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Editorial: Life after death research confronts dogma

Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 13, 1999

Too often, science and religion are defined as being opposites. Those who have argued for a collaboration between them have been ignored or ridiculed. However, the actions of those who have involved themselves in the debate over the research of psychology professors Linda Russek and Gary Schwartz have shown more strongly than any words just how similar science and religion can be.

Organized religion has been criticized and demonized because of its stubborn refusal to accept new ideas. Concepts that were contrary to articles of the faith were discarded out of hand, and proponents who were too vocal sometimes found themselves imprisoned or worse. In recent times, organized religion has been more accepting. In 1993, the Catholic Church reconsidered its actions in the case of Galileo. However, that does not mean that they accept evidence proving the shroud of Turin to be a fake.

Science, however, has not been any kinder to those who research outside of accepted fields. Schwartz and Russek aren't afraid of scientists looking at their data and contesting their results. They aren't afraid of scientists repeating their experiments and getting different effects. Furthermore, they're not afraid of science. They are afraid, however, that their research will be discarded out of hand and that others will be afraid to even look at their research. They are afraid of the blind hand of dogma and stupidity. Their detractors, for the most part, are reinforcing this fear.

Critics of the research of Russek and Schwartz have the noble goal of protecting the world from the pseudo-science that stands perched to engulf it. What they fail to realize is that the best way to defeat pseudo-science is to replace it with well-funded, well-conducted and well-publicized science.

Skepticism can be a positive thing. It forces those who do research in these fields to be under intense scrutiny. Researchers must perform their experiments in the most controlled, scientific environments possible. In part, thanks to the skepticism that has confronted them, theirs is the sort of careful research that modern scientific knowledge is based on.

Research at the university is done for the purpose of expanding knowledge. Research like that done by Russek and Schwartz has more of an opportunity to expand knowledge than studies in almost any other field. This is not to say that we should embrace research into fields far outside of the realms of knowledge, but that we should embrace science, period. Well-researched, well-conducted forays into new fields cannot hurt us; the worst that they can do is test the null hypothesis and show that they are wrong -Řa valid result in itself.

It is important to look into these areas, simply because they have not been explored using modern scientific methods. It is important because it can excite the public, and thus help all scientists. It is also important because it deals with a basic question, and, in doing so, it may remove one of the biggest differences between religion and modern science: while religion is concerned with the fundamental nature of the universe, scientists too often are not.

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