Created By: Unknown Troper on January 3, 2009
Nuked

Science is Wrong

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The extreme end and/or reason for Science Is Bad. May overlap by also presenting scientists as bad and wrong.

In this trope, science is simply wrong: it lacks objectivity and does not describe anything "real". I really can't explain it with any more depth or complexity than this. There are a number of general forms in which science is considered:
  • As culturally constructed rather than objective, thereby does not describe any "facts"
  • As a system of beliefs and processes crated by DWM and thus irrelevant and destructive to groups X, Y, X
  • As simply ineffectual in providing an adequate understanding of the world

Examples
  • Romanticism
    • Also, the work of H.P. Lovecraft, whose state as a romanticist is debated
  • H.F., the narrator of Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year, eventually concludes that all the proposed scientific explanations for plague are incorrect, including the microbial theory which we understand today as true
  • In Milton's Paradise Lost, Raphael tells Adam that God laughs at the astronomers who try to understand the motions of His heavens
  • Most Young Earth Creationist fiction contains varying degrees of this
  • Extremely common in feminist fiction since the 1960s
    • Curiously averted by Virginia Woolf in To The Lighthouse, where the botanist William Bankes is presented more positively than any of the other men, and leaves the question of "understanding" the world quite undecided
  • Real Life examples are numerous. To name a few: Judith Butler, Thomas Kuhn, Bruno Latour
Community Feedback Replies: 77
  • December 5, 2008
    Zaratustra
    Lovecraft wasn't as much 'science is incorrect' as 'science is messing in a nest of hyper-dimensional alien snakes'
  • December 5, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    ... Except for the bit about humans never being able to truly comprehend the universe? That's pretty squarely in type 3
  • December 5, 2008
    Frodo Goofball CoTV
  • December 5, 2008
    VampireBuddha
    Lovecraft didn't say that science is wrong, just that it was a bad idea to try and understand tentacled monstrosities from his nightmares.

    In an episode of Beyblade, Kenny confidently predicts he'll be able to beat Kai, but ends up getting creamed. Kai sneers that his calculations were wrong.
  • December 5, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    It was a bad idea and it was also impossible to do so to any semblance of completeness (See Science Is Bad and Wrong). Even a glimpse at such reality can kill you, and there are alien geometries beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Or drive you mad. And possibly kill you first and then drive you mad, just to fuck shit up.

  • December 5, 2008
    TwinBird
  • December 5, 2008
    JustinCognito
    The first book in The Dresden Files has Harry mentioning that Science has been treated as the source of all the answers in the 21st century, which means people are left without a clue when they encounter the supernatural. The attitude tones down soon after that.
  • December 6, 2008
    Fulltimedefendent
    Real Life: Postmodernism. The academic variety. (somewhere this paleoanthropology student is shivering)
  • December 6, 2008
    Bisected8
    @Frodo Goofball Co TV: Strictly speaking, that's how science is supposed to work. You think of an explaination and prove it (or fail to). If said explaination isn't true it isn't science as a whole that's wrong, its you, science is just the way such things are tested and put to use.
  • December 6, 2008
    Tzintzuntzan
    Older examples include Aristophanes and Jonathan Swift, both of whom portray scientists as busybodies with way too much time on their hands, coming up with complex solutions to simple problems or silly answers to things that don't need answering. Aristophanes' Socrates explains that thunder is not caused by Zeus, but (as science has proven) clouds farting. Swift's Laputans attempt to replace language with a system of tapping sticks and visual signs, but "the masses rebelled, demanding to speak in the manner of their ancestors; such irrevocable enemies of science are the common people."
  • December 6, 2008
    Narvi
    When HP Lovecraft has supermath derived by superscientists from beyond time and space in his stories, I doubt you could say that he was against the applicability of science.
  • December 6, 2008
    Desertopa
    Bisected8, that's not quite right. When you think of a hypothesis, you devise tests to try to disprove it. Once a hypothesis has been sufficiently not-disproven, it's accepted as a theory. It might seem like a trivial distinction, but it's actually rather important.
  • December 7, 2008
    NigeriaLisa

  • December 7, 2008
    Arivne
    @Narvi: I think what the UT/OP meant was that in HP Lovecraft's works, what scientists believe about the nature of the universe is massively wrong, because it doesn't include the existence of the Cthulhu Mythos deities, creatures, magic etc.
  • December 7, 2008
    joeyjojo
    science is bad and wrong. it's bawrong
  • December 7, 2008
    TheNifty
    Why the heck is Thomas Kuhn listed as a real life example? the dude was a physicist... who wrote books on the history and philosophy of science.

    Seriously, Bwha?
  • December 7, 2008
    greylag
    Kuhn wrote: "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it". If it's not Science Is Wrong, it's certainly Science Works Badly. Or possibly You Suck for scientists.

  • December 7, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Would this count? On Jackie Chan Adventures, a refrain is that "Magic must defeat magic!" meaning that science is useless for explaining and dealing with magical phenomena.

    Other Real Life examples: believers in the paranormal often criticize science for being too closed-minded to accept their theories.
  • December 7, 2008
    Narvi
    When was this "Kuhn" writing? This was certainly true during the eighteenth (or was it seventeenth?) century, as seen by Isaac Newton's treatment of his peers, but it's not necessarily as applicable now.
  • December 7, 2008
    Duncan
  • December 7, 2008
    Kuciwalker
    Thomas Kuhn was a rather famous historian of science (did a lot of his writing in the mid-20th century). He wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962.
  • December 7, 2008
    Goldfritha
    "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." Albert Einstein.
  • December 7, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    It should also be noted that whether or not Thomas Kuhn believed it, his writings were definetly Science Is Wrong. Word Of God =/= "Canon"...

    Anyway, this was put up by another UT, so is anyone up for launching it?
  • December 7, 2008
    Kayube
    The Bible isn't an example, because when it was written there wasn't much science anyway- certainly not science that could disprove anything in it.
  • December 7, 2008
    silver2195
  • December 7, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    There's also constant debate over the relationship between science and the bible, so let's not mess with those snakes unless we can produce some works of fiction which drop a hefty hammer on science in the name of God.
  • December 7, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    ^Jack Chick comics frequently carry this message, along with Science Is Bad-- believing in evolution makes you not just misguided, but a Nazi!
  • December 7, 2008
    Narvi
    Not a Nazi. A Catholic.
  • December 7, 2008
    Professor Thascales
    When I was a kid I believed that science didn't know anything. (My parents were really New Age.)
  • December 8, 2008
    TheNifty
    @greylag, Khun's theory of science only claims that Science Is Wrong (or relative, which is basically the same thing) if it is heavily misinterpreted. I'm gonna quote from The Other Wiki here:

    In SSR, Kuhn also argues that rival paradigms are incommensurable—that is, it is not possible to understand one paradigm through the conceptual framework and terminology of another rival paradigm. For many critics, for example David Stove (Popper and After, 1982), this thesis seemed to entail that theory choice is fundamentally irrational: if rival theories cannot be directly compared, then one cannot make a rational choice as to which one is better. Whether Kuhn's views had such relativistic consequences is the subject of much debate; Kuhn himself denied the accusation of relativism in the third edition of SSR, and sought to clarify his views to avoid further misinterpretation. Freeman Dyson has quoted Kuhn as saying "I am not a Kuhnian!",[3] referring to the relativism that some philosophers have developed based on his work.

    Khun himself had great faith in science, and his books can only be interpreted as saying that Science Is Wrong if you ignore everything after his initial "this is how paradigms work" part. And the intro. And the Foreword he put in in later editions saying essentially; "goddammit, stop quoting me out of context on this".
  • December 8, 2008
    TheNifty
    Oh, and Ben Stein has not only claimed that Science Is Wrong (for not following the bible) but that Science Is Bad (because it leads to Nazism, apparently). Yeah, he's kind of a nutcase.
  • December 8, 2008
    Yuri2356
    Not a Nazi. A Catholic.

    To Jack, that's the same thing.
  • December 8, 2008
    Blork
    The first type is best answered by this quote:

    "Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. (I live on the twenty-first floor)" ->Alan Sokal
  • December 8, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    We should also find the quote which says that science has not been able to solve the turbulent flow equations because science is patriarchal and cannot comprehend or identify with menstruation. My (female) physics professor showed us that quote on the same day we started discussing said problematic area of fluid dynamics.

    Also, implying that the (very widespread) relativistic interpretation of Kuhn's work is wrong because Kuhn disagreed is a weak argument. Author =/= Text, as UT above noted. Kuhn's book is riddled with inconsistent philosophy and it's really a nothing-task to attempt to find something essential to it (I pity anyone who tries), but the fact remains that the relativst slant is nevertheless the most pervasive one among most outside of science and some within. His work introduced a large study of science-as-language which has produced (sadly) a degree of academic postmodernism (yuck).
  • December 8, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    I don't recall the precise quote, but I suspect that's from Luce Irigaray. Who also said "Is E=MC^2 a sexed equation?... it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us."

    Also, the feminist critique of science as patriarchal is related to Mother Nature Father Science.
  • December 8, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Found it(actually someone else's commentary on Irigaray): "The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics ... she attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids. Although men, too, flow on occasion--when semen is emitted, for example --this aspect of their sexuality is not emphasized. It is the rigidity of the male organ that counts, not its complicity in fluid flow.... In the same way that women are erased within masculinist theories and language, existing only as not-men, so fluids have been erased from science, existing only as not-solids."
  • December 8, 2008
    Narvi
    That physics professor sounds awesome, UT.

    But shouldn't men be inclined to empathize with ejaculation? Doesn't ejaculation count under the turbulent flow equations?
  • December 8, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    But "this aspect of their sexuality is not emphasized" but the rigidity is, So Yeah.
  • December 8, 2008
    trouserwearingbarbarian
    ...this reminds me of why I don't call myself a feminist. >_<
  • December 9, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    I think we're probably good to launch. We just need a motivated individual
  • December 9, 2008
    ccoa
    Also a real life example, alties. Many honestly believe that the germ theory of disease is completely wrong, vaccinations are ineffective/tools of control/harmful, and that illness is caused purely by toxins building up in the body.
  • December 9, 2008
    Camacan
    Strangely enough, the trope of science being wrong is common enough in science fiction. Science has discovered several frustratingly restrictive features of our universe. The classic one is the exponential costs of increasing your speed as you approach the speed of light. Coupled with the distance between stars this reality is a story killer. Your protagonist needs to race off to the star system next door to save his kidnapped beloved ... but he and his children's children's etc children die before they get there.

    So this trope comes out as a way of saving the story. Approaches:
    • Have a character say: "Oh, it was wrong." and continue without giving any details.
    • Trot out some fictional pseudoscience explaining where science went wrong. (Usually the fictional science is in fundamental conflict with well supported real-world science. Can make for some unintended comedy.)
    • Develop some fictional science that wouldn't contradict what we have observed or be in conflict with the existing logical structure. This one's strictly for the experts! Best done by authors with formal training in science/mathematics.
    • Heck, it's fiction: this is a fictional universe: let the reader know you are gonna make up some Physics Of Convenience.

    See Mohs Scale Of Science Fiction Hardness.

    As for real-life postmodernist crazies and their attack on science, Greg Egan is a good (fiction) author for an analysis of what is behind movements like that, how they think, operate and the destructive consequences.
    • Teranesia and Distress by Greg Egan.
  • December 9, 2008
    trouserwearingbarbarian
    This really ought to stick to in-universe examples.
  • December 9, 2008
    Unknown20Troper
    So this trope comes out as a way of saving the story. Approaches:

    • Grow a sense of scale and rewrite the story so that it takes place over shorter distances. Or expand the timescales and enhance the nature of the characters so that the expanses involved don't really concern them at all. Then explore the logical consequences of all of that and weave it into the narritive where appropriate.

    And what you're talking about here is rarely calling Science outright wrong, because it's shown as Science marching on into places we just don't know about yet. If warp drive was discovered when an angel descended unto Nasa and handed them a spaceship that runs on prayers and Goat blood and strikes dead any mortal who dares seek to examine and understand itsinner workings... then the author may be saying that they think poorly of science. If a team of PH Ds spent years smashing particles into each other, and reasoned out that space could do some downright freaky stuff if you charge a flux capacitor with 1.21 Gigawatts and get it up to 88... not so much.
  • December 10, 2008
    joeyjojo
    Agreed
  • December 10, 2008
    Kizor
    THIS REALLY FREAKIN' SHOULD stick to in-universe examples. Srsly.
  • December 10, 2008
    DonQuigleone
    Related to Flat Earth Atheist?
  • December 10, 2008
    Narvi
    Er, just because sci-fi pulls facts away does not mean it abhors the scientific method.
  • December 10, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    @ Narvi,

    Agreed. Careful consideration must be made to the difference between Science as a misleading and incorrect way to understand things (what this trope is, I think) and large degrees of Science Marches On which change our understanding of what is real and possible
  • December 10, 2008
    arromdee
    Strangely enough, the trope of science being wrong is common enough in science fiction.

    I don't think that this is really what's meant... it's about science being wrong--science as a method is wrong, not just one particular scientific conclusion is wrong.
  • December 10, 2008
    Frodo Goofball CoTV
    Ok, now I get it. 1 Corinthians 3:19 still stands from my examples, not so much for the others.
  • December 10, 2008
    Sir Psycho Sexy
    Irigaray is IRK.

    But, speaking of in-universe examples, wouldn't this be common in a fantasy setting where people often do in the scientist?
  • December 10, 2008
    Unknown20Troper
    Can also come up in any plot involving a Straw Vulcan.
  • December 10, 2008
    Professor Thascales
    Maybe we should also distinguish between expressions of hostility, or at least disbelief, to science, and works of fantasy that make science invalid for the world of the story to create suspension of disbelief for magic and/or the supernatural.
  • December 11, 2008
    Camacan
    "In-universe" is an odd phrase. I think you mean "real world" or 'fiction but not sci-fi or fantasy". Some fantasy and sci-fi takes place in a multiverse so you get out-of-universe stuff, but that's not related.

    As for when sci-fi authors find real-world science inconvenient, yes it is usually a particular conclusion that is found wrong for story purposes, not usually the whole method. In reality science is a huge stack of cards: if any of the fundamental theories are wrong, many of the others will be wrong too. And a mountain of observations will need re-explaining -- in a way that produces the features of the old theories and introduces a more fundamental one.

    I agree with Professor Thascales: we need to make that distinction. I think they are sometimes linked,deep down: in the real world (or realistic fiction) people who want to invalidate science are often doing so in an attempt to get rid of a scientific discovery they wish was not true; or in order to believe in something they wish to be true that is effectively impossible.

    Re-reading the original trope proposal, man there's some scary and debased schools of thought around.

    I think Distress by Greg Egan has characters attempting all three originally mentioned attacks on science, and corresponding defences of science. His repudiation of the notion of science only being valid for white men in Europe is given in a speech by a black South African physicist, who points out that what she and all her colleagues have discovered applies equally to every cubic Planck in the observable universe and that logic doesn't care what gonads you have.

    The real-world stuff puts me in mind of "You can't handle the Truth!" from A Few Good Men: power and authority crushing reason and evidence. Or "Two plus two equals five." from 1984
  • December 12, 2008
    Yuri2356
    "In-universe" is an odd phrase. I think you mean "real world" or 'fiction but not sci-fi or fantasy".

    No, it means "In Fictional Universe".
  • December 15, 2008
    Unknown Troper
  • December 16, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    @Yuri It might mean that to you but it's rather obscure jargon IMO :) Better: "fictional examples" or "real-life examples." As far as I know we do both, with the emphasis on fiction.
  • December 16, 2008
    Antheia
    Incidentally, I do call myself a feminist, and that quote about menstruation was one of the most stupid things I've seen. Just shows that there are feminist idiots as well as other idiots.

    Seriously, much like not all Christians are Jack Chick, really few feminists are real-life incarnations of Straw Feminists.

    Where is the quote from, by the way? Amazing as it is, it's a bit long, and if it's not from a work of fiction, I'm not sure it's a good choice for a page quote. (Even if it is from a work of fiction it's a bit long, but if both things speak against it...)
  • December 16, 2008
    trouserwearingbarbarian
    I know that not all feminists are like that, but the sheer amount of batshit that comes from some feminists is one of the reasons why I don't like calling myself one. That, and I dislike attaching myself to political movements to begin with, especially when there are plenty of branches within said political movement that I disagree with on many subjects. I know a lot of people like to say "feminism is just the radical belief that women are people!", but it's got a lot more ideology and cultural baggage associated with it than just "gender equality is good."

    So I just say that I'm a gender egalitarian and leave it at that.
  • December 16, 2008
    Narvi
    You're being silly. Much like being able to hold socialist values without being a Communist, you can be a feminist without being a crazy radical one. It would be easier, of course, if radical feminists had different names to differentiate them from sane feminists... like, say, the radical feminists identify themselves as womynists, and the sane ones are genderegalitarians. Unfortunately, feminism is not easily categorized like that, making it far too easy to lump them all under one title.
  • December 16, 2008
    trouserwearingbarbarian
    Jesus Christ, I feel like PJ Harvey here.

    You kind of ignored the rest where I said that I don't like attaching myself to political labels in the first place. Shocking as it may seem, some people don't go around calling themselves a term that's heavily associated with political activism and studies that they don't personally participate in, especially one with a ton of cultural baggage attached to it. (The original remark in response to the liquid/solid thing was kind of tongue-in-cheek, BTW, although I do have a serious dislike of radical feminism.)
  • December 16, 2008
    trouserwearingbarbarian
    To put things back on track, this should stick to fictional examples that happen within the story, because we're begging for some Internet Backdraft otherwise.
  • December 16, 2008
    WizardJoni
    Just Launch It Already, we have the technology.
  • December 16, 2008
    Narvi
    So? Feminist is a descriptor. Just because it's politicized doesn't make it any less of one.
  • December 16, 2008
    trouserwearingbarbarian
    Narvi, can we please agree to disagree and stick to the trope at hand? This is way off-topic.
  • December 17, 2008
    Narvi
    Fine.
  • December 21, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    I'd say this is actually the supertrope of Science Is Bad, rather than the end of it.
  • December 21, 2008
    Ialdabaoth
    The Simpsons parodies the Left Behind series with a movie called Left Below in which, among other scenes, a woman suffering in the Apocalypse says, "Why did I place my faith in science and technology?"
  • December 21, 2008
    Tzintzuntzan
    Echoing the statement that this trope does not apply if, for instance, there's some Techno Babble reason that faster-than-light travel is actually possible in the fictional world's physics. That's "science is right, but the scientists of today got this one detail wrong." It has to be "science, as a whole, is bunk" for it to be this trope.
  • December 21, 2008
    joeyjojo
    Arrested Development has this wonderful scene

    Michael: hey Gob your son came round again.

    Gob: he’s not my son.

    Michael: that’s not what the DNA tests say.

    Gob: yes well I heard the that the jury is still out on that whole... science thing
  • December 22, 2008
    Narvi
    Just for detail, HP Lovecraft might have been a romanticist, but he also did a good amount of research for whatever he was writing at the time. While it is easy to dismiss his aliens travelling through space through the "aether" as romantic metaphor, the "aether" was actually accepted scientific thinking at the time of writing. Science Marches On. Invariably.

    Another example is when he rewrote a story set in the Antarctic (The Mountains Of Madness(?)) after it was discovered that Antarctica was not in fact two continents separated by a body of water.

    HP Lovecraft was a complicated, often contradictary person. A romanticist who believed in the applicability of science. A racist who married a Jewish women. He changed a lot through his entire life.
  • December 23, 2008
    Sciatrix
    Er... proffering an example, Good Omens fits this pretty nicely, since within the book the universe really is about 6000 years old (having been created in 4004 BCE), the Bible is pretty literally correct, etc. Scientists aren't exactly portrayed as bad, just kind of pointless. ("The whole business with the fossilized dinosaur skeletons was a joke the palaeontologists haven't seen yet."

    Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy also has an example, in that scientific theories about the creation of the Earth are wrong (because it was constructed on Magrathea as a giant computer) and so are those about the evolution of humanity (because we're REALLY descended from idiots from Golgafrincham). Again, human scientists aren't at all portrayed as bad, just misguided.

    I'd call both of those examples reasons why the trope could be seen as distinct from Science Is Bad. *shrug*
  • December 23, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Also occurs in American Gods when one character comments on the pity he feels for confused scientists when they find a skull or skeleton which doesn't quite fit the established patterns in the area. This is because the scientists are completely ignorant of the real reasons these objects are there: Egyptians landed in America thousands of years ago.
  • January 1, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    I think this is actually a pretty consistent subtheme of nearly all of Neil Gaiman's work.

    Right, well, I'm going to launch this soon unless anyone has any objections. I think it's rather nitpicky to cite aether as a relevant point in the Lovecraft/Romance discussion. His work focuses on powerful emotion, perceptions, and lack of understanding, and in the grand scheme of his work, the arctic example really isn't that significant when you compare the total lack/accuracy of science in the rest of his stories. The story with the comet which hits a small town comes to mind, though I've forgotten which was the name.
  • January 3, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Goliathus here (and above). Last call for examples before I launch in an hour
  • January 3, 2009
    Wellington
    Scott Adams loves this trope in his written work. See his statements on the paranormal and evolution.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=uowcyvmwg49bfgu3t0069d4i&trope=ScienceIsWrong