Controversies In and Near Science

Controversies and debates in and around science – between researchers within the same discipline, between competing theories, between competing fields, and between accepted scientific viewpoints and viewpoints rooted outside science – are common. 

Is there global warming and is it caused by high emissions of CO2 by humans? Or is global warming perhaps a myth, or rather an established fact caused by changes in the sun’s radiation, which has little to do with us? Is quantum physics correct? Can quantum computers, which have superior computation power that can crack the codes used for most commercial communication, be built? Are the teachings regarding free-market economy scientifically based?  What is rationality?  What is the weight of psychology in understanding economics?  What is the value of mathematical tools in the social sciences? What are the limits of artificial intelligence? Is string theory promising as the ultimate physics theory of everything?

What is the origin of the Scrolls of Qumran (the Dead Sea scrolls)? Were they written by a sectarian group living in a village close to the caves where they were discovered, as the dominant theory asserts?  Magen Broshi, a senior Jerusalem-based archaeologist and the ex-curator of the “Shrine of the Book” who subscribes to the central theory regarding the scrolls, said once in a public lecture: “There are  twelve theories regarding the origins of the Qumran scrolls. These theories are conflicting, which means that eleven must be  incorrect; let me tell you which is the correct one.” A voice came from the audience: “At least eleven!” This was followed by an immediate reply from another audience member: “You must be a mathematician!”

Is the theory of evolution correct? And is “intelligent design” a serious scientific alternative?  Is there a hidden code in the Bible that can reveal details about the present and can it be used to predict the future? Are we witnessing the “end of science”? The “end of history? The “end of civilization”?  A major “clash between civilizations”? Are the claims that the HIV virus is not the cause of AIDS of any merit? Do highly diluted homeopathic medications have any real effect? And is the “Mozart effect,” the claim that – unlike any other similar activity – listening to Mozart’s music before an exam will greatly contribute to its successful outcome, correct?

This is the first post of four which present little chapters from a (sort of popular-science) book I have been writing. (As always, comments are most welcome.)

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5 Responses to Controversies In and Near Science

  1. Gil Kalai says:

    One scientific debate which is no longer a debate is the question whether smoking causes cancer. So sometimes things do clear up (but often quite slowly).

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