Abuse of quantum notation
#1
The columnist and author Barbara Ehrenreich, in this video (http://youtu.be/u5um8QWWRvo ) which warns society about the perils of buying into the pseudo-scientific narrative of 'positive thinking', was spot on when she wryly said :
"Quantum Mechanics is now somehow becoming a reason to discredit all of Science!"

A particularly egregious example of an 'abuse of quantum notation' made it to mailbox today as a forward, and this sorry specimen can be examined here:
http://scienceray.com/physics/advaita-ve...n-physics/
Among other hilarious claims, this article almost goes as far as suggesting that Verse 5 of the Isha Upanishad is a statement of the Uncertainty Principle and that photons maybe conscious (citing as its unassailable authority the controversial physicist E H Walker whose other claim to fame is slurring Einstein as a plagiarist!).
Perhaps we must maintain on this forum a list of such sites to be 'red flagged'.

Other more famous instances can be seen in these videos where a renowned New Age preacher clashes with Richard Dawkins (here, http://youtu.be/Z-FaXD_igv4 ) and Leonard Mlodinow(here, http://youtu.be/-y5D7q1O1Uk).
[+] 2 users Like arvindiyer's post
Reply
#2
I'm always tickled by mentions of Advaita Vedanta in the context of science.

Arvind, your idea to maintain a list of such sites is a good one. Would you be interested in taking up such a project? We are currently discussing reorganizing the forums and we can make room for a page with links to sites that are filled with pseudoscientific nonsense, cataloged by topic.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
Reply
#3
Yes, there is often more of a 'giggle factor' than shock value in such writings. Most often, they are in the 'not even wrong' category. We must be careful while we lambast such writings, lest the attempted debunking itself give them the oxygen they crave.

Recently, one way of reviewing such articles occurred to me. Whenever we come across such an article, we can group excerpts into three categories:
1) Trifles : Assorted factoids and credential-waving used for padding rather than for evidence
2) Tripe : Assorted falsehoods which unlike the trifles that can be laughed off, are toxic if left unanalyzed
3) Truisms : Tautologies and platitudes which are too obvious to warrant any mystical justification for them

If we are very charitable and want to make a spectacle of our fairness and open-mindedness, we could also include a category called 'TRUTHS'.

We can set up a section called WooWoo Analyzer or something like that and request readers to do a TripleT test of such articles. Here then is a TripleT review of the article just sent:

Trifles :

1. "Advaita Vedanta is a branch of Indian philosophy which is based on Upanishads. Upanishads are part of the Vedas, the sacred book of Hindus, which dates back to 3000 BC. "

(OK this does provide context, but merely dating back to 3000 BC pending any other falsifiable predictions does not dignify any text as a scientific work.)

Tripe:
1. "By modern physics I refer to the 20th century physics of relativity theory, quantum theory and the uncertainty theory that overthrew the then prevalent mechanistic view of the universe. "

( Relativity and quantum mechanics do not make a case for Idealism over Logical Positivism.)

2. "The operation of the law of cause and effect was shattered by atomic physics, the science of the infinitely small."

( What is the 'law of cause and effect' in the first place? Also, though neither General Relativity nor Quantum Mechanisms is a Theory of Everything, neither do they falsify their applicability to their respective domains. So what is this talk of atomic physics 'shattering' the operation of any other law?)

3. "In the double-slit experiments it has been found that photons, particles of light that start as particles and end as particles change to waves and back in between on their own, as if they have a will of their own. Such a change on its own without external interference is possible only among sentient beings."

(What a classic non-sequitur! This is like saying that anything that we don't understand and seems to 'have a mind of its own', actually does have a mind of its own!)

Truisms:

1. "Each one of us is made up of matter which consists of subatomic particles. "

(Finally something we can all agree on! ;-) )

What do you think about this approach? The 'tripe' section will also yield fodder for the fallacy-spotting game.


Reply
#4
I like your three-tier categorization.

Obviously misunderstandings about quantum mechanics are extremely prevalent in pop culture, actively promoted by mystic charlatans. I've noticed that the large portion of these misunderstandings involve distorted interpretations of quantum indeterminism.

The third group, Truism, feels incomplete, or perhaps simply a bit too benign. I suggest augmenting it with 'Deepity', a word Dan Dennett popularized to mean something that is true but trivial in one sense and false but profound in another. How about 'Truisms and Deepities' as the last category? I realize it breaks the symmetry, but you could perhaps add descriptive terms to the names of the other two categories as well. This is just a suggestion, since this is your project.

How exactly would you want to do this on a practical level? We are in the process of re-designing the parent site, nirmukta.com. We will have better navigation and this particular list could be given its own section on the site.

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
Reply
#5
(13-Oct-2010, 10:10 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: How exactly would you want to do this on a practical level? We are in the process of re-designing the parent site, nirmukta.com. We will have better navigation and this particular list could be given its own section on the site.

I suggest that we try this out as an informal dry run first, and see if other members warm up to such a three-tier approach. My current time commitments preclude a formal editorial assignment, though I will contribute when I can.

How about this? Create a user-editable list of pseudoscience readings, where members can post links as and when they encounter them. Other members can treat this list as a kind of triage queue and do the three-tier classification. Is there a provision (as simple as an 'online form') where there can be three kinds of 'comments' boxes, one each for the three tiers? This way an article can be quickly collectively vetted.
Reply
#6
(13-Oct-2010, 10:28 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: How about this? Create a user-editable list of pseudoscience readings, where members can post links as and when they encounter them. Other members can treat this list as a kind of triage queue and do the three-tier classification. Is there a provision (as simple as an 'online form') where there can be three kinds of 'comments' boxes, one each for the three tiers? This way an article can be quickly collectively vetted.

A wiki would be nice for what you propose, but we don't have one. For now you could create a new thread and people can post their links and write their analysis under the categories you mentioned. Once we have a sizable number of links, the content can then be moved to a page on Nirmukta.com.
Reply
#7
Revisiting this thread after over a year, it seems a more convenient and comprehensive review checklist than the one proposed earlier can be created. This can possibly be implemented as an online form, whose entries can readily be compiled into an article. Such a form can facilitate the spinning out of articles from pseudoscientific posts such as those reported in this dump thread: Links of Pseudoscience and Superstition. The form proposed below was inspired in large part by this spirited (and informative) rebuttal of new-age woo surrounding the Higgs Boson, in this recently published article. Provisionally, the form could have the following questions:

1. Please provide details of the original pseudoscientific post/news-item: weblink, author (if possible, from drop-down), date of publication

2. What are the factual errors committed in the post? Please quote from the article itself and provide references (or cite scientific principles, or a substantiated historical record) that show some of the factual claims in the article to be in error.

3. What are the logical fallacies committed in the post? Please quote from the article itself and provide a brief argument on why a particular fallacy applies. Consider posting a thread here.

4. What potential harm do you foresee as a result of promoting the pseudoscience in the item being examined? Whenever possible, please cite specific previous instances (eg. a patient refusing medical treatment due to belief in healing by prayer)

5. Here are the questions from Michael Shermer's baloney detection kit, which can serve as checklist. Use the space below to apply any or all of these questions to the claims made in the item being examined.
Quote:1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
(Trust trustworthy sources more and beware of biased/ideological sources)
2. Does the source make similar claims?
(Beware of groups that will believe anything as long as it goes against the mainstream.)
3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
(When independent replication fails, it means something went wrong.)
4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
(If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)
5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
(Don't trust an argument that has only one side.)
6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point to?
(Again, weigh the arguments and evidence on both sides.)
7. is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
(The scientific method is better than anecdote.)
8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
(Disproving a competing theory doesn't prove your theory.)
9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
(If your theory fits with the currently unexplained data but clashes with all the common stuff, it's not very good.)
10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?
(Everyone is biased.)
Text source

6. Can this post be used as a 'teachable moment' to reiterate some basic principle of science or some fundamental ethical value? Whenever possible, please provide resources for further reading.

7. If willing to write up the critique above into an article or make a rebuttal video, please contact editor@nirmukta.com
[+] 1 user Likes arvindiyer's post
Reply
#8
(12-Oct-2010, 10:08 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: The columnist and author Barbara Ehrenreich, in this video (http://youtu.be/u5um8QWWRvo ) which warns society about the perils of buying into the pseudo-scientific narrative of 'positive thinking', was spot on when she wryly said :
"Quantum Mechanics is now somehow becoming a reason to discredit all of Science!"

This xkcd comic offers a useful protip to deal with quantum mysticism:
[Image: quantum_mechanics.png]

The mouseover text reads: You can also ignore any science assertion where 'quantum mechanics' is the most complicated phrase in it.
[+] 3 users Like arvindiyer's post
Reply




Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)