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Is Physics Junk Science?

  1. Oct 10, 2011 #1
    Some might find this question absurd but, as someone who knows next to nothing about physics, I am basing my question on various internet discussions that I've read. I get the impression that some physicists (a small minority, perhaps?) on the experimental side of the discipline have called in to question the validity of much of theoretical physics. Maybe that seems obvious but, again, I know little about Physics.

    It seems as if the theorist concerns himself with constructing models that-- while logically consistent--can not be subject to falsification. I.e., he's potentially dealing with imaginary phenomena.

    Is this an accurate description of the field?
     
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  3. Oct 10, 2011 #2

    Ivan Seeking

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    No, in fact, by definition, just the opposite. If a theory isn't falsifiable, it isn't a scientific theory.
     
  4. Oct 10, 2011 #3

    phinds

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    When you get your information from the internet, your brain becomes subject to the old computer systems adage "garbage in, garbage out"
     
  5. Oct 10, 2011 #4

    ZapperZ

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    You would like an accurate description of the field, yet you never gave us an accurate SOURCE to deal with. What if what you read was wrong, or what you interpreted was wrong, of what if you read a source that is unreliable? If any of this is true, then the whole point of your topic is moot, and carrying any further discussion on a non-existent issue is an utter waste of time.

    While you try to digest that, try to digest this: the LARGEST division of practicing physicists is in the field of condensed matter/material science. This is the area of physics in which your iPod, your laptops, your iPad, etc.. etc all came from. This area consists of both theoretical and experimental. In other words, if you randomly grab a physicist, there's a very high probability that you would find someone in this field, rather than in a field in which the models "... can not be subject to falsification.."

    So how is it that the work of a very small section of physics somehow can be generalized throughout all of physics, so much so that you think it is fair to have a title of a thread labeling physics as "Junk Science"?

    There are several examples of very weird logic going on in here.

    Zz.
     
  6. Oct 10, 2011 #5

    Ivan Seeking

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    Zapper, what area of physics is not subject to falsification? Are you referring to String [M-] Theorists?

    Are you suggesting that some areas of research in physics are not scientific?
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2011
  7. Oct 10, 2011 #6
    Everyone misunderstood.

    So take a look at this blog post from scientific american, which better articulates what I was asking. The blogger is not a physicist but he raises some interesting questions:

    Science “faction”: Is theoretical physics becoming “softer” than anthropology?

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Two recent science stories, one in anthropology and the other in physics, have me wondering which field is "hard" and which "soft."

    The first story involves the decision of the American Anthropological Association​ to delete the word "science" from its mission statement. ... [In the physics story] Roger Penrose​ and V. G. Gurzadyan recently proposed that minute ripples in the cosmic microwave background—the afterglow of the big bang—originated from the collision of monster black holes in another universe that preceded our cosmos, and may have spawned it; moreover, our universe might be just one of an infinite series spawned by such cataclysms.

    I call this highly speculative theorizing "ironic science," because it makes assertions that are more akin to literary criticism or even literature than conventional science.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com...al-physics-becoming-softer-than-anthropology/

    Is he wrong? If so, then why?

    A more detailed assessment of the issue can be found in Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 12, 2011
  8. Oct 11, 2011 #7

    Drakkith

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    The beauty of science is that you can make theories using only math and current observations. These theories, since they cannot be proven or disproven yet, inherently occupy a position where they aren't taken too seriously. The "accepted" theories in science all have at least some way to verify parts of them. Others are assumed to be correct due to the math, but are awaiting actual verification before being given the green light. An example of that is Stephen Hawking's theory on Black Hole Hawking Radiation. To my knowledge it has not been observed, so while it is widely accepted as true, it technically isn't yet. My suggestion is to just take it with a grain of salt for now.
     
  9. Oct 11, 2011 #8


    The article on SA describes an alarming tendency in some fields of physics, but don't confuse tendency with what it is now. If you changed you title to "Will physics be a junk science", at least fewer people would be pissed off. Moreover, "soft" science is not junk science.

    I don't know about the 2nd article you refered to, but I think the SA article was intended as a warning to professionals in the related field, not a total outsider.
     
  10. Oct 12, 2011 #9
    The Scientific American article refers to Penrose's Cyclic universe ideas. Speculative:Yes. Untestable:No. In fact the article says how it can be tested, by looking at the structure of the CMB. It might be some decades before this is remotely possible, but so what.

    Here's a falsifiable prediction: that article was written by John Horgan (I'll leave it to someone else to do the experiment and click through to it to tell me whether I'm right). He's the only person I know who uses the term 'ironic science', and my feeling is that most of what he writes is nonsense.

    The Trouble with Physics is more a criticism that one area, String Theory, is excluding other approaches to fundamental physics when there are no objective reasons to prefer it over the alternatives.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2011
  11. Oct 12, 2011 #10

    Astronuc

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    It wasn't a misunderstanding on the readers' part. The thread title refers to 'Physics', which is rather general, whereas the SciAm article refers to a small portion of the field, theoretical physics. Thus the question was ill posed.
     
  12. Oct 12, 2011 #11

    ZapperZ

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    There is also a fallacy that "theoretical physics" seems to ONLY refer to String, Supersymmetry, elementary particles, etc.. etc., i.e. all the "exotica" that seems be in popular media. Yet, Phil Anderson, Bob Laughlin, John Bardeen are all theorists and have produced important theoretical physics work in condensed matter physics. And if anyone does not think that the theory coming out of condensed matter is significant and fundamental, then I challenge you to find the origin of the Higgs mechanism and all those broken symmetry principles.

    Cosmology, String theory, etc. do NOT have a monopoly on theoretical physics. People just THINK they do.

    Zz.
     
  13. Oct 13, 2011 #12
    I wish you could spare a minute, Ivan, and take a look at FAQs in 'cosmology'. Could you tell me how many propositions, claims, assertions there are falsifiable?
     
  14. Oct 13, 2011 #13

    Drakkith

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    All of them should be if you show the underlying theory to be incorrect or if you show that observations don't match predictions.
     
  15. Oct 13, 2011 #14

    phinds

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    ANY theory that is accepted as correct by the scientific community by definition falsibiable. Why do you think otherwise?
     
  16. Oct 13, 2011 #15
    that is an assumption.
    I asked a precise question. I expect a precise answer.
    If you wish to qualify your answer, please consider that ".. it is accepted..." is an informal fallacy. Please consider also the epistemological premise of the issue: BB is not cosmology but cosmogony, and deals with a one-off event.
     
  17. Oct 13, 2011 #16

    phinds

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    I'm not sure what you're saying. Are you saying that it is an assumption that scientific theories (that is, ones that are generally accepted by the scientific community) are falsifiable? If so, then I'd say you have a fundamental misunderstanding. There certainly are theories that have not BEEN falsified, but if a theory is not falsifiable, then it is NOT science, it is theology. Do you disagree with this point of view?
     
  18. Oct 13, 2011 #17

    DaveC426913

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    That is neither a theory nor an assertion; it is an hypothesis.

    It is a proposed mechanism, one which has yet to be tested and shored up with evidence, or falsified.

    That is the scientific method.
     
  19. Oct 13, 2011 #18
    [bold added]
    the assumption is in bold, nothing else, please do not make [false] assumptions about what I think. I would like only to understand.
    I expect answers to my question, not questions about my opinions. I'll express opinions about the answers
     
  20. Oct 13, 2011 #19

    Ryan_m_b

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    By definition a scientific theory is falsifiable so your statement makes no sense. If you want a specific answer why not give us a specific question. What scientific theories do you think are unfalsifiable? In the cosmology FAQ there is nothing that fits that bill.
     
  21. Oct 13, 2011 #20
    could you, please, bold the statement that makes no sense and give an argument. Does that so mean "ergo", this implies that... ?. Is that the argument that proves [] makes no sense?
    your statement in bold is true, what does it prove? how do you falsify a scientific theory?
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2011
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