Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thinking About the Future of Exposing Pseudo-Science in Astronomy

In addition to trying to work a real job, maintain a home and family and maintain regular posting to this blog, I've been trying to develop some material to move the site, and the overall effort dealing with pseudo-science in astronomy, into the future.

Thinking About the Future of Exposing Pseudo-Science in Astronomy

Leading-edge physics is quickly approaching the time when the cost vs. benefits of pushing the frontier of subatomic physics, or distant astronomy, will be more than the taxpayers are willing to bear.  But without regular constraints from experimental and observational science, frontier sciences will probably become more speculative, and even the legitimate ideas will seem more detached from reality.

Meanwhile, increasing computing power will enable us to do more and more powerful forecasting and design with the existing established physics.  In this type of environment, where science seems more distant in time and space, where complex computer programs will forecast weather and design and build products, medicines, etc, people will probably be more willing to accept pseudo-sciences that promise 'simpler' explanations and solutions whether or not these solutions can be rigorously demonstrated (see Wikipedia:Idiocracy).

In the future, dealing with pseudo-science will probably be more important than ever.

The pseudo-science that presents itself as the NEW idea today, will be classic 'knowledge' in a hundred years, and will try to sell itself as 'traditional'.  I had long suspected there had been an earlier iteration of Electric Universe, and I may have found it in the early 1900s works of George Woodward Warder (Wikipedia).

Work that was developed in the past, and today, in dealing with pseudo-science, needs to be propagated to the future so that we don't keep re-inventing the wheel and can leverage the work of predecessors. Sites such as have a rich content that we need to find ways that its content can be preserved and available far into the future.

Some of the things I see as important to move towards this goal:
  • Develop coordination of efforts between the professionals, and science-literate amateurs, doing this kind of work.  This enables more of us to play to our strengths instead of everyone trying to become an expert across a wide variety of sub-fields in physics and astronomy.
  • With collaboration comes peer-review opportunities.  I've had one major blooper in keeping this blog which I had to retract.  Having a review by more people reduces the chance of these problems.
  • One of my other projects in active development is converting the material at into a wikipedia-like format.  My hope is that in developing collaborations, the wiki-type pages will be easier to revise, re-organize, and preserve.  It will also provide a familiar format for use by teachers and informal education.  I want to develop a group of collaborators who are willing to update and edit the content.  I see standardizing the data format as a way for this content eventually merging into a larger library.
  • I've handled a lot of the basic stuff, and now I find the need to develop more sophisticated rebuttals (beyond a written or audio rebuttal).  This requires a more complex effort, such as developing scientifically accurate simulations or other data-driven visualizations.  But developing such products takes a significant amount of time.
  • In conjunction with the wiki effort, the development of classroom-level exercises.  Many of the analyses I've developed in response to Creationism & Electric Universe can be integrated into classrooms with a minimum of effort.  These exercises illustrate how what one learns in the Physics 100 and 200-level courses are actually applied, especially when it comes to astronomy & astrophysics.  I've already written up a version of Thornhill's Z-pinch powered Sun for high-school physics classes (see The Classroom Astronomer: Crank Astronomy as a Teaching Tool). 
I invite additional comments and suggestions on how to improve the quality and accessibility of resources for dealing with pseudo-science in astronomy.

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