Dubious shadows that live in the holes in our knowledge

Friday, 9 October 2009 02:09 by salim

There are so many dubious hypotheses and proclamations that solely live in the holes in our knowledge. You can see them in many areas. For e.g. the (tragically) popular Creationist interpretations of life (recently dubbed as Intelligent design), many “alternative” medicine ideas like Homoeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy etc, various self healing/self help methodologies in various names, UFOlogy and so on

One common thread that links all these fantastic ideas is that rely almost exclusively in the holes in our current knowledge. All of them directly or indirectly complains about a large scale conspiracy in which all the scientists, governments, school and college teachers and peer reviewed publications are deeply involved with the sole aim to desecrate or dismiss the claims of these fantasists.

Recently there were a whole bunch of buzz about Ardipithecus Ramidus, a Hominid that lived before Lucy the Austrelopithecus and potentially one step closer to the common ancestor of humans and large apes like Chimpanzee. This prompted me to see what Discovery Institute had to say about this new development. Strangely enough, my various searches could only produce a commentary about a the Texas school board testimony from March this year. This is quite understandable. If one reads the books and articles that talks about creationism (or its hip name Intelligent Design) instead of providing proof through scientific rigor, it only points out to the gaps (in many cases erroneously, but in some cases, actual gaps like lack of completeness transitional fossils) in the current body of knowledge.

A popular technique that is used by a lot of “new age” thinkers is to use (or misuse) popularized notions about higher science and then try to correlate it with half baked notions of ancient philosophy. One such hilarious attempt is the one to explain the efficacy of homoeopathy, which essentially dispenses distilled water as medicine. The homoeopathic “medicines” has been tested by various high sensitivity tools and methods by both proponents and critics to find any trace of the original substance these medicines are allegedly derived from. There has been no evidence. One can use simple high school chemistry to prove that the repeated dilutions will eventually remove even a single molecule of the substance that we originally started with. There are several “theories” that suggest molecular reorganization of water because of the presence of the substance, or the mysterious transference of the “spirit” of the substance to the water by repeated dilution and vigorous shaking. While these are amusing, i would say the funniest one is this. This explanation uses quantum entanglement as a potential cause of efficacy of homoeopathy. It states “Homeopathy could be a macroscopic analogue to quantum teleportation..”. For a person whose basic quantum mechanics knowledge comes from science channel shows where quantum entanglement is pictured by huge balls or people, this might seem plausible. It is like after seeing the gravity distortion pictured as a rubber sheet and bowling balls in the TV and trying to hypothesize that the reason why my bowling ball always goes to the gutter is because of the space time curvature created by the ball.

Another technique is to use the concepts of zero point energy and dark energy as analogous to the mysterious energy that a lot of ancient texts talk about. Many self help, life coaching techniques as well as spiritual healers claim that their idea works due to a mysterious energy that is unmeasurable by us. What is the proof? Well, it is the zero point energy and/or dark energy.

If anyone try to question them, they will immediately revert to the global conspiracy that try to prevent any of these “novel scientific” ideas from becoming public.

While the Discovery Institute has a very specific political and religious reason for fighting theory of evolution, these spirit healers, UFOlogists etc. are primarily eying for the money they could make from healing workshops and book publishing.

Skeptoid has a very nice article that lists a 15 point test on how to spot pseudoscience. It is a very good checklist to refer if you want to test someone’s dubious claim.

Being a skeptic is an evolutionary necessity!