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Science Is Wrong
"Do not believe what the scientists tell you. The natural history we know is a lie, a falsehood sold to us by wicked old men who would make the world a dull gray prison and protect us from the dangers inherent to freedom. They would have you believe our planet to be a lonely starship, hurtling through the void of space, barren of magic and in need of a stern hand upon the rudder."
The extreme end and/or reason for Science Is Bad
. May overlap by also presenting scientists as bad and
wrong. Science is badong.
In this trope, science is simply wrong: it lacks objectivity
and does not describe anything "real
". There are a number of general forms in which the error of science is considered:
- As culturally constructed rather than objective, and thereby does not describe any "facts."
- As a system of beliefs and processes crafted by Dead White European Men (DWEM) and thus irrelevant and destructive to groups X, Y, Z...
- As simply ineffectual in providing an adequate understanding of the world. Science is missing important information.
- Much more rarely, the natural laws (or at least some of them) are such that attempts to analyze them scientifically are doomed to failure. Like quantum mechanics without probability models.
This is not the same kind of wrong as that in the Scale of Scientific Sins
: there it's ethically
Strongly associated with the Romanticist side of Romanticism Versus Enlightenment
, along with Science Is Bad
. See also Mother Nature, Father Science
, Science Marches On
. A common feature of The Masquerade
. When overlapping with Science Is Bad
, can be associated with Dumb Is Good
. If Science Is Useless
, this may be because it's wrong. May be presented through a Straw Vulcan
This can be hard to reconcile with violations of Magic A Is Magic A
. There really shouldn't be any reason a system of observation can't find a pattern with magic unless
that magic is specifically changing its behavior upon being examined. Even when this is the case; it often seems the only
time magic changes its rules is to invoke this trope.
This can also contradict one of the most prevalent sub-tropes of Science Is Bad
, namely, Technology Is Evil
. After all, evil technology presumably works
, which means that at least that
science wasn't (empirically) wrong. One possible way to have both tropes is Aesoptinium
science is wrong, the technology became evil in a way the scientists didn't intend, though we can still say Science Is Bad because the scientists should have known better
than to make something with Potential Applications
Often any Agent Scully
questioning the magic isn't really using science
but rather a belief in machines. A good
scientist wouldn't only complain that something isn't possible upon discovering something that contradicts previous knowledge. They'd explore the implications, test why the result is happening, see if it can be replicated, and list the various causes and effects that can be observed related to the event — although, admittedly, many would be quick to dismiss any claims of the supernatural out of hand, because the supernatural is kind of by definition stuff that shouldn't
work. TL;DR: If Science is Wrong is proven, it becomes a scientific worldview
Obviously, good scientists are rare
where this trope is invoked.
open/close all folders
- Subtly played with in ''The Books of Magic," wherein it is explained that the magical explanation for a supernatural event is always correct... but so is the scientific explanation, depending on who is observing the supernatural. People who truly do not believe in magic will never, ever encounter it in the DC Universe because of this effect.
- This strip◊ by Quino illustrates God's opinion on the Laws of Physics.
- The Chick Tracts frequently carry this message, along with Science Is Bad - belief in evolution makes people not just misguided, but evil!
- Also, evolution is a religion.
- Oh, and it doesn't stop at evolution either. Why do planets keep orbiting the sun? What, Gravity? You heathen! It's obviously because Jesus is so awesome.
- 38 Parrots has a short where the protagonists want to cancel the law of gravity... because it's immoral to hit you on the head with a coconut.
- At the beginning of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, the lead says that we might never understand why bees seem to be dying off because anything science says is "just theory."
- The Discovery Of Heaven has, as its central plot, science being a trick by the Devil to lead man away from God by seeking truth elsewhere. As a result, mankind has failed and the angels are trying to get the Commandments back.
- Averted in the Incarnations of Immortality series. The series is set in a world in which both magic and science are useful. For example, magic carpet manufacturers compete with car manufacturers. Both have unique strengths and weaknesses.
- 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 would laugh at astronomers who try to understand the motions of His heavens, implying that the universe was too enormous for a mortal mind to fathom.
- Early in the first book in The Dresden Files has Harry mentioning that Science as "the great religion of the 20th Century" has been treated as the source of all the answers and those answers don't include monsters or magic, which means people are left without a clue when they encounter the supernatural. One character (Butters) confrontation with this is something of a subplot in Dead Beat.
- That said the series actually treats science with a fair amount of respect. Harry is often shown using(abusing really) various laws of physics, usually mass and/or momentum, to assist his spells in order to enhance their effects or impact. And there was that thing with the dinosaur. Late in the series Butters combines his scientific mind and training with Bob's exhaustive knowledge and is able to develop several new and powerful applications of magic.
- On balance while science is wrong this stems from important facts being missing from its models due to society having decided the supernatural does not exist not that any particular portion of it views are individually wrong.
- 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 in The Clouds 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."
- Good Omens fits this pretty nicely, since within the book the universe really is about 6000 years old (having been created in 4004 BC), 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.")
- Let's not forget that by the end it's been proven that even the immortal creatures who have existed more or less since the dawn of time (the angels and demons) don't really have any idea what's going on either; they're just better at pretending they do. As the book puts it,
"God does not play dice with the universe. He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players note , to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time."
- In American Gods 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. He insinuates that they will always be incorrect because their scientific reasoning will not allow them to reach this conclusion.
- Aversion (and possibly deconstruction): Distress by Greg Egan has characters attempting all three originally mentioned attacks on science, and corresponding defenses 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.
- Scott Adams loves this trope in his written work. See his statements on the paranormal and evolution.
- In Black Easter, a black magician sends a demon to drive a physicist mad by revealing to him that science is ultimately a meaningless concept.
- Surprisingly averted in Artemis Fowl. Our current understanding of scientific concepts are wrong, yes, but that's only because we're basing it on our observations, and the Fairies go out of their way to keep us from noticing magic. There's nothing wrong with the scientific method in general.
- And Artemis mentions that the laws of physics make significantly more sense once you incorporate magic in as one of the fundamental forces, but being the boy genius he is doesn't go into details.
- Lots of the magic tends to have pseudo-scientific justifications as well. It's a weird example.
- In the Left Behind books, science isn't in itself wrong, but it can be (mis)used by the Devil to make people believe that it isn't God behind any of the judgments that were being poured out on mankind during the Tribulation. In the book Apollyon, when Chaim Rosenzweig is asked to appear on TV to give his opinion about the sun giving only one-third of its sunlight due to one of God's Trumpet Judgments (though he isn't convinced that it is the hand of God at work), he is given a script by the Global Community that has him parrot the party line about some scientific cosmic disturbance causing the phenomenon that even Chaim as a botanist can see through. To emphasize the Propaganda Machine misuse of science, one of the speakers in the so-called live roundtable "discussion" about the said phenomenon isn't even a scientist, but rather an entertainment celebrity.
- If anything in this series, science ultimately proves to be useless, particularly against the Bowl Judgments when medical science couldn't figure out how to deal with the outbreak of sores upon those who took the Mark of the Beast and worshiped his image.
- One Rogue Angel has this as belief of a group of extreme Nature Lovers who feel even the most basic advances like farming are evil and wish to return humanity to it's hunter-gatherer roots.
- Wizardology of the Ology Series has Merlin himself make this claim, saying that science has no objectivity or basis in fact—and even if it did follow actual laws of the world, the information it has is basically useless. Of course, living in the medieval era, you can't really expect much from the sciences of alchemy and astrology.
- Arrested Development has this wonderful scene
Gob: So, a young neighborhood tough by the name of Steve Holt's gonna be here any minute...
Michael: Your son.
Gob: According to him...
Michael: And a DNA test.
Gob: I heard the jury's still out on science.
- Krzysztof Kieślowski's Decalogue I: professor father and genius son think everything can be understood in mathematics and solved through their computer. The computer is able to calculate what the mother is doing, but comes up blank when the son asks what she is dreaming of (a religious aunt is able to provide the answer: she is dreaming of her son of course). The son goes skating on a frozen lake, because the computer says the ice will hold three times his weight. The ice breaks and the son is frozen to death.
- Deconstructed by Dara O'Briain in one of his live shows, where he discusses homeopathy and his irritation with it. He points out that the real-life accusation levelled at science that "it doesn't know everything" is inherently flawed because the whole point of science is that scientists are fully aware that they don't know everything, and if they did "it'd stop" — there would be no point in continuing.
- Enjoy! Don't drink while he's talking.
- Tim Minchin really hates this trope and will often go on rants about homepathy but perhaps the best example of this would be his beat poem Storm
- In the New World of Darkness sourcebook Second Sight, science is presented not only as being wrong about Psychic Powers, but actively damaging to their activation - scientific scrutiny makes them harder to use. Which is, of course, why no use of psychic ability ever passed the Randi Challenge (aside from the fact that everyone who entered was a charlatan; actual psychics were too busy conning casinos or playing the stock market). To be even more specific, it's not science itself but skepticism which weakens psychic powers, it just unhappily coincides that scientists are the best equipped and inclined to be skeptical. As presented, psychic powers are strengthened in the presence of true believers, but a group of skeptics (or just one who has bought the Merit "Doubting Thomas") will alter probability to the point where the likelihood of success becomes equal to the likelihood of achieving a Critical Failure.
- In Hunter: The Vigil, there ARE scientific approaches to fighting the supernatural that are highly effective. Task Force VALKYRIE and The Cheiron Group both rely on scientific understanding of the supernatural in order to produce high-tech weaponry or magical surgery. The Null Mysteriis have even invented Fantastic Science.
- The compact Null Mysteriis consists of rationalists who apply the scientific method to supernatural phenomena. A small subgroup of Null Mysteriis is devoted to finding answers to supernatural phenomena that fit already established scientific law; they're presented as being horribly misguided and are often given disproportionate screen time. Other members of Null Mysteriis are really on-the-nose on some topics, comparatively speaking (such as slashers): in Witch Finders a unified theory of magic is presented as something of a holy grail, while in Spirit Slayers they're excited to have proven that spirits and werewolves violate conventional physics.
- Mage: The Awakening actually subverts it on some level; while science may be far from the whole Supernal truth, honest discovery and research into the laws of the Fallen World provides a good chance for the researcher to Awaken as a mage. The Seers of the Throne hate this, and thus try to make all institutions they infiltrate (not just science, but politics, religion, etc.) as stifling and dogmatic as possible to ensure none of the "wrong" people Awaken.
- More generally, where Mage: The Ascension told us that science was a vicious lie by the man to keep the mages down, Mage: The Awakening tells us that science is a true but incomplete way of describing the universe, and that there are uncountable wonders it simply hasn't the tools to find yet— basically what a real-life scientist will tell you.
- For bonus points, as mundane humans learn the secrets of the world, they can actually pass out of the purview of mages — in the middle ages a master of forces could summon up atomic fire to eradicate cities, but since 1945 it's gone from being unwise but possible to being something only the archmages can do, if even they can do it. So science actually has a better record of breaking Seer power than the traditions themselves.
- In Genius The Transgression, Wonders are inherently non-repeatable phenomena, which causes a problem for anyone trying to scientifically test then verify with additional tests. This might be because mad science is inherently unexplainable but it could just as easily be because Mad Scientists are explicitly not any good at proper science. On the other hand, sane scientists are assumed to be right but simply haven't come across mad science.
- However, it's just as explicitly mentioned that Wonders must at least be nominally possible and follow basic logic: for example a Cool Car still needs proper wheels and a proper engine, and they will work on principles similar to normal engines and wheels but they will be much more effective than they "should" be. On the other hand, stuff like telekinesis rays do not work on any real life principles. The proportion of real science to mad science also gets smaller as the Genius gains greater Inspiration, eventually culminating in wonders that will only appear scientific anymore at first glance and run mostly on Mania.
- An Old World of Darkness example: Mage: The Ascension (usually) posits that all Science is Wrong — except when enough people believe that it's not. The Technocracy convinced humanity that science is right during the Enlightenment, though, so mundane reality works on observable principle as long as people believe it does. The whole point of the game is that Awakening allows the True Mage(tm) to flip mundane reality and the collected observers the bird and do things through "discredited" systems of magic/faith/pseudo-science. The mere presence of mundanes who believe in conventional science also tends to make True Magic go awry in non-repeatable and/or fatal ways, making it basically impossible to objectively observe magic.
- Ironically, while Exalted exemplifies the trope in the page quote (which appears on the back cover of both the first and second edition core rulebooks), the setting itself generally subverts it through heavy use of Magitek and Functional Magic. It's not that the setting is unscientific, it's just that it takes place in a world where the Rule of Cool is encoded into the laws of physics. Most of the setting's most powerful artificers, spellcasters, and thaumaturges are described as having approached their trades with a decidedly scientific mindset; powerful artificers are even called 'Sorcerer-Engineers'.
- Similarly, the Planescape setting. Science can't really cope with stuff like a spire of infinite length with a city at the top. Since the entire setting runs on Clap Your Hands If You Believe and Your Mind Makes It Real, well... The Guvners are trying to find the laws of the Planes, only there is an opposite faction that believes there aren't any. This complicates matters.
- In Unknown Armies, science and magic and reality have a very complicated relationship. For the most part, science is completely accurate until it butts up against magic, which is run by Your Mind Makes It Real — magic users are literally so obsessed with their worldview that they impose themselves upon reality. It's also implied that science is only accurate because of Clap Your Hands If You Believe. That is to say, as civilizations rose and people began thinking in more orderly terms, the world settled down into something that can be defined by science, and magic significantly weakened. Modern scientific positivism was basically the death knell for "easy" magic, meaning you now have to be quite insane to actually pull off magic of any real power anymore.
- Science was wrong in Cthulhu Tech; emphasis on the past tense, there. The discovery of arcanotechnology and the associated theory merely expanded what science knew, to include things like sorcery and the thermodynamics-breaking D-Engine. Of course, these new developments tend to drive researchers crazy, but that's a problem with the human mind, not science.
- The premise behind the occult RPG Nephilim is "History is a lie. Science is a delusion"; pretty much everything you learned in school is a deliberate falsehood by a race of immortal supernatural beings to keep humans as passive prey. Scientists either intentionally falsify data, or are members of the Grand Conspiracy.
- 7th Sea averts this: Until recently, the church was the biggest sponsor of scientific studies, believing that by understanding their deity's creation, they'd become closer to it. Then, the head of the church died and with no successor in sight, the inquisition ran amok, declaring the end of the world nigh and pressuring universities to close so that man could focus on preparing their souls for the next world instead of wasting time trying to understand the present one...
- Nobilis justifies and subverts this-the world literally hides it's nature from Muggles, so science is wrong by virtue of the fact that it is based on a model where some critical information is always unknown-the Spirit World, for instance. The scientific method however, is a perfectly valid form of understanding reality, and there's nothing that prevents a non-Muggle Science Hero from being right once he's been clued in to how the universe really works.
- On the other hand, if the Excrucians were to destroy the domain called "scientific method", it would, in fact, stop working. Creation would probably suffer pretty badly afterwards...
- In Shadowrun, this is both played straight and subverted. Science can be used to explain magic, sure. Scientists and Hermetic mages use complex formulae and theories as to how magic works the way it does. They're right, but the shaman who thinks magic comes from the Loa is just as right, as is the adept who believes magic works just because he wants it to. The nature of magic is such that everyone is right, and no one is sure how this is even possible. There is True Magic, but that is magic super powered because it's how it's supposed to be used, explaining nothing about how it works.
- Captain Bible In Dome Of Darkness strongly implies this. It's a Christian game, and it involves finding bible quotes to combat evil Hollywood Atheist robots. But some of the lessons it teaches are rather anti-science or at least contrary to mainstream scientific opinion... Remember kids, rainbows are divine and not simply light reflecting off of water particles, and evolution is wrong and incompatible with Christianity!
- Played for laughs in lonelygirl15, in which Bree's Catch Phrase is "Proving science wrong!" She creates a series of videos which purport to disprove scientific theories (but don't).
- The episodic erotic web-novel Tales Of MU has this as part of its premise. It essentially inverts the usual order of things, where the students are in college to study magic but a few of the loners and outsiders dabble in "science" and are made fun of for actually believing the rubbish. The protagonist delivers a long Author Filibuster on this topic... the very same protagonist who attends a college devoted to the study of magic, and expounds at great length in an earlier chapter on her interest in the Magitek that their civilization runs on. Erin is many things, but "consistent" is not one of them.
- This trope is zigzagged all over the place in Funny Business. The main character, Jeanette, despite being completely human, is a nigh-omnipotent Reality Warper for whom the laws of physics have no meaning. However, she has nothing to do with the fact that atoms do not exist in-universe. That's because the characters live in a simulation of the real world, which is also the source of Jeanette's powers. There is nothing wrong with science regarding the real world. In fact, Jeanette can only defy science because science is valid.
- This is the basis of The Simpsons episode "Lisa the Skeptic." When Lisa tries to prove that the angel skeleton isn't real using scientific means, much of the Springfieldian community decides to dismiss science altogether, epitomized by Moe's line of, "What has science ever done for us?" It turns out Lisa was right. The angel skeleton was planted in the ground as a viral marketing ploy. The scientist's tests had been "inconclusive" because he was too lazy or cheap to run them.
- This trope often fails to take into account the attitude in modern science that Science is Incomplete, hence scientists anticipate that many theories and principles will probably be proven "wrong" in light of new information. Science is limited to what we can observe and measure, so how "right" it is is only so in light of our current limited understanding (and given the vast size of and complexity of the universe, all information will be limited for a long, long time to come). As such, while being "wrong" may annoy a bit - and some diehards hell-bent on a pet theory will just not let go - most scientists will be excited when proven wrong. Just think of all the possibilities, the great new directions, and the applications!
- For example, this article in ''Harper's'' describes a group of people who have come to the conclusion the entirety of physics may be, if not wrong, at least correct only in a very limited circumstance, and that science itself may be unable ever to find, let alone explain the laws of physics. This group is called... um... "physicists."
- This also leads to the common dismissal: "If we can't really definitely know everything, why bother/why trust it/why care?" Look at it this way: If you're lost, a map with a piece torn out of it is still useful compared to having no map at all. Incomplete it may be (and may possibly remain), but what we do know is useful, and the more bits we fill in the more information we have to make use of.
- Believers in the paranormal— Psychic Powers, Alien Abduction, and other New Age ideas— often criticize science for being too closed-minded to accept their ideas. These people usually fail to give compelling evidence to wake the interests of more conventional scientists. Naturally, the latter group would be excited by new stuff; imagine dropping a ghost on the table of a scientist, they would be delighted to analyze it and help you out with more. Alas, since that hasn't happened yet, most of them remain sceptical.
- The jury is still out on whether Paul Feyerabend is an example of this trope. On one hand, he heavily criticizes the "scientific method", claiming that scientists give less attention to results that challenge their notions (and even siding with creationists for some time). However, in The Trouble With Physics, Lee Smolin argues that Feyerabend's disdain actually stems from a devoted preoccupation with scientific inquiry.
- Played with by paranormalist author Charles Fort, who spent most of the 1920s and 1930s cataloging various accounts of "damned things," or phenomena which "science" categorically explains away as nothing of any significance. These included topics like Psychic Powers, spontaneous combustion, teleportation, and many other similar matters. However, as Fort himself wrote, he didn't believe anything he wrote of, but merely felt that everything we take for granted (religion, politics, scientific positivism) should be questioned constantly to keep them vital and relevant (a position Robert Anton Wilson would come to describe as "ideal skepticism").
- Post-modernism and post-structuralism are philosophical movements that reject any kind of firm, immutable truth. Science at its best is an incomplete description of an observation made using flawed tools, and at its worst, a dogmatic inquisition that locks up heretics guilty of blaspheming Reality under the designation "mental illness".
- There is a well-regarded journal article titled Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, which posits that entire fields of contemporary science may be "null fields," i.e. completely bogus.
- One common misunderstanding about what science is regards "procedural naturalism", a concept that actually goes back to the 12th century. The basic idea is that one must assume natural causes and only use natural causes in describing phenomena. There are two sides to this. First is that something like Intelligent Design is not, by definition, scientific. This is not to say that assuming intelligent design cannot lead to practical applications with repeatable results and such, but it doesn't follow the paradigm. To the extent that making non-natural assumptions leads to falsifiable predictions that are confirmed, science is wrong (or at least, incomplete). The second part is taking procedural naturalism (as an assumption) and making the leap to an assertion that only natural causes can describe phenomena. This is known as ontological or philosophical naturalism and is a metaphysical proposition. As such, it cannot be "proven" right or wrong, at least not by what is itself considered to be science. Whether it's Hume's Problem with Induction or Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, there is no way to be sure. Making the assertion is itself not scientific. This trope includes the opposite assertion which - not surprisingly - is just as unscientific, but alleged to be moreso because of this confusion.
- Scientific approaches to questions of morality can be criticized as not scientific because abstract concepts of right, wrong, good, evil and the like have no physical characteristics - in and of themselves - from which empirical observations can be made. Hume's Law laid out the Is-Ought Problem: normative prescriptions can not be deduced from empirical observation and description. To describe good or evil, one must define it, but that is the whole point: you must choose axioms for what is good or evil before you can test them. Noting the above entry, one can assume that morals a product of evolutionary psychobiology but that is still just an assumption. It may even provide descriptive and predictive power but there is no way to show that someone "should" do something in some circumstance without falling back on your original assumption. You can't tell if it is correct, but it is bad science. This trope can assert that the things that are most important to human beings - love, beauty, justice - cannot be measured and therefore cannot be approached scientifically.