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The Astonishing Hypothesis Essay

John Maddox (1995) in “The Prevalent Distrust of Science” argues that there exists a distrust in the innovations within the field of science as a result of the unreliability of the scientific community regarding the various innovations that it has developed over the past years. Maddox claims that this distrust has led to the creation of a culture of ignorance, the effects of which can be seen in the existence of an anti-science mindset. These views may take the form of passive denial and active denial.

Passive denial refers to the “intentional obfuscation of what science is about” whereas active denial refers to the denial of the validity of scientific claims (Maddox, 1995, p. 436). Maddox further claims that this mindset may be seen as the result of (1) individuals’ inability to hold accountability for their actions since science “shifts responsibility from nature onto people’s own shoulders” and (2) individual’s inability to easily adapt to change since science “challenge(s) cherished beliefs” (1995, p. 436-437).

In order to test the prevalence of this mindset within society, Maddox proposed the conduction of a public opinion poll in the form of a conceptual experiment. The experiment involves presenting the hypothesis of Francis Crick regarding human development as presented in his book The Astonishing Hypothesis. According to Crick, the human brain begins as a bag of neurons. In addition to this, he claims that the development of the hardwired parts of the human nervous system is genetically determined. The process in which this genetic determination occurs however was not accounted for by Crick.

Based on his views regarding the distrust in the development in scientific inquiry, Maddox claims that “the scientists will not think Crick’s hypothesis all that astonishing” (1995, p. 437). In order to test whether such an anti-science mindset exists, I conducted the poll proposed by Maddox. In the process of doing this, I interviewed ten students, five of which major in science related courses and five of which major in humanities related courses. Their ages range from 19-25 years old. Amongst the ten interviewees, five were male and five were female.

In addition to this, six of the interviewees were Caucasians, two were African Americans, and two were Asian Americans. In terms of their religious affiliation, six of them were Protestants and the remaining interviewees were Roman Catholics. All the interviewees were given the same information regarding Crick’s views on human development. After being given the information and asked regarding the validity of Crick’s views, all the interviewees agreed regarding the high probability of Crick’s claim. The difference between the interviewees can be traced to their explanation as to why they consider Crick’s view to be highly probable.

The interviewees who major in science related courses gave more precise explanations regarding the probability of Crick’s claim. One them stated that “embryonic fetal development always begins with the development of the neurological system since the system is necessary to support the other development of the primary organs of the fetus”. Another one stated that this claim is true since studies have shown that the human embryo produces almost a million neurons every minute after the first four weeks of its conception.

As opposed to this, the students who major in humanities related subjects tended to provide a less detailed explanation. One of them stated, “Crick’s hypothesis might be true since his view corresponds with what we discussed in Biology 101”. The reason for the difference of the explanation of these students may be traced to the formers exposure to the scientific language as opposed to the latter. Based on the interviews that I conducted, it seems that Maddox’s claim does not hold.

It is possible that the reason for this may traced to the fact that the individuals I interviewed were all college students. Their educational background may have provided them with the recognition of the necessity to recognize the importance of scientific knowledge in the advancement of humanity. As I see, the distrust in scientific innovations stem as a result of individuals’ lack of knowledge regarding the importance of scientific innovation as well as the probabilistic nature of scientific knowledge. Reference Maddox, J. (1995). “The Prevalent Distrust of Science. ” Nature, 378, 435-437.


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