Monday, March 23, 2009

Good Science Versus Pseudo-Science

Speaking of promoting good science, some of you may of heard of Michael Shermer the editor of Skeptic magazine. He gave a TED talk which I found rather entertaining where he discusses pseudo-science many people become trapped into believing.

The talk is only ~13 minutes long, and I think you will enjoy the ending.


  1. Very funny, although I do get the feeling that these skeptics would lump most religion in with the marijuana witching rod folks.

  2. They would lump much of religion with pseudo-science, but this is where LDS people would be benefited by much of what they do: purging the world of pseudo-science.

    As you know, true religion is not only consistent with good science, it requires good science. At this point Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, James E Talmage would be shouting Amen.

    There should be no fear about what these men/women can demonstrate because if it's true, LDS people must accept it. I could go through pages of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young quotes at this point but I'm sure you know them all.

    Refiner's fires every now and again are important and healthy, and if religious people need to experience a "purging of pseudo-science" refiners fire, it would do them a bit of good.

    But alas, there is no such thing as a true LDS principle which not only is consistant with good science but demands good science, or at least I can't think of any and it would have been news to the men I've named.

    So, bring on the purging.

    Now, I know everyone knows that, but it is still important to keep in mind, lest the church falls into tomorrows "flat-earthers" society.

    Flat earthers could have used a Michael Shermer to help them avoid their error.

  3. Wait, you mean the world's not flat?

  4. One issue that this video brought up is the idea that humans are very good at finding patterns in something random. Usually this is a bad thing but sometimes it's really helpful. For example, when Edwin Hubble came up with Hubble's Law his data was way off (his value was an order of magnitude too big) and his plot of distance vs. redshift was essentially a scatter plot (statistically the linear fit to that data with the error bars was consistent with a constant value), but somehow he got the form of Hubble's law correct. How? First he didn't do his statistics right and second he saw a pattern in his data by looking at it that wasn't there statistically.

  5. Nick, ain't that the truth!

    The first time I saw Hubble's data I was in shock that from such a scatter plot he came up with such correct conclusions.

    I'd be interested to know if finding patterns in things that are random is more helpful then not. If so, perhaps you could make some evolutionary argument for why humans do it.

    Maybe seeing a pattern is technically incorrect, but at least gives you some idea to start with. Maybe believing a pattern is there often makes you more productive then if you see no pattern.

    But I don't know why humans are obsessed with finding patterns in random data. Your Hubble example is a really good one.


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