Category: Physics

Stephen Hawking RIP

Stephen Hawking is dead. Far be it from the likes of me to write him an obituary. You can see several of these elsewhere, many of them heartfelt and insightful.

Two thoughts come to mind at this time. Firstly, Hawking is to be greatly admired for being both a highly regarded theorist and researcher, and a genuine celebrity scientist. In this he joins very few who have managed to achieve fame in their own lifetimes by changing the way we understand the fundamentals of our universe.

These days, it often seems that celebrity scientists are not really leaders in their fields, and that leaders in their fields seldom become real celebrities.

Secondly, Hawking — at least to me — exemplified someone who practiced the role of scientist in its totality. He not only talked scientific talk, he walked a scientific walk.

By this I mean Stephen Hawking can be thanked not just for his theoretical and empirical contributions to physics, but also for the way he promoted scientific skepticism and critical acuity among the general public. Many scientists purport to do this by role-modelling rigour in their work. Hawking went further. He frequently set aside time to actively promote the cause of scientific thinking in the general population, and to advocate against bunkum and pseudoscience in the public square.

Most of us will permanently struggle to appreciate the true impact of Stephen Hawking’s work on cosmology and theoretical physics. However, we can all applaud his advocacy in the promotion of reason, balance, rigour, empiricism, logic, and evidence.

Hawking railed against the dangers of ‘fake news’ decades before the term ever became fashionable.

As such, it is somewhat ironic that this quote is so often attributed to him:

quote-the-greatest-enemy-of-knowledge-is-not-ignorance-it-is-the-illusion-of-knowledge-stephen-hawking-283508

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

The statement teaches us something important about science and pseudoscience — namely, that the bravado of assumption is more treacherous than the caution of self-aware naivete. It is consistent with Hawking’s many messages about the importance of scientific rigour. The phrase ‘illusion of knowledge‘ encapsulates the warning in an eloquent and powerful way.

The problem — wonderfully — is that, while Hawking conveyed this view many times, the quote in question was never actually his own.

DAsCMWtWAAAqUNO

Nobody has identified any record of Hawking ever making the statement as phrased above. The exact source of the quotation is unclear, but it has been doing the rounds in one form or another for a very long time:

  • 1861: ‘the great enemy of knowledge is not error, but inertness‘ — Henry Thomas Buckle, historian

It was used several times by author, educator, and librarian Daniel J. Boorstin.

All we can say is that the claim Stephen Hawking authored this quote is itself an illusion of knowledge.

Stephen Hawking did more than most scientists to warn humanity against the perils of seduction by charismatic ignorance. It is because of people like him that more of us are willing to question the flim-flam, propaganda, and pseudo-knowledge that threatens to overwhelm public and civic debate.

He will be fondly remembered as a true cultural icon of our times.

Rest in peace, Professor Hawking.

 

‘Rethinking Psychology’ is now available

Alright, there really is no humble way of putting this. My new book [*blush*], having been trailed as “imminent” for several months, is now officially available. In all good booksellers, as they say (and they actually do say this).

I’ll be having an initial launch event in Galway in late April (details to follow). But in the meantime, here are all the formal bits and pieces you need to know…

rethinking

Imprint: 2016
Rethinking Psychology: Good Science, Bad Science, Pseudoscience
Author: Brian M. Hughes
Publisher: Palgrave, London

ISBN-10: 1137303948
ISBN-13: 978-1137303943

Click here to view on Palgrave
Click here to view on Amazon.co.uk
Click here to view on Amazon.com
Click here to view on Amazon.in
Click here to view on Amazon.co.jp
Click here to view on Barnes & Noble
Click here to view on Book Depository
Click here to view on uRead (India)
Click here to view on Waterstones
Click here to view on WHSmith

From the cover: Psychology is one of the most popular subjects in universities across the world, offering unique insights into the human condition. However, its very popularity threatens to undermine its value as a discipline, and it often attracts those who lack scientific rigour. Taking a fresh look at common practices and pitfalls, Brian Hughes examines the relationship between psychology, science and pseudoscience, and explores the biases impeding many psychologists from being truly rigorous.

Brian Hughes has written an important and engaging book exploring the relationships between science, pseudoscience, and psychology. He argues persuasively that psychology itself can properly be considered to be a true science but one that is marred within by pockets of pseudoscience. This book should be read by anyone with a serious interest in the subject.” — Professor Christopher French, Goldsmiths, University of London

“Hughes provides a timely and comprehensive reminder of the critical role of science in both academic and professional applications of psychology. It covers an impressive breadth of topics with incisive clarity and illustrates clearly the integral role of scientific approaches to understanding psychological phenomena.”Dr David Hevey, Trinity College, Dublin


 

Contents

PART I PSYCHOLOGY AND PSEUDOSCIENCE IN THEORY
Chapter 1 What is Science and Why is it Useful?
Chapter 2 What is Pseudoscience and Why is it Popular?
Chapter 3 The Scientific Nature of Psychology
Chapter 4 The Scientific Nature of Psychology
PART II PSYCHOLOGY AND PSEUDOSCIENCE IN PRACTICE
Chapter 5 Examples from the Fringes: From Healing the Mind to Reading the Body
Chapter 6 Examples from the Mainstream: Biological Reductionism as Worldview
Chapter 7 Examples from the Mainstream: What Some People Say about What They Think They Think
PART III PSYCHOLOGY AND PSEUDOSCIENCE IN CONTEXT
Chapter 8 Biases and Subjectivism in Psychology
Chapter 9 Religion, Optimism and their Place in Psychology
Chapter 10 Psychologists at the Threshold: Why Should We Care?

 

Bandwagon latest: ‘Science news’ with tenuous World Cup relevance doing the rounds right now

1. Analyzing John Brooks’ Dream About Scoring the Winning Goal

Source: Time.com, ‘HEALTH’ section (17 June)

One-line summary:  A US soccer player scored a goal and then says he previously had a dream about doing so. So then, can your dreams predict or influence your future? Scientists say maybe or maybe not. By which they mean: ‘Actually not.’

We know it’s on the bandwagon because they say:So while it’s not exactly ‘scientific’…

World Cup relevance: 4/5

Science relevance: 2/5

 

2. The Story Behind the Foam That World Cup Refs Use To Stop Cheating

Source: Gizmodo.com (17 June)

One-line summary: That vanishing spray, invented in 2002, is now on TV a lot. So without actually explaining how it works, here’s what a ‘free kick’ is.

We know it’s on the bandwagon because they say: Continue reading “Bandwagon latest: ‘Science news’ with tenuous World Cup relevance doing the rounds right now”

%d bloggers like this: