NONSENSE ON STILTS -- Mon., 5/13, Columbia University

Nonsense on Stilts

Speaker: Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, author, Nonsense on Stilts and other books

Monday., May 13th, 7:00-8:30 pm at Faculty House, Columbia University

Presented by the Columbia University Seminars on Innovation in Education, and Ethics, Moral Education, and Society




Recent polls suggest that fewer than 40 percent of Americans believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, despite it being one of science’s best-established findings. More and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children for fear it causes autism, though this link can been consistently disproved. And about 40 percent of Americans believe that the threat of global warming is exaggerated, despite near consensus in the scientific community that manmade climate change is real.

Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and—borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham—the nonsense on stilts. Presenting case studies on a number of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a “taxonomy of bunk” that explores the intersection of science and culture at large.

No one—not the public intellectuals in the culture wars between defenders and detractors of science nor the believers of pseudoscience themselves—is spared Pigliucci’s incisive analysis. In the end, Nonsense on Stilts is a timely reminder of the need to maintain a line between expertise and assumption. Broad in scope and implication, it is also ultimately a captivating guide for the intelligent citizen who wishes to make up her own mind while navigating the perilous debates that will affect the future of our planet.

Massimo Pigliucci is Professor of Philosophy at CUNY-City College, and a highly influential public intellectual and practitioner of philosophy outside of academe, throughout New York City and beyond.

Dinner: To augment fellowship among members, you are invited to join other members for dinner at Faculty House at 6:00 PM. Dinner at Faculty House, a varied hot buffet (including wine), is $30, which must be paid for by check made out to Columbia University with “dinner” and seminar 585 or 511 noted in the memo line. Checks will be collected by the Rapporteur at the beginning of the meal. If you intend to join us for dinner you must let us know via email 7 days in advance, i.e., May 6th.
Directions: Faculty House is located on Columbia University’s East Campus on Morningside Drive, north of 116th Street. Take the #1 train to 116th St./Columbia University. Enter the campus through the main gates on Broadway and 116th St. Enter Wien Courtyard through the gates on 116 Street between Amsterdam Ave. and Morningside Drive. Walk toward the north end of the courtyard, then turn right toward Morningside Drive. Faculty House will be the last building on the right. Dinner is usually in the fourth floor dining room. Look for a sign in the lobby that will indicate the meeting room.

Contact: Ronald Gross,