Monday, October 24, 2016

Thanks for the Advice but…

There is a lot of advice out there for outsider scientists from allegedly well-intentioned members of the scientific community and much of it makes a lot of sense. Doing your homework, understanding your subject, acquiring the mathematical skills necessary to express ideas in a way that can be understood and which may allow them to make not only quantitative descriptions of physical phenomena but testable predictions; all of which are essential if one wants to contribute to whatever subject one choses.

But a lot of that advice is purely sociological and have little to do with science. A lot the well-meaning, well-intentioned advice is really about doing all that is necessary to be recognized and accepted by the institutionalized scientific community and ignores one essential fact. The goal of science is to try and make sense of nature as it is revealed through experiments and observations. But to most other respected members of the academia, acceptance by the scientific community implies scientific validity and vice versa, but does it really?

I have read quite a few articles aimed to help the outsiders (they pretty much say the same thing). The last one I came across is an article written in 2007 by physics professor Sean Carroll. He correctly describes what is required for an outsider scientist to be taken seriously by the academia, but he never really discusses what is required of a scientific theory to be considered valid.

A theory is required to describe, explain and predict. And by predictions, I mean testable predictions. But even that is unclear and subject to interpretation so let me clarify.

For a theory to be scientific, it must answer positively to the following questions:

  1. Do its axioms form an internally consistent set?
  2. Is the theory rigorously derived from the axiom set?
  3. Are all descriptions derived from the theory consistent with observations?
  4. Can we derive explanations from its axiom set that are consistent with observations?
  5. Can we derive from the axiom set unique and testable predictions?

Questions 1 to 5 allow us to determine if theory is scientific, but to be valid, a theory must answer the question:

  1. Have the predictions derived from the theory been observationally or experimentally confirmed?

Carroll also paraphrases an argument proposed by pretty much everyone who provides advice for outsiders. That is: A new theory must agree with theories that have been well tested. But what does that mean exactly?

Does it mean that a new theory must agree with an established theory’s explanations or interpretations of observations? If that were the case, then the relativity theory’s interpretations of observations would need to agree with Newtonian interpretations which they don’t and can’t since they are based on are mutually exclusive axiom sets.

What agreeing with an established theory means then is that the explanations, descriptions and predictions derived from a new theory must minimally agree with observations that have been found to support established theories. This requirement appears simple enough, yet it is misunderstood by the majority of both insiders and outsiders alike. So further clarification is required.

Agreeing with observations is not the same as agreeing with theory-dependant interpretations of observations. Both Newtonian gravity and general relativity agree on many observations for which they have completely different interpretations. So a number of theories can be in contradictions with one another yet correctly describe the very same observations. Because of that, only by testing predictions unique to each theory can we determine which ones are valid.

If I may offer a piece of advice to members of the scientific community who are willing to bestow their wisdom upon us lowly outsiders. I agree that we should respect all the hard work, the sacrifices, the dedication and passion of the professional researchers. That said; respect is a two way street.

There is no much respect in underestimating the intellects of outsiders, no much respect in choosing as the only examples of outsider theories the most idiotic. There are outsiders who though they may have unorthodox approaches have and can contribute to our understanding of nature. They are no less dedicated, hardworking and no less capable of mathematical rigor.

Condescension may get a few laughs from your peers, but it only shows arrogance and contempt for those you seek respect from. If you really want to help, if you really do want to help, then try and step down from your academic ivory tower and do just that; help. Filter out the crackpots and cranks (you already have experience dealing with plenty of those in your own ranks) and open some channels. Outreach programs are important, but “inreach” programs are the only thing that would help if help is what you sincerely want to do.

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