be clear when dealing with topics as diverse as global warming, religion, and commercialized pharmaceutical research, where ideology and interests often prevail.
James Robert Brown
James Robert Brown is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. His interests include a wide range of topics in the philosophy of science and mathematics: thought experiments, foundational issues in mathematics and physics, visual reasoning, and issues involving science and society, such as the role of commercialization in medical research. He has written and edited a number of books on these topics.
Alan Sokal is Professor of Physics at New York University and Professor of Mathematics at University College London. His main research interests are in statistical mechanics and quantum field theory. He is co-author with Roberto Fernández and Jürg Fröhlich of Random Walks, Critical Phenomena, and Triviality in Quantum Field Theory (Springer, 1992) and co-author with Jean Bricmont of Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers’ Abuse of Science (Profile Books, 1998). His most recent book is Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture (Oxford University Press, 2008).
St. Jerome's University
University of Waterloo, Faculty of Arts
University of Waterloo, Faculty of Mathematics