Sunday, December 09, 2007

Glib Science is Bad Science

What I really hope to do is leave you dizzy by the end of this. ~ Lawrence Krauss

When last we met, I was exploring some of the downright silly-sounding science that is making the rounds these days. One of things I mentioned was a claim making the rounds that was prompted by some research published by Dr. Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University (note: your humble servant is a 1970 graduate of Case Institute of Technology, which is now the "Case" in the merged university's name). Seems that the research got interpreted to mean that observations being made by astronomers are, in fact, shortening the life span of said universe.

Imagine a Schrodinger's Cat experiment taken to it's logical extreme.

As I said in my previous article, I'm thinking that Dr. Krauss is bucking for his own TV show. After all, Donald Johanssen (discoverer of Lucy, the most complete austalopithicene ever found) got to host Nature on PBS. Then, of course, there's Carl Sagan, not to mention Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
Announcing the increasingly imminent demise of the only universe we've got is a way to definitely get attention.

Frankly, Bill Nye is closer to Dr. Krauss' approach than either Dr. Johanssen or the late Dr. Sagan. If it was attention he wanted, it was attention he got, almost all of it negative. So, along comes Dr. Krauss to say, well, maybe that's not exactly what I wanted to say.

Gee, you think?

It seems that Dr. Krauss now admits that he may have been guilty of being a little too witty.
" 'I was too glib,' the scientist said in a phone interview. 'I had just completed this paper about a subject that I found so fascinating, and I was excited to talk to another scientist about it. But I was running off to Nashville from California. And I didn't spend enough time explaining myself.' "

Or perhaps the good doctor was just trying to come up with something that would make a clever quip and forgot that people just don't have a sense of humor about impending doom -- and that scientists don't need yet another reason for the uneducated politicians to cut funding for projects.

One can easily imagine some representative looking for money for his pet bridge-to-nowhere project advocating cutting funding for physics and space research on the grounds that such projects are shortening our collective lifespans.

Now that Dr. Krauss has explained that we're all safe from the prying into the universe by cosmologists, astronomers, and kids with Tasco telescopes, people are blaming the poor science reporting for the misunderstanding. At least one blogger went so far as to apologize to Dr. Krauss and remove his own article on the subject.

Ain't gonna happen here.

Dr. Krauss was too clever for his own good. He decided that being clever outweighed misrepresenting his own research. Whether that research is actually worth the paper upon which it's written is for trained physicists to decide, but a lot of the public will only remember is that astronomers looking for dark energy are bringing us closer to the end of time.

We live in a world where people believe aliens drop down periodically to abduct drunks from the backwoods, or that dinosaur fossils were planted by a supreme being to trick us into thinking that the earth is really more than 6,000 years old, or that plesiosaurs are swimming around in a Scottish lake (or an American one, for that matter). We don't need scientists announcing the potentially imminent destruction of the universe by observatories.

Dr. Krauss needs to quit worrying about being a quotable media darling.

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