Alternative Science - Yay or Nay?


What if we call it “Latest Headlines Explained with Real Science” ?


I’m more interested in learning about the real universe than than pseudo-universe.


But the flat Earth model has elephants and a space turtle!


I’ve yet to find a flat Earth model that is consistent with other flat Earth models, despite Pratchett’s best efforts.


I don’t think anyone actually believes the earth is flat. I think they are just trolling us.


I haven’t met anyone whom I think really believed a flat Earth, but I have met a couple people who started getting obsessed by the YouTube videos, and found some of the arguments compelling. Basically “I know the Earth is supposed to be round, but then how do you explain x?” Since we were talking face to face, I know they weren’t trolling. They just didn’t understand basic concepts like inertia and relative motion. The electric universe folks, on the other hand seem fairly convinced of their assertions.


Discourse has a wiki? Would that be helpful for this category?


tl;dr: Yes, to reduce the noise in regular topics, but…

We should distinguish between “Alternative Science” (ideas that have been disproved or Not Even Wrong), and “Fringe Hypotheses” (which might have some merit, and have not been evaluated).

I’d like to see healthy discussion of “Fringe Hypotheses”, as they can generate interesting discussion.

In both of these sections, I suggest that each hypothesis gets its own thread, with a sticky header post containing an ‘abstract’ of the idea, a bullet list of disproofs/conflicts/problems, and links to critical reviews/blogs/papers (Brian, Sabine Hossenfelder, etc).

The sticky post would solidify that which is beyond reasonable doubt, and help prevent the noise of recurring or hostile arguments. In the “Alternative Science” topic, the sticky post should dampen discussion.

I worry that the choice of classifying an idea in “Alternative Science” or “Fringe Hypotheses” may be contentious, even inappropriately judgemental, regardless of whether that decision is made by admin opinion or by testing if an idea conflicts with standard theories.


I generally agree with you. In fact, the title could go on to say “Fringe Hypotheses and How Existing Science Doesn’t Agree” … again, sorta walking the fine line of not having an overly negative connotation. Regardless how how ridiculous I might find certain things (Flat Earth, Electric Universe, and so on), discussions about those things can be beneficial in two ways. First, it provides a solid foundation as to how the scientific method effectively counters those hypotheses; Second, it gives an opportunity for real science to be sharpened.

Sometimes a fringe hypothesis provides a unique insight into something. Sure, it’s extraordinarily rare, but in people who have a firm understanding of the actual science, these fringe theories can spur a unique perspective.

At the same time, I also see the wisdom in perhaps not making any concrete changes yet. It might be a good opportunity to see which way the wind blows right now, and the framework can be customized once we see how it plays out. Maybe One Thread to Rule Them All, or maybe a whole separate forum, or maybe just a Wiki redirect (I’m sure there’s a wiki out there already for most of these fringe hypotheses).


Yes, there’s a danger of prematurely over-engineering. We’re discussing this in the belief that it will be a problem. It might turn out fine, where the site design, and its members, critically keep the content problem-free and objective.

I explored this about 10 years ago blog*, and the fair evaluation of fringe ideas is a difficult problem to crack. It requires that someone qualified spends lots of time trawling the muddy waters, with little predictable return on their investment. Universities are not known to engage in such risky activities, preferring predictable costs and benefits. Having said that, I guess the typical user of this site is more likely to occasionally dip into muddy waters.
*I really should edit that blog.


I suppose it’s better for us here on the InterWebz to “trawl the muddy waters” than it is for someone like Brian to expend too much energy on it. I think he takes a certain amount of perverse joy in bashing his head against that wall from time to time, though, haha. Still, to be absolutely honest, I’d rather see fresh articles about interesting subjects like modern breakthroughs, or layman’s explanations about how complicated things work (quantum physics, etc). It’s a similar reason why I enjoy reading Michio Kaku’s books (even if they’re sometimes a little silly).


A place for already-debunked ideas to die, to help keep this site tidy, rather than to deliberately be a Wiki of all known debunked ideas?


I think for those, which just have difficulties to distinguish honest science from nonsensical pseudoscience such rebuttals will be helpful. I see a general problem in the growing gap between the forefront of science and respective discussions and that, what is or can be communicated to a broad public. The typical news coverage of scientific topics is often that over-hyped, over-simplified or simply off the real achievement, that it is hard to get from that, what was really new, how significant the finding is and what it means. For this your and similar blogs are really helpful (reading the original paper is not always possible or helpful for an educated layman / nonspecialist). For a broader public and not so obvious cases this covers distinction from pseudoscience.
The big problem imho arises from pseudosciences being pushed intentionally and sometimes very influentionally - for ideological or commercial reasons. It’s hard to handle these.


I expect few are truly able (are qualified and have done their thousands of hours of thinking, and active work in the discipline) to make the distinction about whether an idea can work. So we’re probably not looking for a debating area to be a court to ‘decide’ which ideas belong in the pseudoscience bucket. More a handy reference area we can link to whenever FAQs are asked.

I become suspicious whenever a niche foundation advertises beyond the usual circles.


I’m leaning towards addressing it, but it would need to be in a controlled manner.

I envision 3 sub-folders:

One for “Science/Space Frontiers - Pushing the Boundaries”. A place for the fringe science that’s actually on the bleeding edge, and potentially viable, but maybe not.

One for “Fringe Hypotheses - A Civil Discourse”. Need to make that civil part clear as day. Here theories can be brought up and debated both ways.

One for “Mainstream & the Fringe - Why Science Doesn’t Agree”. Where all the reasons for debunking are laid out, Almost like a wiki of all the reasons why certain hypotheses don’t match observation, and don’t work in general. Where someone could go and research all the reasons ‘why not’, before even trying to go to the other thread and argue ‘why so’. Discussion would probably be minimal, other than answering questions and clarifications.

Of course, there’s no data to back up the need for these. If it starts getting messy, I think this is a way to keep the forum clean. But I’m not sure there’s a real need at the moment until things start getting busy. Names, of course, are negotiable :stuck_out_tongue:


Adding yet another dimension to this:

Are we seeing the need for special treatment of Alternative Science as a defense against potential disruption to the normal discourse in this forum?

Or is it part of an outreach mission, to be a resource, to tidy up an arena that is potentially confusing and unhelpful to the communication of robust science?

Both the above have different solutions.


I imagine more of a resource, and a way to keep other areas separate. I think looking at alternative views can be useful in showing why we accept the ideas we do, but I don’t want the forum to be trolled.


If a dedicated category will gather all “alternative science” in one place, it may be a good thing.


I general I think the idea of some sort of alternative science section is a good one. However, I feel “the Electric Universe” has no place in any such section as it is avowedly anti-science.