In Steven Shapin's review of The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe
by Michael Gordin (LRB Vol 34, No 21, 35-38, 8 Nov 2012), he concludes:
A rule of thumb for sound inference has always been that if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. But there’s a corollary: if it struts around the barnyard loudly protesting that it’s a duck, that it possesses the very essence of duckness, that it’s more authentically a duck than all those other orange-billed, web-footed, swimming fowl, then you’ve got a right to be suspicious: this duck may be a quack.
I think this is great advice for students attempting to collar a few books, collate the ideas therein, and collectivize them into an extended essay or two. Beware the self-proclaimed big ideas that claim to unify or to apotheosize existing ideas. And remember Velikovsky, who was probably better-read than you, had greater scope than you — and was likely more of a duck than you.
Labels: Critical Thinking, History, Ideas, Science, Velikovsky