Science or Pseudoscience?
Phil Plait has just posted an essay explaining why he chooses not to debate "pseudoscientists." Tonight we are featuring some of your emailed comments on this issue below.
I agree with much of what Phil says in his essay, but on the other hand, I believe many of whom Phil would call "real" scientists are too bound by the constraints of what is already accepted as fact or knowledge.
For instance, many "real" scientists may not give certain theories any consideration because they have to do with subjects that are commonly referred to as "fringe sciences." This is a shame, because some of the greatest discoveries of all time have been regarding what would, at their respective times, also been considered fringe science or in many cases, preposterous.
There needs to be a balance between those who would ask "what if?" without any specific adherence to "the scientific method" and those who would dismiss the questions of "what if?" out of hand, simply because they don't fit easily into the realm of known science or fact.
And as listeners to C2CAM and readers or followers of some of the show's guests, each of us needs to be smart about what we believe and what we don't. People need to not be afraid to admit to themselves when something simply doesn't hold up under scrutinization. Sometimes it can be incredibly disappointing to realize that something you wanted to believe is true probably isn't true at all.
The fact of the matter is that there is infinitely more that we, as humans on Earth, don't know than what we do know. People like Richard Hoagland may be just creative, imaginative people whose theories are little more than fascinating science-fiction, but if they get people thinking about the possibilities of things unknown, that can only be a good thing for all of us.
Elk Grove Village, IL
So much of so called "mainstream" science "research" is funded by huge corporations that stand to lose vast amounts of money if alternatives to drugs, oil and gasoline, etc are found. Science today seems to serve "big business" rather than man. These Corporations pump lots of bucks into universities and government think tanks and scientists like Dr.Gene Mallove who dared to think about alternative energy sources end up dead. Anyone who dares think for themselves and buck the "politically correct" mainstream of "lap-dog" science for the powerful and wealthy are called "wacky" and "pseudo-scientists."
Where has our science gotten us today? While the so-called "pseudo-scientists" try to pursue Earth-friendly energy sources and body friendly health treatments with constant ridicule and lack of funds, mainstream science turns its back on the pollution and criminal side effects of drugs. Why does "mainstream" science fear people learning how to treat their diseases with natural methods? Fear Earth Friendly Solar power, wind power? Hmmmm, maybe there isn't much money in it. Better to ridicule and harangue and drive these good men and women who try to make the Earth a better place into the ground. OUR PLANET IS DYING!!! Science should be for EVERYONE not just the Corporations and the Government. Science should be imaginative and encouraging, not greedy and narrow minded.
At his web site, Plait says: "But like I said, the people who listen to C2C already know what I think, and what the pseudoscientists think, so a debate would do no good." Using that line of reasoning, I guess it could be said that people who pay attention to politics must already know what Bush and Kerry think, so a debate between the two of them would do no good.
I think that Plait has a right to his opinions, but to a large degree, his position in academia has gone to his head. There is an old saying that being an "expert" does not necessarily make that person's position right on any given subject. It does, however, allow the person to be wrong in more exotic fashion. It is one thing to debate Nancy Lieder; it is quite another to go toe to toe with Richard Hoagland. I don't think he has what it would take.
-- Don J.
Mount Vernon, WA
In Mr. Plait's essay, I think the very term "pseudoscience" implies an arrogance (no offense) that has the potential of relegating science to a select few and stifling creative thought. Science--i.e. scientific research, for the most part, uses empiricism as its criteria in proving or disproving certain theories. If something cannot be measured, then, by scientific reason, it does not exist. Isn't empiricism then, by its very nature, a primitive approach?
Debating is the cornerstone of science, as scientific theory only advances when former theories are proven wrong (either in totality or in part). Although perhaps some--maybe even many--of the individual theories he debunks are way off base. But even the most "way out" theories still deserve the right, by nature of freedom of thought, to be debated. To further discount these theories by assigning somewhat self-centered motivations to the theorists only accomplishes two things: #1-it denies the outrageous egos that are often found in some of the leading scientists of the world--motivated by first authorship in journal articles and is that really any different? and #2 - makes Mr. Plait guilty of his chief complaint in that he could fall in the class of...pseudopsychologist.
As a retired chemist formerly involved in environmental monitoring and analysis and having encountered many "environmentalists" who had an inexhaustible supply of false information I most certainly agree with Plait. That is especially true of his remarks about Richard Hoagland. I have never heard anyone who could use more words to say less than Hoagland can. I shudder to think of the hours wasted by NASA responding to his charges and remarks.
Thank you to Phil Plait for a great essay. I agree with Phil that debating the sides of an issue often solves nothing. Debating 'beliefs' is never productive, even if the facts/information/evidence presented by all parties are credible and well-researched.
The bottom line is: People will believe what they want to believe, regardless of evidence that may prove their beliefs correct or incorrect. Such is the nature of humanity when a person or people invests time, energy, money and ego (i.e. the need for publicity) in what they believe in. This is true in science, religion, sports...every facet of life. On the flip side, debating always has the potential for great radio and great entertainment, ESPECIALLY on C2CAM!!
To a point, I agree with Phil Plait. Where I diverge from what he is saying is in the basic determination as to who is really a pseudo scientist. In some cases, it is easy to determine if someone is offering pseudo science in place of hard science but sometimes it is not so evident.
When someone puts forth an idea that goes against established thinking it may be pseudo science or it may be a new and useful way at looking at a particular issue. Therefore, the very classification of a person as a pseudo scientist is itself a pseudo or arbitrary activity. Like Phil, I have my own bias either for or against a particular guest and/or some issue presented by that guest. However, short of devoting a great deal of time in doing my own research I have no way of knowing if some wild claim is based on pseudo science or may be a new paradigm that will gain acceptance. With this in mind, I believe that we must all be careful about judging who is a pseudo scientist and who is not.
I am a real scientist and I do "real work" in applied physics and system dynamics every day. Comparing Richard Hoagland or James McCanney with Nancy Lieder is an example of why you [Phil Plait] really won't debate. Whether you or I agree or disagree on science, Nancy's stuff is devoid of any real claim to abasis in science... but you can't go there with the others.
Science should be able to discuss and debate openly any hypothesis that follows some of the basic tenets of science irrespective of their credentials. I am curious about Richards or James' conclusions, but I don't dismiss them out of hand; I think they provoke and encourage "thinking out of the box." In your world, science has become a belief system and the only ideas that are debatable are the ones that fit within your agenda. You have an agenda...namely to promote your scientific belief system. I challenge you to debate either Richard or James.The real reason that science avoids the fringes is because of peer rejection and criticism. I invite you to review the works of Roger Penrose or read the recent comments of the James Wheeler. Both have only recently drifted to an exploration of the fringes because of their ages and it being in the sunset of their lives. Rupert Sheldrake takes heat all of the time for exploring a very fringe science; I think his work has tremendous implications; he takes heat and is attacked and insulted instead of being richly debated. Real science needs real debate; not positions and agendas!
There should be more people like Mike Heiser and Phil Plait. I'm glad thatthey've each had taken stands on telling the truth about Mesopotamian texts and real astronomy and physics. The real facts have enough enigma and surprises and there are plentiful topics in both history and science that should be reexamined and questioned.
Phil Plait's recent post, Debating Pseudoscientists, explaining why he doesn't want to bother formalizing a debate with Hoagland is obvious: it would truly be like digging a hole in water, as he put it. Also I'mglad that he is socially aware with a conscience, too. The Heaven's Gate scandal can be easily repeated in different forms and people can easily be mislead to make rash life decisions based on fears that Nancy Lieder and others propagate.
Hoagland, McCanney, Lieder and Sitchin are more palpable than real science and history scholars and they have created a new market since many people would rather support them than dig deeper into any of their topics. Afterall, this fringe region of Coast To Coast AM is still entertainment and it succeeds at being entertainment. It's entertaining to think and after all that's what the program catalyzes people to do. George Noory, Art Bell and Barbara Simpson and Coast definitely have a strong future and there will be many more guests with fringe-science topics in the years to come. Bravo Coast!
Palm Bay, FL
I assume that Phil Plait regards almost anything out of "the main stream", as pseudoscience. As those that try to think outside the box are obviously attention grabbing morons! Lets just say if we soon don't get more people that think outside the box we're in a he** of a lot of trouble. Thinking inside the box has gotten us into the current mess of resource shortages, that are tearing our "civilization" apart. I wonder why mainstream science refuses to even look at alternative energy with anything approaching supposed "scientific dispassion".
Also I might add the current state of affairs regarding space colonization is bogged down in 18th century physics and thinking. Where are the scientists that dream great dreams? Where are the L5 space island colonies that were a utopian concept until trashed by mainstream "practical scientists?" It's taken 30 years to even begin thinking about cheap earth to earth orbit delivery systems!!!!!!!! WHY??????? I think you might have an answer! But I wonder if Phil Plait would comment with any excuse but its 'pseudoscience' to consider the mass of the humanity living in orbital island habitats with internal conditions like that of Tahiti or Hawaii...What's wrong with thinking outside the box?
pseudoscience : A theory, methodology, or practice that is considered to be without scientific foundation.
If all science was known than what is the point of ABSTRACT Thought? Did not Isaac Newton first guess at gravity?Did not Galileo guess at a Sun-Centered universe?Were these scientists Pseudoscientists? Is not the ABSTRACT only the thought before reality? Without these brave individuals expanding and looking beyond, we may still be in an earth-centerd gravity-less world.Thank GOD for Pseudoscience.There will always be debunkers, but without guessing and theories we will never advance to the theory of everything. Aren't all theories still theories.Gravity is no longer a fact... we now have Dark Energy......Once again THANK GOD for intelligence that does not listen to KNOW IT ALLS.....No one has the right answers...... but expanding upon abstract theories can help all of humanity... TRUTH is always TRUTH...... Theories are still theories..... Facts are theories that are believed to be true......
Phil Plait is correct in refusing to debate pseudoscientists, while maintaining an option to do so when circumstances warrant. A false perception, per se, is not a problem. People have a right to believe what they wish, whether or not it is supported by classical science. And they have a right of assembly and free speech, affording opportunities to discuss their ideas, right or wrong.
When someone like Phil Plait intervenes, he is not solely motivated to correct falsehood.He *is* motivated to prevent the tragic consequences of these false beliefs, such as the Hale-Bopp suicides, the fraudulently inspired preparations for the return of Planet X, the wasteful and unnecessary expenditures appurtenant to Y2K, as well as many more claims that failed to ignite the emotions of C2C listeners, such as the third secret of Fatima as revealed by Father Charlie (an imminent bolide impact on Earth), alien probes from deep space (in which Richard Hoagland rather irresponsibly claimed that a Doppler shift proved intelligent control), and post-apocalyptic feelings maps showing the Pilgrim where to find dry land.
The purveyors of such nonsense are motivated by either money or psychosis. An approach based on Science - such as Phil Plait would put forth in a debate - would thus have no common ground with the mindset of his opposition. He would, in my opinion, find greater success in debating morality with a used car salesman than in debating science with a pseudoscientist. Such debates fail miserably, and wallow in detail, because the participants are entirely at cross-purposes.
I must admit to enjoying the essay. But mostly because each of his complaints regarding the 'pseudoscientists' are the very same complaints I have about the 'scientists'.......mmmmmmm.....maybe we ALL have a bit to learn yet...? Nothing closes the mind like having a 'point of view' that you feel needs defending.....except of course having a point of view you know doesn't need defending.
The problem with debunkers is that they always look for a flaw or an error, and then, based on that, declare the whole thing to be nonsense. When you are pioneering a field of endeavor, you are going to make mistakes. That doesn't mean the endeavor is worthless. It simply means we need more data. At least people like Hoagland are willing to go out on a limb in search of the truth, rather than make sweeping statements about what can or can not be, without even doing the investigation. I remain 100% in support of Mr. Hoagland, flaws and all, because of his passion and his desire for the truth, in spite of social stigma and forces working against disclosure.