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Cargo Cult Science • Richard P. Feynman

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posted on May, 26 2015 @ 12:17 PM
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This is from the end of "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" which is adapted from a commencement speech he gave.

I think he presents the case for rigorous scientific integrity and genuine ubiquitous experimental transparency better than most.


Cargo Cult Science - "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"


During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such as that a piece of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. Then a method was discovered for separating the ideas--which was to try one to see if it worked, and if it didn't work, to eliminate it. This method became organized, of course, into science. And it developed very well, so that we are now in the scientific age. It is such a scientific age, in fact, that we have difficulty in understanding how witch doctors could ever have existed, when nothing that they proposed ever really worked--or very little of it did.

But even today I meet lots of people who sooner or later get me into a conversation about UFOs, or astrology, or some form of mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and so forth. And I've concluded that it's not a scientific world.



But then I began to think, what else is there that we believe? (And I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have been to check on them by noticing that nothing really worked.) So I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you'll see the reading scores keep going down--or hardly going up--in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There's a witch doctor remedy that doesn't work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress-- lots of theory, but no progress--in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.

Yet these things are said to be scientific. We study them. And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience. A teacher who has some good idea of how to teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it some other way--or is even fooled by the school system into thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one. Or a parent of bad boys, after disciplining them in one way or another, feels guilty for the rest of her life because she didn't do "the right thing," according to the experts.

So we really ought to look into theories that don't work, and science that isn't science.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science.



In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.



But this long history of learning how to not fool ourselves-- of having utter scientific integrity--is, I'm sorry to say, something that we haven't specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you've caught on by osmosis.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself-- and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, hut something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you're not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.




Other kinds of errors are more characteristic of poor science. When I was at Cornell, I often talked to the people in the psychology department. One of the students told me she wanted to do an experiment that went something like this--it had been found by others that under certain circumstances, X, rats did something, A. She was curious as to whether, if she changed the circumstances to Y, they would still do A. So her proposal was to do the experiment under circumstances Y and see if they still did A.

I explained to her that it was necessary first to repeat in her laboratory the experiment of the other person--to do it under condition X to see if she could also get result A, and then change to Y and see if A changed. Then she would know that the real difference was the thing she thought she had under control.

She was very delighted with this new idea, and went to her professor. And his reply was, no, you cannot do that, because the experiment has already been done and you would be wasting time. This was in about 1947 or so, and it seems to have been the general policy then to not try to repeat psychological experiments, but only to change the conditions and see what happens.





Another example is the ESP experiments of Mr. Rhine, and other people. As various people have made criticisms-- and they themselves have made criticisms of their own experiments--they improve the techniques so that the effects are smaller, and smaller, and smaller until they gradually disappear. All the parapsychologists are looking for some experiment that can be repeated--that you can do again and get the same effect--statistically, even. They run a million rats--no, it's people this time--they do a lot of things and get a certain statistical effect. Next time they try it they don't get it any more. And now you find a man saying that it is an irrelevant demand to expect a repeatable experiment. This is science?

This man also speaks about a new institution, in a talk in which he was resigning as Director of the Institute of Parapsychology. And, in telling people what to do next, he says that one of the things they have to do is be sure they only train students who have shown their ability to get PSI results to an acceptable extent--not to waste their time on those ambitious and interested students who get only chance results. It is very dangerous to have such a policy in teaching--to teach students only how to get certain results, rather than how to do an experiment with scientific integrity.

So I have just one wish for you--the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel heed by a need to maintain your position In the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.



[Adapted from the Caltech commencement address given in 1974.]
edit on 26-5-2015 by greencmp because: (no reason given)




posted on May, 26 2015 @ 12:36 PM
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Scientific exploration is fine and all to expand about subjects that are real enough. Like rocks on the ground at your feet or the biology in a drop of pond water.

But what about when things thrust themselves upon us that we have no experience for? Unmeasurable things that to the witness are real enough but to the scientist who's instruments can't measure the phenomenon, don't exist?

I see something out of the world and I call a scientist who shows up with a gaggle of instruments and nothing happens.

No wonder science refutes paranormal stuff. Or explains it as ignorant natives unfamiliar with modern technology.



posted on May, 26 2015 @ 12:43 PM
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a reply to: intrptr

I think what he is saying is that meticulous testing by everybody with repeatable experiments is the foundation of the scientific method and that there should not be any "scientific" doctrine beyond this principal be it political or economic. All variations of 'corruption' fall under the umbrella of those two mechanisms.
edit on 26-5-2015 by greencmp because: (no reason given)



posted on May, 26 2015 @ 01:05 PM
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a reply to: greencmp

"settled science" is neither settled nor is it science.

Western medical industrialists abandoned science long ago when it failed to meet the needs of the profit machines.



posted on May, 26 2015 @ 01:33 PM
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Almost fell asleep reading this...

Honest science = good and productive

Dishonest science = bending what IS, to fit current scientific explanation = not so good

Thats what I got out of it



posted on May, 26 2015 @ 02:07 PM
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Excellent OP and watch he's esilly the best scientific mind, teacher and general approchist there has been in human history.


originally posted by: intrptr
But what about when things thrust themselves upon us that we have no experience for? Unmeasurable things that to the witness are real enough but to the scientist who's instruments can't measure the phenomenon, don't exist?

I see something out of the world and I call a scientist who shows up with a gaggle of instruments and nothing happens.

No wonder science refutes paranormal stuff. Or explains it as ignorant natives unfamiliar with modern technology.


Feynmann deals with this head on, in albeit a joking manner. he's one of the most laid back scientists there was.

'The extra-terrestrial or paranormal or other pseudo-science people proclaim is far more likely to originate from the known failures and inebriation of the human mind than from nature itself'.

If someone from the paranormal fields came up with actual evidence then science would rightly be thrown out the window and reassesed - that's how science works and progresses. Problem is that hasn't happened and the majority of cases have been proven to be caused by known natural phenomena like infrasound.

Cargo cult is actually talking about Psychologists who for some reason seem to think their subject is a science.



posted on May, 26 2015 @ 04:33 PM
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English reading scores are easy to explain. Schools used to teach English in the way they taught algebra; in the form of connected equations; sentences, clauses, phrases, words, morphemes, prepositions, conjunctions. Nowadays, they'll ask you to write an essay about why you think capitalism should be banned.

Doing psychology experiments usually involves a certain level of distraction. You can't let the test subject know what you are testing because that would skew the results; their responses can depend on the way they were treated when the experiment was setup, whether an attractive assistant setup the experiment. So once an experiment has been done by one person, somebody else has to do something different.

With the sciences like chemistry, physics and mathematics, everything gets boiled or reduced down to equations. Then it is easy to specify an experiment like a cooking recipe and see if the results can be reproduced or not.



posted on May, 26 2015 @ 05:39 PM
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a reply to: bastion

The crux of the matter is bifocal. Wholesale rescript of all academic literature, in lieu of the polarity, results in bruised egos, detoured royalties and accolade/acclaim, and blanket humiliation. Bedfellow, to rash ecomonic despondency of the feudal trappings of contemporary reliance on subpar practices (eg petrol fuel, chemo-therapy, electrical grind, etc). It faces resistance of overwhelming magnitude via established institution. Persons are capable of taking extreme measures when in defense of their grip and hold.

This is why humanity is fated to doom.



posted on May, 26 2015 @ 06:16 PM
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originally posted by: stormcell
Nowadays, they'll ask you to write an essay about why you think capitalism should be banned.


Priceless.





posted on May, 28 2015 @ 09:42 AM
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a reply to: bastion


'The extra-terrestrial or paranormal or other pseudo-science people proclaim is far more likely to originate from the known failures and inebriation of the human mind than from nature itself'.

What about multiple witness sightings? Discounting experiences that I had with friends and total strangers who all saw the same thing is not very "scientific", is it?



posted on May, 28 2015 @ 09:45 AM
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a reply to: bastion

Sorry, replying twice…


Cargo cult is actually talking about Psychologists who for some reason seem to think their subject is a science.

Cargo Cult is a reference to the natives of remote Islands during WWII who built monuments to aircraft they saw and the Gods (pilots) who came down from the sky to visit.

This guy uses it as an insult, imo.



posted on May, 28 2015 @ 09:54 AM
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a reply to: intrptr

Eye witness testimony is notoriously bad. Anecdotes are even worse. Considering we have absolutely no way to rule out any other explanations, your experience carries little to no scientific weight.



posted on May, 28 2015 @ 09:56 AM
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a reply to: intrptr

It's used as an insult to people who want the credibility of scientific validity but without employing the full method to obtain results, i.e. doing "science" for show but shying away from the rigour and scrutiny of the scientific method and community.



posted on May, 28 2015 @ 09:56 AM
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a reply to: GetHyped


your experience carries little to no scientific weight.


Neither does your evaluation.



posted on May, 28 2015 @ 09:59 AM
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a reply to: intrptr

The "I know you are, but what am I?" defence.


Anecdotal evidence is considered the least certain type of scientific information.[15] Researchers may use anecdotal evidence for suggesting new hypotheses, but never as validating evidence.


en.wikipedia.org...
edit on 28-5-2015 by GetHyped because: (no reason given)



posted on May, 28 2015 @ 10:01 AM
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a reply to: GetHyped


It's used as an insult to people who want the credibility of scientific validity but without employing the full method to obtain results, i.e. doing "science" for show but shying away from the rigor and scrutiny of the scientific method and community.

The indigenous peoples of South Pacific Islands during WWII had no realm of experience for what they witnessed. Aircraft and white people were unknown to them. The principles of flight and propulsion being unknown to them doesn't give you pause to consider that maybe "extra" terrestrial methods of travel might supersede your own understanding and therefore be as close to magic as a book of matches would be to denizens of the Middle Ages?



posted on May, 28 2015 @ 10:05 AM
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originally posted by: intrptr
a reply to: bastion

Sorry, replying twice…


Cargo cult is actually talking about Psychologists who for some reason seem to think their subject is a science.

Cargo Cult is a reference to the natives of remote Islands during WWII who built monuments to aircraft they saw and the Gods (pilots) who came down from the sky to visit.

This guy uses it as an insult, imo.



No worries!

I can see how you might think that Feynman was intending some explicit diminution of the paranormal.

While the insult you perceive is insinuated, I believe he was using the example to impugn supposed "sciences" which do not adhere to the scientific method yet still enjoy popular and unwarranted respect as "sciences". In particular, psychology and other "social sciences" which could not be further from objective science.

So, he is making fun of institutionalized "science" who's main feature is the political agenda bound to the concept and expected outcome it seeks to establish rather than defending entrenched presumptions.

I hope that will give you a new perspective on his outlook.

Step back for a moment and please let me know if I have projected too much of my own expectations onto his statements.




posted on May, 28 2015 @ 10:05 AM
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a reply to: intrptr

No, not really, especially considering the "ETs" in this instance had a very mundane explanation. "I can't explain it" =/= "It must be magic/ETs". Occam's Razor and all that.



posted on May, 28 2015 @ 10:05 AM
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originally posted by: GetHyped
a reply to: intrptr

The "I know you are, but what am I?" defence.


Anecdotal evidence is considered the least certain type of scientific information.[15] Researchers may use anecdotal evidence for suggesting new hypotheses, but never as validating evidence.


en.wikipedia.org...


You said…


Eye witness testimony is notoriously bad.

Disregarding it is even worse. Eye witness testimony in conjunction with other forensic evidence is whats required. But since our government is "notoriously" secretive to that end, and the occupants of the "thingy' I saw didn't land get out and hand me a ray gun, you got me there.



posted on May, 28 2015 @ 10:06 AM
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originally posted by: InverseLookingGlass
a reply to: greencmp

"settled science" is neither settled nor is it science.

Western medical industrialists abandoned science long ago when it failed to meet the needs of the profit machines.


Unless it comes to global warming right?

Then those people are science deniers, because the science is settled right!

Ive seen that happen time and time again here on ATS, its ok to refute science unless its global warming, THEN science is right on all levels A few of those people have already posted on this thread, and they look like hypocrites

Climate Change is a perfect of example of what the OP is talking about......"Cant be questioned"


edit on 5/28/2015 by ManBehindTheMask because: (no reason given)




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