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Debunking the Paradigm Shifters
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Thursday, Dec 30, 2010
Weyl invented gauge theory
Physics World, September 2007, published this start to an article by a couple of philosophers of science:
String theory under scrutinyI think it meant to say, "after Einstein had introduced general relativity."
No, the Maxwell and Weyl theories were not failures. A physics journal should be embarrassed about this.
Hermann Weyl's 1918 paper invented gauge theory as a way of combining electromagnetism with general relativity. He successfully combined it with quantum mechanics in 1929. You can read the details here (with a copy also here), and many other places.
The 1918 paper is famous among physicists because it was published with an appendix written by Einstein arguing that the theory was wrong. Pauli also attacked the 1929 paper, and told Weyl to stick to math.
And yet these two papers were two of the most important papers in 20th century theoretical physics. The ideas in them have become essential to all high-energy physics. They were more important than any papers that Einstein ever wrote. Today's textbooks explain nuclear and electromagnetic interactions in terms of gauge theories.
So how is it that a major physics journal could badmouth a major physics breakthru as a failure? How could they not know that about ten Nobel prizes were given for work in gauge theory, and that Weyl invented gauge theory with these papers?
My explanation is that it is part of the evil of Einstein's influence. Einstein attacked the paper, and everyone assumes that Einstein knows everything. But Einstein was the failure on this subject. He spent the next 35 years of his life trying to do what Weyl did in that 1918 paper, and he never wrote another paper that was even 1% as good as that Weyl paper.
Monday, Dec 27, 2010
Razib Khan cites evidence that we are slouching toward idiocracy by evolving smaller brains. He also says that some subpopulations are evolving taller, and others shorter.
The North Magnetic Pole is moving from Canada to Siberia.
The 2006 movie was a comedy about how humans are evolving towards stupidity.
Funny how the global warming alarmists are not eager to stop any of these changes.
Update: Brain size is not just correlated with IQ, but with other mental traits as well:
Controlling for age, sex, and whole-brain volume, results from structural magnetic resonance imaging of 116 healthy adults supported our hypotheses for four of the five traits: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.
Sunday, Dec 26, 2010
The Danger of Cosmic Genius
An environmentalist site says:
An article entitled “The Danger of Cosmic Genius” appearing in the December 2010 edition of The Atlantic, authored by Kenneth Brower, refers to the brilliant physicist Freeman Dyson, and his “dangerous” skepticism regarding climate change. As Brower puts it, “Among intelligent nonexperts who have weighed in on climate change, Freeman Dyson has become, now that Michael Crichton is dead, perhaps our most prominent global-warming skeptic.”I previously commented on Dyson's climate views, and pointed out his Kuhnian views on Einstein. He has some other unusual views also, such as on ESP.
For whatever reason, he is emotionally incapable of seeing the true colors of the rampant ingenuity of our species and calculating where our cleverness, as opposed to our wisdom, is taking us.This sort of mindreading is useless. If Dyson is wrong, then just show how he is wrong.
If you have a Kuhnian view of science, then scientific knowledge is defined by the dominant paradigm, and not by objective reality. That is the problem with both Brower and Dyson.
Saturday, Dec 25, 2010
Obama fails to change science policy
After two years of study, the White House science advisor has announced in 4-page letter that he favors shielding scientists from "inappropriate political influence". Yawn.
In other words, the Obama policy is the same as the Bush policy.
I would have liked to see some more scientific procedures for the scientific advisory panels. The vaccine panels do not have open meetings, do not have clear objectives, do not avoid conflicts of interest, and do not have a diversity of members.
Friday, Dec 24, 2010
There is now a complete English translation of Lorentz's 1895 electromagnetism and relativity book. It is modestly titled, "Attempt of a Theory of Electrical and Optical Phenomena in Moving Bodies", but it was good enough to win him the 1902 Nobel Prize in physics.
I previously discussed how this paper is the basis of the Lorentz aether theory, but it really has almost nothing to do with the aether. Wikipedia says:
Einstein identified two fundamental principles, each founded on experience, from which all of Lorentz's electrodynamics follows:It is false to say that Einstein did not need to assume Maxwell's equations, or that Einstein had any better understanding about the sufficiency of assumptions. Einstein explicitly said in 1905 that he was relying on Maxwell's equations for his derivations.
Einstein also assumed that Maxwell's equations hold in both the stationary and moving systems, and in the same form. Lorentz and Poincare did not assume this -- they proved it, based on other assumptions. Einstein's assumptions are much more complex than Lorentz's and Poincare's. Modern textbooks follow Poincare, not Lorentz or Einstein. And those two fundamental principles were not "founded on experience", either. They were based on Lorentz's interpretation of the Michelson–Morley experiment and other experiments.
Thursday, Dec 23, 2010
For 25 years, the evolutionist consensus has been the Out of Africa theory, that we are all descended from a small group of Africans, including the "Mitochondrial Eve", 200K years ago. This was predicted by Darwin and confirmed by DNA, we were told.
Now we learn:
An international team of scientists has identified a previously shadowy human group known as the Denisovans as cousins to Neanderthals who lived in Asia from roughly 400,000 to 50,000 years ago and interbred with the ancestors of today’s inhabitants of New Guinea.Separate DNA research has shown that we have Neanderthal genes as well. Razib Khan has much more info, and John Hawks has a Denisova genome FAQ.
I am not sure what to make of this, but it seems to be the biggest anthropological discovery in decades. First, I'd like to find out how the evolutionists could have been so wrong.
Wednesday, Dec 22, 2010
Name-calling by string theorist
A prominent string theorist complains about skeptics:
Science scepticsThe letter responds to this:
I discovered (http://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/en/research/projects/DEPT1_Wazeck-GehrckeCollection) that the group opposing relativity was much broader than many historians believed till now, and that their tactics had much in common with those used by creationists and climate-change deniers today. Their reasons for countering relativity were also more complex and varied than is usually thought. Even Einstein misjudged the motivations of many of his opponents.In this interview, Duff says that M-theory just has two problems, finding a theory and finding an experiment:
What is the greatest challenge at the moment?Any allegedly scientific theory with those two defects is pseudoscience.
Duff likes to align himself with Einstein, and badmouth any skeptic as being a pseudoscientist or like those who refused to accept Einstein's theories. The analogy to relativity is bad. Relativity never had those two challenges, and always had experimental evidence.
Duff once debated string theory, and spent a lot of it attacking his opponent for quotes from a pre-publication draft, even tho the quotes had been changed for publication in the book.
Duff shows how low the theoretical physicists have gotten. He is a big-shot with a high-status job. And yet he is very insecure about the pseudoscientific nature of his own research that he launches into these vague and unsubstantiated attacks on others.
Tuesday, Dec 21, 2010
Four in 10 Americans Believe in Strict Creationism
A new Gallup Poll gave these choices:
Which of the Following Statements Comes Closest to Your Views on the Origin and Development of Human Beings?My problem with this is that the standard evolutionist view is that human beings developed only 50k years ago, not millions of years ago. We split from the Neanderthals in the last 600K years or so, but they are not considered human.
Furthermore, the standard evolutionist dogma is that apes are no less advanced than humans, and that humans did not evolve from from less advanced forms of life. All life forms are equally advanced in that they are adapted to their environments. That is what they say, anyway. In particular, they say that there is no such thing as devolution.
So while answer (2) is supposed to be the scientific answer, it is not really what the leading evolutionary scientists say. If the experts do not agree on these statements, then how can we expect the general public to answer correctly?
Monday, Dec 20, 2010
New value for fine structure constant
The latest value of the fine structure constant has been found in France to be about 1/alpha = 137.035999, with theoretical and experimental errors of about 1e-7. Thus there is eight-digit agreement between theory and experiment.
Some famous physicists have looked for numerological significance of this number, especially when it was thought possible that it was exactly 137.
The fine structure constant is the most fundamental of all the coupling constants. It defines the coupling between electrons and photons. In other words, it defines the interaction between electric charge and the luminiferous aether.
The calculations involve assuming that empty space is not really empty, and that electron-positron pairs are being spontaneously created and annihilated throughout the universe. Even some exotic particles such as muons have such a fleeting existence. Such is the nature of the modern aether. We have no other way to understand electricity to such high precision.
A 2005 SciAm article starts by saying:
When Albert Einstein proposed his special theory of relativity in 1905, he rejected the 19th-century idea that light arises from vibrations of a hypothetical medium, the "ether." Instead, he argued, light waves can travel in vacuo without being supported by any material--;unlike sound waves, which are vibrations of the medium in which they propagate. This feature of special relativity is untouched in the two other pillars of modern physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics. Right up to the present day, all experimental data, on scales ranging from subnuclear to galactic, are successfully explained by these three theories.This is a very odd description of modern physics. Einstein denied in 1920 that he rejected the aether. Special relativity is a special case of general relativity, and they cannot be seen as two separate theories. Quantum mechanics is not really separate either, as special relativity has been fully incorporated in it to turn it into quantum field theory, as of about 1930. Modern physics says that light cannot travel in a vacuum unless it is supported by a pervasive structure of virtual electrons, muons, and other particles. That is what you get when you combine relativity and quantum mechanics, and there has been no other high-precision understanding of light since about 1950.
The above 8-digit agreement, and similar confirmations of quantum electrodynamics, are among the greatest achievements of modern science. It is simply not possible to get such agreement between theory and experiment if you assume that "light waves can travel in vacuo without being supported by any material". SciAm is decades out of date when it says that.
Sunday, Dec 19, 2010
Astronomer blackballed for Biblical beliefs
The NY Times reports:
In 2007, C. Martin Gaskell, an astronomer at the University of Nebraska, was a leading candidate for a job running an observatory at the University of Kentucky. ... Whether his faith cost him the job and whether certain religious beliefs may legally render people unfit for certain jobs are among the questions raised by the case, Gaskell v. University of Kentucky.It appears to me that Gaskell also believes that science explains the universe better than Genesis. Here is what he says:
I list, and briefly discuss, some of the main theological interpretational viewpoints of the creation stories in Genesis. It is explained that there are more than just two extreme views on the origin of the universe and that the majority of scientists who are Christians adhere neither to the view that the Bible is irrelevant to the earth's origin (which exponents of atheistic evolution claim) nor the view that God made the earth essentially as it now is in six 24-hour periods about 6000 years ago (the “young earth creationist” position.) ...My views are more like what Gaskell calls the extreme views of the atheistic evolutionists, but his views are not demonstrably wrong. They are no more wrong than those who believe in extraterrestial life, evaporating black holes, or extra dimensions or universes. He accepts that science determines the age of the universe, not Genesis.
Here is the latest evidence on some of those goofy theories:
The Large Hadron Collider has not yet seen any of the microscopic black holes that inspired numerous scare stories in recent years.Not just scaremongers. The string theorists were predicting mini black holes. I don't see where any of them are being blackballed for being proven wrong.
The University of Kentucky should be embarrassed for this. Not just for practicing religious discrimination, but for making an unscientific rejection of an astronomer's speculations. If Gaskell said something that is demostrably wrong, then his critics should prove it, instead of censoring him. The anti-Genesis astronomers already have 99% of their colleagues on their side, and they should not be threatened by Gaskell.
The godless liberal PZ Myers complains that "Gaskell himself is quite clear that he isn't going to confine himself to talking only about his field". Fellow religion-hater Jerry Coyne complains that mainstream Christians are just as bad as Gaskell.
Saturday, Dec 18, 2010
Climate science regresses
The current AAAS Science magazine has a special on the Insights of the Decade. The accompanying podcast says:
Host – Sophia CaiThis is an amazing admission from a leftist journal. Climate science must be the only science that advances by more realistic models and more uncertain results. In every other science, more realistic models reduce the uncertainty in the predictions.
Kerr is saying that new research is going to show that the global warming scare stories are unlikely, and that we are not able to make long term climate predictions nearly as well as our leaders have pretended. Selling the public on the scare stories is going to become more challenging, as the research proves the alarmists wrong.
As noted below, AAAS is a leftist organization. If it were objectively seeking the truth, wherever it might lead, then it would not be complaining that more realistic climate models would soon be available to the public.
Friday, Dec 17, 2010
Conflict between science and religion
Jason Rosenhouse responds to this book on science and religion:
Historians have shown that the Galileo affair, remembered by some as a clash between science and religion, was primarily about the enduring political question of who was authorized to produce and disseminate knowledge. [Thomas Dixon's book]by saying:
Why was Pope Urban VIII so threatened by Galileo's ideas? Why didn't the church simply laugh at Galileo, and tell him condescendingly to go keep playing with his telescope while the grown-ups talked about more serious things? The reason was that the Pope's authority was based entirely on the idea that he stood in a privileged relation to God, uniquely able to interpret scripture. If someone like Galileo could use science to challenge his claims, then the entire basis for the church's power would be seriously weakened. ...No, he is completely wrong. Mainstream Christian denominations do not even believe in Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). The minority that do believe in YEC all say that your eternal soul is saved by belief in Jesus, not YEC, as under John 3:16.
At the time of Galileo, the Pope was fighting against the Protestant Reformation, where Martin Luther and others were arguing for more literal interpretations of the Bible. Luther objected to Church theology that was influenced by Aristotelian reason. As a comment says:
To say “The Galileo affair was primarily about religion vs. science” misses that Galileo was as deeply religious as his opponents, that his opponents were motivated by Aristotle's philosophy rather than Biblical literalism, and that the evidence that would eventually show Galileo's heliocentrism to be far superior was not yet available, and some of Galileo's “best arguments” (e.g. from the tides) were wrong, and visibly so, as his opponents noted.This is correct. Galileo only got into trouble when he started giving theological arguments for heliocentrism that contradicted official Church position. The Church was trying to maintain its authority over theological teachings.
Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne cites this false Rittenhouse argument to prove that there can be no accommodation between science and religion. But the Galileo trial proves no such thing.
Coyne spends most of his energy promoting his idea of science, and how it disproves religion and it is based on false premises.
I am not arguing that there is no conflict between science and religion. There is. A famous and influential 11th century Islamic theology book, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, said:
our opponent claims that the agent of the burning is the fire exclusively ... This we deny, saying: The agent of the burning is God ... Indeed, the philosophers have no other proof than the observation of the occurrence of the burning, when there is contact with fire, but observation proves only a simultaneity, not a causation, and, in reality, there is no other cause but God.This is the sort of thinking that made Islam hostile to science. The Islamic world did some great science until these anti-science attitudes took over.
Biology journal invites evolution controversy
Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne praises Behe’s new paper on the observation of evolutionary mutations. But he is unhappy about the inferences that others have drawn, and blames Behe's motivations:
This distortion is hardly news, of course -— I’m completely confident that Behe not only expected it, but approves of it -— but I feel compelled to highlight it once again. ... So typical of these clowns to ignore the insuperable problems with extending Behe’s limited conclusions to evolution as a whole. But I’m absolutely sure that Behe intended his paper to be distorted in this way.The same journal with Behe's paper also has a paper attacking his earlier work as pseudoscience. The paper complains about the motives of the advocates of the Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC), and says that they keep "moving the goalposts". Eg, it says:
As was apparent from its conception, the rapid success of the IDC movement was never driven by its arguments but by its religious ideology, which was epitomized in the so-called Wedge document of IDC’s home base, the Discovery Institute (Forrest and Gross, 2007b).I think that it is funny how these evolutionists devote so much energy in mindreading Behe and others, and in using name-calling attacks. Behe says that he is not a creationist, and that he believes that we descended from apes. I see no reason to doubt Behe's sincerity. Even if he does have some religious motivations, a real scientist would address what he actually says, and not the religion of someone quoting him.
It is strange for a biology journal to publish one scientific article by Behe, and then in the same issue accuse him of pseudoscience because he was moving the goalposts by making slight changes to a technical definition.
Update: Behe replies to Coyne. Behe responds to the substantive comments, and ignores the ad hominem attacks. I don't know who is right, but Behe is certainly more rational and professional than Coyne.
Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010
Fake scientist joins geology board
War On Science activist Chris Mooney was appointed to a geology board. Since he is a non-scientist known mainly for leftist partisan political opinions about science-related issues, he is criticized in the comments above, and here.
I have previously criticized the Mooney war on Science here and here. He is an atheist, but he is a proponent of using Christians to support his leftist-evolutionist causes.
This is another example of a previouly-scientific organization putting politics ahead of science. The next time it puts out a statement on global warming or some such issue, I will have to assume that it is driven by politics, not science.
Monday, Dec 13, 2010
Einstein and GPS
Physics professor (of relativity) Clifford M. Will explains the need for relativity in GPS:
But in a relativistic world, things are not simple. The satellite clocks are moving at 14,000 km/hr in orbits that circle the Earth twice per day, much faster than clocks on the surface of the Earth, and Einstein's theory of special relativity says that rapidly moving clocks tick more slowly, by about seven microseconds (millionths of a second) per day.This is correct. Light travels at a speed a one foot per nanosecond. So the clocks on the space satellites must be accurate to one nanosecond in order to get one foot accuracy on the ground. They are accurate to about 40 nanoseconds, so we get about 40-foot accuracy on the ground.
But the space clocks run faster than Earth clocks, accumulating what would be errors of about 40 microseconds per day, ie, 40,000 nanoseconds per day. That would give an error of about 40,000 feet (ie, several miles) after one day of space clocks getting de-synchronized.
Everyone who tells this story gives the impression that we could never have had GPS without Einstein. But the story does not show that at all. If we knew nothing about relativity, the GPS engineers still would have recalibrated the clocks after launching them into space. They would have been mystified as to why the space clocks needed a 38 millisecond per day adjustment, but they would have done it anyway. No one would have seen the several mile long errors that Will describes. There would be a bunch of silly papers about how maybe cosmic rays were slowing down atomic clocks, but we would still have a GPS system.
Einstein said in 1905 that moving clocks slow down, but that was not new. It had already been part of Lorentz's theory years earlier. He may have been the first to say that gravity slows down clocks in his 1908 paper. His argument was that gravitational acceleration is just like other forms of acceleration, so gravity will affect clocks just like accelerated motion.
The Newtonian mechanics had already said that such accelerations were the same, and the Hungarian physicist Loránd Eötvös published a pretty good experimental confirmation in 1908. Nevertheless, Einstein is credited with being the first to apply this idea to the slowing of clocks. The effect was not observable until the invention of electronic clocks and artificial satellites, about 50 years later.
I previously mentioned Will here and here. Will has a lecture on Einstein here.
Will is a big Einstein idolizer, and wrote this in 2005:
A hundred years ago, Einstein laid the foundation for a revolution in our conception of time and space, matter and energy. In his remarkable 1905 paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” , and the follow-up note “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend upon its Energy-Content?” , he established what we now call special relativity as one of the two pillars on which virtually all of physics of the 20th century would be built (the other pillar being quantum mechanics). ...No, that is not the correct explanation for Einstein not getting a relativity prize. There was a lot more experimental support for special relativity than general relativity. The mass increase with velocity was predicted in 1899 by Lorentz, and observed in 1901. But Einstein could not be credited with this, because he did not write anything on the subject until 1905.
Will is using some tricky language when he says, "lack of direct experimental support for special relativity in the years immediately following 1905". The most dramatic experimental confirmations of special relativity were the Michelson-Morley and relativistic mass experiments, and those were before 1905 and before Einstein. They confirmed special relativity as much as the 1919 eclipse confirmed general relativity. Einstein did not get the Nobel prize for relativity because the consensus was that he did not invent relativity.
Sometimes people say that general relativity was tested, and not special relativity. Tom Bethell argues:
Most people know little about relativity theory, but we recognize that it was highly influential and that Einstein's theory somehow rewrote the laws of physics. It is divided into two parts, the special theory (1905) and the more difficult general theory (1916). The generally accepted view is that the special theory has been proven over and over again, while the general theory perhaps can be questioned and retested. In Beckmann's theory, this is more or less reversed. The general theory gives the right answers but by a complicated and roundabout route. Meanwhile a simpler path lay at hand. But the special theory may have to be discarded because the logical consequences of its postulates do not correspond to experimental results.This is nonsense, of course. Special relativity is the infinitesimal version of general relativity. There is much more evidence for the special theory.
There is also a myth that Einstein discovered relativity with pure thought, and without paying any attention to experiment. He himself promoted this myth in his later life, and others cite this argument in order to undermine the scientific method. In fact, the discovery of relativity was directly designed to explain experiments.
Sunday, Dec 12, 2010
Faulty Nobel physics prize
I previously commented that last year's Nobel physics prize went to wrong guys. See also Controversy raised about 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Now there is a similar problem with this year's prize. Nature magazine reports:
A high-profile graphene researcher has written to the Nobel prize committee for physics, objecting to errors in its explanation of this year's prize. The award was given to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of Manchester University, UK, for their work on graphene, a two-dimensional carbon structure that has huge potential in the field of electronics.There are, of course, many other Nobel Prize controversies.
Saturday, Dec 11, 2010
Leftists took over scholarly organizations
Daniel Sarewitz writes in Slate:
A Pew Research Center Poll from July 2009 showed that only around 6 percent of U.S. scientists are Republicans; 55 percent are Democrats, 32 percent are independent, and the rest "don't know" their affiliation.Not exactly. The poll was not of scientists but of members of the left-wing organziation American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). They are the ones who just pubished the bogus claims about arsenic-based extraterrestrial life, and their editorial opinions are always left-wing. Leftists are also the ones who have just taken over the major American anthropology organization in order to drive out the scientists.
Pres. Obama's appearance on Mythbusters was remarkably silly. He just asked them to redo a previous experiment on whether Sun-reflecting mirrors could be used as a defensive military weapon. He added no new ideas, and they just did the same experiment and got the same results. What was the point? I really doubt that it convinced anyone that Democrats were scientific and rational.
My guess is that Obama's choice of topic was intended as propaganda that the Strategic Defense Initiative would not work.
Support for Einstein is largely driven by leftist politics. He was an avowed socialist, Communist fellow-traveler, and Stalinist apologist.
Ideally, the politics of a scientist should be irrelevant. They should be seekers of truth, wherever that leads. But you do not see that among the leading leftist advocates of evolution, global warming, stem cells, conservation, etc.
Friday, Dec 10, 2010
Anthropology abandons science
The NY Times reports:
Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan. ...Here is the old statement, supporting the advance of science. On anthropologist says:
They are happy not to be held to a high standard of rigor in their research and writing and pleased to be judged by the more open-ended and subjective standards of humanistic research.Many academic soft science departments suffer from this split between the scientific and the anti-science. The unscientific ones just hate it when they get proved wrong, over and over. The problem is especially bad in anthropology because it studies people. Politically correct academics tend to get excited when you talk about human biodiversity, and give scientific data to back up observed differences.
Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne responds to The Truth Wears Off, where Jonah Lehrer explains The Mysterious Decline Effect:
I tend to agree with Lehrer about studies in my own field of evolutionary biology. Almost no findings are replicated, there’s a premium on publishing positive results, and, unlike some other areas, findings in evolutionary biology don’t necessarily build on each other: workers usually don’t have to repeat other people’s work as a basis for their own. ...Coyne is actually one of the more scientific evolutionists. He is willing to criticize the work of others when he thinks that it is correct, and he tries to limit his arguments to what the data actually prove. But he also show how evolutionists devalue science as anthropologists do. To them, Truth is just what they and their elite buddies say is the truth. To that end, they have to carry on a campaign of ridicule in order to convince the public that other views are foolish. That is why you see arguments for mainstream anthropology, evolution, global warming, etc. that are not based on any hard science, but rather ad hominem attacks on those not conforming to the supposed consensus of the elites.
Real scientists use data and logic to back up their arguments.
It is telling that Coyne relies on The Mismeasure of Man for his view of science. That book has been discredited. It promotes entirely false ideas based on ad hominem attacks on the supposedly sloppy work of scientists a century ago, while ignoring recent experiments that replicated the older work. The book was extremely popular among leftist academics for political reasons, not scientific reasons. The book was an inspiration to those anthropologists who want to disassociate themselves from science.
Gould was the world's most famous evolutionist. The scathing criticisms of his book were published in peer reviewed scientific journals, and he never attempted to rebut them. He was an embarrassment to science. His followers are the one who are deeply damaging to science.
Thursday, Dec 09, 2010
The Truth Wears Off
Jonah Lehrer writes (copy here) in the New Yorker:
THE TRUTH WEARS OFFHe acts as if the truth-wears-off effect is analogous to the placebo effect, where sugar pills appear to improve medical conditions. The truth-wears-off effect keeps good science papers from being replicated.
No, there is nothing wrong with the scientific method. There is something wrong with the way the soft sciences are preoccupied with p-values as being the main criterion for publication.
Wednesday, Dec 08, 2010
More on bogus alien life claims
I criticized the recent NASA claims for the possibility of extraterrestial arsenic-based life. It was one of the most heavily hyped scientific papers promoting space alien life in years. Carl Zimmer writes in Slate that others have now made sharper criticisms, and the authors are refusing to respond:
As soon Redfield started to read the paper, she was shocked. "I was outraged at how bad the science was," she told me. ...The proper way to engage in a scientific discourse? What she did do was to issue exaggerated and misleading press releases, and to give friendly press interviews such this NRP Science Friday interview where her claims went unchallenged.
I have no respect for scientists who refuse to respond to public criticisms. Any real scientist would either defend a published paper, or withdraw it. Instead these authors are hiding behind nameless faceless editors.
NASA and the leftist-atheist-evolutionists would very much like to demonstrate the possibility of life in outer space. NASA would get more funding, and the others consider any such evidence as an endorsement of their worldview. As a result, a lot of bogus arguments are used.
Update: Zimmer has posted responses. Some are scathing. And even if the microbes are really using arsenic, there are very good reasons for believing that other planets will have a lot more phosphorus than arsenic, so the experiment has nothing to do with extraterrestrial life. See also Scientists poke holes in NASA’s arsenic-eating microbe discovery.
Tuesday, Dec 07, 2010
Wrong scientific beliefs
The Edge asks this question of various experts:
The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?Other answers are here and here.
The answers are disappointing. Some people seem to have funny ideas about what it means for a scientific idea to be proved wrong. Here is a bad answer:
Caloric, phlogiston, and ether immediately come to mind, but I'm particularly fond one consequence of Aristotelian mechanics: the assertion that there is no such thing as a vacuum.These theories were improved, but they are not really wrong. A lot of useful scientific work came out of those theories. All theories get improved. The question calls for examples of theories which are dead wrong.
Actually, the question is confused, because the flat earth and geocentric world are not good examples of wrong scientific beliefs.
Here is a much better answer:
1. Stress theory of ulcers — it turns out they are due to infection with Heliobacter pylori. Barry Marshall won Nobel Prize for that.Nothing good ever came out of that stress theory of ulcers. People suffered useless psychobabble when they could have been cured with antibiotics. Likewise, Wegener was right about continental drift, and nearly everyone else was wrong.
The final answer is from someone who was brainwashed with anti-science in grad school:
My favorite example is about science itself. For the longest time scientists didn't believe that their own discipline followed rules, per se, but then Imre Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper and, my favorite, Paul Feyerabend showed how science was sociology, was prone to enthusiasms, fashions, and dogma, and so on. It was one of the most important realizations of my doctoral program.He got that Ph.D. in the economics of technology, whatever that is.
I wonder how so many people can fail to grasp the simple point that science is all about proving hypotheses true or false. It is not just sociology and fashion. Even grade school kids learn about the scientific method.
Kuhn and Popper based some of their (different) philosophies on faulty accounts of the history of relativity. I post here about relativity to correct some of those errors.
Physicist Lee Smolin wrote:
Perhaps the most embarrassing example from 20th Century physics of a false but widely held belief was the claim that von Neumann had proved in his 1930 text book on the mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics that hidden variables theories are impossible. These would be theories that give a complete description of individual systems rather than the statistical view of ensembles described by quantum mechanics. In fact de Broglie had written down a hidden variables theory in 1926 but abandoned work on it because of von Neumann's theorem. For the next two decades no one worked on hidden variables theories.Whether or not von Neumann's reasoning is convincing, the impossibility of a sensible hidden variable theory was proved by Bell's theorem and subsequent experiments validating quantum mechanics.
Physicist David Deutsch writes:
Surely the most extreme example is the existence of a force of gravity. ... Since 1915 we have known the true explanation, namely that when you hold your arm out horizontally, and think you are feeling it being pulled downwards by a force of gravity, the only force you are actually feeling is the upward force exerted by your own muscles in order to keep your arm accelerating continuously away from a straight path in spacetime.You might think that Deutsch is making a joke, but he wrote a whole book, The Fabric of Reality, where he explains more fantastic ideas from physics.
From a psychologist:
The psychologist Tania Lombrozo has shown that even Harvard undergraduates who endorse evolution consistently interpret evolutionary claims in a teleological rather than mechanistic way (eg giraffes try to reach the high leaves and so develop longer necks). And we have shown that six year olds develop a notion of fully autonomous "free will" that is notoriously difficult to overturn.Wow. There are fully grown intelligent adults who also believe in free will.
In the 17th century, that led skeptics to scoff at Newton's theory of gravity. Proper science was supposed to map how matter pushes against matter to cause various effects. Yet in this theory there was no physical contact, just spooky action at a distance. Almost a century after Newton, rival theories of gravity were still being proposed to remedy this defect.Similarly? Those views, action-at-a-distance and aether theory, were opposite alternatives. Those who believed in the aether theory justified it by arguments against action-at-a-distance, and those who believed in the action-at-a-distance theory justified it by arguments against the aether.
It is also odd to say that rivals were still trying to correct Newton a century later. As Deutsch explains above, they corrected him 250 years later with general relativity.
Some of the more commonly heard false theories are the extreme views of the nature versus nurture debate. In psychology, it is nativism v tabula rasa (blank slate).
For decades, theoretical physicists have promoted various unified field theories which were disproved by the failure to find proton decay.
Physics textbooks in my lifetime were also proved wrong by the discovery of neutrino mass.
Someone found a cure for phantom limb pain 15 years ago, but apparently physicians have trouble accepting it, and continue to prescribe useless painkillers instead.
I guess scientists have a long way to go when it comes to convincing people that hypotheses are right or wrong.
Monday, Dec 06, 2010
New Bush-hater movie
There is a new movie, Fair Game, about Valerie Plame, and a Wash. Post editorial attacks it:
The movie portrays Mr. Wilson as a whistle-blower who debunked a Bush administration claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the African country of Niger. In fact, an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee found that Mr. Wilson's reporting did not affect the intelligence community's view on the matter, and an official British investigation found that President George W. Bush's statement in a State of the Union address that Britain believed that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger was well-founded.Funny how the editorial just refers to itself as "a newspaper". The newspaper is most famous for relying on leaks from unnamed govt officials, so I guess that it is sensitive to the accusation that it is being manipulated for political purposes.
The Plame story was never the scandal that it was supposed to be. Scooter Libby was convicted of lying to the feds by claiming to have lied to Tim Russert about what he knew about Plame. Libby said that he denied knowing about Plame and the CIA to Russert, and Russert testified that Plame was not discussed. I don't know why anyone would care about that, as it did not result in any classified info being leaked or any stories being printed. I have discussed the Libby case before, such as here and here.
Sunday, Dec 05, 2010
Atheist bus signs
The Vancouver Canada Sun reports (also here):
The atheist group behind last year's controversial bus ads suggesting "there's probably no God" is rolling out a provocative new set of posters on buses across the country that places Allah beside Bigfoot and Christ beside psychics.These atheist groups seem to like bus signs. Their web site, www.extraordinary-claims.com, attacks various pseudo-scientific beliefs, and includes this attack on geocentrism:
Modern Geocentrism is a belief mostly held by religious groups adhering to the Abrahamic tradition (Judaism, Islam, Christianity) that Earth is the center of the universe while the Sun and the rest of the solar-system fully revolve (as a static assembly) around it in one day. Geocentrics believe the stars are closer to us than current measurements indicate and that they are embedded in a rigid substrate called the aether. The aether with the stars is supposedly also rotating around the earth in a sidereal day. ...No, geocentric models do not contradict relativity. In fact the site links to the Bad Astronomer, who explains that there is no such contradiction:
I have two things to say that might surprise you: first, geocentrism is a valid frame of reference, and second, heliocentrism is not any more or less correct.In other words, geocentrism is not wrong; it is just sometimes inconvenient.
I am all in favor of scientific skepticism, but I don't see these bus signs convincing any Christians because (1) they believe that the message of the Gospels is extraordinary, (2) they want skepticism about alternative mystical ideas that undermine Christianity, and (3) they do not reject their core beliefs because they are inconvenient.
Christianity tolerates dissenting views. You will not see these bus signs in a Mohammedan country.
Saturday, Dec 04, 2010
The sorry state of psychology science
There is a split among psychologists between those who try to be scientific, and those who don't. The split is particularly apparent in court testimony.
Psychologist Bram Fridhandler defends the use of unscientific court testimony in this paper:
ABSTRACT. In response to statements that child custody evalua- tions violate the accepted definition of science in psychology and are therefore unethical in their current form, the evolving definition of science in psychology and the position of the American Psychological Association on evidence-based practice are reviewed. ...Kuhn's book was actually only about the hard sciences like physics, and not the soft sciences like psychology. When confronted with silly arguments like the above, he would deny that he is a Kuhnian.
Fridhandler is correct that Kuhn's book did influence a lot of academic philosophers and others that science was not really scientific. This trend allowed other sloppy pseudo-scientists to pretend that there is no meaningful definition of science, that flawed methodologies are acceptable if practiced by others, and that the theory is too fluid to actually say that anyone's work is wrong. Anyone who does not agree can just be ridiculed as someone not accepting the Copernican Revolution.
I have posted dozens of messages on this blog explaining what is wrong with this Kuhnian thinking. No good has ever come from it. Kuhn denies that science has progressively found better and better explanations of an objective reality, and portrays the history of science as a bunch of paradigm shifts in which scientists jump from one theory to another as if they were clothing fashions.
Those who credit Einstein for relativity nearly always rely on Kuhnian arguments, as in this Dyson example.
People like Fridhandler are doing real harm to real people with this bogus analysis. I plan to detail some of that damage later.
Friday, Dec 03, 2010
Finding a microbe that uses arsenic
This NASA announcement got a lot of press:
Scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorus — one of six elements considered essential for life — opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about. ...So how does this relate to extraterrestial life? Are there planets with a lot of arsenic and no phosphorus? No, there are not. The abundances of these elements are determined by the nuclear physics of supernova explosions. Those six chemical elements are on every rocky planet, as they formed from the debris of such explosions. There is no planet with arsenic but not phosphorus. The paper does not show that phosphorus is unneeded anyway. Nothing here makes E.T. life more likely.
Others are also skeptical. The paper itself ends with:
We report the discovery of an unusual microbe, strain GFAJ-1, that exceptionally can vary the elemental composition of its basic biomolecules by substituting As for P. How arsenic insinuates itself into the structure of biomolecules is unclear, and the mechanisms by which such molecules operate are unknown.So some microbes were poisoned with arsenic, and the surprise is that they did not die as rapidly as other microbes poisoned with arsenic. That's all.
Here is some WSJ hype:
"This will fundamentally change our definition of life and how we look for it," said astrobiologist Pamela Conrad at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This is a huge deal."But it also admits:
The researchers weren't able to entirely eliminate all traces of phosphorus, leaving open the possibility that these bacteria were still eking out their existence in a normal way, the researchers said. "There does seem to be a low level of impurity," Dr. Wolfe-Simon said.It was known that arsenic could substitute for phosphorus. That is why arsenic is poisonous. They have not proved much.
Update: There is more scathing criticism here:
And the paper simply does not include the controls to show that arsenate has been taken up as part of the DNA. All the other claims in the press accounts of the discovery -- for example, the idea that the organisms could substitute arsenate for phosphate in ATP -- were complete fiction.
Wednesday, Dec 01, 2010
Claiming that Kepler killed Tycho
John Tierney writes on the effort to find how Tycho died:
What killed him? At the time of Tycho’s death, in 1601, the blame fell on his failure to relieve himself while drinking profusely at the banquet, supposedly injuring his bladder and making him unable to urinate. (Danes still sometimes invoke Tycho when they explain their need to excuse themselves during a meal.) Later medical experts discounted that and said some kind of kidney problem was more likely. ...This seems very unlikely to me. Tycho had a gold nose from losing his real nose in a duel. Maybe he got mercury poisoning from his nose.
The Tycho-Kepler collaboration was surely the greatest collaboration in the history of astronomy, if not all of science. Their contributions to astronomy were vastly greater than those of others of that era, including Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton.