A Tour of Pathological Science [S-17-59]

Presenter: Brian Watson
Location: SLU: Valentine 202
Classes: 1 Session 1.5 hours
Dates: Wed 2:00 PM 03/22

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Irving Langmuir coined the term “pathological science” to describe the science of things that are not so, a category distinct from scientific hoaxes (Piltdown Man), deliberate fraud (Benveniste’s water memory experiments), or simple error (faster-than-light neutrinos). Langmuir described the case where reputable scientists, by lapses in judgment and experimenter bias, convince themselves that they have discovered a new phenomenon, which is in fact spurious. Other scientists replicate the experiments and often they also find the new effect, or think they have. In this talk, Brian Watson will describe some of the most famous cases of pathological science. Starting with the well-known case of Blondlot’s N-Rays, he will discuss cold fusion, facilitated communication, and the latest candidate, NASA’s EMDrive, which purports to deliver a thrust without an exchange of momentum.

Brian Watson just retired from a forty-year career teaching physics. While his professional research has focused on light scattering in clouds, he has taught a special topics course called: “Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus.” This SOAR presentation draws material from that course and his long-standing interest in pseudoscience.

Cap: 25

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