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Great Moments Of Scientific Idiocy

This started out as a Facebook rant, but the more I thought of it the more it turned into a full-out article, so here we go.

Sometimes you hear or see something so stupid as to leave you dumbfounded. This is especially frustrating when it occurs in science, since logical thought is supposed to be the order of the day.

For instance, I find it exceptionally mind-numbing to know that there are people that still insist that the world is flat. Or take an article that appeared in Science News a couple decades back. Big time prestigious science mag has an article about some researchers trying to figure out why a flag waves back and forth on a pole. To make their calculations they assumed the pole to have zero thickness. Now, it doesn’t take a physics degree to realize that your average flag pole is about ten times the thickness of your average cloth flag, and that indeed the pole itself would be the reason why a flag waves back and forth. But to assume the pole’s thickness is neglible? It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it.

But recently another bit of “science” has come up that leaves the others in the dust and gives me a headache just thinking about. Something that leaves the mind in a continual utterance of, “But you can’t…”

Current theory says that the universe only has one-tenth the mass that it should, that the rest is taken up by a cosmic fudge factor they’ve named “dark matter”. Now, I’d never really looked into their estimates, just assumed that there was something else going on they were overlooking. And I never knew how they arrived at their estimates.

Fast forward to just a short while ago when one scientist observes that a completely spherical galaxy is estimated to have zero dark matter; something that has others puzzled but has this one guy screaming out the obvious that it shows it was their calculations that were messed up and that dark matter doesn’t exist. So, what is it that went wrong?

Apparently, as part of their mass calculations, scientists assumed your average galaxy to be a point-source; something that would be true at very long distances if all galaxies were spherical. Now, a grade-schooler can look at a picture of a galaxy and know that the bulk of them are all pancake-shaped; hardly spherical, but more like a slice of a sphere. If you look at a galaxy from the top down, they yes it’s roughly a circle, but from the side far from it.

Take the Milkyway: 100,000 light-years across, but only 30,000 light-years thick. Doing the math and projecting it onto a sphere, and that describes a roughly 18-degree arc-length for each half of the galaxy. This equates to about one-tenth said sphere’s total volume… the exact proportion of “missing mass” they say requires the presence of dark matter.

Now, as I said I’ve never known how they make their calculations, but if I’d known that they assume a pancake can be a spherical point-source, I would have wanted to slap someone and realized immediately their mistake. The fact that it actually took someone seeing a spherical galaxy before getting the hint, that they were completely lacking in so elementary a concept as thinking three-dimensionally… my mind goes into a fugue state trying to get past it. These are supposed to be qualified scientists, people trained to think things completely through and know that the world has a third dimension as well.

All the stuff about dark matter making up 90% of the universe when all that happened is they’d failed at so elementary a calculation? This is the sort of thing that would get someone flunked out of an elementary school science class, but these are Phd’s making this mistake? Not just one, but ALL of them?

Assuming that a pancake is a large ball then wondering why you’re off by 90%? I just– My mind– I need something to burn in effigy right now.

Sometimes so-called scientists can be a frustrating lot. They get stuck on ideas, will spend a couple hundred years chasing an obviously wrong lead rather than admit their error, and then everyone else just assumes they know what they’re all talking about. The moral of this story? Never take anything at face value, always question, and don’t assume that a degree means they can’t make mistakes. They can make some big ones (cold fusion, Fen-Phen, Y2K, Aether, Phrenology, nearly anything involving statistics or psychology).

And don’t get me started on when politics encroaches into science (global warming, covid, nearly anything involving statistics or psychology)

End rant.

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