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Telling fact from fiction

  1. Jun 25, 2005 #1

    Pengwuino

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    Since a lot of information is passed left and right and the internet exists, how is one with only basic physics knowledge suppose to know what is true and what isn't? Obviously some 'crackpots' make it obvious they are wrong when they get even the most basic ideas wrong (like someone saying you can go >c is you go really fast and fire off a photon or something similar) but there are other instances where you don't really know at the basic level. I've seen book recommendations and non-recommendations and i wonder how one differentiates between saying a book is good vs. crap besides taking someones word for it. I mean you can't exactly go out and conduct a plethora of experiments at the basic level... so your inevitably relying on peoples ideas.

    Does anyone understand what I'm saying? Its hard to think one way because people tell you its correct when we're talking about things you don't have a lot of real world experience with.
     
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  3. Jun 25, 2005 #2

    Ivan Seeking

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    My opinion is that you should stick with text books. This is a great place to look for help for mainstream subject matter, but when it comes to fringe, or marginal topics that are not well defined, where controversy may exist even at the highest levels, there is no way to know what to believe. In fact it gets even worse. When I finished college, I expected to have some basis by which to determine what are mainstream opinions, and what are fringe or unpopular minority opinions. But where do you look? The most basic answer is to look at how many papers are published wrt a particular theory or explanation. This as much as anything defines the "mainstream" position. But this alone is not enough in many cases. If you look at the measurement problem, for example, there are probably half a dozen schools of thought. And each seems to think that the other is nonsense, unsupported, highly speculative, or at least that the evidence clearly supports their position. If you happen to ask a physicist from one particular school of thought [how to explain the measurement problem], they may answer in such a way that one would think this is the only answer to be found; when in fact many other equally qualified people reject this explanation.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2005
  4. Jun 25, 2005 #3

    Chronos

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    It's never easy discerning fact from fantasy. The textbook version, as Ivan recommended, is an excellent place to start. You don't get to be textbook without having gone through trial by fire. Scientists are very critical of one another and tend to complain about the least little detail. Beyond that, you must chose what to trust and mistrust. You should, at least, slightly mistrust everything. When you encounter a new idea, you should check for references. If you never heard of the dude before, beware. On the other hand, papers by people who say things consistent with your hard earned knowledge of the subject, and are well regarded by the general public, tend to be worth listening to.
     
  5. Jun 25, 2005 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    I agree, but even then you have to be careful about opinions and facts. There is an unfortunate standard in science that you state your case without qualifiers. This can often translate as an inadvertent form of misrepresentation; when only the experts can tell where the facts end, and the opinions begin. And the experts may not agree on even this point!
     
  6. Jun 25, 2005 #5
    Last year someone linked to a paper that had alot of references to "Schuman Frequencies." That sounded bogus to me, so I asked Ivan and he said, no, they were quite real and got me a link to an explanation. Asking someone here is usually a fair way to find out if it is valid or not.

    As a matter of fact, though, I've also done alot of garage experimenting to test the truth of basic things, especially concerning electricity and magnetism.
     
  7. Jun 25, 2005 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    I just noticed something that didn't come out quite right.

    By "this" I meant PF and other reputable internet resources. But when we get into any kind of gray area, it can be difficult for anyone but a physicist who specializes in that particular subject matter, to differentiate between opinion and facts. And again, even then their perception of the "correct" answers may be strongly slanted towards one particular interpretation of the established facts. Schumann Resonance, as Zooby mentioned, is not a gray area in that some places monitor the Schumann activity. We know beyond a doubt that it's there. But if you ask if the known universe began as the result of a cataclysm on an 11 dimensional hyper-surface, then we get into opinions very quickly.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2005
  8. Jun 25, 2005 #7

    matthyaouw

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    Although I agree that textbooks are normally a good place to start, one thing that normally worries me about it is their age. If I pull out an old textbook, I often worry that the information given is outdated or has been proven incorrect since publication, and I'm never sure about how to go about making sure it's still accurate.
     
  9. Jun 25, 2005 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    No doubt! But as for being a good place to start, I know of very few people in this forum, like almost none, whose level of knowledge is beyond the most advanced textbooks for any given topic in physics; or related subjects.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2005
  10. Jun 25, 2005 #9

    matthyaouw

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    I didn't mean to imply textbooks were basic, merely that I feel it would be better to begin by reading textbooks, rather than journals and articles. In my experience, journals etc assume you already have a good understanding of the subject at hand, where as a textbook is more likely to start with the basics before moving on to new research on the matter.
     
  11. Jun 25, 2005 #10
    In a case like this, if I were interested in the particular matter, I would pull out as many key concepts as seem to go into the theory and ask around about them trying to determine which parts of the theory are not in dispute, and then try to get a sense of where the theorizing begins.
     
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