From Simon Oxenham at BigThink:
How to Use the Feynman Technique to Identify Pseudoscience
Last week a new study made headlines worldwide by bluntly demonstrating the human capacity to be misled by “pseudo-profound bullshit” from the likes of Deepak Chopra, infamous for making profound sounding yet entirely meaningless statements by abusing scientific language.
The researchers correlate believing pseudo-profundities will all kinds of things Clever People Aren’t Supposed to Like, and one suspects the paper wouldn’t survive replication. So why is this a job for Feynman?
This is all well and good, but how are we supposed to know that we are being misled when we read a quote about quantum theory from someone like Chopra, if we don’t know the first thing about quantum mechanics?
Actually, one can often detect BS without knowing much about the topic at hand, because it often sounds deep but doesn’t reflect common sense. Anyway, from Feynman,
I finally figured out a way to test whether you have taught an idea or you have only taught a definition. Test it this way: You say, ‘Without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language. Without using the word “energy,” tell me what you know now about the dog’s motion.’ You cannot. So you learned nothing about science. That may be all right. You may not want to learn something about science right away. You have to learn definitions. But for the very first lesson, is that not possibly destructive? More.
It won’t work because many people who read pop science literature do so for the same reason others listen to Deepak Chopra: They want to be reassured against their better judgement or the evidence. Whether it’s that there are billions of habitable planets out there or that chimpanzees are entering the Stone Age, or that everything is a cosmic accident, or whatever the current schtick is.
And Feynman won’t help them, nor will a bucket of ice water. And it’s not fair to drag ol’ Feynman into it just because he said some true things like,
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
Give the guy a break.
That said, Feynman (1918–1988) may have, through no fault of his (long-deceased) own, played a role in getting a science journalist dumped recently on suspicious grounds. See “Scientific American may be owned by Nature, but it is run by Twitter”
Follow UD News at Twitter!
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose