To reduce the chance of losing support from those who recognize the science-technology connection, some pseudo-scientists try to erect a barrier between science that can be seen contributing to technology and science that has implications for topics which the pseudo-scientists wish to reject.
Creationists such as Ken Ham have tried to argue that there is a 'real science' or 'operational science' that exists in the laboratory, contributing to developing technology, and an 'origins science' that attempts to describe the origin of the universe in general and life in particular. Mr. Ham then argues that 'origins science' is not a reliable as 'operational science' since 'origins science' can't make technologies and therefore allows for other interpretations of the data, particularly various claims attempting to make the universe less than 10,000 years old. I've written about this before (Technology from Cosmology, or “Can Creation Science Do That?”). Some creationists push this barrier even further, claiming that the processes we can test in the laboratory have no connection to the behavior and processes in Nature.
Electric Universe (EU) supporters adopt a similar tactic, trying to separate 'classical science' for technology and 'cosmological science' as anything beyond the Earth which they don't like. They then try to claim that their cosmological claims are just as valid as mainstream science. EU plays on shakier ground as their 'classical science' is a category that appears to exclude developments in the 20th century such as relativity and quantum mechanics, both backed by significant laboratory experiments and technology applications.
The BIG problem with this division strategy is that there is NO such barrier between the physical sciences.
Fundamental Physical Theories
Physicists actually have a handful of theories that could be regarded as truly foundational or fundamental. Here's my list that comes to mind, but I don't regard it as complete and there is significant overlap between some topic:
- Mechanics or Dynamics (Wikipedia)/Kinematics (Wikipedia): The physics of motions under the actions of forces, or no forces.
- Gravitation (Wikipedia)/General Relativity (Wikipedia): The physics of motion of particles with mass.
- Electromagnetism (Wikipedia): The physics of motion of particles with electric charges.
- Quantum Mechanics (Wikipedia): Quantum mechanics can be considered as dynamics and kinematics on a sub-atomic level. As we apply it to larger systems, its predictions become equivalent to those of dynamics and kinematics.
- Quantum electrodynamics (Wikipedia): The physics of motion in cases where relativity and quantum mechanics are important.
- Quantum chromodynamics (Wikipedia):The physics of motion for particles which feel the 'color' force.
All of the theories above have been subjected to significant testing, through experiment and observation. Many of them have critical connections in our technologies: semiconductor electronics is critical for everything from computers to cellphones; gravity and relativity play crucial roles in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS), all satellites, and interplanetary flight. Some of these theories were tested to a higher-level of precision by observations in space than they could be tested in the laboratory.
Pushing Physical Theories Over the Edge?
In spite of all the testing of the physical theories described above, they can still make predictions that are beyond our current laboratory capabilities to test!
What do you do then?
I see three options:
- Some experimental tests would require a only small improvements in current technology in order to actually perform them. This can sometimes take just a few years, or it could take many decades.
- If the predictions are far beyond the capability of current, or even near-future technology, one can find other ways to test the theory that may not be as direct. The general practice is to assume the theory is valid until real evidence can be found to the contrary. This gets more difficult if there are more than one theory where both agree in the tested range, but exhibit disagreement outside that range.
- Declare any aspect of the theory beyond those immediately testable in the laboratory as unknowable and open to any explanations that can be dreamed up.
Are there other options? I'd be interested if there are other possibilities I've missed here.
Update: January 28, 2014: Fixed broken links