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Pathological sciences

  1. Apr 6, 2013 #1
    I got curious about pathological science.

    Here's Irving Langmuir's account of the Davis-Barnes effect.


    So ultimately, was Barnes being very delusional and thus always believing that he obtained positive results?

    Did the same thing happen to Fleischmann and Pons with regards to cold fusion? They deluded themselves into believing they had achieved something?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2013 #2
    I've seen this sort of thing myself. I was supposed to help someone with image analysis. I couldn't see the effect they were trying to detect. I programmed a computer to detect the effect and that didn't work either. So I gave up.

    About Fl and Pons I don't know, and the whole thing was such a mess that I'll never look into it. I do know that Nobel Prize winner Julian Schwinger supported them, much to his detriment. I very much doubt that they got fusion -- that's just too weird -- but they might have discovered some interesting effect.
  4. Apr 6, 2013 #3
    Those people you were helping, they just lost their heads and kept on believing in their discovery?

    I find it a very bizarre, fascinating psychological phenomenon.
  5. Apr 6, 2013 #4
    They wanted to see it, so they did. It is rather common. They weren't crazy or anything like that. They wanted to see these irregular circles as slightly elliptical, so they did. I didn't make a big deal out of it, just quietly folded my tent and left. After all, it was possible that someone else could do it, but that never happened. The human eye is a very good pattern detector, so if a human can't see it then a machine probably can't either.

    I used to do weather forecasts and a few people would sense non-existent patterns in the weather. Same sort of thing.

    So this is why scientists like to measure things with machines. Machines are too dumb to be fooled in this way. Sometimes it goes too far and ALL human observations are disregarded, but machines definitely have their advantages.

    Statistics are a sort of middle ground. They help you to reject non-existent and transient patterns, but are often misapplied.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2013
  6. Apr 6, 2013 #5
    well, no method is free from fallacies.

    Just curious, what sort of research were you doing with these um.. pathological people?
  7. Apr 6, 2013 #6
    It was visual analysis of tiny bumps of solder via cameras and so forth. They were trying to measure the height of the bumps via their ellipticity, which couldn't be done. It was engineering, not really research.
  8. Apr 6, 2013 #7
    I'm guessing aerospace engineering?

    The simplest way to measure bumps is to orient the camera to the side. :smile:
  9. Apr 7, 2013 #8
    It had to do with connecting to semiconductor devices.

    The machines were already built and we had to make do with what we had.
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