I will begin with several examples from the respected NOVA science program on PBS TV. For several decades, the NOVA programs provided excellent examples of how scientists approach areas of research. During the most recent ten years, something seems to have changed at PBS or WGBH or NOVA.
One example is a recent program where they claimed to EXPLAIN the Stonehenge arrangement of very massive stones from around 5,000 years ago. No actual scientist can be comfortable watching that program, which PBS and NOVA seems to keep re-airing!
That program seemed to entirely be centered on the SPECULATIONS of two individuals, who were each very aggressive in pushing their views, but then regularly shown to have been dead wrong every time!
The program made it seem that any group of uneducated idiots can get the government to give them a large Grant where they are they free to spend it however they wish. No actual knowledge of the subject seems to be required! That did not used to be the case! In the 1960s and 1970s, no one received a Grant without having provided comprehensive and airtight arguments about every detail of the issue they wanted to do research on.
For example, in this NOVA program about how the huge stones at Stonehenge were transported, a researcher had noticed that there seemed to be a substantial number of (very lumpy) ball-shaped stone objects of about three inches diameter. Based on apparently NO research whatever, he SPECULATED that it MUST mean that the ancient people made WOODEN beams and used the stone balls as a sort of primitive rollers between two wooden boards.
If this was a Freshman High School science class, that might be a reasonable idea, but the entire group of people involved seemed to all immediately endorse that idea as true.
An ACTUAL scientist would take 30 seconds to look up the COMPRESSIVE STRENGTH of the pine wood he4 bought and to also look up the STATIC DRAG COEFFICIENT of stone on wood. Within a minute, that GOOD scientist would have known that the circus environment that the guy was orchestrating had absolutely no chance of succeeding. None. Zilch. Zero.
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The guy didn't even give up with that failure! He saw that the weight has crushed the fibers of the wood so much that the size balls he had obtained were no longer large enough. Did he do any actual thinking? Apparently not, as he bought extra strips of the same soft wood to lay down inside the groove. He then bragged that he had fixed it where the balls were now large enough. Actually comprehending the crushing strength of pine wood seemed beyond him! He actually COULD have bought a few pieces of oak flooring for a few dollars which might have actually worked, at least a lot better than in trying to keep using wood that could never possibly support the weight involved. And each experiment ended with failure, but then some new speculation by this guy. He eventually decided that he needed a farm tractor which he claimed was equal to a dozen oxen. (He was wrong about that, but he seemed to be wrong about nearly everything he claimed!)
The NOVA program had another guy running a different group of people, who were digging holes wherever this guy decided that he knew something would be found. But over and over, he was absolutely wrong.
The NOVA Stonehenge program spent about half of its hour in watching the twp groups dream up silly ideas and then find total failure. It was as though NOVA wanted to show how NOT to be a good scientist! Think up some idea, avoid ever trying to see if anyone else had ever tried anything similar or possibly better, and force your idea through no matter what!
After all those failures, the two men then started claiming all sorts of silly ideas which they each felt still supported their dumb ideas! Some of the more humorous ones were where they claimed that there were UNSEEN NATURAL GROOVES deep underground (which the one group had encountered and then claimed as impressive confirmation which had not been remotely true.) That Freshman science student should have heard their descriptions and hopefully realized the guys had absolutely no idea what they were talking about! They claimed that the NATURAL grooves (caused by alternating freezing and thawing in the stone layers) EXACTLY lined up with the direction of the setting sun, but then compounded their ignorance by claiming that those same (UNMOVABLE) grooves in deep stone layers EXACTLY lined up with the RISING sun on a different day. I happen to know that those NATURAL grooves near Stonehenge are NOT perfectly straight and they are NOT oriented toward any astronomically important direction. But that it is actually absolutely impossible that the silly claims made on that NOVA program are even possible.
There is little surprise that the US has dropped from first to something like twelfth among countries in turning out well educated people, if THAT is the sort of example that we present!
Sadly, IF the NOVA program had actually USED proper scientific methods, it seems nearly certain that they MIGHT have come up with far better ideas than those idiots seemed to insist on. IF they would have early recognized that SOFT WOOD was NOT a credible material, primarily because the stone balls were fairly small, a group of actual scientists would have immediately abandoned wood, but might then have explored HARDER materials available to those ancient people. Personally, it seems obvious to me that they did not yet have iron or copper or gold or bronze, but they DID have stone as an available possibility. Finding SMALL amounts of granite would have tremendously improved the chances of their finding some success. Those quick calculations indicate that the weight of the stone block would NOT have crushed the granite liner strips inside their grooves in the wood, and the calculations of Static Friction Coefficient show that it would roll rather easily.
Even a minimal application of actual science would have entirely changed how that program would have proceeded, where the actual science would have resulted in significant successes.
In MY Freshman science classes, I guess I would hope that my young students would have USED the scientific method far better than NOVA demonstrated, and suggested creating a substantial number of small and portable pavement blocks of stone. If they laid such STONE blocks ahead of where the large stone now was, and were careful in ensuring a good foundation under each block, the round balls that they thought might have been used would probably have done an impressive job, where just a few people might have pushed the massive stone. The Static Coefficient of Friction of rolling stone on stone is quite low, and simple calculations show that the NOVA group could have pushed their few ton examples EASILY, rather than having to end the program using a farm tractor to move it at all!
I realize that I happen to be a person that people joke about regarding being a Rocket Scientist (as Theoretical Nuclear Physics is actually far harder than that!) but I ask you to note that NOTHING in the description above involves anything much harder than thirteen-year-old freshman high school students should be able to think about. And CERTAINLY anyone who is hired to represent NOVA should understand the basics of how science is done to not foul it up so badly! Yet they did!
And that was NOT the first time that NOVA has failed in such ways!
They recently did a program about the stone monoliths on Easter Island. It seemed mind-boggling that the group of people they picked for that effort seemed to have NO background or education in any field which would have been of any help to them. More than that, in the first minutes of the program, conversations between the participants made clear that NONE of them had even looked up the history of the people of Easter Island, or learned about what type of rock and sand was there, or had the slightest idea of any previous known efforts of quarrying large stones, transporting them and then trying to get they to stand up. So that entire program was a group of relatively ignorant people coming up with various ideas, and nearly always finding that the ideas had been bad ones.
Again, any ACTUAL scientist would have spent time in a library BEFORE such a trip, to try to know every detail of what Easter Island residents had ever done, along with extensive topographic maps of the island to know where stones might be moved downhill rather than simply showing up and then having to improvize at every turn. Is THAT what the modern American educational system tries to teach, never bother to know or understand anything, just improvise and see how it all turns out?
It was a disgusting NOVA program, and they should have lost their claim of being a science program based on that one!
Even when they got it somewhat usable, they then showed NO knowledge or insight into knowing how to use it. When they would get it to lob something out, it seemed like they were all surprised! Someone who had done even SIMPLE calculations of ballistics, and known something about air resistance and drag coefficients, would likely have put the FIRST attempt very close to on target. But the NOVA team seemed to simply keep guessing, even about making changes to try to correct their aim. The first two days in any Ballistics class would have provided them with immense useful knowledge. But it again seemed that NOVA wanted to demonstrate how NOT to do good science!
In this case, they got an assortment of people who again had no real knowledge of the subject, and none of those people seemed to do any reading to learn what ancient Egyptians actually did!
Like these other recent NOVA programs, the most aggressive of the men decided to try to impose their personal ideas on the others, and so the program wound up having absolutely nothing to do with how ancient Egyptians might have done anything, but instead was a demonstration of the conflict between male egos. NONE of them had any good idea of what Egyptians had actually done, which again they could have learned in a few hours in a local Library! Many of the choices made by EACH of the different tries were clearly just thought up on the moment of having some choice that did not seem to be soluble. Over and over, it was as though NOVA was demonstrating that scientists make a lot of wild guesses! Incredible!
The speaker is somewone who WANTS to find water on or in Europa, and so with wild speculations and no actual science or logic, he dreamed up a way of trying to claim that enormous amounts of water exists inside Europa, such that he can claim that 'life probably exists inside Europa'. He wants to get the US government to finance a multi-billion-dollar spacecraft trip to Europa, and so with his supposed absolute guarantees of water inside Europa, some politicians may authorize the funds.
An actual scientist would NEVER try to use the detected presence of a magnetic field to imply ANYTHING else, certainly not some total speculation of huge amounts of water inside the satellite.
An actual scientist would INSIST on seeing some ACTUAL DATA of Spectral Absorbtion lines of water vapor on, or near Europa, but there is no such data.
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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago