Trust science news?

Yesterday I was invited as a panelist in a discussion about objectivity in science, organized by the students of the philosophy interest group (they don’t seem to use an acronym, I wonder why…). I told the story of the black paper of quantum cryptography and the reactions it provoked: how nobody ever questioned the “truth” of what was written there, some experts legitimately questioned the “convenience” of writing that piece (which admittedly had a too pessimistic undertone), some non-experts got mad because they were using “the success of cryptography” to push their own agenda and did not expect those problems.

The other panelists and the students contributed many interesting ideas. I select two of them for consideration:

  1. A student mentioned quantum physics as “not predictive”. I had to correct him: it is probably the most predictive sector of science, both in precision and in scope. But it is true that this is NOT the perception of quantum physics people have: quantum physics is associated with weird claims (true) bordering on science-fiction (wrong). It is really a priority in communication of science, to convey the idea that quantum physics is first and foremost a solid body of theoretical and experimental knowledge. As for its weirdness, it’s fascinating, not as funky science-fiction, but as deep philosophy of nature!
  2. Well-known problems of communication of science were raised: overstatements by scientists themselves and by the media, the proliferation of crackpots who pass themselves as “experts” of some topic… The moderator asked then, how can the public know the right from the wrong? One of us gave the only possible answer: “ask someone you trust”. The bottom line is that science is a human endeavor, in which I believe that sound knowledge can be reached (I am a “realist” in this sense), but is far from “brute evidence”.

Hmmm… I just wonder how close to brute evidence we can come in quantum physics with the device-independent program… I’ll have to try and explain this to the people I met yesterday 🙂


About valerio

Principal investigator at Centre for Quantum Technologies and professor at National University of Singapore

Posted on October 14, 2011, in Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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