I think popular science is ruining science

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  • #26
SpaceTiger
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-Job- said:
I think you misunderstood. I was saying that IMO it's all right for people to start physics with popular literature as long as they take it farther and go past the stage of speculation.
You're right, my mistake.


Ivan Seeking said:
In fact, although driven as much by practical concerns as anything else, I think PF has gone too far in this respect. I believe that there has always been a role for math-free, dreamy inspiration, for young, soon to be scientists. In fact I have wondered what the result of this will be; that is, the social and intellectual impact that the internet now has on the world of science.
PF is very fact-driven. Given the medium, I think it was inevitable that it would turn out this way. For an academic, being right is like the ultimate status symbol, so many posts turn into a banter about the details of a particular point. This is not so good if you're looking to be inspired, but it's an excellent place to go if you're looking for the hard facts. I suspect this type of competition is exactly what makes the scientific method so successful in the first place.

I think PF fills a niche that can be useful to professionals and amateurs alike, but it would be unfortunate if we actually discouraged many of the dreamier folks. I suppose that's why we have moderators like yourself to keep people in line. :biggrin:
 
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  • #27
turbo
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Ivan Seeking said:
Many young people now seem immersed in an analytic, sterile, deductive cynicism that was once reserved for older people. And dreamers do play an important role in science.
Thank you! Unquestioning acceptance of long-held and long-taught beliefs is very unhealthy. Rote learning does not encourage independent evaluation and reaffirmation of old ideas, and there is a real danger in telling kids "You've got to learn all this 'by the book' until you get to this level, and then maybe you can contribute something." The danger, in the vernacular, is "If you keep doing what you've been doing, you're going to keep getting what you've got." Every once in a while, we have to review long-held beliefs and see if they are supportable, or if perhaps they were once useful, but perhaps not set in stone.

http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-58/iss-12/p34.html [Broken]

And look at the bottom of this page for Einstein's thoughts on epistemology, as a memorium to Ernst Mach.
http://open-site.org/Science/Physics/Modern/
 
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  • #28
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turbo-1 said:
Rote learning does not encourage independent evaluation and reaffirmation of old ideas, and there is a real danger in telling kids "You've got to learn all this 'by the book' until you get to this level, and then maybe you can contribute something." The danger, in the vernacular, is "If you keep doing what you've been doing, you're going to keep getting what you've got." Every once in a while, we have to review long-held beliefs and see if they are supportable, or if perhaps they were once useful, but perhaps not set in stone.
How does one review long-held beliefs without first understanding them? A "dreamer" is not necessarily lazy or uneducated in mainstream science. If one wishes to challenge the establishment, they should first learn how it works. That means, basically, learning things "by the book" until you have a deep enough understanding to challenge it. Trying to do so before you have this understanding is simply a waste of everyone's time.

I fully agree with what Einstein says in the links you give, but I certainly don't see him as advocating uneducated speculation. Quite the opposite, in fact, I read it as a request that scientists learn more about the theories they propose. Specifically, understanding and questioning the philosophical underpinnings of a theory can guide one in testing, modifying, or extending it.
 
  • #29
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Ivan Seeking said:
My first Chem professor believed that some pop science books allows real scientists to exchange and explore new ideas - that this has replaced the fireside cigar and brandy.
I am more of a beer and frisbee with Mexcian food at the beach person, although a nice dinner followed by some nice single malt Scotch, say an 18 or 25 yr old Macallan and 10 or 15 yr Glenmorangie, would be excellent! :biggrin:

Perhaps some young folk may seem immersed in an analytic, sterile, deductive cynicism, but I don't think that is necessarily the case.

When I was in grade school, besides reading encyclopedias for fun, I read real science books devoted to topics in physics and mathematics. I seem to remember one equation on general relativity, which I probably read when I was 10-11, and rather than be initimidated by it, I was inspired to try to understand it, and that meant learning calculus. Unfortunately, no one around me could help, not my parents and not my high school teachers. I finally got to study calculus in grade 12, but I had wasted a lot of time by then. I also read texts on cosmology, astrophysics, particle physics, plasma physics, etc., but I had no guidance.

I also read biographies of physicists, many of whom were Nobel prize winners, and I was inspired by their curiosity and tenacity at tackling problems.

By the time I finished high school, I found pop sci literature rather irritating.
 
  • #30
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SpaceTiger said:
How does one review long-held beliefs without first understanding them? A "dreamer" is not necessarily lazy or uneducated in mainstream science. If one wishes to challenge the establishment, they should first learn how it works. That means, basically, learning things "by the book" until you have a deep enough understanding to challenge it. Trying to do so before you have this understanding is simply a waste of everyone's time.

I fully agree with what Einstein says in the links you give, but I certainly don't see him as advocating uneducated speculation. Quite the opposite, in fact, I read it as a request that scientists learn more about the theories they propose. Specifically, understanding and questioning the philosophical underpinnings of a theory can guide one in testing, modifying, or extending it.
Hear, hear! Exactly!

One needs to understand the fundamentals in order to move in the right direction and to move the state-of-the-art ahead.

One of the biggest challenges in engineering and applied science/physics is pushing the limits, working within the 'natural' constraints.

One can be a very practical realist, yet also be a dreamer.
 
  • #31
turbo
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SpaceTiger said:
How does one review long-held beliefs without first understanding them? A "dreamer" is not necessarily lazy or uneducated in mainstream science.
I did not suggest that anybody who is imaginative is lazy or uneducated. Why did you say that?

space tiger said:
If one wishes to challenge the establishment, they should first learn how it works. That means, basically, learning things "by the book" until you have a deep enough understanding to challenge it. Trying to do so before you have this understanding is simply a waste of everyone's time.
Really! Where do you draw the line? Do you insist that everybody accept everything positied by Maxwell, or everything posited by Mach, or everything posited by Einstein, or are there some evolutionary branches that you might be willing to lay open to interpretation?

space tiger said:
I fully agree with what Einstein says in the links you give, but I certainly don't see him as advocating uneducated speculation. Quite the opposite, in fact, I read it as a request that scientists learn more about the theories they propose. Specifically, understanding and questioning the philosophical underpinnings of a theory can guide one in testing, modifying, or extending it.
"Uneducated speculation"? Are you willing to admit that someone outside conventional cosmology might have a clue about what is driving the universe?
 
  • #32
Evo
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turbo-1 said:
Really! Where do you draw the line? Do you insist that everybody accept everything positied by Maxwell, or everything posited by Mach, or everything posited by Einstein, or are there some evolutionary branches that you might be willing to lay open to interpretation?
I think you are over-reacting to what Space Tiger said. He said
Space Tiger said:
If one wishes to challenge the establishment, they should first learn how it works. That means, basically, learning things "by the book" until you have a deep enough understanding to challenge it. Trying to do so before you have this understanding is simply a waste of everyone's time.
How do you jump to your conclusion that he suggested "that everybody accept everything positied by Maxwell, or everything posited by Mach, or everything posited by Einstein"? I don't see that.

"Uneducated speculation"? Are you willing to admit that someone outside conventional cosmology might have a clue about what is driving the universe?
Again, you are not listening to what he said
Space Tiger said:
Specifically, understanding and questioning the philosophical underpinnings of a theory can guide one in testing, modifying, or extending it.
I love cosmology and perhaps I know the secrets of the universe, however, with nothing more than a casual knowledge of the subject, the likelihood of me guessing correctly is "astronomical". :wink:
 
  • #33
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turbo-1 said:
I did not suggest that anybody who is imaginative is lazy or uneducated. Why did you say that?
You said:

turbo-1 said:
...there is a real danger in telling kids "You've got to learn all this 'by the book' until you get to this level, and then maybe you can contribute something."
Not learning what the books have to say would seem to be the definition of "uneducated".


Really! Where do you draw the line? Do you insist that everybody accept everything positied by Maxwell, or everything posited by Mach, or everything posited by Einstein, or are there some evolutionary branches that you might be willing to lay open to interpretation?
Nothing in the passage you quoted made reference to acceptance of past theory, only to understanding of it.


"Uneducated speculation"? Are you willing to admit that someone outside conventional cosmology might have a clue about what is driving the universe?
That depends on what you mean by "outside of conventional cosmology". If you mean they haven't learned anything about conventional cosmology, then they almost certainly don't have a clue. If they've learned it (and understand it) but have alternate theories about the universe, then that would seem to be exactly the kind of dreamer both myself and Einstein are supporting.

In my experience, the majority of "alternate theories" come from people who don't understand the conventional ones. If someone demonstrates that they do indeed have a thorough understanding of mainstream theory, then I will lend an ear. The nice thing about going through the traditional academic route is that one doesn't have to do much convincing. By getting a degree and a good job, they've already validated themselves.
 
  • #34
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Evo said:
...I love cosmology and perhaps I know the secrets of the universe, however, with nothing more than a casual knowledge of the subject, the likelihood of me guessing correctly is "astronomical". :wink:
Exactly. Thank you, Evo. :smile:

I just don't like the idea of treating scientific theories as a matter of preference. If one gets the idea to challenge the establishment before they learn about it, then I would wonder about the basis of their objection. If the basis for it was a matter of preference, philosophical prejudice, or personal vendetta, then from the scientific point of view, they really would be guessing.
 
  • #35
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SpaceTiger said:
How does one review long-held beliefs without first understanding them? A "dreamer" is not necessarily lazy or uneducated in mainstream science. If one wishes to challenge the establishment, they should first learn how it works. That means, basically, learning things "by the book" until you have a deep enough understanding to challenge it. Trying to do so before you have this understanding is simply a waste of everyone's time.
Exactly. If you don't understand what someone has said, you aren't in a position to know if you agree or disagree with them. There's no point in trying to dream up improvements to physics untill you have a solid understanding of where and why improvements might be warranted.
 
  • #36
Pengwuino
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Finally, one of my babies has grown into an adult thread :)
 
  • #37
Aether
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SpaceTiger said:
How does one review long-held beliefs without first understanding them? A "dreamer" is not necessarily lazy or uneducated in mainstream science. If one wishes to challenge the establishment, they should first learn how it works. That means, basically, learning things "by the book" until you have a deep enough understanding to challenge it. Trying to do so before you have this understanding is simply a waste of everyone's time...That depends on what you mean by "outside of conventional cosmology". If you mean they haven't learned anything about conventional cosmology, then they almost certainly don't have a clue. If they've learned it (and understand it) but have alternate theories about the universe, then that would seem to be exactly the kind of dreamer both myself and Einstein are supporting...In my experience, the majority of "alternate theories" come from people who don't understand the conventional ones. If someone demonstrates that they do indeed have a thorough understanding of mainstream theory, then I will lend an ear. The nice thing about going through the traditional academic route is that one doesn't have to do much convincing. By getting a degree and a good job, they've already validated themselves....I just don't like the idea of treating scientific theories as a matter of preference. If one gets the idea to challenge the establishment before they learn about it, then I would wonder about the basis of their objection. If the basis for it was a matter of preference, philosophical prejudice, or personal vendetta, then from the scientific point of view, they really would be guessing.
This sounds biased toward incrementalism. What if a new cosmological theory originates from someone "working" at a particle accelerator? They may not start out with much knowledge of conventional cosmology at all, but they have an equation that works within their lab and they want to extrapolate it to primordial nucleosynthesis, for example. If what you mean by "challenge the establishment" is a formal and public challenge, then I agree that it is better if one comes to an understanding of what they are talking about first. Otherwise, people have to be generally free to explore in the mean time.
 
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  • #38
ZapperZ
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Aether said:
This sounds biased toward incrementalism. What if a new cosmological theory originates from someone "working" at a particle accelerator? They may not start out with much knowledge of conventional cosmology at all, but they have an equation that works within their lab and they want to extrapolate it to primordial nucleosynthesis, for example. If what you mean by "challenge the establishment" is a formal and public challenge, then I agree that it is better if one comes to an understanding of what they are talking about first. Otherwise, people have to be generally free to explore in the mean time.
But in my experience, when another physicist tries to make a contribution into another field other than his own expertise, it is usually done very respectfully. This means that that person already has done his/her homework in that area, and that the area that he is doing research in already has a built in overlap. Cosmology IS already done in particle collider experiments and theory. Lisa Randall, for example, does cosmology, particle physics, and string theory. And Bob Laughlin has published papers regarding emergent phenomena of elementary particles and cosmology. No one would walk up to either of them and say "Hey look, you only read pop-science books on cosmology. Why don't you do your homework first before sticking your noses into this?"

That, to me, is the major difference between professionals in this field making incursions into another area, versus that done by amateurs. We respect the field and each other areas way to much to do things out of ignorance, and we also spent almost a lifetime building our own reputation to be taken seriously by our peers. It doesn't take much to ruin that.

Zz.
 
  • #39
Aether
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ZapperZ said:
Cosmology IS already done in particle collider experiments and theory.
Yes, and the folks at Argonne National Lab (ANL) just happen to be the ones who generated the "standard code" for primordial nucleosythesis; way to go ANL!

ZapperZ said:
No one would walk up to either of them and say "Hey look, you only read pop-science books on cosmology. Why don't you do your homework first before sticking your noses into this?"...That, to me, is the major difference between professionals in this field making incursions into another area, versus that done by amateurs.
I'm not defending anyone who is armed only with pop-science books on cosmology.

ZapperZ said:
We respect the field and each other areas way to much to do things out of ignorance...
Do what "things" out of ignorance? Think? Motivated exploration?
 
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  • #41
turbo
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SpaceTiger said:
Not learning what the books have to say would seem to be the definition of "uneducated".
Not true. The ability to read the books and spout the contents of such on demand does not demonstrate an understanding of the material. Such a student may be "educated" by your standards, but memorization and obedient acceptance is rather antithetical to the goals of science.
Space Tiger said:
That depends on what you mean by "outside of conventional cosmology". If you mean they haven't learned anything about conventional cosmology, then they almost certainly don't have a clue.
Right now, conventional cosmology requires you to believe six impossible things before breakfast every day (thanks to L.C.). If you think that one must become an expert in that arcane puzzle factory before questioning its validity, you are missing the point of epistemology entirely. When a theory becomes very complex, highly constrained, and requires lots of fine-tuning, that should be a sign that there are some problems. When the problems stretch back for decades (like DM), that is a sign that flaws in the theory predate the discovery of the problem, and that the resolution of the problem requires re-examination of earlier assumptions.

Space Tiger said:
In my experience, the majority of "alternate theories" come from people who don't understand the conventional ones. If someone demonstrates that they do indeed have a thorough understanding of mainstream theory, then I will lend an ear. The nice thing about going through the traditional academic route is that one doesn't have to do much convincing. By getting a degree and a good job, they've already validated themselves.
Ah, yes - pay your dues, learn the secret handshake, cross Pons Asinorum, and then you are qualified to have an original thought. :yuck: Have you reviewed the history of the sciences? If you have, you know that breakthroughs have come from all quarters, and from people with a wide variety of backgrounds. It is probably convenient to dismiss out-of-hand any ideas that come from someone out of the mainstream, but you might miss some good opportunities to learn something that way. Even proving an idea wrong can give you a better understanding of what is likely to be right.
 
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  • #42
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Pengwuino said:
Finally, one of my babies has grown into an adult thread :)
Ahh, the cockroach approach. Lay a billion eggs and hopefully one of them will actually survive
 
  • #43
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Aether said:
Yes, and the folks at Argonne National Lab (ANL) just happen to be the ones who generated the "standard code" for primordial nucleosythesis; way to go ANL!
I don't see what is the relevance of this thing to the thread.

I'm not defending anyone who is armed only with pop-science books on cosmology.
No, but your question on some particle physicist doing cosmology and starting out not having "... much knowledge on conventional cosmology..." seems to make comparison with everyone else who also do not have such knowlege - that, after all, is the original premise of the OP, no? I make a distinction between those two camps and say that there IS a difference in approach and respect, even if that particle physicsts didn't start off being a cosmologist. And we're ignoring the fact here that many aspect of physics are interrelated and have explicit connection.

Do what "things" out of ignorance? Think? Motivated exploration?
No, doing work in another field of study.

Zz.
 
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  • #44
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Popular science books are not ruining anything. They give enjoyment to everyday people and they let people get a better understanding of the world around them. So what if they don't have the math, Joe Blow isn't going to be working on a unification theory in his spare time anyway. Most pop sci books are at least giving a true version of theory even if they don't give the entire story. My grade school science classes didn't stimulate me into learning more nearly as much as Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps.
 
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  • #45
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turbo-1 said:
Not true. The ability to read the books and spout the contents of such on demand does not demonstrate an understanding of the material. Such a student may be "educated" by your standards, but memorization and obedient acceptance is rather antithetical to the goals of science.
SpaceTiger said someone needs to learn the material. That's quite different from rote memorization and regurgitation of material. He has also stated already that understanding is NOT the same thing as acceptance. As others have pointed out, if you do not know what the current theory really says, and understand it fully, how do you know where the problems are in it to challenge it?

Right now, conventional cosmology requires you to believe six impossible things before breakfast every day (thanks to L.C.). If you think that one must become an expert in that arcane puzzle factory before questioning its validity, you are missing the point of epistemology entirely. When a theory becomes very complex, highly constrained, and requires lots of fine-tuning, that should be a sign that there are some problems. When the problems stretch back for decades (like DM), that is a sign that flaws in the theory predate the discovery of the problem, and that the resolution of the problem requires re-examination of earlier assumptions.
Well, I know nothing of cosmology, but if what you say is true, then understanding those assumptions is what gives you the power to question them. If you don't understand them, how do you know to go back and re-examine them?

Ah, yes - pay your dues, learn the secret handshake, cross Pons Asinorum, and then you are qualified to have an original thought. :yuck: Have you reviewed the history of the sciences? If you have, you know that breakthroughs have come from all quarters, and from people with a wide variety of backgrounds. It is probably convenient to dismiss out-of-hand any ideas that come from someone out of the mainstream, but you might miss some good opportunities to learn something that way. Even proving an idea wrong can give you a better understanding of what is likely to be right.
Why are you so bitter here? SpaceTiger didn't say anything to indicate formal education was the ONLY way to reach that goal, just that it makes it easier to gain acceptance because you've already gone through a documented process to show you really have learned what you needed to learn. If you haven't taken that route, then you're going to need to put more effort into proving yourself. It doesn't mean you can't learn a theory well enough to challenge it, it just means you're probably going to take a lot more time to do it and will have to spend more time convincing others you have the necessary background to propose what you do.
 
  • #46
Aether
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ZapperZ said:
I don't see what is the relevance of this thing to the thread.
It is only relevant because I gave an example of "cosmological theory originates from someone "working" at a particle accelerator", and "they have an equation that works within their lab and they want to extrapolate it to primordial nucleosynthesis", and then you (an employee of ANL) said "Cosmology IS already done in particle collider experiments and theory". That was simply meant as a pat on the back to the good folks at ANL, but I'll have to take it back anyway (sorry)...I just checked and it was Fermilab not ANL.

ZapperZ said:
No, but your question on some particle physicist doing cosmology and starting out not having "... much knowledge on conventional cosmology..." seems to make comparison with everyone else who also do not have such knowlege - that, after all, is the original premise of the OP, no?
Cosmology probably intersects every other discipline at some point, and it's OK if someone having skills in a different area approaches cosmology from such an intersection.

ZapperZ said:
I make a distinction between those two camps and say that there IS a difference in approach and respect, even if that particle physicsts didn't start off being a cosmologist. And we're ignoring the fact here that many aspect of physics are interrelated and have explicit connection.
"Those two camps" being: 1) those skilled in something/anything which intersects cosmology, and 2) those skilled in nothing (yet)?

ZapperZ said:
No, doing work in another field of study.
Do you mean trying to publish something in another field of study? If/when your work/skills intersect another field of study, then surely you're entitled to pursue that wherever it might lead.
 
  • #47
Astronuc
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Before anyone posts anything else - please reflect on what Evo and Moonbear have mentioned.

Also, I think Integral put it succinctly
In Pop Sci books you learn ABOUT physics. This is not the same as learning Physics, which must be done in a real physics text.
I wouldn't say that Pop Sci books/literature has 'ruined' science, because science and the scientific method are what they are, regardless of what anyone 'believes'.

In my profession, having gone through the basics, and having done loads of calculations and analyses, I know where the holes are - and there are a lot. But people inside and outside the nuclear industry have either lofty ideas about nuclear energy, or quite the opposite, skepticism and even deep cynicism. I find that somewhat frustrating - but I don't let that ruin it for me.
I love what I do! :tongue2:
 
  • #48
ZapperZ
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Aether said:
It is only relevant because I gave an example of "cosmological theory originates from someone "working" at a particle accelerator", and "they have an equation that works within their lab and they want to extrapolate it to primordial nucleosynthesis", and then you (an employee of ANL) said "Cosmology IS already done in particle collider experiments and theory". That was simply meant as a pat on the back to the good folks at ANL, but I'll have to take it back anyway (sorry)...I just checked and it was Fermilab not ANL.
1. ANL is a multi-displinary laboratory. It has a particle accelerator, but no particle collider. So someone from here involving in astrophysics and cosmology is not unusual. In fact, we have frequent seminars on cosmology in just my division alone.

2. It has a large portion of the high-energy physics division member that do work at Fermilab

3. It is run by U. of Chicago, and many of its scientists having adjunct position as faculty members there. And I'm you know that U of C is THE top school in astrophysics and cosmology - the legacy of David Schram.

4. And this is my pet peeve, particle accelerator is not equal to particle collider. I work at a particle accelerator, but we get no where near anything resembling cosmology. Particle collider are what high energy physicists use.

Cosmology probably intersects every other discipline at some point, and it's OK if someone having skills in a different area approaches cosmology from such an intersection.
"Those two camps" being: 1) those skilled in something/anything which intersects cosmology, and 2) those skilled in nothing (yet)?
Do you mean trying to publish something in another field of study? If/when your work/skills intersect another field of study, then surely you're entitled to pursue that wherever it might lead.
I don't think I've said anything to the contrary. However, if I am trying to contribute something that I think is "new", then I must first go look at the literature on the subject matter and verify that (i) no one has done it already (ii) it is something silly (iii) it isn't something "important" (remember, just because something is interesting, doesn't mean it is important) and (iv) it hasn't been falsified.

In other words, *I* have to do my own homework! I will have to scour through the literature, talk to people who are expert in the field, etc... etc. I don't just read pop-science books, or even intro text books to accomplish this!

I come from a condensed matter background, and about 3 years ago, I was hired but in a different field of study - accelerator physics. I spend almost 2 years catching up on it, studying stuff that I need to know in this new field, and even attending a couple of accelerator physics schools that is offered all over the place periodically. So *I* am living through the very thing most people simply describe via analogy or speculation. I know what it takes for someone from a different background to make a meaningful contribution in another field. This isn't a theory for me. It is real life. And I will state without hesitation that if someone wish to not look silly, it is imperative to put in the effort to understand the subject matter first before trying to sell something.

Zz.
 
  • #49
Aether
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ZapperZ said:
However, if I am trying to contribute something that I think is "new", then I must first go look at the literature on the subject matter and verify that (i) no one has done it already (ii) it is something silly (iii) it isn't something "important" (remember, just because something is interesting, doesn't mean it is important) and (iv) it hasn't been falsified.
In other words, *I* have to do my own homework! I will have to scour through the literature, talk to people who are expert in the field, etc... etc. I don't just read pop-science books, or even intro text books to accomplish this!
Yes, but even before you would ever get to steps (i-iv) there would have to be some incubation period within your own mind during which you would try to gather together every conceivably relevant notion (to be sorted through in due time). Nevertheless, I'm only talking about science, not pop-science.

ZapperZ said:
I know what it takes for someone from a different background to make a meaningful contribution in another field. This isn't a theory for me. It is real life. And I will state without hesitation that if someone wish to not look silly, it is imperative to put in the effort to understand the subject matter first before trying to sell something.
OK, but you seem to be only talking about the "back-end" of the scientific process where someone steps up to a microphone to tell everyone like it is. I'm thinking of the entire process from start to finish.
 
  • #50
turbo
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tribdog said:
Popular science books are not ruining anything. They give enjoyment to everyday people and they let people get a better understanding of the world around them. So what if they don't have the math, Joe Blow isn't going to be working on a unification theory in his spare time anyway. Most pop sci books are at least giving a true version of theory even if they don't give the entire story. My grade school science classes didn't stimulate me into learning more nearly as much as Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps.
True, and books by Paul Davies, James Gleick, and other talented authors may inspire people to dig much deeper once they appreciate the sense of wonder that the authors have regarding their subjects.
 
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