Pseudoscience

© 1997 by Robert C. Moler

I am dumbfounded!

What is going on? Here we are in the closing years of the 20th century, where science and technology have given even the middle class material luxury beyond that of 19th century monarchs. We are inundated with advertising saying miracle this and magic that.

Noted science fiction and science writer Arthur C. Clarke stated that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Apparently for most of us this is true of even our own technology. A lot of us can't cope. Think of all the VCRs in the world that forever blink 12:00.

The situation is this: It takes relatively few scientists to do basic research. It takes some more scientists and engineers to take science and turn it into technological breakthroughs. It takes still more technicians to manufacture, maintain, and/or program the technology. The rest of the populace, just has to cope with it. Therefore there is no incentive for most to actually learn astronomy or science. Are we missing the wonder of how things work, or how beautiful the starlit nights are? How can we be so blind to it all?

As GTAS members, we do have that curiosity, that wonder. If we accept the scientific method for investigating what is and what isn't, then we should not go too far wrong. However we do not apply it to all areas of life.

There is a difference when a person says "I believe in God", and a physicist says he or she believed in the General Theory of Relativity. In the former case, belief is based on faith, either what was taught in the home as one grew up, or acquired later in life that made sense deep down in one's soul. It needs no proof. In the latter case, belief is based on the knowledge that whatever it is describes what we see or experience. Should that not be the case some day, then the theory will cease to have adherents.

There are not too many that believe the earth is flat any more. To any amateur astronomer to has to set up the polar axis on his or her telescope mount to the latitude has ample proof of the curvature of the earth's surface.

One wit said (paraphrasing our national motto): "In God we trust, all others pay cash." I'd like to paraphrase even that: "In God we believe, everything else needs proof." Not everyone, however, would hold with the first part of that statement. In any case, do not be too quick to believe something, be it aliens chasing Hale-Bopp, close encounters of the more intimate kind, or breaking a mirror means 7 years bad luck. (Though breaking a telescope mirror is even more unlucky).

The ongoing debate between evolutionists and creationists will not be resolved. The two sides do not start from the same place. Creationists believe that the universe was created by God less than 10,000 years ago pretty much as the Bible describes it. This is an assertion of faith. Creationists try to make their theory scientifically valid with field research, which is fine. That's what scientists do. Scientists come up with a hypothesis, generally based on observation, or prior research and try to prove it. However if the facts do not fit the theory, it may be that the theory and not the fact that needs to be reinterpreted.

Evolution itself is an evolving theory which Creationists gleefully point out as proof of its falseness. Even something as revolutionary as Einstein's theory of General Relativity was an improvement of Newton's theory of Universal Gravitation, which was an improvement or Kepler's laws of planetary motions, which were an improvement of the Copernicus' truly revolutionary theory of the sun centered solar system. The subsequent changes to his theory didn't mean that Copernicus was wrong on his fundamental point that all the planets, earth included, revolved around the sun. The theory went against the Biblical passage in Joshua 10:12-14, where the sun was commanded to stop in the sky. It was a big deal in Luther and Galileo's time that the Bible didn't say the earth stood still instead. This was 'proof' that Copernicus was wrong. We don't hear that objection any more.

The fact that scientists do not have all the answers and their understanding of the universe is imperfect does not mean that they are completely wrong. The fact is that we are learning new things all the time.

Thanks to the press of the last 200 years and overeager entrepreneurs, scientific and otherwise, who preached how science would solve all our problems, the general public was left with that impression. When technology created the nuclear bomb, pollution, traffic jams, smog, and the blinking 12:00 on VCRs, a lot of folks thought science wasn't so wonderful after all.

Science also didn't help one attract the opposite sex, or get a good paying job without getting a decent education, or keep us from trying to destroy the planet in a nuclear holocaust. Your psychic friend can promise you all that for $3.99 a minute. And because you believe, maybe you might see or think you see what you are looking for.

Sometimes I think that it isn't what one believes in, but how fervently one believes, that works. A lot of folks believe in a lot of different things that seem to work for them.

So take UFOs, government conspiracies, and even news of scientific discoveries, or old established scientific theories with a grain of salt. As with the latter two, get your news from a scientific source. Don't believe what you see reported, especially about science, on the evening news.

For the real scoop on the Mars Pathfinder discoveries, I taped the early morning replays of the JPL news conferences unedited from C-Span. for viewing the next day. The coverage by even cable news channels like CNN and MSNBC was horrible, incomplete and often misleading.

Like one hamburger commercial last decade we must all ask "Where's the proof?"


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Uploaded: 07/31/97