Monday, October 17, 2011

Neutrinos confuse Coyne

Leftist-evolutionist-atheist Jerry Coyne writes about the supposedly superluminal neutrinos:
We are doubtful not because we desperately need to cling to a paradigm that has seemed successful, but simply because overthrowing such a paradigm requires very strong evidence. ...

Krauthammer’s editorial, which sounds so reasonable, actually profoundly mischaracterizes the nature of science. And I think he’s saying these things because he’s trying to diss scientists as adherents to a form of faith. Ten to one he’s either religious or an accommodationist. (I’m just guessing here; I have no idea.)
Coyne is picking on the wrong target. Krauthammer is not particularly religious or conservative or anti-evolution. Coyne is misreading him.

But Coyne gets it wrong when he writes about the "nature of science". The phrase "overthrowing such a paradigm" refers to Kuhnian paradigm shifts, and they are not based on strong evidence. That was the core of Kuhn's theory, and it is the dominant philosophy of science in universities today.

The best examples of paradigm shifts are Copernicus's heliocentrism and Einstein's special relativity. The late Thomas Kuhn and his present-day adamantly insist that there was no strong evidence driving those shifts. Kuhn wrote a whole book on the lack of evidence for Copernicanism. Today's Einstein scholars all say that he ignored Michelson-Morley and other experimental evidence and followed his own aesthetic principles.

This is surprised, but detailed in my book. It is distressing that leading science popularizes get the nature of science so wrong.

Update: Coyne responds:
I didn’t say he got the science wrong; I said he distorted the meaning of why physicists were concerned about why this experiment gave the results it did.

Quantum mechanics began with a novel observation by Planck: that of black-body radiation. That was new evidence, not a reinterpretation of old evidence.
The title to his post was, “Charles Krauthammer gets science wrong”. Yes, the black-body radiation experiment was new evidence, and Max Planck's analysis of it was the birth of quantum mechanics, but Thomas Kuhn never said that was a paradigm shift. Kuhn even wrote a whole book on the subject. A paradigm shift would be a reformulation without evidence. Kuhn was emphatic that there cannot be any objective way of saying that the new paradigm is any better than the old.

One reader defends Coyne by writing:
Do you understand the difference between “getting science wrong” (i.e., misrepresenting the way scientists work) and “getting THE science wrong” (i.e., misunderstanding a scientific finding)?
In my opinion, those who talk about paradigms are nearly always getting science wrong.

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