• Tricks That Emulate Science

    There are a lot of pseudoscience promoters in our world.  There are two factors that influence the amount of control that these people have.  How much fear they can generate and how much trickery they can conjure to provide a solution to that fear.

    The first isn’t so hard.  People fear.  It’s a survival trait in humans.  We’ve never been the strongest or fastest.  We have no natural weapons or armor.  We are fragile.  The people that were afraid survived.

    The second is tougher.  One must create the impression of something that has the power of science, but also has no bearing on reality.  Everyone knows that science works.   It’s obvious to even tribesmen in Africa who use cell phones to pay for their children’s education.  But to create something that sounds sciency, but plays on people’s fears is tougher.

    The creationists have long been practitioners of this art.  They have tried to use the language of science to obfuscate and confuse so that they sound like they have scientific support for Noah’s Flood and special creation of organisms.  They have been exposed too many times for them to have much power, except in small, out of the way, uneducated areas.

    The anti-vaxxers, anti-AGW, and anti-GMO groups have taken the lessons learned by creationists over the years and distilled those tricks into very concentrated plans to promote their ideas.  They are still wrong, but they sound very, very good to people with a basic education and no training in critical thinking.  They use the right words to motivate specific groups to support their cause.  They take advantage of marketing and ideas that the creationists never really got a handle on.

    Unfortunately, these battles will continue, possibly forever.  As long as people choose to remain ignorant and aren’t taught (and use) critical thinking and logic and skepticism, then there will be others who take advantage of them.

    Let me give you an example of something like what I’m talking about.  For most people, as soon as you throw math out, their eyes glaze over, drool starts to puddle, and they present all the brain power of the average zombie.  So, let me use some math to proof that math doesn’t work.

    This is often what these pseudoscience groups do.  They try to use science/math/logic to show that science/math/logic doesn’t work.

    Let a = 1 and b = 1
    a=b
    a2 = ab
    a2-b2 = ab-b2
    (a-b)(a+b) = b(a-b)
    a+b = b
    since a=b
    b+b = b
    1 + 1 = 1
    2 = 1

    This is obviously a trick.  No person would get taken in by this.  It’s obviously wrong.  But the question is why.  Every mathematical step was performed correctly and the result is that 2 = 1.  So what’s the trick

    SPOILER ALERT: Stop here if you want to figure out yourself.

    While the math is totally correct, what happens when you subtract 1 from 1 as you would when you see (a-b)?  The answer is zero.  Everything after the point where we subtracted b2 is not 1, but instead zero.  Since zero does equal zero, then the equation is correct.  Let’s do the math again without substituting “a” and “b”.

    1=1
    12 = 1*1
    12-12 = 1*1-12
    0 = 0

    See, when done that way, it’s quite obvious that there is a trick involved.

    It’s very similar with creationist and other anti-science arguments.  What makes it much, much worse is that the people just cannot see that there is a trick.  Sometimes it’s because they really, really want to believe that 2=1.  Sometimes it’s because there is a benefit that they say it (monetary or moral).  Sometimes it’s because they really don’t know any better.

    When one actually understands the principles of science (and math and logic), then these kinds of tricks are just that, meaningless meanderings.

    Category: Skepticism

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    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat

    • jjramsey

      Actually, the math isn’t totally correct, since it involves dividing by zero, which is not a proper mathematical step.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        I read that too. While divide by zero isn’t proper, the trick fails before that point. As soon as you subtract, everything is zero.

        I can see that though.