Science, the liberal conspiracy

Recently the news broke about how LIGO detected gravitational waves from a collision of the two neutron stars, followed by the detection of the gamma burst that offered another source of information.
The event was fruitful, offered the confirmation about the value of Hubble constant, confirmed the hypothesis that elements heavier than iron are created in collisions, and a bunch of other little goodies.
The plethora of results was seen significant enough to appear in several different news outlets, not just boring scientific ones. And although one of the reporting journalists gushed how this finding might be a Nobel prize worthy, I have to admit I’m not so sure.
As an astrophysicist, I like the result. I think it is awesome, and I applaud LIGO team on the new breakthrough. I sincerely hope they will have much more discoveries to come.
There is another reason why I think that Nobel prize is not likely. Results have to be really groundbreaking to be nominated for such a prestigious award. So groundbreaking that no one can claim there is something way better. And there were some impressive results in other fields of physics this year. Moreover, the fact is, astrophysics rarely is considered as a field with revolutionary results.

I got my B.S. From general physics, not astrophysics. During my education, I listened various professors telling the stories and criticizing every possible branch of physics that is not theirs. Of course, Astrophysics was often declared not to be a real physics at all, because astrophysicists did observations instead of experiments. Theoretical physicists laughed at experimental ones saying experimental physics is severely limited. While experimental physicists declared theoretical physicists science fiction writers with good knowledge of math.
When I enrolled into a grad program, I thought that kind of attitude is something I’ll leave behind. Something that was just characteristic of the country where I grew up. It was not.

My first taste of the scientific environment came during the obligatory monthly introductory speeches of grad students and their projects. I was not in the first batch. I was supposed to go later. That first event left me flabbergasted by the pure meanness of the audience. The audience barraged the students with the questions that sometimes bordered on pure nitpicking over the language. I could not understand why. Aren’t we all here to do research? Who cares if that poor student used a synonym instead of a precise term?

Later I learned that’s a norm in every single scientific discussion. And afterward, I learned that precise terms and severe limiting of the statements are necessary because of the damage that careless sentence can produce when it reaches the general public.
So, when the new research result is given to the scientific community, it is shredded to pieces, in search of the mistakes. Partly because of the innate inertia of the science, and partly because a mistake might mean funding of scientist in error will become available for someone else down the line.
That’s why I always laugh when layman starts talking about a scientific conspiracy. No, there cannot be a conspiracy among scientists. Making scientists agree about how to do something is almost as herding cats. Nope, everyone will try to do things differently, in the hope of either having a breakthrough or just proving the other scientist wrong. And conspiracy requires a bunch of scientists to do the exact same thing. Nope, it cannot be done. Herding cats is easier….
There is another point that makes me shake my head in wonder. The fact that science is declared a liberal by the conservatives in the USA. The science itself is the most conservative thing I ever encountered on this planet. To introduce the new result, a scientist has to fight tooth and nail every step of the way. And everything in the research has to be up to the scientific method. The only then result is accepted, and a boundary of the knowledge is pushed forward. The change is slow, reluctantly accepted, and mercilessly questioned.
Granted, sometimes the wrong result sneaks through, but sooner or later other scientists rise up and show it is wrong, and that’s a good thing. Because this conservativeness of science gives the strong reliability to the results that are widely accepted by the scientists. As a scientist, I can tell you that questioning an opinion of one scientist is fine. You might be correct. But questioning something accepted by the majority of the scientific community is wrong. When the result comes to that level of acceptance in the scientific community, that result is correct.

So, to sum up, scientists are humans, full of all the same faults you can find in average dolt that pisses you off. But the very process of the science, with all its critical thinking, questioning, competitiveness, and reluctance to accept the change is what makes science the best method we humans have to discover the truth.



    • Depends on your set of beliefs. If you are blessed with beliefs that do not limit critical thinking, exploration, questioning, knowledge, and the universe, then you have it easy.
      We humans do not know all answers, and science is ok with not knowing. Science is ok with abandoning the hypotheses that are proven to be wrong. For example, the hypothesis about future of our universe changed around 3 times since I started my education (from oscillating, to static, to expanding, to expanding with acceleration), and it is bound to change again as we learn more about the nature of the universe.
      So you have two options if your beliefs are not limiting. You can tuck your beliefs into an area that is yet to be explored or try to incorporate the search for the truth as part of overall doctrine in your beliefs.
      However, if your set of beliefs already has firmly entrenched explanation of the universe that cannot be interpreted as symbolic, then you’ll have problems to balance science and beliefs. Because such beliefs are anti-science.
      Just look at religious regions in the world, if there is part of science that proves their particular dogma wrong, that part is declared as some kind of conspiracy and rejected.
      I’ve seen this kind of behavior from many believers, from believers in traditional religions to the followers of the new-age set of beliefs. All of them reject some part of science, not always the same. So in this case, there cannot be balancing of the science and beliefs. A rigid set of beliefs that relies on dogma goes against the very fabric of science: questioning, critical thinking, and exploration. Because the moment faithful start questioning any dogma, they will find holes in it.
      You can do an experiment, try to examine the dogma of the belief you do not share. I can guarantee you you’ll find an incredible amount of logical inconsistencies and silly superstitions. Yet, there are people on this planet who will die in defense of such beliefs.
      So it is not surprising that religious leaders and communities discourage questioning of any kind, basically going against the science. That’s why there was a push to remove critical thinking classes in areas where religion is strong. Of course, any non-democratic political system encourages lack of critical thinking as well because it helps ruling class stay in power and manipulate the population, but that’s another topic.
      To conclude, one can balance with science a set of beliefs that are not against questioning and critical thinking, but not the set of beliefs that discourage questioning and critical thinking. And if you wonder about me personally, I follow a philosophy that encourages questioning and critical thinking (no surprises there 😀 ).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow! Very eloquently, you answered my question (and then some). Your points are both valid AND reassuring. There’s a misconception that scientists are atheists who wouldn’t accept a supernatural phenomenon if one happened in their very bedroom, but now I believe that is but a conception that greatly “missed” the mark. Scientists are frustrated with religious dogma. I understand. So is anyone else trying to live a free life in accordance with the laws a Nature. Although my brain doesn’t have the hardware to be a scientist (as you certainly do), my philosophy involves the balance of intuition, inquiry and experience.


      • Thank you.
        I am aware of misconception. It comes from average scientist insisting that claims of religious people should follow the scientific method to be accepted as a scientific proof.
        I honestly do not know why the religious people insist on stating that their particular set of belief has scientific proof. If they would just stick to the pure definition of the term belief, no scientist would even pay attention to their claims. Belief itself means accepting something as truth without any evidence. Less evidence there is, stronger belief has to be. I mean, no one believes in desks. The prove for desks existence is overwhelming, so no belief is necessary.

        So, when supernatural is in question, science seems against it because one cannot have controlled repeatable experiment that would confirm the claim. There is a cash prize of a million dollar for anyone who can prove any supernatural claim. For more than a decade an award is still unclaimed because conditions of the award demand that evidence should be obtainable following the scientific method.

        For any scientific fact, you can do that. That’s why you can be sure that each time you drop the stone on some planetary body, the stone will fall down, on any planet in our universe.

        The sad part is that majority of the misconception comes from the human nature.The scientific method and critical thinking is explicitly made to counter human failings. It was invented in Arabia during Middle Ages, and through years got proven to be the best method for us to discover the truth.

        Our impulse to be social, to belong to the group is what strengthens any misconception about ‘the others’. Consider this. It is actually a result of anthropological studies. With the introduction of the agriculture and larger human groups, like cities, where residents did not personally know each other, religion arose. The only way an individual human who belonged to a certain city was able to prove its loyalty and thus get the protection was to demonstrate loyalty to the particular set of the beliefs by doing costly actions (like circumcision). Today, we still have that urge to prove our belonging to the group, because of simple selection. People who could not prove their loyalty lost protection and died. Only loyal ones survived giving us their genes.

        Any scientist will be happy to accept the existence of the supernatural if such existence can be proven with controllable, repeatable experiment, so that any possibility of cheating is removed and that any alternative explanation is discarded as well. In essence, insisting on making sure that we are talking about the reality and not some trick. And that still did not happen. When it does, a scientist will accept it as truth, as we accept any other fact that puts our own current universe explanations upside down.

        BTW. One does not need special abilities to learn and apply the scientific method and critical thinking. Everyone can do it.


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