pseudo-science under the cover of the general science!

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me the following article  in which the author criticizes the new series of the general science authors. Just to briefly summarize, the article compares the attitude of the early scientists of 20th centuries with the recent ones toward the general public. Through some examples, the author explains how scientists  previously kept their yet unproven ideas limited to the scientific communities until they are proven experimentally. Whereas the current scientists write general science books in which they mumble a list of unproven ideas and hypothesis under the name of science.

I read the article and the commentary by the viewers, and I felt that the main message of the article was missed. Although I believe in free speech, particularly in the realm of science, I agree with the author of the article that what distinguishes science from psuedo-science is experimentation. Thus, the physical theories before they are proven experimentally have no scientific value. Hence, writing something which is far from any experimental proof under the name of “general science” is not only wrong, but also dangerous, as it was the main emphasis of the article.

Being a theoretical physicist myself, what I see from the general public is that they are more exposed to the psuedo-physics, or hollywood physics rather than the real physics. I feel that the “general science” writers, such as those mentioned in the main article, are trying to be more user-friendly rather than scientific at all. This is very similar to what politicians are doing, and I would call such behaviour as a scientific populism. In short, it is expected that the general science materials convey the (experimentally proven) scientific ideas in a way that is understandable to the non-scientists.

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3 thoughts on “pseudo-science under the cover of the general science!

  1. Hi Fred,
    You pointed to a very important issue. I have had such encounters with non scientists who were interested in science and had read “Science for non-scientist” type books. The major problem I think, is rooted in lack of knowledge about the nature of science in both scientists and general public. most people often forget that science is “an evolving work in progress”. They are lead to believe that science if “a collection of proven and unchangeable facts” that we have figured out about the world. This is conveyed mostly implicitly due to the way science is taught and promoted. You can get your PhD in science and not have taken one single course about history and philosophy of science. The text books are written in a “fact reporting” style, often failing to point to the shortcomings of the current theories. And scientists are so busy catching up with the existing body of science (i.e. the product of science) that they usually miss on understanding the more fundamental level: the process of science. This attitude is then conveyed to the general public and we become a society that “believes” in science.
    So I think it is essential for scientists to get more educated about the nature of science and understand and then convey a more realistic picture of science to the general public.
    I agree with you about the freedom of speech and I think it is a good idea for yet to be proven theories to come out and be heard by others. But it is crucial for the authors to explain which parts of the content are experimentally proven and which parts are theoretical speculations.
    Although, the mere fact that we have experimentally verified a theory does not necessarily mean that is the way nature works! That is a another philosophical topic we can keep for another discussion 🙂

  2. Thanks Sepide jan for your very thoughtful comment. I agree with all you just mentioned. The current problem with the understanding of science has different layers. It starts with the misunderstanding of scientist about science and it goes beyond the scientific populism. I also agree that all PhD students, as someone who is holding doctorate of philosophy, should take at least one courses in philosophy of science and history of science.

  3. The situation is far worse than it seems.
    Consider M theory. When you inquire as to what M theory is, you realize that there is no such a thing as M theory, not even in the form that say Relativity theory existed, It does not exist as a coherent idea, but it’s advertised sometimes as if it does exist.
    Another example of how bad the situation has gotten: some of the scientists who shall remain nameless, have gotten highly praised posts at the IAS and Cambridge University, based on their clever but yet unproven ideas. In one case, even when the experimental set up showed no evidence supporting the clever idea, he still got and kept his post.
    We are living in strange times indeed.

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