Which is stronger – ideology or scientific evidence?

Sometimes the big ideas that become accepted are eventually discovered to be wrong.  In the meantime, they are protected by the marketing of their beautiful story.  Books and films may be inspired by it.  Like an obsession, it makes the world seem simpler and more manageable.  The professional establishment likes to keep it that way.  In part, they are deceived themselves; in part, they don’t want their position to be changed.

Peter Hayes described a situation analogous to accreditation regarding the clock paradox in which contradictory principles in Einstein’s theory of relativity fail to be reconciled.  He argues that Einstein’s theory should be recognised as merely an ideology (“a collection of ideas that are used to freely advance or maintain authority and power of their exponents in a way that prevents critical analysis of whether these ideas are true or false, consistent or inconsistent”) and not science which is “subject to critical assessment.”  The highly complex ideology of relativity contains logical contradictions.  These must be accepted without proof before admission to this branch of physics is granted to new members.  Those who voice doubts are often censored to delay a paradigm shift.  The theory’s “illusory explanatory powers enhances the real power and authority of the theoretical physicists” and, when internal contradictions are demonstrated, “- the theory is impervious to such attacks as it is shielded by a professional constituency of supporters whose interests and authority are bound up in maintaining its inflated claims.”  The contradictions it is built on allow almost anything to prove it is right.

The accreditation ideology likewise is “fitted to events and never truly tested against them, as the advocates of the theories form a self-serving group determined to show the rightness of their approach regardless of truth.”  Closed protectionism of this nature is the enemy of open debate.  It is a red flag that indicates the ideology being defended has known flaws that threaten its survival.

The Ideology of Relativity: The Case of the Clock Paradox

Author: Peter Hayes


In the interwar period there was a significant school of thought that repudiated Einstein’s theory of relativity on the grounds that it contained elementary inconsistencies. Some of these critics held extreme right-wing and anti-Semitic views, and this has tended to discredit their technical objections to relativity as being scientifically shallow. This paper investigates an alternative possibility: that the critics were right and that the success of Einstein’s theory in overcoming them was due to its strengths as an ideology rather than as a science. The clock paradox illustrates how relativity theory does indeed contain inconsistencies that make it scientifically problematic. These same inconsistencies, however, make the theory ideologically powerful. The implications of this argument are examined with respect to Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper’s accounts of the philosophy of science.  

Social Epistemology, Volume 23, Issue January 2009 , pages 57 – 78.

Tom Bethell makes a similar observation regarding Einstein, concluding:

“At present, the world of orthodox physics is unwilling to reexamine Einstein’s relativity, whether special or general. It would fall apart if subjected to real scrutiny, I believe. But in science (and perhaps everything else) the simple should always be preferred to the complex – all else being equal. Such a revision, if it ever came to pass, would also constitute a serious challenge to the priesthood of science. Perhaps that’s why the relativists are hanging tough.”

Indeed, William of Occam might like to shave UKAS right back to checking thermometer calibrations again.

With accreditation, I don’t think it’s the priesthood of science that has been resisting change.  The senior professional figures in Government and professional bodies have themselves been fooled by the initial plausibility of the tedious BSI/UKAS/ISO philosophy that conformance equals quality.  They have embraced the wrong sort of change when they should have been more critical.

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