Keep on in slow skepticism

Wandering through my readings and discussions I often cross with someone who holds a skeptical quite uncomfortable. Like whether nothing is valid or we are unable to access the knowledge about nature. In fact, this is the general sense of skepticism as philosophical stance, the impossibility of knowing. Many people confuse this with that attitude that a scientist must keep. The problem with this skeptical view is that any explanatory model incomplete should be abandoned because it is not able to access the truth (inaccessible) about nature. About this, I encourage the reading of the text “The uncertainty value” already posted here. Why a model does not fully explain a phenomenon does not mean it should be abandoned, as the philosopher describes Granger:

“[…] The history of science shows us, in effect, conflicts between concurrent theories, e.g., occurrence, born in the eighteenth century and still live in the nineteenth century, between a corpuscular theory and the wave light theory. In this case, both essentially explain the same phenomena, but relegate each other to explain certain facts which represent bad.”

Some argue that the Big Bang theory is nothing but a philosophical blunder since there is no experimental data on such a compressed super atom. Despite the empirical data that the Hubble telescope has provided us, there are still those who argue that the expansion of the universe probably is not happening and we do not found the Higgs boson. If you share this kind of vision, know that the skeptical position can put you on the fringes of science. You can be whatever we called Quack in backstage of science, a facetious term to describe people who have delusions of conspiracy coupled with distaste for certain scientific practice.

Recently caught my attention the case of Mohammad Shafiq Khan. The physicist believes that the limitations of the physical and biological sciences suggest the need for a theistic science, I ignore the reasons why he did not finish his doctorate. In the words of Shafiq:

“I openly challenge all the professors, researchers & teachers of physics/philosophy of physics to come forward & show me where I am wrong or else they have to accept that they are teaching incorrect physics based on trickeries.”

The physicist published two articles suggesting that manipulations used to validate mathematical theories such as relativity, the Big Bang and the concept of space-time do nature subservient to mathematical whims. The criticism is especially directed to the electrodynamics of Einstein. Importantly, although the mathematical manipulations occur, they are based on our knowledge of the natural world. A good example is given by a mathematical procedure called Lorentz transformation. Hendrik Lorentz realized that electromagnetism did not meet the principle of relativity using the Galilean transformations and therefore developed the so-called Lorentz transformations to make the laws of electromagnetism were the same in any referential, thus meeting the postulate of relativity that assumes: There is no an absolute referential. The laws of physics are the same for all inertial frames (i.e, at rest).

The procedure performed by Lorentz is the criticism of Shafiq. Relativity was not conceived by Einstein as well know physicists, but by Galileo. In any case, the transformations of Galileo had problems and need mathematical adjustments to enter in accordance with the observations. Some critics might suggest that the only restrictions at speeds greater than light are mathematical. Why math restrictions? When we apply to calculations speeds greater than light emerges a root of a negative number, which is mathematically meaningless. Therefore, mathematics prohibits the use of higher speeds than light.

Scouring our memory we can remember the episode in which CERN‘s scientists reported finding neutrinos traveling at speeds greater than light. Such a revelation could completely change our understanding of how the universe works. There was a certain desire to dethrone Einstein, would be a great cover story. It happens that some time later it was discovered that the results were the product of an error in the measurement system of the device. Brazilian scientists have already suggested that the speed measurement was incorrect, which today is conclusive.

There are empirical ways to demonstrate that Einstein’s ideas are consistent without the need to invoke devices such as the set of complex numbers and assume that roots of negative numbers are valid, like did Charles Muses to admit speeds exceeding that of light. This behavior skeptic has two serious consequences: confuses the audience on one side making him believe that this should be the standard behavioral of scientist and takes enthusiasts on the fringes of science relegating them to oblivion.

In science this behavior have short life as the case of former surgeon Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield published a paper suggesting a link between the administration of the MMR vaccine and the onset of autism. Shortly after the article was retracted for fraud and Wakefield was awarded the Golden Duck by practicing pseudoscience so ridiculous, dangerous, irrational or irresponsible.

References suggested

Gilles-Gaston Granger. A ciência e as ciências. UNESP.
Michael Hanlon. Was Einstein wrong? Dailymail. September, 2011.
Salvador Nogueira. Neutrinos mais rápidos que a luz? Sociedade Brasileira de Física. Setembro, 2011.
Eugenie S. Reich. Flaws found in faster-than-light neutrino measurement. Nature News. February, 2012.
Roberto Neves. Teoria do Big Bang, uma teoria muito mais filosófica do que científica. Blog Gilghamesh. Janeiro, 2013.
Abbie Smith. “Nature” awards quack hunters with John Maddox prizes. ERV. November, 2012.
Fiona Godlee and Jane Smith. Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. BMJ, 342: c7452, 2011.doi:

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This work by Alison Felipe Alencar Chaves is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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