Not even wrong

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An apparently scientific argument is said to be not even wrong if it is based on assumptions that are known to be incorrect, or alternatively, theories which cannot possibly be falsified or used to predict anything.


[edit] Origins

The phrase was coined by the early quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking.[1] Peierls (1960) writes of Pauli, "... a friend showed him 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, 'That's not right. It's not even wrong.' ".[2] In science and philosophy, it is known as the principle of falsifiability.

[edit] Basis

Statements which are "not even wrong" may be well-formed, but lack reference to anything physical (as in "Souls are immortal", because the noun "soul" is not well-defined in terms of experimental results), or may simply be gobbledygook which appears meaningless (as in some of the Time Cube writings).

The phrase "not even wrong" is often used to describe pseudoscience or bad science, and is considered derogatory.[3]

[edit] Further meanings

"Not even wrong" has also come to mean science which is well-meaning and based on the current scientific knowledge, but can neither be used for prediction nor falsified. Such theories are non-scientific, even when they are spoken in scientific language. The phrase has been applied to aspects of the super string theory of physics on the grounds that, although mathematically elegant, it provides (as of now) neither predictions nor tests.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Shermer M (2006). "Wronger Than Wrong". Scientific American. 
  2. ^ Peierls R (1960). "Wolfgang Ernst Pauli, 1900-1958". Biographical memoirs of fellows of the Royal Society (Royal Society (Great Britain)) 5: 174–92. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1960.0014. 
  3. ^ Oliver Burkeman (September 19, 2005). "Not even wrong". The Guardian.,3604,1573072,00.html. 
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