Needed: A Philosophy Cheat Sheet for Scientists

Needed: A Philosophy Cheat Sheet for Scientists


What is the name of the phenomenon by which someone who is an acknowledged expert in one area is led to be overconfident about his or her knowledge in other areas? It’s a specific version of illusory superiority, and it may be related to the Dunning-Kruger effect (a product of the correlation of overconfidence and lack of skill), but I’m wondering if it has its own name. If it doesn’t, perhaps we can call it Nyeasma.

I ask because of the latest episode in the series of science guys attempting to speak with authority about philosophy. We’ve heard silly things from Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, and Stephen Hawking. Now adding to this list is science popularizer Bill Nye (aka “The Science Guy”) with an appearance at the website, Big Think. A philosophy major asks Nye what he thinks about the subject, and what follows is the most cringe-inducing, ignorant, incoherent ramblings I’ve seen in the genre so far. If you have three and a half minutes to feel angry, you can watch:

Now take a deep breath and think peaceful thoughts. If that doesn’t work, allow me to steal shamelessly from John Oliver and present you with a bucket of baby sloths:


When I first saw the Nye video the other day, I was hoping that someone at Big Think would realize what they’ve done to their reputation and remove it. Alas, that did not happen. In the meanwhile, Dan Linford, a philosopher who teaches at Christopher Newport University and at Thomas Nelson Community College, has published a very good response at Philosophical Percolations. Thank you, Mr. Linford!

I think what we need, though, is something different: a cheat sheet for scientists. A very brief document that will prevent them from saying really stupid things about philosophy. I’m talking one page, bullet points, posted widely over the Internet, sent by the American Philosophical Association and other professional philosophical groups to scientists and science educators the world over.

If we were to have a 10 point philosophy cheat sheet for scientists, with each point just a sentence or two, what should be on it?

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(image: from “More To Do” by Melissa Easton)

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