Science, pop-science and religion.

Reply Thu 14 Mar, 2013 06:37 am
Science is a rigorous discipline. Things must be well-defined to be considered. Things need to be objectively testable to be accepted as fact. As soon as anyone shows a reproducible way to show a theory false, it is discarded or modified. This is why science is useful in explaining how our universe works and making predictions about how it will react for actions we take. This is why we are able to create the technology on top of science that we all find so useful.

We use math in science, for an important reason. Math defines relationships between things in a precise, non-ambiguous way. English or French or Swahili are malleable, a word can have many meanings. These languages are very good at expressing words and emotions but they lack the precision needed for objectively testable facts of science.

This causes a problem. Scientists who work in Math have to explain their very complex work to a world of people who haven't had the 10-15 years of deep study in mathematics. Scientists (who aren't necessarily good at expressing themselves in English) have to take these very complex ideas and make them interesting. Add to this the need for them to upsell their work to get funding, and you have some very misleading words coming from scientists about their work.

Of course this isn't a problem scientifically. The scientists job is to communicate his work to other scientists in the language of science. If a scientists is honest in the papers he publish, then he has done his job. Of course these papers are generally very math-heavy and inaccessible to most of general society.

But sloppiness in trying to explain simply what they do leads to real misunderstanding by overeager members of the public.

I am writing this thread because of a pet peeve of mine. These throw-away lines from scientists, that scientists have said as a of over-simplification of a scientific principle, are being used to support philosophy. Of course that is bogus. The science is the mathematical relation that we can test objectively. It isn't a vague philosophical idea that can be plopped into an ideology.

The biggest examples I have come across of things are the Second law of thermodynamics and Relativity.
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Reply Thu 14 Mar, 2013 06:48 am
Exhibit 1.

This is Michio Kaku, he scientifically trained. He is also has earned the disdain of much of the scientific community for crazy ideas that he passes as science. The crazy are OK as long as he presents them as speculation rather than fact. He seems to do a bad job of distinguishing them.

Someone who has studied thermodynamics would know that the second law of thermodynamics is accepted as fact because it was objectively tested. If anyone can come up with a way to show an experiment that didn't follow the second law, it would upend physics. We would have to modify (or discard) the law.

Mr. Kaku makes at least one claim that is clearly false when he claims that aging cells is a result of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I can prove this bogus by showing you cells that don't age (since the 2nd law applies to everything). The rest of the claims are simple models of the 2nd law (certainly related), and he mixes the classical thermodynamics with statistical mechanics, but without the mathematical foundation it is gobbletygook.

This video is a gross over-simplification. It has to be. Thermodynamics is mathematical and mathematics is boring.

So I get what Mr. Kaku is doing. He has become a television star and has money to be made by making things interesting. Giving people an accurate understanding doesn't seem to be the most important thing for him.

What is annoying is that people then take these words (which are a loose derivation of the math) and use them as part of their philosophy of life in a way that the actual math doesn't justify.
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Reply Thu 14 Mar, 2013 07:26 am
The coffee example for the second law of thermodynamics is a pretty bad one. I understand what it is used for, similar examples are used as a thought experiment in physics classrooms to introduce statistical mechanics (the idea being that statistical methods can explain classical thermodynamics).

But the simplistic way it is being used here is clearly bogus. If I leave the coffee for some period of time, and the milk forms itself into little balls that float on top of the coffee, I will not consider that a violation of the second law (and I have witnessed that happen myself).
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Reply Thu 14 Mar, 2013 07:39 am
You can't get away from the 'axiom' problem... or is it not a problem?
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