2 Wrongs from Wikipedia

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“Wronger than wrong”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Michael Shermer has described as “wronger than wrong” the mistake addressed in what he calls “Asimov’s axiom,” after the noted author Isaac Asimov, who discussed the issue in his book of essays, The Relativity of Wrong. A statement that equates two errors is “wronger than wrong” when one of the errors is clearly more wrong than the other. As Asimov put it:

“When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

Asimov explains that science is both progressive and cumulative. Even though scientific theories are later proven wrong, the degree of their wrongness attenuates with time as they are modified in response to the mistakes of the past. For example, data collected from satellite measurements shows precisely how the Earth’s shape differs from a perfect sphere.

Shermer states that being wronger than wrong is actually worse than being “not even wrong” (that is, being unfalsifiable).

According to John Jenkins, who reviewed The Relativity of Wrong, the title essay of Asimov’s book is the one “which I think is important both for understanding Asimov’s thinking about science and for arming oneself against the inevitable anti-science attack that one often hears — [that] theories are always preliminary and science really doesn’t ‘know’ anything.”

“Not even wrong”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The phrase “not even wrong” is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. Rudolf Peierls documents an instance in which “a friend showed Pauli 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, ‘It is not even wrong.'” This is often also quoted as “It is not only not right, it is not even wrong,” or “Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!” Peierls remarks that quite a few apocryphal stories of this kind have been circulated and mentions that he listed only the ones personally vouched by him. He also quotes another example when Pauli replied to Lev Landau, “What you said was so confused that one could not tell whether it was nonsense or not.”

It has come to be used to describe any argument that purports to be scientific but fails at some fundamental level, usually in that it cannot be falsified by experiment (i.e., tested with the possibility of being rejected) or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world.

The phrase “not even wrong” is often used to describe pseudoscience or bad science and is considered derogatory.

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