Friday, time to relax. From reader Ken Steele comes a link to io9’s “10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing” which will be fun to peruse.
Can we think of more than 10?
Even scientists get this wrong. Proof means incontrovertible indubitable doubt-free evidence that a proposition is true. It is not almost true or mostly true or I-think true or true enough true. How many scientific theories have been proven in this sense? None that I know of.
Proof is for metaphysics, not physics, for math and logic.
Good that this one follows because it’s even more misused. A theory is a set of propositions/premises. Theories can thus be true, as in proven true. But that means we’re in the realm of mathematics.
Most theories are not true in the sense of proved true, but are only “mostly true” or “true enough”, or “true such that the exceptions we have noted are not now of any consequence.”
Still more theories are vague, or only suspicions. Some are contrary to observation but loved all the same, like “global climate disruption.”
When you hear theory, you haven’t heard much.
3. Quantum Uncertainty and Quantum Weirdness
Quantum means discrete. In only it were called Discrete Mechanics! And uncertainty means unknown not uncaused.
Everybody is always mixing up ontology (existence) with epistemology (knowledge of existence). Just because you don’t know where Pittsburgh is doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
4. Learned vs. Innate
It is the nature, i.e. it is innate, of men that they can learn languages, but nobody is predisposed, thank the Lord, to learn French. Identical twins do not act always identically. Nobody has to learn to eat, but only the most perspicacious come to enjoy duck tongue (yum!).
Are these terms really that misused?
In one sense, whatever is is natural, in another it is that which acts in accord with its end, in another it is whatever man had nothing to do with—which is very little. All species work together in one vast brotherhood, mostly one that finds each other tasty. Man is one among many. We’re natural. Get over it.
It took 25 scientists two contentious days to come up with: “a locatable region of genomic sequence, corresponding to a unit of inheritance, which is associated with regulatory regions, transcribed regions and/or other functional sequence regions.”
I had a gene for making me write that. My genes are exceedingly selfish and make me do all sorts of things I have no interest in doing.
7. Statistically Significant
Die die die die die die die!
If I were emperor, besides having my subjects lay me in an amply supply of duck tongue, I’d forever banish this term. Anybody found using it would be exiled to Brussels or to any building that won an architectural award since 2000. I’d also ban the theory that gave rise to the term. More harm has been done to scientific thought with this phrase than with any other. It breeds scientism.
8. Survival of the Fittest
Fittest does not mean strongest, or smartest. It simply means an organism that fits best into its environment, which could mean anything from “smallest” or “squishiest” to “most poisonous” or “best able to live without water for weeks at a time.” Plus, creatures don’t always evolve in a way that we can explain as adaptations. Their evolutionary path may have more to do with random mutations, or traits that other members of their species find attractive.
Excepting the wanton violence done to random, this is what people mean by “Survival of the Fittest”, isn’t it? io9 quotes biologist Jacquelyn Gill: “there’s major confusion about evolution in general, including the persistent idea that evolution is progressive and directional”. Gee. Where would people get that idea? The observed increased complexity must be an illusion. Or coincidence.
9. Geologic Timescales
I have the suspicion this one is included so that title wouldn’t have to read “9 Scientific Ideas…” I can’t recall knowing anybody who misunderstood that a million years were greater than a thousand.
I only eat inorganic food. It’s cheaper.
I’ve never understood post-Christian food religions.