Home » Cosmology » Pop science media’s science fictions: Shock n’ awe? No, just shook n’ odd, really

Pop science media’s science fictions: Shock n’ awe? No, just shook n’ odd, really

Due to new rules. Let’s unpack these new rules.

Responding to “The Science Fictions series at your fingertips” on the real effect of naturalism in science—as conveyed by the popular science media, commenter Selva Rajan kindly writes:

I think it is unfair to bring together hypothesis and conjectures and thoughts of various physicists and present them as if there is a consensus among all scientists involved in research. I want to make it clear that lots of ideas gets traction in news media because of their ‘shock and awe’ value and are not accepted theories.

Piltdown2 replies:

The point was not to claim a consensus for these ideas, just to show they are accepted as science, while ID theories are rejected out of hand.

And I responded:

Yes, Piltdown2, thanks, that is precisely the overdue question I am asking. What makes something “science”? Or more to the point, why is it regarded as science? The rules are definitely not about evidence, so what are they really about?

Here’s one thing they are about: The Big Bang can’t truly have happened and the universe can’t truly be fine-tuned. Anything and everything else can be true (true and untrue, true and not-true, true-not and not-true, it’s all okay really). But not the Big Bang and fine tuning.

There’s lots of similar stuff in the popular science media—dismally supported by evidence but strongly supported by ideology—on a number of related topics. I’ll unpack a lot of it in future installments. But let me clear away some underbrush first:

Most scientists reading outside their own disciplines rely as much as anyone else does on popular science media to make events intelligible. So if those media are purveying evidence-free assumptions in cosmology, they are purveying them where they expect to find ready ears among scientists and lay people alike. And in the series I am tracing the process by which all those ears become ready.

All my life, I have heard the refrain that media get things all wrong. If you listen carefully, you will notice that that refrain is sung by different choirs: By truck drivers whose addresses were mistakenly published as the addresses of dangerous criminals and, on just as fervent a note, by politicians caught in their underwear in unexpected places.

Media make all kinds of mistakes. But what they rarely get wrong are the accepted assumptions of their own readers. Their very survival depends on getting those assumptions right.* So media stories may be simplified, but their message is probably not wildly off the mark for accepted opinion in science.

Which leaves the question, how did so much evidence-free stuff become accepted opinion for people interested in science? Why exactly? Onward!

* Of course, suicidal miscalculations do sometimes get made. Something of the sort may have happened in Toronto (North America’s seventh largest city), where ailing mainstream media simply assumed that citizens would turn on their popular tax-cutting mayor over the crack episode (but Toronto largely didn’t). A&E assumes it can dump Duck Dynasty with impunity. Should neither guess pan out in the long run, that’s probably because the media in question happen to be dominated by unrepresentative editors, unskilled at reading their readers. I don’t know a reason to think that true of current popular science media generally. – O’Leary for News

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5 Responses to Pop science media’s science fictions: Shock n’ awe? No, just shook n’ odd, really

  1. Here are some more example of this phenomenon.

    Asteroid that killed dinosaurs might have sent life to Mars (BBC News). – See more at: http://crev.info/2013/12/extre.....Qr81L.dpuf

  2. Power of Crazy ideas: Every path to truth, every invention, every discovery started as a crazy idea. Sun as the center of our solar system was a crazy idea, Earth as a sphere was a crazy idea, Flying was a crazy idea, space travel was a crazy idea, setting foot on moon was a crazy idea, invisible atoms was a crazy idea, quantized light was a crazy idea, explanations for natural forces was a crazy idea, Special relativity was a crazy idea and despite 10 years of rigorous tensor calculations and innumerable proof, General relativity is still considered a crazy idea! So yes theoretical physics and cosmology welcomes crazy ideas backed by mathematical rigor. Only if they are proven does it become accepted science.

  3. Only if they are proven does it become accepted science.

    Nice list of some crazy ideas that bucked the “accepted science” of the day, but you have to be careful when talking about paths to truth. If only proven ideas become “accepted science”, how did the previous and now-disproven ideas get to be “accepted science” in the first place? Could it be that not all proven ideas are true? (i.e. Al Gore’s ideas on global warming).

  4. And Selva, how do you determine if these crazy ideas are backed up with mathematical rigor?

    Who made up that rule?

    Do all scientists know about that rule?

    Just curious, but how is evolution from non life to life and then from one cell to humans backed up by mathematical rigor?

    Seems to me it is not. Chance seems to play a large role in this story.

    The problem with evolution is that most ideas are NOT backed up like that and neither can the ideas be tested because we are dealing with once in a lifetime events that took place in history. They cannot be observed, repeated, or verified. Yet they qualify as science simply because they exclude any role for God in the explanation.

    No one is against making hypotheses as long as they can be tested. If they can’t, then what good are they?

  5. I’ve had a problem with the popularizers of science, especially Darwinists, for years, and I have written an essay at http://ayearningforpublius.wor.....hat-smart/ discussing my problem.
    It seems to me that if the Coyne’s, Dawkins’s, Sagan’s of the science world can’t communicate convincingly to the general public by way of the popularizers, then they have a serious credibility problem.

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