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10 Things New Agers Don’t Understand About Science: Part 5 — Paradigm Shift

January 4, 2014

The previous post in this series looked at the way disproof drives scientific inquiry forward. It noted that disproof will be welcomed by anyone who is sincerely trying to solve a problem or understand how something works. Better known as falsifiability, this idea was a great contribution to the understanding of how science works, and is an essential element of scientific methodology. 

But it also carries some problems. It seems to imply that science progresses in a linear fashion, with all progress involving minor adjustments to a universally accepted model, never endangering anyone’s career or reputation with any radical changes. This in turn makes it all too easy to ignore research and ideas that do not fit the accepted parameters. And this fits rather too snugly with the idea that science is restricted to privileged white men from the politically dominant culture. These lucky folks control research funding and get to decide where the “cutting edge” is…. All of which means the system is wide open for all kinds of shenanigans.

Paradigms & Paradigm Shifts

In contrast to this, is the idea of paradigms, which recognizes that progress can at certain times be discontinuous with the past. An existing model can be completely overturned, not so much by new data or new evidence, but by a new vision.

Thomas Kuhn, the originator of this idea, used the example of the Copernican Revolution. changing from a geocentric model of the solar system to a heliocentric one. Here an entire cosmology was completely overturned by a fairly simple idea. A radically different model of the solar system fitted the data better than the dominant model.

Kuhn clearly recognized that a paradigm is more than just a conceptual model. It’s an entire world-view. It exists in a political context, a social context, and ultimately, in the context of human psychology. It is therefore subject to the same conditions as all other ideas — customs, norms, political restrictions, habits of thought, etc. 

This must be taken into account when evaluating scientific ideas: is a new idea lacking in evidence, or is it merely unwanted by certain highly regarded professors, priests, etc., because it conflicts with their prejudices or interests? And above all, is it being disregarded simply because we are not used to seeing the world in this manner? This is an important contribution to science. It opens broader perspectives for inquiry and research.

The down side of this is that silly people can use it to reject those parts of scientific knowledge that conflict with their pet theories. They say that the dominant paradigm will one day be usurped, so it doesn’t matter if science says their ideas are implausible and their products won’t work. The coming dominant paradigm will, they somehow “know”, confirm all their theories. 

They are unerringly selective in rejecting only those aspects of the “dominant scientific paradigm” that render their ideas implausible. The bits of science that they like –computers, air travel, luxury items, sanitation, etc. — they blithely take for granted. The bits they don’t like are exclusively singled out for vociferous and indignant rejection.

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Paradigm shifts — almost as popular as quantum leaps

Well steady on there, folks. You can’t isolate certain bits of a paradigm for exclusion without affecting all the other bits. It fits together as a system. DUH. That’s the whole friggin’ point of a paradigm!!!

My favorite example of this is the enormously popular idea that the law of attraction is true, “just like the law of gravity.” Wrong. If the law of attraction were real, it would disprove the law of the gravity. Stupid example, you people.

Also, if you argue that the dominant paradigm can be disregarded purely because it will eventually be overthrown anyway, then why don’t we save time and turf out your paradigm as well for the same reason.

Sorry guys, but……..

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would be supported by existing evidence, not flatly contradicted by it.

If you really had a “new paradigm” you wouldn’t be saying that the evidence is “emerging” or “will soon be found”, or even more pathetically, hasn’t been found “yet”. Instead, you’d have bucket loads of evidence from the existing dominant paradigm and would just be interpreting it in a smarter way. And by the way, if you haven’t got any evidence, just admit it for heaven’s sake. And never say “What scientists are beginning to see is….”  unless you want to immediately identify yourself as a quack or a fool.

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would not come with a built-in free pass exempting you from presenting evidence. Rather, it would tell you where new evidence is likely to be found. In fact it would help you make falsifiable claims about it.

If you really had a “new paradigm” you would have understood the old one well enough to accurately point out anomalies in it which no one had noticed before. You would also have a better (and probably simpler) explanation for these anomalies — not merely vague speculations and hand-waving about the supposed weaknesses of what you have just arrogantly declared to be the “old paradigm”.

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would probably be sweet and simple. It would not be “cut from whole cloth” without need of improvement. It would not “overturn” vast swathes of the most blatantly incontrovertible, non-controversial and utterly and totally obvious, solid and well grounded natural laws. And it would not attempt to replace them with layer upon layer of complicated speculations about supposed new natural laws to explain the supposed anomalies. It would not come already complete with special skills or gadgets to control these supposed new natural laws, all of which you just happen to have recently published a book about.

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would be unlikely to be identical with religious dogma from previous ages which has already been overturned by several other paradigm shifts and mountains of evidence. Most especially it would not be based on 17th Century mechanistic dogma derived from Descartes. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Good, so you’re not about to claim you’ve discovered how mind controls matter, are you.)

If you really had a “new paradigm” you would recognize the power structures and conflicts of interest within your own subculture and you would oppose them. You would not see them as an opportunity for cross-promotion with other community members without regard for standards or ethics. 

And finally, if you really had a “new paradigm” it would not be exactly the same as all the other new paradigms since about 1970, all of which are justified by the same mis-reading of quantum physics thanks to Fritjof Capra, and all of which come with an exploitive business plan and a highly manipulative marketing strategy attached.

Posted by Yakaru

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4 comments

  1. Yeah I was big on paradigm shifts at one time. That was a good critique of the misappropriation of the idea. The quacks will latch onto any new scientific term that becomes popular, especially if it sounds powerful and mysterious like the quantum and paradigm. Then the whole thing feeds on itself. I like that rationalwiki. I followed a link on the Fritjof Capra page to Quantum Stirwands and found what I reckon must be one of the stupidest statements in the history of stupid statements. “Quantum Age products are very unique and they are becoming available simultaneously with a new appearing era of big changes that just started.” http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Quantum_Stirwand

    I went to the site where they flog this junk, which I won’t link to but is a blast if you like wading knee-deep in pseudoscience. These are plastic tubes with “minerals” inside, that you use to stir water and give it all sorts of magical properties, lower specific gravity, pH stability, balance, you name it – so it provides optimum hydration and/or helps your carp pond. A plastic rod to stir water and do nothing to it. $89.95 each. As used by complete dipsticks, presumably.


  2. I had a quick scroll through one of the studies at that quantum swizzle stick site.
    http://www.stirwandsdirect.com/pdf/50sub-30day.pdf

    As far as I can tell, all that happened after a few weeks of drinking vast quantities of water each day, participants became more hydrated, and the control group disappeared off the face of the earth entirely.


  3. Oh yakaru, thanks for bothering – I haven’t laughed as much for a long time! I imagine you will have spotted a lot of the errors, but I thought I’d highlight a few.

    It’s a bunch of utter twaddle! Yeah, it’s described as a “randomized controlled clinical trial”, which they even provide a definition of, but there is no mention at all of a control group! By this ommission, the text seems to suggest that every one of the 50 participants used the Quantum Dipstick(TM), and nobody knew or cared what an RC trial is!

    Right from the start it’s moronic in the extreme – they can’t even express one of the simplest and most important conditions, how much water the participants drank: “Each subject was to consume one-half their weight in ounces daily”. Any geniuses out there spot the possibly deliberate mistake? One half of a weight is independent of any units used to measure it, so one-half your weight in megatonnes is the same as 1/2 your weight in microgrammes. What the fuck do they mean? Surely not that a rather light 60 kg person was supposed to drink 30 kg of water (30 litres!)? Since the body can only excrete about a litre an hour max, this is pretty close to toxic levels and risks the subjects being randomized controlled clinically dead. Or is someone (American?) thinking that a person’s weight is unequivocally expressed in pounds, and it will therefore be obvious that the subjects are required to drink half that NUMBER in ounces, so a 28th of their body weight? Why would anyone with a modicum of scientific understanding make such a moronic mistake, or is it just to start the whole thing off as confused and silly as possible to divide the readership into informed people who reject it immediately and go and do something worthwhile and those ignorant folk who think it all sounds scientific and buy a couple of Dipsticks?

    The Optimal Wellness Test seems to be the basis for judging hydration, and is a “proprietary mathematical formula” involving conductivity, resistivity, surface tension and specific gravity. A bit of assertion about why these are useful measures follows, but a proper study would indicate the use of standard medical tests, not “proprietary” ones. The fact that subjects went from being “at least 35% out of balance” to any other condition (“super great and in the green section” or whatever) is therefore utterly meaningless.

    This sort of study shouldn’t really hypothesize relationships between these measurements and the phenomenon being studied, which just smacks of propaganda that’s been fed to them, if Fenestra is even an independent researcher, which I very much doubt. For instance, I love the reference to a fluid’s ability to “create energy”. Stand back, people, real scientists at work here! The text should detail every relevant detail of the tests and mathematics used to analyse the results, not waffle for pages about metabolism.

    The grammar in this document is laughable, too, with plurals and possessives randomly assigned apostophes:- I see the body can contain “ammoniums” and “urea’s”.

    Apparently, “data was collected and analyzed using analytical mathematical based standard science as described in the document” – LOL – (the author of that must surely be the same as of the passage I quoted earlier about very unique quantum products becoming available simultaneously with a new appearing era of big changes).

    There is virtually no description of the data, its collection or analysis! How the fuck can you analyse data in an RCT when you don’t even MENTION a control group? Hahahahahahahaha!

    It’s funny, but it’s also sickening. Do you think laws should be tightened up about this sort of thing? How can such lying bastards get away with this sort of thing when – if I’m not badly misinformed – we’ve a massive backlog of potential medicines that can’t get to clinical trials because the protocols are so stringent that it costs a fortune? The world is awash with pseudoscientific snake oils, and all the manufacturers seem to have to do – if anything – is make some token statement in small print somewhere that it only works as part of a calorie-controlled diet, or describe it as a “food supplement” and not a medicine. Trinkets like these plastic wands should be banned unless they put in very big letters that it’s a “Placebo Token At Best”, or maybe a “BUNCH OF PSEUDOSCIENTIFIC TWADDLE”. When I’m president of the galaxy…


  4. Yeh, it’s a strange and complex document, for a such a straight forward process. It’s remarkable how people who have supposedly mastered enough higher math to be at the cutting edge of quantum physics don’t know how to carry out a simple experiment involving people drinking water.

    They don’t seem to know what a control group is. They stated they would use a control group and that they’d compare both groups, but in the conclusion said that both groups had improved according to their bogus wellness test.

    Maybe their stirwand is so effective that it even improves the control group… maybe through some quantum non-local action at a distance thingy.

    Or maybe they assume their customers won’t won’t know what a control group is and would be upset if they didn’t improve as well! Who knows.

    This stuff doesn’t deserve to be called pseudoscience. It should be called academic fraud. Same with academic parapsychology as a whole, for that matter. This is just basic nuts and bolts stuff of conducting an experiment and reporting it, and they fail at it completely.



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