Monday, June 1, 2015

It's Based on Science, No Really

There are two kinds of people in the world - those who understand the meaning of the word "science" and those who don't. This post is about the latter set of people.

You know someone has no idea what they are talking about when you hear them say:

"Numerology is a science"
Even mathematics isn't strictly speaking a science.1 And numerology is based on what? Numbers. Where are these numbers coming from? Arbitary things like letters in your name, date of birth, etc. Do the numerologists even acknowledge that there are multiple calendars, multiple languages to write your name in, etc? How can numbers predict future?2

"Homeopathy is a science"
It is, if pure water is science. But seriously, the principles of homeopathy are in no way the reason why homeopathy even works for some people. It's the principle called "placebo" that makes Homeopathy tick. And the difference between correlation and causation is one that these people can't make.3

xkcd: Dilution


"Any kind of alternate medicine is science"
Read what I just wrote above.

"Astrology is a science"
Because planets exert gravitational influence on human babies? Yes, they do exert a force which can easily be calculated by Newton's laws, but if you follow through, the cars and buses outside the hospital in which your baby is born exert more gravitational force on your baby than the planets outside Earth.

"Ancient sages had vast amounts of knowledge, they knew most things that modern science is only coming to realize, and we have failed to explore even a fraction their knowledge OR Indians discovered zero and everything else in the universe that is discoverable"
No. Well, maybe Indians did discover zero before everyone did. You see I call it a discovery because nothingness is a concept that need not be invented. And I'm sure they did figure out the Bodhayana theorem too. But drawings of flying machines is not equivalent to flying. Stories about conception without sex is not equivalent to being able to do stem cell cloning or in vitro fertilization. Observing the binary-ness of a star system is not equivalent to a PhD in astrophysics. And no matter how smart your sages where I bet they wouldn't have used cellphones to talk to each other. Talking about cell phones,

"Cellphones causes cancer, kills babies, burns brain cells, and kills baby squirrels"
No. Simply no. Just because you can think up a plausible theorem it doesn't become true. Just because one kind of radiation kills people, all types do not. Just because your theory applies to something analogous, it needn't apply to this.4

"This world-renowned scientist/professor/doctor/faculty/student of this world-renowned university thinks this is science. So this is science."
No, in fact, it is the opposite that is true. This pseudoscience is being approved by those people, and therefore they're fake.

"You do not appreciate the science behind these because you are not open-minded. If you think more, you'll understand"
No, broad minded you! I have probably thought more than you did about your favorite pseudo-science. I have applied the methods of scientific rigor and realized that it doesn't hold. And that's why I vehemently oppose you calling it science. I am willing to put more energy into appreciating it, only if you have something new and logical to contribute.


It is so kind of you to believe in science and believe in only things that seem scientific. I urge you to grow a bit more and make sure things that seem scientific are scientific. Begin your journey at RationalWiki.



Footnotes:
1) Well mathematics is "the queen of all sciences", and it surely is very important in science. But it is too beautiful and abstract to be called science.
2) There's statistics and probability which can predict future with some probabilistic certainty. And of course a huge part of science is entirely based on probability and statistics. But then, you know how it goes.
3) Of course when it comes to correlation and causation there's a certain amount of trust we've to put on our ability to have avoided all the other confounding factors, but still.
4) Analogies themselves are useful only to gain clarity in thoughts, not to validate them. Building up from fundamental principles is the right way to validate ideas.


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