August 23, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

What Science Doesn’t Know

For all the confident triumphalism scientists display, there are major things they do not grasp.

Something is seriously wrong with our understanding of the cosmos (New Scientist). “Something is wrong with the expansion of the universe,” Leah Crane writes. “Nearby galaxies seem to be moving away from one another too fast, we don’t know why, and every new set of data just seems to make the problem worse.”

Two incredibly fast-orbiting stars seem to be the wrong temperature (New Scientist). “The two-star system could fit within the diameter of Saturn. The two stars are strange: the less massive one is colder than we’d expect, and the more massive one is far too hot at more than 48,000°C.”

Monster ‘Loner’ Star Causes Scientists to Rethink Supernova Explosions (Space.com). Supernovas are the “standard candles” upon which theories depend about the big bang, dark energy, and the age of the universe. But how firm is that foundation? This article talks about one supernova that is causing astronomers to reconsider what they thought they knew.

Everything about this supernova looks different, its change in brightness with time, its spectrum, the galaxy it is located in, and even where it’s located within its galaxy,” Edo Berger, astronomy professor at Harvard University and co-author of the study, said in the statement. “We sometimes see supernovas that are unusual in one respect but otherwise are normal; this one is unique in every possible way.

New Timeline for ‘Giant Planet Migration’ May Rewrite History of Our Solar System (Space.com). The nebular hypothesis for the origin of planetary systems by natural processes has always been nebulous, but now even more so. In recent decades, discoveries of weird exoplanetary systems caused astronomers to invoke migrations to keep them stable. Then, our own system was starting to look like the outlier. “The largest planets in our solar system could have drifted away from the sun much sooner than scientists previously thought,” according to a new study. This article claims a partial recovery of theory by invoking astronomers’ favorite causes: random impacts. Enough free parameters can match any theory.

Earth’s moon from Cassini, 1999 (NASA). Some crater floors at the poles never receive sunlight.

Mysteries of the Moon: What We Still Don’t Know After Apollo (Space.com). Short answer: a lot. Lunar scientists were surprised to find water on the moon. They don’t understand the role of volcanoes, and when they occurred.

Hayne suggests that scientists need to revise their models of the moon’s volcanic activity as most of them think that it stopped being active a long time ago, which may not be true — some scientists believe that the moon is still tectonically active.

There is also debate over how old our moon is, with ages ranging from 4.5 billion years to a much younger 150 to 200 million years.

In short, “We have a lot of great questions,” one said. “The Apollo missions helped us solve many of the moon’s mysteries, but there are still many more questions that have been left unanswered — and even a couple that arose as a result of the samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts,” said NASA’s former chief historian. See also on Phys.org, “Study suggests much more water on the moon than thought.”

Earth could have more water than we thought while exoplanets have less (New Scientist). Back on Earth, scientists are realizing that water ice under high pressure acts differently than they thought. “We might need to rethink our understanding of water, both on Earth and other planets.” How could they have been so wrong about our home planet, let alone the moon and distant exoplanets?

Origin of massive methane reservoir identified (Phys.org). Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution were “totally surprised” to find a pool of the potent greenhouse gas methane on the ocean bottom. This is abiogenic methane: i.e., not produced by life. “These oceanic deposits make up a reservoir exceeding the amount of methane in Earth’s atmosphere before industrialization,” scientists said. What does this mean for climate models? They didn’t say.

Scientists Just Found a Previously Unknown Organ Lurking Under Your Skin, and It Helps Detect Pain (Live Science). How often would you expect to find a new organ in the body? The human body has been studied since ancient Greece. Yet just recently, scientists found structures under the skin that are involved in the pain response.

Probing an evolutionary riddle (Nature). Why do people harm themselves? That doesn’t fit evolutionary theory. This article begins with a modified “March of Man” cartoon, showing a man at the end of the line kneeling holding his head as if in pain or depression.

While co-organizing a symposium a few years ago, a distinguished evolutionary psychologist named Nicholas Humphrey sought an expert to explore a mystery dating back to the time of Charles Darwin. “Natural selection will never produce in a being anything injurious to itself,” Darwin wrote in On the Origin of Species.

But in humans, natural selection apparently did exactly that. Suicide is the leading cause of violent death, striking down about 800,000 people worldwide each year—more than all wars and murders combined, according to the World Health Organization.

The shocking statistics tell something unusual about mankind, something that requires a better explanation than natural selection. If natural selection drives people to kill themselves, then society would have to accept that as part of the Stuff Happens Law. It would not be conducive to giving people help, as if they have minds and souls.

Our astonishing brain is hard to figure out – and that’s fantastic (New Scientist). This article explains just a few of the challenges involved in figuring out what brain activity means, and what produces it. Remember this when scientists claim this incredibly complex organ evolved, and that they somehow “know” that.

Survey says scientists mistrust a large amount of published research (New Scientist). If scientists don’t trust a large portion of the work of their peers, who presumably use the “scientific method” to gain knowledge, then how much can the public trust it?

Out of those surveyed, 25 per cent said exaggerated findings, a lack of detail, and poor conclusions make research outputs untrustworthy. “There’s always someone trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Within your own field this can be easier to detect, but it’s less easy to determine when scouting subjects that you are less familiar with,” a materials scientist in the UK told the survey.

This admission that scientists are aware of tricks that can be played is alarming. The general public, unfamiliar with most fields of science, is even more susceptible to having the wool pulled over their eyes. If the scientist sees this deception going on in an observable, repeatable field like materials science, how much less should people trust evolutionary stories talking about things that happened millions and billions of years ago?

This is the tip of a very large iceberg. Science does well with observable, repeatable tests, but even then they make assumptions that can be challenged. The most solid conclusions are only tentative: what the consensus believes today. When they go off on speculations about things they cannot possibly know, they left “science” far behind.

 

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