Thursday, April 17, 2008

Beware of Bad Science

As a science teacher I understand what science is. Just as importantly, I understand what it is not.

Science is the study of natural laws and how they work. The application of science to everyday life is called technology. Although pure science can be too cryptic for some people's taste or understanding, they know that if something is "scientific" it carries a label of validity.

That's why the proliferation of bad science can be very misleading, even dangerous. What I call "bad science" is the misrepresentation of staunchly unscientific ideas, devices, and entertainment products as being derived from scientific principles. At the very least, it can mislead people into buying into old wives' tales, which in turn might cause people to behave in a manner that is unwarranted for the situation.

For example, how often as a child did you hear your mother tell you in the wintertime, "Bundle up! You'll catch cold!" Or, "Don't go out with wet hair; you'll get pneumonia!" That is bad science. There is not a shred of scientific evidence that being cold will give you a cold, or that going outside with wet hair will do any more harm than make you uncomfortable. Colds and pneumonia are caused by germs, not discomfort.

Another example of bad science is the so-called psychics or tarot card readers, especially those who advertise their services on TV. They make a living off the gullible by pretending that their "gifts" are somehow tied to scientific principles.

Horoscopes can certainly be labeled as bad science. They sound scientific, because they depend on complicated formulas dealing with the position of the planets and the moon. But it's all quite bogus. Real science tells us that there is no force of nature that emanates from a planet that is strong enough to have any effect on the personality traits of a person being born.

Once upon a time, people always planted their gardens using the signs of the moon. The phases of the moon, and what constellation it was in, supposedly had an effect on how well the crops would grow. Some old-fashioned gardeners still use moon signs when planting. Scientifically, though, I assure you that those turnip seeds or onion sets have not a clue what phase the moon is in when they're planted.

One of the worst offenders of real science, and the best example of bad science, is creationism and its cousin, intelligent design. Its proponents would actually like for it to be taught in schools as real science. But there is nothing scientific about it. It is, in fact, the opposite of true science because of the manner in which it was developed, going completely against the scientific method of inductive reasoning.

Superstitions are also bad science. There are all kinds of superstitions, ranging from black cats to broken mirrors. Good luck charms and bad luck oracles are all examples of bad science.

Horoscopes and psychic readings might be fun and entertaining, as long as you understand that their value lies only in the entertainment they provide, not in their validity. And old wives' tales are best left to old wives. They should be taken with a grain of salt. When making decisions based on science, the best advice to follow is to make certain you're not dealing in bad science.


Wes said...

I resent the inclusion of theory of intelligent design an explanation of original origns as being represented as "bad science" in an article that cites examples that represent superstitions based upon 'no-science'. In fact, as a former evolutionist, I have come to realize that evloution is "bad science" but it is not based upon superstition any more than intelligent design.

First of all, the hypothesis upon which evolution is based is philosophical and not scientific. The error is not in the "true" empiricle evidence presented, but with the logic used in interpreting it. Charts used to 'demonstrate' the evolution of the horse are just one of many,many examples of the logical errors used to support evolution. The early horse supposedly stood on his five toes, apparently to reach the leaves on trees(???) until they became a hoof and this is offered as a 'evidence' of evolution. Ironically, this example with other examples such as the disuse of the appendix, certain appendages on sea animals, etc. ... demonstrate the exact opposite of the evolutionary theory which proposes to explain how simple, primoridal life forms evolved into complex life forms. In fact, a horse with five toes is more complex than one with a hoof. Gaining an appendix would be supportive, losing the use of an organ again demonstrates the direct opposite of the evolutionary supposition.

Evolution is actually so based upon predjudiced 'suppositons' and 'theories' that it is theory, based upon theory, based upon theory ...a house of cards that crumbles at its root suppositions when the logic of those suppositions is examined.

Looking at the 'evidence' offered as support of evolution has led me to the conviction that it best supports the theory of intelligent design. In the end, both evolution and intelligent design are philosophical conclusions and, in truth, the charge that the theory of intelligent design is based upon faith rather than science is just as applicable to the theory of evolution.

True, tradtional science has, until recently, held that the simplest explanation is most likely the correct explanation ...except, of course, when it comes to intelligent design. The fact that intelligent design requires an intelligent desinger who is, in the western world, most often recognized as God, does not, in anyway, diminish either the empirical evidence presented, the logic applied to the interpretation of that evidence, or the possiblity that there could, indeed, be an intelligent designer.

Wes -

Jerry Wilson said...

It's a shame that someone who can write rather elegantly and sound as though he knows what he's talking about can at the same time be so off base when it comes to knowing what science is and does. Why do 97.5 percent of U.S. scientists and even a larger worldwide, regardless of their own faith, nationality, or language accept evolution? It is because evolution has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

Creationism (ID) has no evidence at all, certainly no empirical evidence. It is a belief system only.

That doesn't necessarily prove it's wrong; it does prove it is not science.

Arguing that evolution cannot get rid of unneeded organisms is simply not true. If you once believed in evolution, it must have been because you were either raised to believe it or just took the word of your teacher, because if you really understood evolution, there would be no way you could deny it. To do so would at least mean you buy into the worldwide scientific conspiracy theory.

GardenGal said...

Mr. Wilson, have you ever talked directly to Creation scientists? We have known several for many years, all were serious, evolution-based scientists. They all in varying degrees fought hard against a Creationist belief, but in the end they all realized that the evidence didn't add up to evolution. I would strongly encourage you to talk to some Creation scientist with an open mind, and till then avoid making such sweeping statements against a group of people when you don't even know their side.

Jerry Wilson said...

Yes, Gardengal I have talked to creationists. I've even engaged in a formal debate. Evolution is a scientifically proven fact. Every bit of evidence supports it. And with DNA evidence now backing up the fossil record there is no doubt. You might as well believe in a flat earth. It has as much. evidence as does ID.

Josh M said...

Could there be a spiritual element that plays an important role in our lives? After all we don't yet understand the universe fully... Although hard to scientifically prove, is it indeed foolish to say a spiritual component does exist? It would surely explain countless phenomena. Please explain to me why spirituality is improbable. Thanks.