Tuesday, April 4, 2017
WHEN SCIENCE BECOMES PSEUDOSCIENCE
WHEN SCIENCE BECOMES PSEUDOSCIENCE
People who call themselves scientists, especially “mainstream” scientists working within the framework of today’s modern academic institutions, will generally agree that the purpose of science is to study and investigate available knowledge and data, and carry out increasingly refined and sophisticated experiments in order to better understand the true nature of reality. Most of them are honest men and women striving to work within the boundaries of their personal abilities, learned skills, the restrictions of academic administrations, the consensus of the scientific community, and human society, and in the process, make a living for their families and/or themselves. With all these restrictions and boundaries, it is easy to lose sight of the lofty goal of trying to discover the true nature of reality.
Imagine that you are a professor in a major university, tenured or working toward tenure. Because you are part of an institution of higher learning, you will have many demands on your time and energy, demands like classroom teaching schedules and student-advisor responsibilities, departmental administrative duties, research planning and scheduling, pressures to publish your work, and peer-review the works of colleagues, not to mention the non-work-related responsibilities and demands of life in general. You are expected to know everything there is to know about your area of specialization, and as an expert in your field, you receive numerous unsolicited manuscripts and half-baked ideas every day from would-be scientists and self-educated geniuses. And this stream of unsolicited material begging for your review and blessing, has increased exponentially over the years with easy public access to the internet and ever more powerful personal computers available to anyone with some free time and a few ideas. Most mainstream professors respond to queries and ideas from outside the academic community with form letters that say something like: “Your first egregious error is on page 4.”
The number of PhDs awarded each year in the US has increased from about 8,000 in 1955, to an estimated 60,000 per year today. This huge increase is primarily due to increased opportunity, which is a good thing. But this rapid increase, combined with departmental specialization and social engineering (not necessarily good things in my opinion) has also resulted in a lower average intelligence and lesser ability to see the big picture among college and university professors. These pressures, limitations and trends have made it more and more difficult for most academic professionals to concern themselves with the lofty goal of understanding the true nature of reality, because their main concerns are constrained, delineated and defined by their institution, not their profession. Because of these factors, mainstream scientists spend more time defending their turf than expanding it. This why there has been no mainstream paradigm shift since relativity and quantum mechanics in the first third of the last century.
What is pseudoscience? The dictionary says pseudoscience is a collection of beliefs and practices mistakenly regarded as being based on the scientific method. And the scientific method is defined as a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.
Now, suppose a new idea comes along, an idea that does not fit into the current paradigm. The mainstream scientist who has worked his entire academic and professional life within the paradigm may not have the time, energy, or inclination to even consider it. He is likely to reject it as pseudoscience and may even become upset and call the purveyor of the idea names because, if the idea is correct, it will mean that much of his life’s work will be overturned. If it then becomes accepted because it “corrects and integrates previous knowledge”, who is the pseudo scientist? Has such a thing ever happened? Yes, it happens every time there has been a real breakthrough to a new scientific paradigm. There a number of legendary examples: Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Einstein …
The most important point here, however, is not the idea that there are scientists and pseudoscientists, and never the twain shall meet. The point is that the idea that science is a fixed body of fact ever growing in its relevance and correspondence to the true nature of reality is the real pseudoscience. And this pseudoscience is becoming more and more entrenched in modern mainstream science because of the trends noted above. I predict that much of today’s Standard Model of particle physics is going to become tomorrow’s pseudoscience.