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The Bullshit Guide to Bullshit part 4

Stephen Law has taken the trouble to comment on my blogs and so I\’ll try and cut to the chase. These are the other things that really annoyed me in the article I\’ve been moaning about [New Scientist 11 June 2011, p 28].
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1. Here\’s one warning that puzzled me: \”You should be suspicious when people pile up anecdotes in favour of their pet theory…\” Why? Anecdotes are where you start. Anecdotes said that elephants could mysteriously find each other across hundreds of miles of savannah… woo woo. Many people dismissed these anecdotes as coincidence – but then investigation showed the elephants were communicating via infrasound. I like this because nobody had thought to check for sounds too low for us to hear. I suspect a lot of the things currently classed under whacky-woowoo-bullshit paranormal will eventually yield to this kind of imaginative investigation.
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They won\’t, of course, if the people who are most able to find out what\’s really going are so busy dismissing the anecdotes with shoddy old lawyer tricks that they never actually take a proper look at them.
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2. \”Of course… comments such as: \’Not being able to prove the existence of something does not disprove its existence. Much is yet to be discovered.\’… [this is] just a smokescreen…\”
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Or put more pithily, \’absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.\’ Absence of evidence is certainly a circumstantial hint that something may not exist. The fact that nobody found any evidence for the famous Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, is a heavy hint that they didn\’t exist.
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However it is not just a smokescreen to say \’much is yet to be discovered.\’ It\’s a painful truth. At the moment, astrophysicists have mislaid 96% of the universe. They\’ve taken to calling this missing 96% by exciting and romantic names like dark matter and dark energy, for which they have so far been unable to find any hard evidence whatsoever (but absence of evidence is not… Whoops. That\’s what heathen smokescreening New Agers say.)
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Tell you what. When you\’ve found the missing 96% of the universe, then you\’re entitled to tell me I\’m using mystery as a carpet under which to sweep inconvenient facts, thus laying myself open to deceit.
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I suspect that Stephen Law and I are essentially on the same side, but that while I have immense respect for the scientific method that shows us the empirically real world, I have none of his tolerance for the increasingly dogmatic scientism of the modern collective institution known as Science.
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The current scientific paradigm is effective and powerful and in deep theoretical dogshit. The two outstanding theories of physics, Quantum Physics and Relativity, both confirmed experimentally in hundreds of different ways, will not talk to each other. Anomalies are piling up, particle zoos proliferate, Higgs bosons behave like Boojums and 96% of the universe just won\’t.. um… appear. Theoretical physicists seem to be sunk in a cerebral multiverse of elaborate (untestable) mathematical theology.
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This is exactly the state the Aristotelian paradigm was in, epi-epicycles and all, when the Pope commissioned Copernicus to try and tidy it all up. The church then spent another 400 odd years trying to suppress his whacky solution.
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We need some whacky woo woo thinking, frankly, followed by hard-eyed rigorous experiment. Stephen Law may never have heard the ancient story of the Treasure in the Dungheap, but he should check it out. In the big heap of steaming bullshit that is New Age thinking, may lie the hidden jewels that will give an open-minded genius that vital clue to a revolutionary new paradigm.
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All of us – not just scientists and philosophers – desperately need it.

13 June 2011

2 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this series and the Seligman piece. As an atheist and as a researcher, I’m quite wary of the sweeping generalisation, a technique increasingly deployed in books and magazines. Also, I’m interested in but wary of the whole happiness/wellbeing/economic connection between positive psychology, concepts of measuring wellbeing and according them economic and moral value. Deep suspicion over the idea that we can ‘teach’ happiness.

    It was also nice to hear a viewpoint sympathetic to science but also conscious of its dogmas.

    1. Patricia says:

      Me too. I just want science to stop behaving like a religion, I suppose.

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