Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pseudo-Science Land...

One of the blaring characteristics common among pseudosciences is they cannot meet the more rigorous standards of legitimate science.  For physical sciences, this rigor is usually represented by the ability to produce mathematical models which generate numerical values that we can compare to experiments or observations.  Once a theory reaches this level of reliability, it can have engineering applications because you can try new ideas mathematically before undergoing the expense of actual construction.

In legitimate science, a successful theory is one that is
  1. consistent with established physical principles and,
  2. can be modeled mathematically to within some reasonable limit of observational or experimental error.
This latter characteristic is especially important when migrating a principle from leading edge science to established science, to engineering practice. 

It is also the component which pseudo-scientists almost consistently avoid.

We send spacecraft to distant reaches of the solar system using the same mathematical theories that were letting us predict the positions of planets to high precision three hundred years before.  The precision was so good, that an error of a few thousand kilometers after a five billion mile voyage for the Pioneer missions was cause for concern (Wikipedia: Pioneer Anomaly).  In spite of claims of alternate explanations by numerous cranks in support of their particular theory, not one of which produced a testable numerical model, the issue has been pretty much resolved without the need of new physics.

When someone claims to have a better theory, especially in the physical sciences, but cannot provide any model with which one can compute numerical values which can be compared to actual measurements, it should set off alarms that they might be a crank.
  • Geocentrists don't explicitly show their computations for planetary positions or for spacecraft trajectories (assuming they aren't claiming that spaceflight is a hoax) (see An Exploration of the Lagrange Points).
  • Relativity deniers don't compute the relativistic corrections in the GPS system.  Some will outright deny the differences exist.  Others will claim that they exist, but are not due to relativity (see Relativity Denial: A response to more comments about GPS).  The latter occasionally choose to dream up some 'correction factor' which exists for ill-specified reasons other than relativity. 
  • Electric Sun supporters don't compute the speed and density of the solar wind or solar magnetic field required for their claimed power source for the Sun.  This information is vital for the safety of astronauts or sending probes to previously unexplored regions of the solar system (see "Death by Electric Universe" articles at Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists').
  • and a host of other claims...
The standing question for these pseudo-scientists is, if they cannot demonstrate how their techniques are computed to the same precision of the mainstream explanation, what happens if we do teach their 'science' as true?  How will we define precision trajectories in space or adequately shield the satellites and astronauts from dangerous radiation in the far reaches of the solar system?  How will we get adequate positioning information without including relativistic corrections?

The cranks do everything they can to evade answering these questions.

A Pseudo-Science Future?

But it raises a more serious question about pseudo-sciences.  Every year, many people die due to acceptance of some health or medically-related pseudo-science (see "What's the Harm?").  Imagine a nation where claims such as the Geocentrists, or Electric Universe, or other pseudo-physical science were actually forced to be accepted science.  In our modern world, that is the only way such a thing could happen, through some kind of legal or totalitarian intervention, as occurred with Lysenkoism (Wikipedia) and Deutsch Physik (Wikipedia). 

In such a nation, would/could they have a space program?

How would the operators of such a program determine the trajectories of any missions, since the trajectory tells you the forces you must deal with and how much fuel you'd need?

How would the operators of the program set the specifications for radiation shielding for the missions?  That determines how much mass you must launch your mission and eventually ties back to how much fuel you need.

The proponents of these crank claims never seem to answer these questions, or they try some evasion like using the mainstream science answers to these questions as 'rules of thumb' for such a program (note that with this approach, any success depends on either luck, or someone else working out the solution first).  Such science, and consequently the engineering, and subsequent economic benefits, will always trail behind those who know the real science and can solve the problems first.

The laws of physics work the same for everyone, whether you believe them or not.  If you know and understand them, it can give you an advantage over those who do not.

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