Monday, May 19, 2014

how wrong?

not even wrong:

The phrase "not even wrong" describes any argument that purports to be scientific but fails at some fundamental level, usually in that it contains a terminal logical fallacy or it cannot be falsified by experiment (i.e. tested with the possibility of being rejected), or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world.

The phrase is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. Rudolf Peierls documents an instance in which "a friend showed Pauli the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli's views. Pauli remarked sadly, 'It is not even wrong'." This is also often quoted as "It is not only not right, it is not even wrong," or "Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!" in Pauli's native German. Peierls remarks that quite a few apocryphal stories of this kind have been circulated and mentions that he listed only the ones personally vouched by him. He also quotes another example when Pauli replied to Lev Landau, "What you said was so confused that one could not tell whether it was nonsense or not."

Physicist Arthur Schuster in 1911 said "We all prefer being right to being wrong, but it is better to be wrong than to be neither right nor wrong".

The phrase is often used to describe pseudoscience or bad science, and is considered derogatory.

wronger than wrong:

Michael Shermer has described as "wronger than wrong" the mistake addressed in what he calls Asimov's axiom, after the noted author Isaac Asimov, who discussed the issue in his book of essays, The Relativity of Wrong. A statement that equates two errors is wronger than wrong when one of the errors is clearly more wrong than the other. As Asimov put it:

"When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

Asimov explains that science is both progressive and cumulative. Even though scientific theories are later proven wrong, the degree of their wrongness attenuates with time as they are modified in response to the mistakes of the past. For example, data collected from satellite measurements shows precisely how the Earth's shape differs from a perfect sphere.

Shermer states that being wronger than wrong is actually worse than being not even wrong (that is, being unfalsifiable).

Lite to children:

A lie-to-children is a simplified explanation of technical or complex subjects as a teaching method for children and laypeople, first described by science writers Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart. The word "children" should not be taken literally, but as encompassing anyone in the process of learning about a given topic regardless of age. It is itself a simplification of certain concepts in the philosophy of science.

Because some topics can be extremely difficult to understand without experience, introducing a full level of complexity to a student or child all at once can be overwhelming. Hence elementary explanations are simplified in a way that makes the lesson more understandable, though technically wrong. A lie-to-children is meant to be eventually replaced with a more sophisticated explanation which is closer to the truth.

Such statements are not usually intended as deceptions, and may in fact be true as a first approximation or within certain contexts. For example, Newtonian mechanics is less accurate than the theory of relativity at high speeds and quantum mechanics on small scales, but it is still a valid approximation to those theories in many situations.

A lie-to-children is sometimes referred to as a Wittgenstein's ladder.

Wittgenstein's ladder:

The term "Wittgenstein's ladder" stems from proposition number 6.54 in the acclaimed philosophical work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, which reads:


My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

Original in German:


Meine Sätze erläutern dadurch, dass sie der, welcher mich versteht, am Ende als unsinnig erkennt, wenn er durch sie—auf ihnen—über sie hinausgestiegen ist. (Er muss sozusagen die Leiter wegwerfen, nachdem er auf ihr hinaufgestiegen ist.)
Er muss diese Sätze überwinden, dann sieht er die Welt richtig.

Toy model:

In physics, a toy model is a simplified set of objects and equations relating them so that they can nevertheless be used to understand a mechanism that is also useful in the full, non-simplified theory.

In "toy" mathematical models, this is usually done by reducing the number of dimensions or reducing the number of fields/variables or restricting them to a particular symmetric form.
In "toy" physical descriptions, an everyday example of an analogous mechanism is often used to illustrate an effect in order to make the phenomenon easier to visualize.

Some examples of "toy models" in physics might be: the Ising model as a toy model for ferromagnetism, or, more generally, as one of the simplest examples of lattice models; orbital mechanics described by assuming that the Earth is attached to the Sun by a large elastic band; Hawking radiation around a black hole described as conventional radiation from a fictitious membrane at radius r=2M (the black hole membrane paradigm); frame-dragging around a rotating star considered as the effect of space being a conventional "draggable" fluid.

The phrase "Tinker-toy model" is also sometimes used in this context. It refers to a popular children's construction toy, the Tinker toy, with which objects can be built easily in a way that facilitates learning, though it restricts the set of things that can be buil

from Lizard's Ghost

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