Richard Durst: “Pathological Science and the Perils of Thinking Outside of the Box”

Apr 19, 2018

“Pathological Science and the Perils of Thinking Outside of the Box”

Richard Durst

CAPE: Cornell Association of Professors Emeriti Lecture

Presenter: Richard Durst, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, Food Science

Thursday, April 19 | 10:30 to 11:30am | BTI Auditorium

Revolutionary science often requires thinking outside of the box.  However, stepping outside of the box can be fraught with many hazards, not the least of which is the loss of objectivity.

Scientists are often not very good judges of the scientific process. The best intentions can be subverted by self-deception.  Even eminent scientists have had their careers tarnished or ruined by misinterpreting unremarkable events and convincing themselves that they have made a great discovery.

Error is a normal part of science, and many revolutionary discoveries turn out to be wrong.  Uncovering flaws in observations or reasoning is part of what scientists do, by replicating measurements and designing control experiments.

Pathological science” is the term coined by Irving Langmuir in 1953. Other terms for this phenomenon include: pseudoscience; voodoo science; junk science; weird science; etc.  However, pathological science should be distinguished from hoaxes and fraud — which are intentionally meant to deceive.

This presentation will look at the various causes of pathological science and examine some of the interesting examples, such as Martian canals, N-rays, 21-gram soul, extrasensory perception, polywater, cold fusion and, the latest, the Hydrino Suncell..

Self-deception can affect anyone — scientists are only human — even some of the best minds have been fooled.  Critical thinking must be used to avoid the pitfalls of pathological science.

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