Saturday, March 06, 2010

Pseudo-scientists Failures at Math

Over at Dealing with Creationism in Astronomy, Tom has a post up explaining how math is the language of science (especially physics and astronomy) and how pseudo-scientist supporters visiting his site often ask him to town down the math to a simpler level. This very strongly reflects on just how intellectually sophisticated these people are as are their leaders (who Tom has repeatedly requested mathematical and numerical predictions from instead of post-hoc "my theory predicted that" claims).

He makes an excellent point, saying
Most physics-related pseudoscience is communicated not by the rigorous language of mathematics, but by nuanced re-interpretation of terminology and rhetorical tricks. Pseudoscience is communicated among its supporters more like politics than science.
When asked if he could simplify the material more Tom responds that he could but "such explanations would be of little scientific value."

There's another danger that builds on this that I think should be mentioned as well:

Although concepts can often be expressed in simpler terms it must often be done by analogy or a generalization. These analogies can be wonderful teaching tools, but without being able to see the mathematical sub-structure at some point to explore the limits of the analogy, pseudo-scientists will often take the analogy as the true idea and extrapolate from it wildly.

A prime example of this is the horribly common abuse of the Second Law of Thermodynamics by Creationists. To scientists, it's a statement about the statistical filling of available energy states (often from quantum mechanical statements with are mathematical in and of themselves) which can be expressed in numerous mathematical forms depending on how you're using it. To Creationists, it's a statement about "order" and "disorder" and think that the "order" of keeping your room clean is somehow the same "order" as structure in the universe.

The irony is that, while pseudo-scientists frequently do this wild extrapolation through twisting words, which is boundless as long as you can twist the language enough, they turn around and moan that scientists make unjustified extrapolations through the rigorous math which isn't so flexible. Not that pseudo-scientist hypocrisy is in any way surprising any more.

So I completely agree with Tom's point that if pseudo-scientists can't get the math to back up their position (and I mean real math; not the multiplication of a bunch of numbers to make bigger numbers to scare people with math that Dembski and other Creationists use for their "tornado in a junkyard" analogies) they should be left sitting on the curb.

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