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Could physics be as bad as social psychology for scandals?

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We wouldn’t raise this possibility except that science writer George Johnson did at the New York Times:

These fields have not received the same kind of scrutiny as the others. Is that because they are less prone to the problems Dr. Ioannides described?

Faye Flam, a science writer with a degree in geophysics, made that argument in a critique of my column in Knight Journalism Tracker, and I responded on my own blog, Fire in the Mind. Since then I’ve been thinking more about the matter, and I asked Dr. Ioannidis for his view.

“Physical sciences have a stronger tradition of some solid practices that improve reproducibility,” he replied in an email. Collaborative research, for example, is customary in physics, including large consortiums of experimenters like the teams that announced the discovery of the Higgs particle. “This certainly increases the transparency, reliability and cross-checking of proposed research findings,” he wrote.

More.

He also mentioned strict statistical standards, like the five-sigma measure and the cultural rejection of low-quality research in physics as reasons why it probably isn’t so bad.

He didn’t mention this , but we will: Cosmology so often seems out to lunch, is it possible that physicists who would just be making it up as they go along or phoning it in specialize in cosmology?

Also, apart from cosmology, physics mostly lacks the kinds of topics that yank people’s chains. The social psych scandals often involve research that confirms what the researchers likely think about people already. So much so that you wonder why we bother to read their research instead of just listening to them rant.

In which case, there never would have been a scandal. (No, there wouldn’t be any science either, but in any case there never was.

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit (hat tip) begs to differ:

I predict that the physical sciences will have their share of fraud too. As Thomas Ray has said, every successful system accumulates parasites, and science has been successful long enough to pick up a substantial load.

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One Reply to “Could physics be as bad as social psychology for scandals?

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    It seems to me that the main problem in physics is not with what it does so well, i.e. making measurements of the universe and testing mathematical models to see if they conform to what is being measured:

    Strontium Atomic Clock Sets New Records in Both Precision and Stability – Jan. 22, 2014
    Excerpt: the JILA strontium lattice clock is about 50 percent more precise than the record holder of the past few years, NIST’s quantum logic clock.,,, The new strontium clock is so precise it would neither gain nor lose one second in about 5 billion years, if it could operate that long. (This time period is longer than the age of Earth, an estimated 4.5 billion years old.)
    In JILA’s world-leading clock, a few thousand atoms of strontium are held in a column of about 100 pancake-shaped traps called an optical lattice formed by intense laser light. JILA scientists detect strontium’s “ticks” (430 trillion per second) by bathing the atoms in very stable red laser light at the exact frequency that prompts the switch between energy levels.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....133831.htm

    Proverbs 11:1
    A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.

    Where physics goes off the rails is in theoretical physics where physicist use their imagination to try to account for the origin of the universe, its laws, what happens in quantum mechanics, and even for the origin of physics itself, without reference to God. A prime example of ‘going off the rails’ in theoretical physics is ‘string theory’ which seeks to unify General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics:

    The part of the book (‘The Trouble With Physics’) I found most interesting was the part which tells how the string theorists were scammed by Nature (or Mathematics). Of course, Smolin doesn’t put it exactly like this, but imagine the following conversation.———
    String theorists: We’ve got the Standard Model, and it works great, but it doesn’t include gravity, and it doesn’t explain lots of other stuff, like why all the elementary particles have the masses they do. We need a new, broader theory.
    Nature: Here’s a great new theory I can sell you. It combines quantum field theory and gravity, and there’s only one adjustable parameter in it, so all you have to do is find the right value of that parameter, and the Standard Model will pop right out.
    String theorists: We’ll take it.
    String theorists (some time later): Wait a minute, Nature, our new theory won’t fit into our driveway. String theory has ten dimensions, and our driveway only has four.
    Nature: I can sell you a Calabi-Yau manifold. These are really neat gadgets, and they’ll fold up string theory into four dimensions, no problem.
    String theorists: We’ll take one of those as well, please.
    Nature: Happy to help.
    String theorists (some time later): Wait a minute, Nature, there’s too many different ways to fold our Calabi-Yao manifold up. And it keeps trying to come unfolded. And string theory is only compatible with a negative cosmological constant, and we own a positive one.
    Nature: No problem. Just let me tie this Calabi-Yao manifold up with some strings and branes, and maybe a little duct tape, and you’ll be all set.
    String theorists: But our beautiful new theory is so ugly now!
    Nature: Ah! But the Anthropic Principle says that all the best theories are ugly.
    String theorists: It does?
    Nature: It does. And once you make it the fashion to be ugly, you’ll ensure that other theories will never beat you in beauty contests.
    String theorists: Hooray! Hooray! Look at our beautiful new theory.
    ———- Okay, I’ve taken a few liberties here. But according to Smolin’s book, string theory did start out looking like a very promising theory. And, like a scam, as it looks less and less promising, it’s hard to resist the temptation to throw good money (or research) after bad in the hope of getting something back for your effort.
    http://www.amazon.com/review/R2H7GVX4BUQQ68/

    A Capella Science – Bohemian Gravity! – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rjbtsX7twc

    Bohemian Gravity – Rob Sheldon – September 19, 2013
    Excerpt: there’s a large contingent of physicists who believe that string theory is the heroin of theoretical physics. It has absorbed not just millions of dollars, but hundreds if not thousands of grad student lifetimes without delivering what it promised–a unified theory of the universe and life. It is hard, in fact, to find a single contribution from string theory despite 25 years of intense effort by thousands of the very brightest and best minds our society can find.,,
    This negative result is remarkable, and says something that no one wants to hear–that materialism as a philosophy of science, is spent, is toast, is worthless.
    http://procrustes.blogtownhall.....vity.thtml

    Theory Bubbles – Peter Woit – April 2012
    Excerpt: With no reality check, a less than rigorous hypothesis such as string theory may linger on,,,, By contrast, a hypothesis such as string theory, which attempts to unify quantum mechanics with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, has so far not been tested critically by experimental data, even over a time span equivalent to a physicist’s career.
    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~.....ss/?p=4558

    The trouble with all this is, of course, that most physicists are completely blind to the fact that if you don’t have God as the basis of physical reality (and of your math describing physical reality) then you will ALWAYS end up postulating a theory that ends up in a epistemological pit of logical absurdities

    The Great Debate: Does God Exist? – Justin Holcomb – audio of the 1985 Greg Bahnsen debate available at the bottom of the site
    Excerpt: The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist worldview is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist worldview cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes. In that sense the atheist worldview cannot account for our debate tonight.,,,
    http://justinholcomb.com/2012/.....god-exist/

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: The physical universe is causally incomplete and therefore neither self-originating nor self-sustaining. The world of space, time, matter and energy is dependent on a reality that transcends space, time, matter and energy. This transcendent reality cannot merely be a Platonic realm of mathematical descriptions, for such things are causally inert abstract entities that do not affect the material world. Neither is it the case that “nothing” is unstable, as Mr. Hawking and others maintain. Absolute nothing cannot have mathematical relationships predicated on it, not even quantum gravitational ones. Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency – a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.,,, the evidence for string theory and its extension, M-theory, is nonexistent; and the idea that conjoining them demonstrates that we live in a multiverse of bubble universes with different laws and constants is a mathematical fantasy. What is worse, multiplying without limit the opportunities for any event to happen in the context of a multiverse – where it is alleged that anything can spontaneously jump into existence without cause – produces a situation in which no absurdity is beyond the pale.
    For instance, we find multiverse cosmologists debating the “Boltzmann Brain” problem: In the most “reasonable” models for a multiverse, it is immeasurably more likely that our consciousness is associated with a brain that has spontaneously fluctuated into existence in the quantum vacuum than it is that we have parents and exist in an orderly universe with a 13.7 billion-year history. This is absurd. The multiverse hypothesis is therefore falsified because it renders false what we know to be true about ourselves. Clearly, embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science.
    Universes do not “spontaneously create” on the basis of abstract mathematical descriptions, nor does the fantasy of a limitless multiverse trump the explanatory power of transcendent intelligent design. What Mr. Hawking’s contrary assertions show is that mathematical savants can sometimes be metaphysical simpletons. Caveat emptor.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/

    “Clearly then no scientific cosmology, which of necessity must be highly mathematical, can have its proof of consistency within itself as far as mathematics go. In absence of such consistency, all mathematical models, all theories of elementary particles, including the theory of quarks and gluons…fall inherently short of being that theory which shows in virtue of its a priori truth that the world can only be what it is and nothing else. This is true even if the theory happened to account for perfect accuracy for all phenomena of the physical world known at a particular time.”
    Stanley Jaki – Cosmos and Creator – 1980, pg. 49

    Kurt Gödel – Incompleteness Theorem – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/8462821

    Verse and Music:

    Colossians 2:2-3
    … in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

    Break Every Chain – The Digital Age
    http://myktis.com/songs/break-every-chain/

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