Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One Clear Difference Between a "Myth" and "Science"

I initially dismissed this news article because it doesn't report on anything new about homeopathy. But then, a passage in there caught my eye, and I see the same cracpottery tactics that many try to pass when they can't stand on their own body of evidence (mainly because they lack such evidence). When you have no evidence to support you, what do you do? You either piggy-back onto well-verified science (Deepak Chopra's tactics), or you point out "similarities in situation" to science. The latter is what is going on here.

Regardless, proponents say it shouldn’t be discounted simply because it can’t be explained. For years, no one knew how aspirin worked. And scientists still don’t fully understand the mechanism behind a conventional drug such as Ritalin, argued Dr. Tim Fior, director of the Center for Integral Health in Lombard, Ill.

I've described a similar situation before during my report of my attendance at a public talk on "The Science of Spooky", when the person tried to justify Psi research by claiming that we don't know anything about gravity. This was my rebuttal to that claim:

While it is true that at the very fundamental level, we do not know what gravity is, it doesn't mean that we do not understand it or have no clue on what it is. There is a HUGE difference between our understanding of gravity, and our understanding (or lack thereof) of psi. We understand gravity well enough to be able to describe it not just qualitatively, but also QUANTITATIVELY! That's very important, because when you can predict something by putting numbers, it implies that you have understood its behavior very well. However, the most important difference between psi and gravity is the FACT that our knowledge of gravity has continue to GROW. The boundary of our knowledge on gravity, ever since mankind first realize what it is, and ever since Newton and Kepler formulated it, have continued to expand. Einstein's description of gravity via his General Relativity is one prime example of how we know MORE and MORE about gravity, and the fact that we can send space craft to meet up with various celestial bodies and objects is ample proof that we know A LOT about gravity and continue to refine our knowledge of it.

The same can't be said about psi phenomena, and paranormal phenomena in general. After hundreds of years since its purported "discovery" and years and years of study, the field is trying to prove the existence of these phenomena. It is still stuck in first base in trying to show that these things truly are there. All that have been done (and this is certainly the message that I got out of the evening) is that there are now more varied and different ways to try to find it. That's it. After so many years, it is still trying to show that these phenomena truly are there and valid. They still are stuck in the "discovery" phase. This is not even remotely close to resembling what we know about gravity!

So in my rebuttal, replace Psi phenomenon with homeopathy, and replace gravity with "aspirin and conventional medicine", and you have the exact response I would put out here again. It is a tired, old argument, and those who continue to make such arguments never bothered to look BEYOND their claims and the fact that in valid science, there is this series of PROGRESSION. Such progression results in our increasing knowledge of what we are studying. This means we no longer get stuck on the discovery phase for years and years (and some, even for hundreds of years).

It is the same shortsighted argument that crackpot makes. When you criticize their "theories", they will then claim that both Einstein and Galileo also were faced with such skepticism when they produced either "new" ideas. Of course, they neglected a very important fact that Einstein and Galileo were masters of the subject they were working in (i.e. they weren't ignorant of the subject matter). Einstein had to understand classical E&M extremely well to be aware of the problem with its non-covariant nature under Galilean transformation. You can't say the same about the overwhelming majority of crackpots who don't even understand basic physics. Yet, they think they're Einsteins.

So here's a "friendly advice" to crackpots and others trying to promote your pseudoscience. If you can't stand on your OWN body of evidence, don't try to shift the focus onto something else! Just because you found something similar being done in conventional science, doesn't mean the comparison is valid. That tactic doesn't work because it will reveal the ugly shortcoming of what you believe in when we looks closely at the comparison beyond the superficial level.


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