Mangin dismisses giant squid due to their violation of the "great laws of harmony and equilibrium," while Maimonides accepts the existence of dirt mice on the basis of prevalent layperson accounts. Similar reasoning would lead Jewish Maimonides to believe in alien encounters, faith healing, ESP, alternative medicine, Jesus, séances, and all manners of unsubstantiated but widespread claims. I don't think either scholar was much of a scientist.
Maimonides never accepted the existence of these weird creatures, he merely kept an open mind, even if it did sound ridiculous. He thought it would be unscientific to reject something outright just because it defies scientific explanation. That didnt mean that he had to take this a step too far and accept the unexplainable. That would be faith, not science.
All Maimonides did was keep in mind that he could not possibly know everything, leading him to believe that there would of course be things out there that he could not explain. Sounds like good thinking to me :)
Besides, the Rabbi has a point. A lot of people think science has had its golden age of breakthroughs and advances. This leads to apathy - less funding etc etc. Its interesting to find a spokesman for science in a Rabbi. He and Maimonides have something in common I guess.
Concerning dirt mice, Maimonides' quote reads:
"the existence of [such a creature] is something well-known..."
The phrase "well-known" strikes me as being a little strong; perhaps in context it is clear that he does not believe in dirt mice, but from the quote the rabbi provided it is not so clear.
Suppose a famous cephalopod researcher were to say, "The harmlessness of bottom trawling is well-known by commercial fishermen, though I cannot explain or comprehend it." I would be inclined to believe there's a good chance that bottom trawling is, indeed, harmless. This is certainly not the case. Maimonides had no right to use such passive language, when he knew very well the likelihood of dirt mice was infinitesimal-- it would topple the foundations of biology. He should have expressed as much but also recommended an investigation; that would be both honest and open-minded.
I believe scientists have a responsibility to voice strong skepticism toward phenomena that violate our understanding of science. Americans are throwing away billions of dollars-- a 1998 figure reports $18 billion-- on alternative medicine. I see chiropractic shops all over the nation, but the procedure is completely unfounded and can actually cause harm, as an orthopedic surgeon I know tells me. Talk to anyone with a legitimate degree in medicine, and they will tell you what a joke herbal medicine, acupuncture, and weight-loss pills are. I believe a "true scientist" should speak with authority, so that vulnerable people will be less likely to fall victim to charlatans.
I agree, thom, that there can be no shortage of spokesmen for science. However, I think it is a bit pretentious for a rabbi to dictate how science should be conducted.