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Rational Inquiry -Volume 6 Number 4

Comments on the President's Comments

By Elie A. Shneour

Science is easy compared to the ability of conveying its essence to the general public. Our stalwart SDARI President Keith Taylor has that uncanny ability to open minds, making it possible for scientists like me to stuff some science into them. Our joint appearance before the Naval School of Health Science that Keith reported on in his President's Comments (Rational Inquiry issue of July-September 2001) is a good example. It also gives me a chance to reply in kind. First of all you should know that when I emigrated to the U.S. from Nazi Germany occupied France in late 1941, I did not know a word of English (O.K. I knew how to say O.K.). In fact when it happened, I did not know what and where Pearl Harbor was, and when President Roosevelt made his famous address to the Congress to declare war on Japan, I did not understand a word of what he was saying.

A couple of years later, I attempted to volunteer for military service in the U.S. Navy, but they would not have me, because my English was incomprehensible (so what else is new?) and only the Army was hard-up enough to let me in. I eventually got a great education and collected a few degrees, and of them only one really counts, but I donít ever promote even that. You wonít find any reference to any degrees on my business cards or articles, and for a good reason. You and I know people who have degrees and donít amount to a hill of beans. By contrast you and I know a lot of people who donít have any, who can run circles around degreed folks. This is because what really counts in civil society is reason rather than authority. That is the underlying thesis of SDARI and the whole skeptics movement. Let reason rule: It has to make sense. To state that something is so on the basis of authority alone should be suspect unless or until it is capable of verification.

Keith also attached the term "expert" to me. How I hate that term! Actually there is no such person as an expert. An expert is a person who knows everything or nearly everything about a subject. Obviously I am not an expert in anything. I am a "specialist". This means that I spend a lot of time on a given topic. I therefore "specialize" in it. To specialize in something does not mean that one knows anything about that something. It only means that one "specializes" in it. To know anything well is extremely difficult, time consuming and subject to many qualifications. In our time of computers and such, confusion between "information" and "knowledge" is rampant. Information can be totally devoid of any knowledge if one accepts perhaps the best working definition of "knowledge". Knowledge, wrote the American philosopher William James, is that which you can put into action. That is the business of SDARI. To elicit some knowledge out of the morass of information in which we are collectively in danger of drowning. And thatís what Keith Taylor in his inimitable way made possible at that memorable Naval School of Health Science appearance.

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The author is a founding member of SDARI.



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