Support For Sensible Science
Words and phrases highlighted in bold type in this article indicate there are links to further reading at the end of the article
For a few months I have been baiting the boy-scientists of the Bad Science site and their cult leader Ben Goldacre (dont bother too much about him for now, its a false name for sure.) There are many examples, one of the best being Dr. Strangeloves Secret Bacon Butty Weapon, as the title suggests a tongue in cheek article, but with a keen edge.
Well some very reasonable people working in Research and Development in several fields have commented on these posts and feel I have presented a negative view of the sciences at a time when colleges are struggling to recruit students to science courses. I thought I had done enough to distinguish between scientists, the kind of people who think that by announcing themselves as scientists they have somehow defined themselves quite clearly and explicitly as members of a superior species, boy-scientists who practice a very simplified version of science such as might be shown on Childrens Television but behave as if science is some kind of religion that must not be questioned except by initiates to the priesthood and the scientists who are simply conscientious and competent knowledge workers.
Following my most recent baiting of boy-scientists in the Strangelove post one of the boy-scientists made reference to my irrational hatred of scientists. RESULT!
The point many critics miss, presumably because they do not set much store by language skills is that I am actually quite a fan of the natural sciences. I do not hate people who work with any of those skills, physics, chemistry, biology, or their work. Having spent twenty odd years working in computers and telecommunications I am no stranger to applying some of those bodies of knowledge in solving problems. Though pretty hopeless at pure mathematics maths I have always been able to do the maths if there is a practical need. Also, my work as a consultant took me into the nuclear and conventional power industries, chemicals, oil, defence, public service agencies and a number of financial and commercial enterprises. All of them use various sciences at some level so I am well aware of the importance of the sciences in a modern society And I deplore the way boy-scientists with their dorky dress sense, their cone-heads and their nerdy tunnel vision present an image of scientific work as something to be avoided at all costs by cool dudes and their hos.
What irritates me increasingly is the way some people, usually of the no-life, mega-personal-hygiene- issues tendency will talk of science as a zealot talks of the divine, as if it is something that can only be understood by initiates who have progressed through several stages of competency.
So before we go further lets get straight what exactly a science is. The Oxford English Dictionary and leading American dictionary, Websters, define a science as a systematic and formalised body of knowledge. From Agriculture to Zoology there are many sciences or ologies that we do not usually think of as sciences, so it is both misleading and confusing to refer to oneself as a scientist without qualifying what science one actually works with. Sorry, I can be a bit pedantic about language at times, but language is a science too. If we study language at a high level it reveals a wealth of information about the history and development of human culture.
Is it any wonder then that so many people get mightily pissed off when somebody like boy-scientist Ben Goldacre or his sad little buddies such as the guy who runs skeptico.com announce Im a scientist before dismissing without thought something like homeopathy or the Intelligent Design argument. It may be the smugness, that Im a scientist so I must be cleverer than you attitude or simply that they appear to think by citing science they prove their case beyond argument when in reality they do not even begin to understand the question.
The good thing is they lack life-experience and emotional immaturity so winding them up is easy.
It seems however, in playing these games I have given the impression that the sciences are purely for saddos and nerds, it is time to put it right.
A natural break here, so I should explain that although the phrase Intelligent Design has been hijacked by fundamentalist Christians as proof of the Bilical creation myth. In fact the original theory of intelligent design referred not to the creation of life on Earth but to the design and interaction of sub atomic particles and atoms.The Bible is in fact quite clear on the point that there was life on Earth before the Creation but to understand properly we need to look at the creation myth of the Zoroastrian Zend Avesta.
We must find ways to make study of the sciences appealing or we are in big trouble. Bigger trouble than we are in already. So the first thing we must broadcast is that without the sciences human civilisation would be nowhere. Had Mesolithic or Neolithic humans not made the evolutionary leap that led to their beginning a systematic study of the world they lived in and had they not developed languages to communicate what they learned from tribe to tribe and generation to generation we would still be running around naked and eating dung for our dinner. (BTW If you did eat dung for your dinner its probably because you are homeless in Westminster where the dark forces of Nimbyism have stopped the soup run, but that is another issue.) Without the sciences we would have no tele, books (papermaking and printing involves several sciences) no cars or bikes, no trains and boats and planes. We would live in mud huts and cook our food over open fires lit by banging our thumb with a big stone (that might not be true, I just put it in hoping some of the boy-scientists would be thick enough to test the theory.)
Science is a formal body of knowledge and almost everything we do, whether it is related to survival of fun, depends on knowledge.
Science comes from the Latin word scientia meaning know or discern. The same Latin root also gives us conscience, (knowing or being aware of onself), prescience (having foreknowledge like fortune tellers: fortune telling always sets the boy-scientists off,) and omniscience (being all knowing).
Knowing is perhaps the biggest thing that raises us above animals and makes us human. Even the name of our species, homo sapiens sapiens, (from Latin sapere, knowing in the sense of being wise rather than aware of, our early ancestors were homo sapiens, man who knows, we are homo sapiens sapiens, man who knows he knows. I told you there was a science in language.) After 50,000 years or so of living in communities and not only surviving but advancing because we learned first to co-operate and then to record what we learned through co-operating it is rather sad to have come to a point where in some walks of life we have people who declare I am a scientist (a knowledge worker) as if they have uttered some kind of magic word.
To present the sciences thus, as some kind of closed world of esoteric knowledge that may only be acquired by a select few, the chosen ones, is utterly wrong and damaging. We should be presenting the sciences, including those subjects which are not usually viewed as sciences, archaeology for example, as exciting and cool.
How cool is Physics?
For twenty years now I have followed the work being done at Cern (Conseil Europeean pour Recherche Nucleaire) in Geneva and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology. U.S.A.) to identify the Higgs Boson and study other sub atomic particles and thus prove the theories of physicist Peter Higgs. Back in 1957 Higgs was looking one of the great mysteries of the universe, why heavy stuff is heavy (I doubt he would put it like that.) Another way of saying this is why does a rock weigh more than all the individual atoms making up that rock?
Everything is made out of atoms so why does a cannonball weigh more than a ball of feathers. Well obviously because that is the way things are, but that was not enough for physicists like Higgs. They wondered about the mysteries of the Universe, not in the sense of why are we here, where did we come from, is there any point to it all and who put the ram in ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong and the questions that puzzle philosphers such as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but why did all those gluons and quarks, the sub atomic particles bind together in the nanoseconds after The Big Bang (if there was such an event) and make a tiny thing with a nucleus and orbiting electrons. And then why did those tiny atoms bind together with other atoms to make molecules which in turn made galaxies, stars, planets, asteroids, cheese, shirts and poo.
Higgs theory was not just made up out of thin air as I and other fiction writers make up stories and boy-scientists make up facts to support their attempts to get on the corporate gravy train, but carefully thought through after intensive study of the work of other theoretical physicists and the results of experiments carried out in Britain, America, Russia, France and many other nations. He suggested the existence of a sub atomic particle that could only exist as a separate entity for a nanosecond after the nucleus of an atom had been smashed apart, but that while bound with other sub-atomic particles in the nucleus of an atom, gave off a type of energy that joined it to all the bosons in all the atoms in all the gin joints in the Universe to create a field in which all matter is contained. It is this, his work suggests, that enables matter (us and our world) to have physical existence.
If any reader is wondering why I keep slipping the flippant, irrelevant remarks into a serious(ish) article, it is because boy-scientists get really irritated when I do not take them as seriously as they think they should be taken, thats why.
If Higgs speculations about the boson is proved to be anywhere near right, it opens up a whole new Universe of knowledge. It also proves that most of what we thought we knew is wrong. The obvious benefits are those suggested by science fiction. Anti-gravity belts that enable you to do without a car and still not have to talk to nutters on the bus, interdimensional travel, rides on Star Ships like the Enterprise, all that. Maybe those things are just fiction, but think of the more likely possibilities, the ability to use the seemingly endless and non-polluting supply of energy that drives the universe, leave all the lights on and a tele running in every room, its all free. The ability to feed everyone in the world. This is all wild speculation of course, but we should bear in mind that only a hundred years ago the idea of sending moving pictures through the air to a glass screen in peoples homes was not even wild speculation. Three hundred years ago they would have burned you as a witch for even suggesting it.
If Higgs theory is proved it will means ghosts and elementals could exist after all. Ghosts are, according to serious researchers into the paranormal, simply electro magnetic echoes of past events while elementals are energies. It may also go a long way to explaining some of the other questions that scientific knowledge as it stands, can only respond to with bluster and evasion. The word ghosts is used deliberately here because of the effect it has on boy-scientists. They get as sneery about ghosts as they do about psychics, astrologers, scryers and speculative interpreters of prehistory.
Could ghosts be an electro magnetic echo? Well yes, it is perfectly feasible no matter what our boy scientists say. Such echoes or shadows might be a better word do exist and can be interpreted. How do the ghost deniers think forensic computing works, how can technologists identify data on a hard disk after it has been overwritten many times. Quite simply each layer of data leaves its own echo and with sensitive enough equipment to read those echoes, information can be reassembled. Ghosts in the machine.
Does this mean I believe in ghosts? Well when I walk through graveyards at night Im quite confident of not meeting any dead people running round with white sheets over their heads. Other than that I am aware of many possibilities, one of which is that ghosts may simply a figment of the imagination. I do believe however that people who claim to have experienced such things are utterly genuine. The Supernatural menu of my new web Multi Media labyrinth Greenteeth will have lots of articles on such topics.
A few weeks ago I raised the question of gravity. What is gravity? If as the standard academic answer suggests it is an attractant force, where does the energy to drive that force come from? Every force needs and energy input the theory goes, yet wherever we are in the universe, whatever we are doing, gravity always works … except when it doesnt.
An anti – gravity engine has long been a dream of aviation engineers and a safe fallback for sci-fi writers. Such stuff is just fantasy the academic community say, and yet we have an anti gravity device that most of us use daily. Which brings us to another mystery, magnets. Find a ferrous surface to hang a permanent magnet on and it will hang there forever. What power holds it there against the pull of gravity? We might be lucky enough to get someone waffling about weak forces and strong forces working against each other, they are always good for a laugh, but we can be sure they will not be able to explain just what these weak and strong forces are. We simply do not understand the energy that makes a magnet magnetic.
Another anti gravity device, one that offers more tangible practical benefits, is maglev propulsion. Maglev uses the superconductive repellent force of electro-magnets to drive a train at high speed as it floats above its tracks. Maglev technology, based on ideas published by German physicist Walter Meissener in 1933, has been around for twenty years but only now are the first experimental trains being built. Attempts to progress the technology have met with obstruction, yet maglev offers the possibility of shipping goods overland to and from the far east in only two days. It is a realistic, less polluting alternative to air travel for the movement of passengers and freight. Opposition to its development is mainly from the world of academic science, are they perhaps fearful of losing the benefits that accrue from their cosy relationship with the oil companies. The case for the urgent development of this technology is argued here:
To describe here all the exciting projects going in the field of scientific research would take too long: a new type of generator to provide electricity from tidal currents, zero carbon energy to power our new Maglev trains; cars that need no driver; the many advances in computing; producing energy from sunlight; all amazing and important projects. There is equally important work going on in agriculture to produce better crop yields by methods less damaging to the environment than the chemical fertilisers used for the past century. This is a case of responsible science trying to undo the mistakes of irresponsible scientists who charged ahead, chasing their Holy Grail without ever pausing to think of the consequences. All we hear from the boy-scientists and their paymasters when combating famine is mentioned is promotion of genetically modified crops. These idiots do not learn, again they are wanting to charge ahead with a process when nobody can possibly have a clue what the long term consequences may be.
The people funding the G-M projects are of course those same oil and chemical companies that are obstructing maglev and pushing for forced medication of the entire population. It is interesting to note most of the boy-scientists I encounter work in medical research. Cult-leader Ben Goldacres obsessions are homeopathy, diet supplements, those quack remedies that are advertised in the small ads of the Sunday papers, Promoting the safety of the very suspect MMR vaccine (its worth mentioning here that Goldacres main claim to fame is he won a prize for freelance medical journalism for an article he wrote about how the silly people who doubted the efficacy of the wonderful MMR vaccine were. Strangely, when dismissing parents who report autism symptoms appearing in their children shortly after administration of the vaccine as gold diggers and delusional hysterics (nice bloke our Ben,) by saying there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support their claims he omits to mention his prize was funded by the main manufacturer of the vaccine. Prima facie evidence of a conflict of interest I would say. Goldacre and his crew obviously have an interest in shouting down criticism of their paymasters so I shall continue to pillory boy-scientists and the corrupt companies who fund them whenever I see evidence of their trying to occupy the moral high ground while serving the interests of their paymasters.
Hypocritical is one thing serious scientists are not.
Magnetic Levitation Walter Meissner
Developments in semi biological photovoltaic cells reported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Avesta Zoroastrian Archives