Discredited Theories

Why Einstein will never be wrong

You could say we now know that the caloric model is completely wrong.
Except it isn’t. At least no more wrong than it ever was.

A perhaps subtle but important point. Models are adopted because they work, and it’s a matter of their scope that leads us to later discard them. And, as the article continues on to say, if you want a newer model to be adopted, it had better do more than the model you want to supplant.

Einstein’s theory didn’t supplant Newton’s until we had experimental evidence that agreed with Einstein and didn’t agree with Newton. So unless you have experimental evidence that clearly contradicts general relativity, claims of “disproving Einstein” will fall on deaf ears.

The inability of a thought experiment, rather than a physical experiment, to confirm a model is something I’m fond of pointing out, and something that the psychoceramics never seem to grasp.

A Stitch in … Photoshop

Why does the Milky Way look curved?

Let me pose the following question to you:

How is it possible to get two points in the sky — 180 degrees apart — into the same image?

It’s not possible, not unless you distorted something along the way! In this case, we had to distort the composite, stitched-together image in order to display the entire path with a flat horizon! This is a complicated task, similar to the reason why it’s impossible to make a flat map of a sphere that simultaneously has all the properties you’d desire!

The Hard is What Makes it Great

New theories are hard to get right…but that’s OK

Theoretical physics is hard.

Or more to the point: coming up with workable new theories in physics is difficult. Partly that’s because of the vast successes of science: we are remarkably good with our current theories at describing, predicting, and otherwise characterizing a huge number of physical phenomena. Any new theory has to cover known phenomena adequately and do better at characterizing experimental or observational evidence than existing successful models. That’s hard to do, which is why big shifts in the way we do things — relativity, quantum physics, and so forth — are much rarer than smaller advances.

This is a recurring theme among scientists who have some exposure to the public — new “theories” arrive unbidden all the time, and these days anyone with an idea can start up their own website. I think Matthew nailed the characteristics pretty well — pretty pictures but no math, intelligent but little formal training, bold general predictions but nothing specific that could be tested, and the complaint that they are being ignored, or worse, censored.

The devil’s in the details, and these proposals generally lack detail. There’s also an observation about pop-sci books not giving you enough to actually do science, which people may not recognize. This reminds me of something that I’ve seen elsewhere (Physics and Physicists, IIRC): pop sci books don’t teach you science, they teach you about science.