The Complexity of Modern Science - Comments

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phinds
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I think the biggest problem is that people find it SO much easier to watch pop science on TV than to do any actual study of science, and you know how those shows get so much wrong. I think they do sometimes inspire young people to study but overall I'm not sure but what they do more harm than good and they certainly give those adults who are not likely to further pursue actual science a very poor view of actual science of the kind you talk about. The producers of the TV shows can't be blamed for this any more than McDonalds can be blamed for serving tasty junk food. People sell what other people buy and there are lots of buyers for junk food and junk science, especially since they LOOK so tasty, what with all the nifty graphics and tomato sauce and all.

The first thing we COULD do (and won't) would be to insist that people who teach science, at any level but particularly below the college level, be required to have at least some idea what they are talking about. Teachers below the high school level in particular have no idea, generally, what science is really all about.
 
Buzz Bloom
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Hi mfb:

This is a great topic to discuss. I hope that some useful ideas will emerge, but I confess I am very pessimistic. NOVA is an excellent source for informing the public about science, but I am guessing that for each viewer of NOVA there are more than a hundred viewers of FOX NEWS.

Regards,
Buzz
 
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I think the biggest problem is that people find it SO much easier to watch pop science on TV than to do any actual study of science, and you know how those shows get so much wrong. I think they do sometimes inspire young people to study but overall I'm not sure but what they do more harm than good and they certainly give those adults who are not likely to further pursue actual science a very poor view of actual science of the kind you talk about. The producers of the TV shows can't be blamed for this any more than McDonalds can be blamed for serving tasty junk food. People sell what other people buy and there are lots of buyers for junk food and junk science, especially since they LOOK so tasty, what with all the nifty graphics and tomato sauce and all.

The first thing we COULD do (and won't) would be to insist that people who teach science, at any level but particularly below the college level, be required to have at least some idea what they are talking about. Teachers below the high school level in particular have no idea, generally, what science is really all about.
So first of all, I find this insight to be very interesting. However, as a crackpot by some definitions, I must disagree with you and phinds on one point. I do study actual science and calculus with that science. I learned on this forum to stay away from popsci, but still, I come up with "theories". No, as a middle schooler I do not believe these theories will go anywhere. What I do is I make a theory based on math and what I have learned so far from other sources, and then I look for what I did wrong. Sometimes I need to ask a professional about what I did wrong. In fact, I learn better from actually thinking about it and then finding a problem in my thinking and/or math. I do agree that some people do need to learn real science before making a statement like "special relativity is wrong" but some people (like me) learn from thinking, challenging the theories and finding out why I'm wrong. Just something to think about. Overall, however, a great insight.
 
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BTW, for some reason part of the quote is not in the quote part of my post.
 
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but some people (like me) learn from thinking, challenging the theories and finding out why I'm wrong.
That is perfectly fine, as long as challenging the theories is based on actual knowledge of those theories.

I don't see what would be wrong with the quote.
 
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As we've seen in the thread: https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/quantum-mechanics-is-not-weird-unless-presented-as-such.850860/ most concepts can't be genuinely described using word language. Susskind also mentioned this in an interview I watched where the interviewer asked some quantum mechanics question and Susskind basically said he couldn't answer it with words, only in math. Not long ago I debated a man who claimed to understand the concepts of the Big Bang very well and didn't need to know the math. I promptly left the conversation. Fact is that the general public certainty can't handle or have the patience for reading research papers so pop sci news agencies water the research down into cookie cutter pieces with catchy headlines which in the end only vaguely resemble what it really means. This is good for the public's imagination but doesn't do justice for how complex their research is.
 
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I don't see what would be wrong with the quote
On the actual insights page it turned out differently.
 
phinds
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So first of all, I find this insight to be very interesting. However, as a crackpot by some definitions, I must disagree with you and phinds on one point. I do study actual science and calculus with that science. I learned on this forum to stay away from popsci, but still, I come up with "theories". No, as a middle schooler I do not believe these theories will go anywhere. What I do is I make a theory based on math and what I have learned so far from other sources, and then I look for what I did wrong.
I do not find that to be at all in disagree w/ my statements or beliefs and in fact I think it's a fine way to forge ahead in science for someone your age. It keeps you interested but as long as you stay grounded in the knowledge that your theories are based, at this level of your development, more in ignorance than in knowledge, then you are using your process as a learning tool and that's great.
 
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I do not find that to be at all in disagree w/ my statements or beliefs and in fact I think it's a fine way to forge ahead in science for someone your age. It keeps you interested but as long as you stay grounded in the knowledge that your theories are based, at this level of your development, more in ignorance than in knowledge, then you are using your process as a learning tool and that's great.
Ok, I just picked up an implication (that may or may not have been there) in both your post and the insight that these theories all come from ignorance and stubbornness to accept mainstream theories, and not from an attempt to learn more about these theories by challenging them (and I am not saying people don't create theories out of ignorance and stubbornness to accept mainstream theories, because they do). Most of what I have learned about relativity has been from challenging it and finding a list of reasons why my challenge was incorrect.
 
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NOVA is an excellent source for informing the public about science, but I am guessing that for each viewer of NOVA there are more than a hundred viewers of FOX NEWS.
And we all know how great Fox News is at explaining/acknowledging proven scientific fact.
 
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A substantial majority of

People believe what they want to believe.
They disregard information/misinformation that contradicts what they believe.
They absorb information/misinformation that reinforces what they believe.
What they believe is usually self-flattering.
They choose a person or organization in which to place their trust. They believe all information/misinformation that issues from this source.

Corollary:
Sources of flattering information are more likely to earn such trust.

To believe that you easily have come up with a simple insight that a thousands of hard-working geniuses have missed is very self-flattering.
To believe that you are ignorant and incompetent in some area is anti-self-flattering.

Ergo, crackpottery is a basic human tendency.

You can coerce a student into learning, but each student is free disbelieve in or subsequently forget what was learned. Once no longer a student, untrusted sources no longer have any power over their learning or beliefs.

-----

I think the educational system is obsolete, ineffective, inflicts pain on the student, and needs a complete overhaul. It has hardly changed since ancient times. Can you blame people for hating it? There is room for improvement.
 
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When I was a child, getting in to ham radio, I was amazed at what the retail for a radio was versus what the parts cost. What I didn't realize is that the radio had a lot of marketing and engineering expenses that needed to be recouped.

This may sound crass, but we need MORE marketing. Science invokes a sense of wonder in its practitioners that is only rarely ever described well. Carl Sagan did that. We don't realize how good that was, until watching the remake of Cosmos. Even his masterful and charismatic protege Neil deGrasse Tyson is only a pale reflection of the kind of science marketing that Carl Sagan did. Don't get me wrong, Tyson is brilliant; but Sagan's presentation was the very embodiment of artistry.

If you can't be as brilliant as Sagan, you can make up for it with quantity. That's where we need to go. Relying upon public enthusiasm will get you only so far. The biggest successes in business and history in general were accompanied by masterful marketing.

We need more.
 
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I think we need another Feynman. However I still have to watch/read some work by Sagan to fully appreciate his efforts.
However I find it hard to believe anyone can match let alone surpass Feynman's QED.

He not only simplifies the theory but also mentions why it is difficult to do cutting edge science.
The latter is what lacks in most popular accounts but also in education. Which I understand since most teachers haven't gotten close to the "cutting edge" over here.
But that last point is for another discussion.

Ok, I just picked up an implication (that may or may not have been there) in both your post and the insight that these theories all come from ignorance and stubbornness to accept mainstream theories, and not from an attempt to learn more about these theories by challenging them (and I am not saying people don't create theories out of ignorance and stubbornness to accept mainstream theories, because they do). Most of what I have learned about relativity has been from challenging it and finding a list of reasons why my challenge was incorrect.
One could argue this is the way to study science and especially physics.
However it would take ages while the time we have (in high school) is severely limited.

Often people also have the idea that since physics is called exact science the approximate models we have are useless.
Also the interplay theory-experiment in the scientific method is not a one-way street. It's a complicated interplay of ideas and results. (A dance if you like metaphors)

I'd say keep on the good work and remain critical.
 
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Awesome Insight, mfb. I'm going to show it to one of my physics professors if you don't mind.
 
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One can't expect science T.V shows to tell all the intricate details ,if that is the case the public will stop watching because everyone in the public aren't scientists and most of the things will start going over their head and will scare the public away from science ,the shows are only aimed to give a brief idea to the lay public (and to motivate them to pursue science) who are completely or a large extent, disconnected from modern science, i think the problem mentioned in this article can be overcome if the science documentaries are screened for errors by the actual scientists who work on the topic (either retired or active scientists) and they should make it clear to the public that they are simplifying very complicated science in order for them to understand and that real knowledge only comes with hard study.
 
rbelli1
Gold Member
903
328
I think the biggest problem is that people find it SO much easier to watch pop science on TV than to do any actual study of science, and you know how those shows get so much wrong. I think they do sometimes inspire young people to study but overall I'm not sure but what they do more harm than good and they certainly give those adults who are not likely to further pursue actual science a very poor view of actual science of the kind you talk about. The producers of the TV shows can't be blamed for this any more than McDonalds can be blamed for serving tasty junk food. People sell what other people buy and there are lots of buyers for junk food and junk science, especially since they LOOK so tasty, what with all the nifty graphics and tomato sauce and all.

The first thing we COULD do (and won't) would be to insist that people who teach science, at any level but particularly below the college level, be required to have at least some idea what they are talking about. Teachers below the high school level in particular have no idea, generally, what science is really all about.
So first of all, I find this insight to be very interesting. However, as a crackpot by some definitions, I must disagree with you and phinds on one point. I do study actual science and calculus with that science. I learned on this forum to stay away from popsci, but still, I come up with "theories". No, as a middle schooler I do not believe these theories will go anywhere. What I do is I make a theory based on math and what I have learned so far from other sources, and then I look for what I did wrong. Sometimes I need to ask a professional about what I did wrong. In fact, I learn better from actually thinking about it and then finding a problem in my thinking and/or math. I do agree that some people do need to learn real science before making a statement like "special relativity is wrong" but some people (like me) learn from thinking, challenging the theories and finding out why I'm wrong. Just something to think about. Overall, however, a great insight.
Unfortunately you are using theory in the layman's sense. What you are coming up with are at best hypotheses. It is good to think up new ideas but calling them theories without rigorous testing does an injustice to science.

BoB
 
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As we've seen in the thread: https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/quantum-mechanics-is-not-weird-unless-presented-as-such.850860/ most concepts can't be genuinely described using word language. Susskind also mentioned this in an interview I watched where the interviewer asked some quantum mechanics question and Susskind basically said he couldn't answer it with words, only in math. Not long ago I debated a man who claimed to understand the concepts of the Big Bang very well and didn't need to know the math. I promptly left the conversation. Fact is that the general public certainty can't handle or have the patience for reading research papers so pop sci news agencies water the research down into cookie cutter pieces with catchy headlines which in the end only vaguely resemble what it really means. This is good for the public's imagination but doesn't do justice for how complex their research is.
I think Richard Feynman did a great job of accurately explaining concepts to lay people without loosing them in the math. That's a very difficult thing to do, but that does not mean that it can't be done, or that it should not be attempted. It should.

A good recent example was "The Space Doctor's Big Idea"
http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-space-doctors-big-idea-einstein-general-relativity
 
jim mcnamara
Mentor
3,654
1,890
Non-Science is a societal problem. It forwards the interest of the idiot fringe and of FUD mongers.

Idiot fringe:
In the US, there are so-called 'anti-vaxxers'. They are people who are vehemently against vaccinating children. Therein lies the issue with junk science in general. These folks made decisions based on pulp news sources and magazines that impact not only their immediate family, but others in the community.
Measles was essentially unreported by the US CDC for years, there were very, very few cases. Not anymore. Measles can result in death and lifelong medical problems. Example SSPE: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001419.htm

The same thing happens with a variety of issues that are subjected to *FUD attacks, in order to further the economic positions of very powerful companies.

Example - The US tobacco lobby's very effective attacks against anti-tobacco legislation. The stupidity did not abate until Science made discoveries that were so very plain, smack-you-in-the-face, that even the pop-science idiots could not get them wrong. FUD stills lives on with the climate "debate" - as newspapers call it. It is not a debate. You cannot legislate scientific observations and results.

*FUD - fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
 
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I think there will always be two camps, those who try to strictly adhere to the rules of science which relies mainly on the math which is enough to communicate. and the laypeople who know the world from their own perspectives, which are numerous, I'm certain. The perspective they have built in their mind to comprehend the reality they are familiar with typically fails and so they grapple for a mechanism to leave their sole understanding intact. Many don't have the neural plasticity to drop lifelong thought processes and start over, let alone the determinism to seek a deeper, more accurate understanding, and the mental ability to assemble intricate models. So pop-sci caters to their inadequacies with "fantastic" phrases like "wave-particle duality" and life goes on.
 
A substantial majority of

People believe what they want to believe.
They disregard information/misinformation that contradicts what they believe.
They absorb information/misinformation that reinforces what they believe.
What they believe is usually self-flattering.
They choose a person or organization in which to place their trust. They believe all information/misinformation that issues from this source.

Corollary:
Sources of flattering information are more likely to earn such trust.

To believe that you easily have come up with a simple insight that a thousands of hard-working geniuses have missed is very self-flattering.
To believe that you are ignorant and incompetent in some area is anti-self-flattering.

Ergo, crackpottery is a basic human tendency.

You can coerce a student into learning, but each student is free disbelieve in or subsequently forget what was learned. Once no longer a student, untrusted sources no longer have any power over their learning or beliefs.

-----

I think the educational system is obsolete, ineffective, inflicts pain on the student, and needs a complete overhaul. It has hardly changed since ancient times. Can you blame people for hating it? There is room for improvement.
I agree with most of you assessment. Now how about offering solutions.
 
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the complexity of any science field happens at the level of our mind. same as one could say mathss is easier than any other science subject. also some people remind and understand better when you explain the subject to the minor details to them why others (which i am part of ) prefer to understand it on its own than waiting for lecturers to give them the explanations.
just trying to say complexity is at the level of individuals
 
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Unfortunately you are using theory in the layman's sense. What you are coming up with are at best hypotheses. It is good to think up new ideas but calling them theories without rigorous testing does an injustice to science.

BoB
Yes, it is more of a hypothesis than a theory.
 
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Physics Forum is dedicated to advancing the standard model. This discussion doesn't seem to be part of that.

As I see it, every part of the standard model was once part of fringe science at least to the extent of not being accepted/proven. While some fringe science is clearly wrong (or not even wrong), some tiny fraction of it will someday work its way into the standard model.

A discussion like this opens up the question of what is right or wrong about fringe science. That's a problem for a website that tries to avoid fringe science.

I do think anyone attacking the standard needs to have a good understanding of it before declaring it wrong. This forum helps to provide that understanding. Hopefully the work we do here will one day allow us to replace the standard model with one closer to the truth. (Not that the standard model is off by a lot, but there are still outstanding problems.)

Historically liberal arts have always ruled science. That is because a good story has always received more funding than being right. (NSF budget: $7 billion (2012), Disney: $11 billion)
 
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Physics Forum is dedicated to advancing the standard model.
Is it? If it was, we would not have a forum for relativity, biology, chemistry, homework help, etc.
 

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