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Editor: Alex Bellamy

Science and Pseudoscience

Science and Pseudoscience was originally broadcast on 30 June 1973 as Programme 11 of The Open University Arts Course A303, 'Problems of Philosophy' and its text was subsequently published in Philosophy in the Open edited by Godfrey Vesey, Open University Press, 1974 and also as the Introduction to Lakatos's The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes: Philosophical Papers Volume 1 (edited by John Worrall and Gregory Currie) Cambridge University Press, 1978. A Hungarian language version of the talk was broadcast by the BBC Hungarian World Service on 10th February 1974, eight days after Lakatos died on 2 February. Whilst based at the Hungarian Ministry of Culture in the later 1940s, he had been a leading figure in the immediate post-war Hungarian state higher-education reform that radically expanded popular access to higher education. It is recognised by UNESCO as one of the first and most outstanding national examples of the realisation of clause 1of Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in respect of its declaration that "higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit." 

Science and Pseudoscience is Lakatos's most succinct public summary of his philosophy of science. In this talk he outlines his distinctive view of the importance of 'the demarcation problem' in the philosophy and history of science, namely the normative methodological problem of distinguishing between science and pseudo-science, and of why its solution is not merely an issue of 'armchair philosophy', but also one of vital social and political significance, and even of life and death itself. It reviews what he saw as the inadequacies of previous attempted solutions, such as both probative and probabilist inductivism, and how his own methodology of scientific research programmes solves some of the problems posed by the history of science for those of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. He proposes that scientists regard the successful theoretical prediction of stunning novel facts - such as the return of Halley's comet or the gravitational bending of light rays - as what demarcates good scientific theories from pseudo-scientific and degenerate theories, and in spite of all scientific theories being forever confronted by "an ocean of counterexamples". The talk includes his novel fallibilist analysis of the development of Newton's celestial dynamics, Lakatos's favourite historical example of his methodology. In her speech at the opening ceremony of the LSE Lakatos Building on 15 November 2001, Professor Nancy Cartwright FBA, Chair of the Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science (CPNSS) described Lakatos's philosophy of science, first published almost 40 years ago, as still unsuperseded.

The 20 minute talk is essentially a brief summary of the central thesis of what sadly turned out to be the last annual course of Lakatos's renowned highly entertaining LSE lectures on Scientific Method, given in Autumn 1973, with their historical style of reviewing previous attempted solutions to the demarcation problem within the context of the history of dogmatism versus scepticism, and frequently punctuated by gales of laughter at his many characteristic intellectual jokes and amusing anecdotes whenever he lectured to an audience. The full contents of this last lecture course - but without the gales of laughter - are now published in an edited form as Chapter 1 of For and Against Method: Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend, edited by Matteo Motterlini, University of Chicago Press, 1999. The full unedited versions of their transliterations by Sandra Mitchell from original recordings of the lectures are available in the LSE Library Lakatos Archive. 

The full version of Lakatos's methodology of scientific research programmes was published in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, edited by Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, Cambridge University Press, 1970. Some historical case studies in Lakatos's methodology were published in Method and Appraisal in the Physical Sciences: the critical background to modern science 1800 to 1905, edited by Colin Howson and Method and Appraisal in Economics edited by Dr Spiro Latsis, both published by Cambridge University Press, 1976. There have been many publications on Lakatos's philosophy since his death, which have notably increased in the last 5 years as the intellectual world gradually begins to realise the depth and historical significance of his philosophy concentrated in his PhD thesis (or Proofs and Refutations) and just a few brief monographs. The latest of these publications is Appraising Lakatos: Mathematics, Methodology and the Man (Vienna Circle Institute Library) (edited by Kampis, Kvas, and Stoltzner) Kluwer|, 2002, being the outcome of a conference at Eotvos University, Budapest in November 1997 to mark Lakatos's 75th birthday.

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