Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Why People Believe Weird Things 101

By Mark Carter

A new university course is teaching students why normally sensible people believe weird things, and some of the tricks used by pseudoscientific practitioners.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

More and more universities are offering courses on popular rather than scientifically valid subjects. Even top-rated establishments are prepared to offer questionable or pseudoscientific courses.

This is well-illustrated by the recent wave of interest in complimentary medicine and assorted questionable health care modalitie that are offered at tertiary level. Undergraduate degrees and even Masters degrees are now available in chiropractic, complimentary medicine and acupuncture. Plainly, universities can be tempted to court what is popular rather than promoting good science or educating the public about how easy it is to be fooled into believing in unproven and improbable health and educational therapies, the mystical and the paranormal.

We decided to offer an alternative at Macquarie University by developing a new course for first year undergraduates about the importance of critical thinking and the differences between science and pseudoscience. Mark’s background is in health science and special education. In the area of special education, parents and teachers often look for simple answers, and there has never been a shortage of untested and improbable interventions and miracle cures.

Part of Mark’s research program has focused on controversial educational interventions, and why teachers and parents adopt them. It is striking that, despite 4 years...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.