If They Believe That - Science
It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.|
Science is the area of intellectual pursuit we would least expect to find superstition. Yet, only a brief examination reveals, not only is their a great deal of superstition surrounding science, but that science itself has become infected with this anti-intellctual disease.
Real science is the very antithesis of superstition. Real science proceeds entirely by the process of objective reason, and all the activity, experiments, study, and research of science is directed by reason and is based on objectively established principles and verifiable facts.
Here is one definition of science:1
The systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts. 2. the organized body of knowledge that is derived from such observations and that can be verified or tested by further investigation. 3. any specific branch of this general body of knowledge, such as biology, physics, geology, or astronomy. (From the Latin word meaning “knowledge.”
This is a typical definition of science, but as a definition it fails to indicate the two most important aspects of science, its method, objective inquiry, and its purpose, objective truth.2
What is Science?3
Science as a process:
It is sometimes said that science is not a collection of facts and theories, but the process by which theories are developed and facts are discovered and identified. As an example, it is suggested, "the fact that objects accelerate on earth at 9.8m/s2 is not science. The theory from Newton that predicts objects accelerate at this rate is also not science. The process used to develop the theory is science." But this view is not quite correct. Science is a form of study or inquiry, but a study or inquiry that produced no product (no body of knowledge) would be nothing but meaningless exercise.
Science is a process consisting of methods for the discovery of those principles and facts by which the nature of material existence can be understood. Science consists of all those facts and theories already discovered and such refinements and enhancements to the methods of discovery that have so far been developed. The overriding principle of the process of science is objectivity. No discovery, no theory, no fact, and no method is science that is not totally objective.
With that understanding way may describe some tests for that objectivity.
Objectivity test 1. Theories must be falsifiable.
The first important test of anything that claims to be science is, can the theory or supposed "fact" be falsified. All scientific principles and theories pertain to material existence, its qualities, its characteristics, its phenomena. There must, therefore, by some observable aspect or behavior of material existence which the proposed theory or principle describes. Any false or incorrect theory can be proven incorrect by observing the actual physical phenomena it purportedly describes and observing that it differs from the description.
Logical Fallacies, "Falsifiability fallacy fallacy"
Lately we have seen the notion of falsifiability represented as a fallacy. This is itself, a fallacy.
The concept of falsifiability is a greatly misunderstood but legitimate part of the scientific method (a rigorous application of reason to evidence). Consider this statement made as an objection to falsifiability, "Falsifiability can be a valuable intellectual tool: it can help you to disprove ideas which are incorrect. But it does not enable you to prove ideas which are correct." In fact, that is exactly what "falsifiability" does do, and without it, no scientific hypothesis can be proven.|
In science, a proposed hypothesis is not considered valid if there is no experiment that can be performed that would, if the hypothesis is incorrect, fail. If such an experiment can be performed, and it "fails to fail," it is proof (or at least very good evidence) the hypothesis is correct.
No doubt the prejudice against this very useful objective method lies in the name, "falsifiability." It does not mean the scientist must attempt to prove a hypothesis false, but the very opposite. "Falsifiability," is the method by which a hypothesis may be proven true. It also does not mean that a hypothesis must be assumed correct until it is falsified.
The idea of falsifiability protects the field of science from being obliged to entertain as, "possible," any wild hypothesis on no other basis than it cannot be disproved. If a hypothesis is correct, there will always be a test or experiment that it would fail, if it is incorrect, which when performed proves the hypothesis correct by not failing (or incorrect by failing).
If no test can be devised for testing a hypothesis, it means the hypothesis has no consequence, that nothing happens or doesn't happen because of it and nothing depends on it being right. If this were not true, whatever depended on the hypothesis could be tested. There is absolutely no reason to entertain a notion that has neither purpose or consequence.
"But why not perform experiments to verify rather than falsify?" In fact, all experiments performed to test a hypothesis are attempts to verify it. If such a test could "pass" even if the hypothesis were incorrect, passing the test would prove nothing. Passing a test is only, "proof," if passing is only possible when the hypothesis is true, which means the test must fail (the hypothesis will be falsified) when the hypothesis is untrue. A test which cannot falsify a hypothesis, if it is incorrect, cannot prove it, if it is correct.
To say a hypothesis is not falsifiable means that it cannot be proved (or disproved), and, therefore, is unacceptable as a scientific theory.
It is very unfortunate that this concept is misunderstood by many who are otherwise quite rational and objective. The principle not only applies to science, but almost all complex or abstract concepts. The attempt to verify any conjecture by means of a method that cannot discriminate between those conjectures which are true and those which are false can never discover the truth. Only a method which distinctly demonstrates a conjecture is false, if it is, can verify those conjectures that are true.
The concept of falsifiability sweeps away mountains of irrational rubbish masquerading as science, philosophy, ideology, and religion. One question that must be asked about any doubtful proposition or conjecture is, "how can this be disproved if it is false?" If there is no way to test if the proposition is false, there are no rational grounds whatsoever for assuming the proposition to be true.
This test eliminates three classes of concepts from the realm of science. The first two classes are eliminated by Occam's Razor
. These may be called second causes
, and, superfluous explanations
. The third class we call "near-science" and includes the whole host of things frequently called science or scientific, because they use some of the methods of science, are related to or derived from science, or simply incorporate the word science to promote themselves.
The elimination of these concepts from science does not mean they are invalid or untrue. It only means they are not science, and if they are being promoted as science, that promotion is false.
A second cause is anything called a cause for that which science has already demonstrated and identified the scientific cause. For example, many well understood diseases for which the pathogens or physiological causes are well known are also attributed to (non-scientific) luck, spirits, demons, sin, or God, for example, as well as to (pseudo-scientific) essences, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, holistic imbalances, and a whole host of other quackery.
A superfluous explanation is any explanation or description of any phenomenon for which science has already provided a complete and accurate explanation or description. The most common example of this is attributing teleological explanations or qualities to purely physical or biological events and behavior. Attributing a natural disaster such as an earthquake, fire, or flood, to the (non-scientific) moral behavior of those who suffer from the disaster, for example, or (pseudo-scientific) "violations of nature," or "ecological mismanagement."
Near-science includes everything that is called science, but fails to be science because it does not pass one of the tests for scientific objectivity. For example, creationism cannot be science, even when it is called scientific creationism, because it cannot be falsified. Surprisingly, evolution cannot be science for the same reason. Much of psychology fails the test for scientific objectivity here also. Though mostly discredited today, psychoanalysis could never have been science, because it could not be falsified (and it is false). With or without psychoanalysis, most of psychology remains unscientific, because it is based on the unscientific, that is, unfalsifiable concept of the subconscious (which is also false).
Objectivity test 2. Theories must be able to predict.
This test is the application of an essential characteristic of epistemology, because all true knowledge is, in some sense, predictive. It is the very purpose of knowledge, required by our natures as rational/volitional beings. To act at all, we must choose what to do, and to choose, we must have some way of ascertaining what the consequences of our choices will be. If we did not expect our actions to have specific results, we could never choose.
For example: "Einstein's theory of relativity, which he developed in the early 1900s, predicted changes in the passage of time for objects traveling at extremely high speeds. It was not until much later that some of these "predictions" could be tested. Very accurate clocks were put in airplanes and flown at extremely high speeds. When the planes landed, clocks in the planes were compared with ground clocks. The difference in the times on the clocks were just what was predicted by the theory."
Objectivity test 3. Experiments must be repeatable.
This test has both a true and false meaning. Scientific principles, theories, and facts must capable of demonstration, and such demonstration is usually called an experiment. It is obvious, if an experiment demonstrates a scientific theory once, all things being equal, it will demonstrate it every time the experiment is performed. When this is not the case, either the experiment is not correctly performed, or the theory is incorrect. When the experiments successfully verifies a proposed theory, and the theory meets all other criteria of scientific objectivity, the theory is said to be proved.
There is a false idea that the purpose of proof is to convince others of a truth, and this error extends beyond science to almost every field of study. The purpose of proof is the verification of a hypothesis for and by the one doing the hypothesizing. Truth is just as much the truth if only one person in the whole world knows it as it is if some community (such as the scientific community) knows it. Most truths, and especially scientific truths, become known, understood, and proved, long before any community is ready to accept it.
Therefore, the following example is both correct and misleading at the same time.
"In the late 19th and early 20th centuries a number of different "rays" were discovered, including X-rays and Beta rays. A well respected scientist named Blondlot announced he had discovered a new ray, which he called an N-ray. Among other things, people who had been subjected to N-rays could read text that normally could not be read in dim light. The effects were very small and could not be measured with an instrument. In the next few years other scientists reported seeing the same effect, confirming Blondlot's claims. More and more sources of N-rays were found and more effects as well. Most of the positive reports came from France, but some physicists, especially outside France, were skeptical because they could not reproduce the same results.
"An American physicist named Wood visited Blondlot's laboratory. One of Blondlot's claims was that lead could stop N-rays. Wood, in assisting Blondlot, moved a piece of lead back and forth across a beam of N-rays while Blondlot reported the results. Blondlot then reported results when he believed the lead was in front of the beam, and not when the lead was actually in front of the beam. Wood reported these results in the journal Nature. Other, more critical experiments followed. Non-reproducible results ended the theory of N-rays as far as the scientific community was concerned, although Blondlot continued his research until his death."
While this is a good example of a proposed scientific "fact," being disqualified because it failed the repeatability test for objectivity, it is misleading in suggesting it was falsified by not being accepted by a collective or community. The false idea was the result of Blondlot's subjectivity and failure to objectively test his hypothesis.
Objectivity test 4. Integrable and Non-contradictory
Since reality is all that is the way it is and truth is that which correctly describes reality or any aspect of it and knowledge is the product of the process of reason by which reality is understood, no knowledge is isolated or independent of any other knowledge, and no knowledge can contradict any other knowledge.
Everything in reality has some relationship to every other thing in reality, whether those things are entities, events, or abstract concepts. One of the greatest mistakes in education and all intellectual pursuits is the conviction that knowledge can be isolated or compartmentalized, or that some knowledge can contradict other knowledge. Every contradiction, by implication, says A is A and A is non-A. Every contradiction is an indication of an error in reason, and requires further investigation, examination, and thought. Contradictions often occur, but must never be accepted as valid, and only held as tentative concepts and until the contradictions can be resolved.
A good example from science is this. "Cosmic rays create new particles high in the upper atmosphere. It was noted that according to a theory of radioactive decay, particles should not be observed to hit the surface of the earth because the "half life" was too short. Observations, however, show that the particles indeed do hit the earth. By using one of Einstein's equations in relativity theory it was shown that time slowed down for the particles traveling toward earth. The theory matched experimental results and both the theory of relativity and the theory of radioactive decay were supported."
Another example is this. "Scientists had a high degree of confidence in Newton's theory ("law") of gravitation. When Uranus' orbit was seen to be different than predicted by Newton, the theory was not abandoned right away. Scientists looked for other explanations for the orbit which would be consistent with Newton's theory. They succeeded in finding the planet Neptune which meant Newton's theory was still viable. If the new planet had not been found scientists would have had to discard or modify Newton's theory. This did happen in the early 1900s when the orbit of Mercury could not be explained in terms of Newton's theory. Newton's theory was then modified by Einstein's theory of gravitation."
In general, the principles of science are well understood, and it would seem that these principles would make science immune to the infections of superstition and irrationality. Nevertheless, some of the most profound superstitions include the word science in their name, and genuine science is itself an indirect source of some profound superstitions.
SUPERSTITIONS OF SCIENCE
There are four kinds of superstition related to science. Two of them are "about" science, and three of them, are "in" science.
Superstitions About Science
- Superstitions About Science
- Superstitious Faith In Science
- Superstitious Fear of Science
- Superstitions Within Science
- Transference of Authority
Most people really have very little knowledge of science, and many do not really understand what it is. This ignorance is not superstition and it is not necessarily important, because most people really do not need much scientific knowledge to live successfully within the limits of their abilities and interests. In our day, so much depends on science, people should try to learn as much about it as they possibly can, because it will give them a broader and more comprehensive understanding of every aspect of modern life and because so many things we depend on today, from computers to medicine, are "scientific" in nature. But everybody does not need to be a scientist, nor could they be.
Unfortunately, for many people, ignorance of science makes them vulnerable to a number of superstitious views about science itself, such as these:
That science can violate natural laws.
- That science can violate nature.
- That science proves things.
Usually implicit, but sometime explicit is the superstitious notion that science in some non-specific way is able to violate the laws of nature, or, at least the laws of morality. These superstitions are not usually ascribed to science directly, but indirectly at the product and handmaid of science, technology.4
For those whose knowledge of science is limited, which is almost everyone, there is something mysterious about the very appearance of things "scientific." The machines and instruments used in science have always fascinated those whose understanding of such things is limited, and this fascination is frequently attended with a degree of fear. Horror movies have always made use of this fact, the addition of strange machines, tubes with colored liquids, strange flashing lights, bizarre machinations are used effectively to intrigue and frighten.
It is not the "science" of these things that terrifies, but their strangeness and unfamiliarity, qualities that are equally frightening in anything we are not used to. Those who work with these things every day do not find them at all strange, or the least bit frightening, but often commonplace and even boring.
There is another kind of fear of science that does not arise from its strangeness, but from a superstitious belief that what science does is contrary to nature, or "unnatural." This fear is what lies behind the expression, "all natural," in the advertising for every kind of product from food to medicine. One cannot blame those whose business it is to sell products to direct their advertising to what people actually believe, even if those beliefs are nothing more than public paranoia.
The belief that it is possible to produce or add anything to any product that is not natural is nothing more than a gross superstition based on an irrational fear of science and technology. Everything is "all natural."
Francis Bacon said, "we cannot command nature except by obeying her." We can do nothing but obey the laws that nature has allowed us to discover, and we can do nothing but what those laws enable us to do. Nature is all we have to work with. It is certain we cannot make nature violate her own laws, and we cannot do or make anything that is not according to her laws, and whatever is done or made according to her laws is natural.
Then where did this idea of the "unnatural" come from and what does it mean? It comes from an incorrect definition of "nature," and an irrational fear of knowledge. Nature is that aspect of reality we call material existence.5
Science is the study of nature. All science learns is about nature and all science, or technology, can do are what nature makes possible. The incorrect definition of nature means material existence before it is studied, or nature as it is, before we learn anything about her and how to do any of the things she makes possible.
Famines are natural. While farming itself would be considered unnatural, so long as it depended on the vagaries of nature left to herself, the growing of food depended on the rain or periodic floods. When they came, food was plenty, but when they frequently did not come, people starved. When men learned from nature how to irrigate the land, to use fertilizers, rotate crops, famines ceased. This is unnatural.
Floods are natural, dams and control of river waters are unnatural. Disease is natural. Antibiotics and vaccination are unnatural. Ergot, e coli, and botulism are natural. Food preservatives and sterilization processes are unnatural. Yellow fever, malaria, dengue, and west nile virus are natural. Pesticides are unnatural
Of course, all these things, irrigation, fertilizers, dams, antibiotics, vaccines, chemicals, and antiseptics are as natural as air, and the belief they are any less natural than rain water is a gross superstition, yet one that is embraced by many very well educated people in this modern age. But, lest these educated people suppose we are not sophisticated enough to understand what they really mean by unnatural, is things like chemicals being added to food, let us examine this great threat to mankind.
We have asked in another place, "Some people want no chemicals in their food. What do they propose to eat? Poems?" Everything is a chemical. The fear-and-loathing-of-the-unnatural crowd snidely responds to these suggestions that they, "know perfectly well that everything is a chemical, and that everyone knows what they mean are the addition of chemicals that nature never created to things that nature never put them in." So what they really do not like, what they are really opposed to, is anything that requires intelligent processing, putting things together that are not already together before men figure out how to put them together to improve their food. What we want to know is, where one finds in "nature" apples that have been pealed and cored and cut up, and mixed up with cinnamon and sugar, wrapped in wheat that has been ground up and mixed with water and fat and heated till it turns brown. This absurd fear of chemicals and processing of food is not only superstition, it is very anti-Ameircan, at least it's anti-apple pie.
That science proves things
"They've proved ...," is the final argument in most debates and is almost always untrue. "They," may be any authority or expert, but frequently means, "scientists," and always means scientist when the arguments are about such pseudo-scientific subjects as environment, diet, human behavior, drugs, nature, or safety. It is supposed if science has "proved" it, then there is no more place for argument. But science does not prove any of these kinds of things. Science does not even address them.
In science, proof pertains to those theories and principles that have met all the objective criteria of science, have been verified by repeated experiments, and about which no currently known phenomenon raises any question. These theories and principles are very remote from the mundane world in which "scientific proof" and "scientists have proven" are used as intellectual clubs to reduce all objection to dust, to say nothing of the ubiquitous use of such expressions in advertising.
The universal trust in "scientific proof," is not a sign of an understanding of the virtues of science, but of blind faith and superstition.
Superstitious Faith in Science
In spite of the fact science is one of the few purely objective endeavors of mankind, most people's faith in science is not based on their objective understanding of either the nature of science itself or the current state of scientific knowledge. Most people have faith in science because it is successful, not because they understand the reason for that success. To have confidence in something because it is successful is rational enough, but when that confidence turns into a blind trust in anything that is promoted in the name of that success, it is pure superstition.
This superstitious attitude toward science is the ground for an almost mystical faith in it. Anything called, "science," is accepted without question and with a confidence that puts the religiously devout to shame. If only something is based on "scientific evidence" (whatever that is) or is the result of "scientific studies" (whatever those are) people will believe it with no other evidence, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. If you attempt to point out the obvious absurdities of some of these "scientific" wonders, you will be silenced with, "well, they've proved...." Nowhere is this superstitious faith in science more obvious than in that branch of biology we call medicine. This field is so large and encompasses so many superstitions, it requires an entirely separate article.
Choices based on superstition are always dangerous, and usually harmful, because those choices will only conform to reality when what is believed happens to be true (by accident) but are usually untrue and do not conform to reality. This is bad for individuals but worse when those choices determine laws and public policy.
Take for example those laws requiring bicycle riders, motorcycle riders, and equestrians to wear helmets. While the motive for such laws is purely political, the justification put forth is that "scientific evidence," proves that wearing helmets reduces the chances of death and serious injury from accidents. Such evidence is totally unscientific, and, in fact, questionable in any case. Far better evidence exists, with some truly scientific backing, that aspirin reduces the chances of fatalities from heart attacks. Since no one is absolutely safe from the threat of heart attack, if laws are required to insure people's safety, especially from death, there should be a universal law requiring everyone to take aspirin.
· Helmet Laws
· Helmet Laws
· Equestrian and Bicycle Helmet Laws
· End Helmet Laws
In the case of such laws, the political fallacy that it is the governments business to insure every individual's safety and well-being, (generally known as socialism), it is doubtful such laws could be put over if people did not believe there was "scientific" evidence for the need and efficacy of such laws. As one more example, consider the nonsense surrounding OxyContin.
· Safe from drugs -- OxyContin
Does science help us know what to eat? Certainly, it does. The scientific discovery and understanding of the necessity of vitamins in the human diet eliminated diseases that were a worldwide scourge. The role of minerals, especially iodine, calcium, and iron, for example, have also been important to improving human diet. The necessity of certain essential proteins and their sources is another very important discovery of science relating directly to our diets.
It is because of these very real contributions of science to our understanding of the role of diet in keeping us healthy and fit that some much superstitious quackery has been able to be put over in the name of science.
If you have faithfully followed, or not followed and suffered a guilty conscience for it, the low-fat high-carbohydrate gospel preached by the medical community and the government for the past twenty years, you are a victim of one of the biggest science superstitions in history. This is one most people have been fooled by, and the basis for the deception is that superstitious faith in what claims to be science, but is not.
Read What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? by Gary Taubes. (You'll need to register with the New York Times website, but it's free and only takes a few moments to do so.) See how easily a whole generation of people can be fooled when credulity is chosen over reason.
More on this incredible deception here:
· The Soft Science of Dietary Fat
· Research Supporting a Low-Carb Diet
How about dairy? Everybody knows dairy is bad for you, at least too much is. It's fattening, isn't it?
If any of these things are true, we do not know it, and there is absolutely no science behind any of these beliefs. "Holy Cow," an article in the July, 2002 edition of Readers Digest, by Lisa Davis, describes the dietary benefits of milk and milk products, particularly in reducing fat. Not only is milk one of the best sources of calcium, which almost everyone needs more of, but it actually causes cells to burn fat rather than store it. "Dieters who got dairy lost 70% more weight than those who avoided it," the article said. The scientists who did these studies did not just do "surveys." They actually studied how human fat cells behaved.
The superstitious faith in science to tell us what to eat and what not to eat is so pervasive that almost anything can be put over as scientific dietary information. Here's what happens when this superstition gets out of hand.
The Hallelujah Diet not only keeps you healthy and happy, it is "God's plan for how you should eat and live." It also cures cancer. This diet in part is based on the "scientifically" determined, Five White Dangers. Guess what they are.
The five white dangers are meat, dairy, salt, sugar, and white flour. Now, if you name enough things, you are bound to find something dangerous. But this guy missed on all five guesses. Not one of these is dangerous, but totally avoiding any one is definitely dangerous. We've already seen how avoiding meat has cause great problems. (We're shocked he never mentions dreaded white fat.) Dairy, we have seen, is probably one of the best foods you can eat. Avoiding salt, especially iodized salt, if you do not eat seafood or have some other source of iodine will lead to goiter, a dangerous thyroid disease; you cannot live without sugar; and avoiding all white flour would eliminate having anything worth eating. Remember, the purpose of your life is your enjoyment of it, not making it last as long as possible. If you follow this guys recommendation your life will be miserable, and will not last very long either.
Ironically, while those ignorant of science blindly trust anything said in the name of science, their ignorance also makes them terrified of anything science does.
Superstitious Fear of Science
How is it that people are terrified of the very thing they put their faith in? Why does this irony not scream out to people? They trust science to determine what they eat and what they feed their children, what drugs to take, what laws must be passed to make them safe, and what laws must be passed to keep the world safe from pollution, global warming, poisons in our water, our air, our food, our toothpaste.
Yet, it is that very same science they are terrified of. They are terrified of what it does to our food, to our atmosphere, to our water, and to our environment. They tremble in constant fear of radiation (from the sky, power lines, computers, and tv screens), nuclear accidents, chemicals in food, chemicals in the air, cloning, genetically manipulated food, and drugs. At once, they believe scientists know what it is good for them to eat, to do to be healthy, to wear, to think, but also that those same scientists, are poisoning the food, causing cancer, creating genetic monsters, and destroying the world.
These faiths and fears are founded on nothing but a superstitious credulity in anything said in the name of science. Just a few examples of some of these terrors makes this obvious.
"Science has proven that pollution is bad." Actually it has nothing to do with science, but the word science is used to convince people to allow some of the most absurd programs imaginable. Take for example the debacle of forcing a company to spend nearly half a billion dollars to clean up pollution that is not.
· Dredging up Junk Science6
Consider the almost paranoid terror of nuclear accidents, witch ignores any real science or facts.
· Fear and ignorance followed Three Mile Island7
Does science prove power lines cause cancer?
· Shock Journalism:
The Junk Reporting Behind the Power Line-Cancer Connection8
So what if people are afraid of things there is no good reason to be afraid of? If it were only people's fear, and nothing more, the only harm would be the harm that fear does to those who suffer them. But these fears are used by the politically motivated to promote and pass laws harm everyone. Just consider how much your life and your enjoyment of it depend on the electric power those power lines bring to your home, your business, your school, and your hospital.
The recent spread of West Nile virus, the return of malaria to the USA and Canada, already endemic in many countries, the continuing scourge of yellow fever in Africa and South America (so far), and the alrming worldwide spread of dengue and deadly dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), can all be attributed to the continued banning of a perfectly safe and totally effective insecticide. The banning of DDT, based entirely on the wild and totally unscientific speculations of a single radical environmentalist, brings death and disease to hundreds of thousands now, and more each year this harmless product is banned.
· DDT is safe: just ask the professor who ate it for 40 years.
· DDT and Chemophobia9
· Thirtieth Anniversary of Misguided Ban on DDT9
That an irrational and superstitious faith in whatever is presented in the name of science is not only dangerous, but a public evil is no more evident than the paranoid fear of science and technology called environmentalism, spawned almost entirely by the pseudo-science, ecology. No example of how dangerous this pure defiance of rational truth is than the person of Paul Ehrlich.
· Doomsayer Paul Ehrlich Strikes Out Again10
· Paul Ehrlich11
For much more information about the environmentalist/ecologist fraud and its dangers, see the following:
· Stewards of the Range
· CO2 Science Magazine
· The Science & Environmental Policy Project
· Center for the New West
· The Greening Earth Society
Chemicals and Carcinogens
When it comes to chemicals, the fear-mongering, anti-technology, anti-industry crowd are positively anti-science. Their ersatz science is used to "prove" chemicals cause every human problem from cancer to hemorroids;
· An 'Alice-in-Wonderland' Approach to Disease Prevention
sunburns and skin cancer;
· Freon Superstitions13
all lung disease;
· The Asbestos Rip-Off8
· Asbestos Baloney!!!12
and cancer, cancer, cancer. (Are you scared yet?)
· The Boy Who Cried "Carcinogen!"
Superstitions Within Science
Within true science there is no superstition; if there were, it would not be science. But scientists are human, and while their fields and their work within them is purely scientific, most have other interests and concerns, and many are outspoken both about subjects in their fields as well those outside their fields. Such outspoken scientist are important, because they frequently help make science itself more popular, interesting, and easier to understand by a wider audience. Even when these scientists address subjects and issue outside their field, even outside the realm of science, they frequently have insights into these things which others might not have, and contribute importantly to other fields.
Transference of Authority
But even if scientists, when speaking of subjects not related to their fields or to science at all, were completely wrong in their opinions, they would have right to express them, and ought to express them. The problem is, many scientist use their authority as scientists to promote ideas that have nothing to do with science or lie entirely outside the field of science in which they have expertise. Some of the worst ideas, and grossest superstitions are propagated by such scientists. While they have a right to say them, intelligent people must be vary carful not to let this common transference of authority deceive them.
There is probably no better example of this transference of authority than Paul Ehrlich.
There is another kind of transference of authority that frequently involves a government bureau or agency but could be any agency, or even an individual. These agenciess have no scientific expertise at all, but because they fund "scientific" research or have some kind of "scientific" team or staff, their pronouncements are frequently received as thought they were truly voices of scientific authority. The recommendations, decisions, and policies of these non-scientific agencies are almost always disastrous. Examples of such agencies are the FDA, EPA, CDC, NIH/DHHS.14
The pseudo-sciences are not real sciences because they do not meet the objective criteria of science. This does not necessarily mean they are not legitimate fields of study or that they do not really discover truth and useful principles, but they should not be called science, no matter how much their methods are similar to science and no matter how closely related to science they are.
Pseudo-sciences range from those legitimate disciplines that are very nearly science or even partly science (sometime called soft sciences) to outright fraud. Many of the soft sciences are, "sciences of discovery," which are more like exploration and a cataloguing of information, and should not be called science for the same reason geography is not a science, though certainly a legitimate and important field of inquiry. The development of new pseudo-sciences is progressing so quickly (see Ecology below) an exhaustive list is impossible. We include many, but it is easier to list the legitimate sciences, pointing out that everything else cannot correctly be called science.
The Legitimate sciences are Physics, with all its true branches, such as mechanics, nuclear physics, and astronomy, Chemistry, with all its true branches, such as inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry, and Biology, with all its true branches, such as botany, zoology, and medicine.
The following are legitimate disciplines, usually called sciences, but not quite meeting the criteria for science. The nevertheless are objective in their methods and results, and are "sciences" in that sense.
Geology, is largely physics. The physics parts is genuine science,but a large part of it is discovery or exploration. There is a bit of conjecture and hypothesizing, which is not bad, but not science.
Oceanography is a mixed bag. Some is genuine science, some, such as those aspects that are "ecological" in nature, are anti-science. Much of it is discovery and exploration.
Archaeology is generally an exploratory or collecting discipline, depending somewhat on science, but is also a branch of history.
Paleontology is study of the forms of life existing in prehistoric or geologic times, as represented by the fossils of plants, animals, and other organisms. As such it is an exploratory or collecting discipline. When used to defend various hypothesis about origins, it is not science.
Meteorology works very hard to be considered a science, and uses many scientific methods. There are some legitimate theories related to physics, and some interesting results in mathematics resulting from meteorological research. The rest is mostly hypothesis and guess.
Phenology is the study of the relationship between climate and biological phenomena. Obviously a mixed discipline, the biology parts are science, the rest is exploratory and where, ecological in nature, mostly conjecture, and partly untrue.
Anthropology is a supposedly an objective study of humanity and human culture. It is largely an attempt to observe what men do, and draw conclusions in fields which are totally unrelated, such as ethics and politics. The observation of human culture in itself is both interesting and important. To understand what is observed, however, the facts from other disciplines, such as philosophy and biology, which define the nature of that which makes up societies and culture must be used. Anthropology generally gets this order mixed up.
Psychology Except for those aspects which are really medicine (that is, medical science) psychology is not a science at all. Next to ecology, this false science has probably done more damage to the lives of individuals than any pagan superstition.
Sociology and Social Science These two pseudo-sciences are wonderful examples of moral/political philosophy masquerading as science. A mixture of biology, economics, psychology, popular fiction, and a healthy helping of collectivist/socialist/statist philosophy, it is used mostly in educational institutions to eliminate all rational thinking about social values and a proper moral relationship between individuals.
From the courtroom to the schoolroom junk, in the name of science, from pseudo-science to outright fraud pervades every aspect of American society and adversely affects every worthwhile human endeavor. Junk science is only able to succeed because most people's beliefs and ideas about science are irrational superstition. This is the only possible explanation, for example, for incredible swindle put over in the name of ecology.
A very long time ago, there was a science called ecology. It was a study of living organisms and their interactions with each other and with the environment. It was paraphrased, "the economy of nature." It was entirely objective, and, at least in the beginning, discovered important and interesting relationships which were very useful.
All of that has changed.
Today, this whole, "field," if it can even rightly be called that, is almost entirely a socio-political movement with no other purpose than to end or even turn back any and all scientific and technical achievements or advances. This pseudo-science, which is at the "fraud" end of the spectrum, has spawned a whole host of sub-frauds. Yahoo links for each are provided if you want to see what they are, how unscientific they are, and how anti-human they are (and to assure yourself we are not making these up). If you look at no other, at least check out what is called Deep Ecology to see just how ecology intends to ruin your life and civilization.
Ecological and Environmental Anthropology
There is also a kind of mistake made by science itself, usually attributed to philosophers, called reification. Now many people make this mistake in some form or another, because they are not aware of the error. Scientist, however, should not be making mistakes of such basic nature.
Reification is "improperly treating something as if it were an object." The abstract form of reification is called hypostasization. Hypostasization is supposing that whatever can be named or conceived abstractly must actually exist as a material phenomenon, entity, or substance. Examples in physics are "force," and "fields," "space," and "time," (as "dimensions") as well as the "wave" and "particle" regarding the nature of light and other electromagnetic phenomena.
All of these concepts are ways of "picturing" or giving "conceptual substance" to true concepts for those aspects of reality which they address. What they are not are concepts for anything which has any form of material existence. The reification or hypostasization comes in when, for example, a concept for acceleration, such as force, is supposed to be an actual thing. "Well, don't we feel 'force?'" In one sense we do, because what we mean by force is acceleration, and it is acceleration we feel. But no one thinks acceleration is a thing, because it is obvious only a concept for a change in motion. Force is the same kind of concept, only it defines the relationship between things that result in acceleration, and enables us to measure that relationship. The formula, F=MA, is not an expression of the measure of a thing or substance, but of the uniformity of behavior of matter under specific conditions.
Because we are accustomed to thinking of force as an actual something we feel, it may be the most difficult of the concepts of physics to extricate from reification, but, in this case it probably does no harm, and may actually help some conceptualize the real meaning of force in physics. This same error in other physics concepts has more serious consequences.
A field, in physics, does not have actual "material" existence, but is a way of picturing or conceiving certain phenomena. Take the common physics experiment of placing a piece of paper over a strong magnet and then sprinkling iron filings on the paper. The very visible pattern the iron filings take is supposed to illustrate the, "magnetic field." No attempt to correct the impression the "magnetic field" is like some invisible stuff that moves the iron filings around is ever made. The pattern of iron filings is not evidence of anything, however, except the pattern they take in the presence of a strong magnet, and that is all that is meant by a magnetic field.
The problem with this reification is that fields are the background assumption of the wave nature of particles, particularly photons and electrons. Since physics has described these particles with both the characteristics of particles (like little bits of matter or substance) and the characteristics of waves (such as light waves) there is a tendency to view the wave phenomena as perturbations in a field, particularly, an electromagnetic field. But such a field was banished from physics long ago, when it was called ether, because no such "medium" was ever discovered. It did not matter that it was not discovered because its characteristics were predetermined, not on the basis of what they were looking for, but on the basis of what had already been found.
The wave nature of light and other particles is nothing more than a way to conceptualizing what is known about light's behavior. The honest scientist ought to say, light behaves in such a way that it can be pictured both as a particle and a wave, but most scientists really say the light is a wave, so we have the spectacle of an entity (photon) which is actually a wave of what? Well, nothing.
Really, from atoms down, in the hierarchy of ontological constituents, everything is only metaphorical. Electron, protons, bosons, quarks, or any other subatomic particles, or even the structure of atoms themselves, even molecules when pictured according to atomic models, are all metaphors for picturing or conceptualizing the behavior and phenomena these concepts identify and explain. Are there really atoms? Of course. All of chemistry depends on the understanding of their nature and relationships between them. Are they like little solar systems, or any other model that pictures them? In an abstract way, certainly, but not materially. The materiality of atoms is in this: when atoms of iron, or silicon, or molecules of salt are in sufficient number, one can see and feel them in the form or a nails, or bottles, or crystals.
A nail can be magnetized, a bottle can be spun, and salt can be tasted. But when one speaks of the polarity of light, or the spin of electrons, or the flavor of quarks, these qualities are only metaphorical. While, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle a particle's position and momentum cannot be simultaneously determined, and this is very is very important to theoretical science at the subatomic quantum mechanics level, at the practical level, it has no meaning.
When a scientist says nothing really happens until its wave-function collapses and that doesn't happen until it is observed, he is talking in entirely metaphorical language. But his metaphorical language is then reintroduced at the material level, as though actual material events do not happen until they are observed. This is pure superstition.
The danger of these superstitions arising within the scientific community is not so much to science, but to those who are familiar enough with science to know the bizarre claims some scientists are making. Since it is science that is saying, "we cannot really know anything with certainty," or "events don't really occur until they are observed," these absurd notions are transferred back into the mainstream of intellectualism, as though science had proved the irrationality of post-modernism.
1. From Academic Press Dictionary of Science Technology (1996)
2. This is not meant to imply that science is all of objective truth, but that whatever knowledge science gains, must be objective truth. It is otherwise useless or dangerous.
3. Adapted from A Brief Definition of Science on the Young Skeptics site.
4. Technology is the application of the principles discovered by science to the practical the application objectives of production and services. The manufacture and use of fertilizers is an example of the principles of chemistry and biology applied to the practical work of farming. Laser formed plastic products are the application of principles of chemistry and physics to the practical work of manufacturing.
5. If you are a thorough going naturalist, material existence is the only existence, therefore, nature and material existence are the same thing. Those who believe there is something more than material existence, such as those who believe consciousness is not an emergent quality, believe nature is only part of reality and that reality consists of all existence, natural and super (more than) natural. In any case, science pertains only to material or natural existence.
6. This is a wonderful example of public policy made in the name of science which is nothing but pure superstition form Michelle Malkin, who provides other excellent examples of "junk science."
8. By Michael Fox and Steven Milloy, Copyright 2000 News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), March 28, 1999.
8. By Michael Fumento.
9. The American Council on Science and Health is one of the best sources for sound information about pseudo-scientific and medical superstition and hoaxes.
10 By Michael Fumento, Copyright 1997 Investor's Business Daily, Investor's Business Daily, December 16, 1997.
11. From Overpopulation.com. Excellent articles debunking overpopulation alarmists and the animal-rights movement.
12. Hiram Perry, Science Matters, So Does Truth and Common Sense
13. Copyright 1999 Washington Times, May 18, 1999
14. FDA (Food and Drug Administration), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),CDC ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), NIH/DHHS (National Institutes of Health/Department of Health and Human Services)