Pathological Science – Bandwagons

Finally, we come to the ultimate test – durability; does the theory gain general acceptance over the long run. Langmuir observed the

Ratio of supporters to critics rises up to somewhere near 50% and then falls gradually to oblivion.

The thrust of the statement is that while a theory may gain supporters, if it is a valid theory than people will not discard it out of hand. Of course, Langmuir was referring to the scientific community, but with the advent of the internet, everybody feels they must have a say in such important things even if they do not know a pipette from a crack pipe.

Two theories that failed this test were polywater and cold fusion. At the time, both of these theories were exciting and people were busy trying to figure out how to capitalize on them. Cold fusion was so trendy in the late 1980s that Congress passed funding for a research institute before anything could be confirmed. Of course, the two proponents would be the directors of this fiasco and earn nice fat salaries and were sure to be the greatest scientific celebrities since Einstein. Of course, we know how that worked out.

Or take the case of people who convinced the US legal system that they could restore repressed memories. I do not know how many people got convicted and later exonerated based on that lousy bit of pseudoscience.

Today, we have people who think they know more than they really do and like to get their exercise by jumping to conclusions. Like a few years ago, when people at CERN really, truly believed that they observed electrons moving faster than the speed of light and announced this to the world. There was great debate between leading scientists on both sides of the argument – imagine that warp drive could be a reality! Having to retract something like that is difficult, especially after you got your picture plastered all over the popular press.

You hardly hear about that stuff anymore. And there is a reason for that.

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