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Is the role of the non specialist in technical matters useful?

As as geologist when people talk about an expanding earth in the National Philosophy Alliance seriously, my immediate reaction is that it is "crackpottery". I have stood on the floor of an ocean that predated the Atlantic Ocean and know beyond a reasonable doubt that an expanding earth beyond a fraction of a percent is impossible---no mineral assemblage will support it.

When I am told that there are at least 30 data sets that require adjustable parameters to explain the Big Bang Theory what do I think as a non-specialist?

The Big Bang Theory has proven to be perhaps the most spectacularly maladjusted predictive theory ever; it has predicted practically none of the major feautures of the universe from dark energy to dark matter to inflation, etc. Instead the theory is so malleable that any set of facts (data) are simply required to fit the theory with some ad hoc suggestion. While it is true that some of these unexpected phenomenon received support later, it does not alter the fact that they were not predicted.

This is a dangerous precedent. What if other branches of the sciences started formulating theories without substantial support, and never made testable predictions that came true?

The single greatest criticism of the BBT is that according to an opponent, it has never made a prediction that would falsify the theory if proven true and that is a damning indictment of the theory.

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    Mar 19 2014: So many problems are interdisciplinary that they are most fruitfully addressed by bringing together people from different specialties that have some bearing on the matter at hand. A collection of thoughtful people who want to build together would likely be most productive.
    • Mar 19 2014: Holism is underrated; we cannot look at the exploration of the mind without realizing we must have a multidisciplanary approach. However you do indicate you prefer "specialists".
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        Mar 19 2014: I think there is a lot of value in people exchanging ideas with thoughtful, highly knowledgeable people in fields that have a bearing on an issue.

        There are some areas where canvasing popular opinion is useful as well.
  • Mar 23 2014: Yes.

    Experts are made, they do not exist naturally. Whether they are made through education, self-learning, or being involved in a science for a while, they all have curiosity and a desire to try and explain what they see in the way of observations. The most popular way to gain the status of expert is to go through the education process, get your PHD, conduct research, publish papers in journals associated with a particular subject, and defend your position by responding to questions of other experts to see if it is logically sound and consistent with known data and other accepted works. But this is not the only way.
    I seem to remember seeing a commercial that highlighted the inventions that came from garages of regular people. At what point did Steve Jobs become an expert? Serendipitous discovery also comes as a result of the cross-pollinization of ideas by people outside the box. There are many stories about people that discovered things by accident, the 3M yellow sticky notes and penicillin for instance. However as Pasteur pointed out- Chance favors the prepared mind. The internet, for all of its short comings relative to quality information, does permit the interaction and scrutiny of a mass audience in blogs such as this one. While the questions you get might not be at a technical depth necessary for pushing scientific truth forward, they may serve to strengthen the arguments of those that do have this depth.
    I think there is value in a diversity of opinion, even when many are flawed. It is the responsibility of the experts to be able to apply the laws of science and nature to dismiss the ideas that have no merit, and learn from the ideas that have merit. Learning how to distinguish between the two and process the information is part of the burden of remaining an expert. The more opinions about a scientific idea, and people thinking through them, the greater the interest in science. The greater the interest in a science, the more influential the expert
    • Mar 23 2014: Great point,

      And i agree that "the responsibility of the experts to be able to apply the laws of science and nature to dismiss the ideas that have no merit, and learn from the ideas that have merit"

      But it is very common nowadays and throught history to see that what should happeninig, is not.

      Insteadof hearing and think about non experts ideas

      The non experts are giving reasons why the main-stream are wrong and showing new ways that is more plausible
      And the experts are just no, without explain why the non expert refutation "is wrong" and why the new ideas dont hold
      And much of the times we see they just dont know and the non experts do know better then they do

      So i think not just the non expert do have a role on expert matters but they also must insist in they ideas

      But it is also wrong people that just question something without reason without search to see if their view holds, and keep insisting even when they are shown to be wrong

      Those people irritate and annoy the experts and make the experts to lose their time but i find it even worst that experts try to force their ideas in the same stupborn way (ignoring the proof they are wrong) and even using their knowlege to force it making it harder to refutate and even sometimes leading entire communitys the wrong way

      So everyone has a role and even should participate on building knowlege and keep they eyes on everything they can
  • Mar 23 2014: I firmly believe in the mixing of multiple disciplines in a single research center. I have worked in several such research centers and it was great to walk around and talk to others about their problems and discuss my problems. It led to many unique approaches, some fun, some even worked.

    The generalist will always have a place in seeing the problem in a different way.
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    Mar 26 2014: If I may I would like to discuss some very tangible daily effects of your question. Certain very high-tech US military facilities and many supporting contracting agencies follow a paradigm of placing non scientist or non- technical people in the command or leadership roles. One agency I am familiar with had a "history" major as the "Technical Director" of several thousand trained engineers and scientists. Briefings were useless. He couldn't comprehend the technologies being discussed nor fathom the implications of failure or even success.

    The net result was tension, frustration, failure, waste .... So I guess, the question is whether a scientist or engineer would have done better? I have to believe the decisions made by a technical person would have at least been informed, in proper context and based on information that was understood. Such decisions are no guarantee of successful projects or research but I believe the odds go up substantially.

    There is a role for non-technical people in research and technology based activities. No project exists in a vacuum. There is a need for policy, financial even political support. But, these areas should not be the ultimate control. Teamwork in leadership and management as well as in the technology trenches should be the norm. It may slow things down a bit but the chances of success is certainly improved. Anyway, a well oiled and familiar team often works faster than a tense, frustrated and alienated collection of individuals.
  • Mar 19 2014: You'd be amazed what kind of information you could recieve from any other "regular Joe" when it comes to having opinions you can never get to many, especially from different points of view
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    Mar 19 2014: no. there's a fallacy out there that the internet has enabled anyone to become and expert on anything but that is assuming that people are accessing legitimate research and robust information and knowledge.

    i would argue that the "information age" is, in reality, the "hearsay and what i choose to believe" age

    i have friends who are willing to put stock in ancient aliens over human ingenuity; wishful thinking over medical science and expensive dental work over intelligent thought.

    my advice: keep questioning but keep both feet firmly grounded.

    most of the information we get these days is worse than 2nd hand. people take liberties and the absolute worst are "journalists" and their tendency towards hyperbole.
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      Mar 19 2014: What you have written here, Scott, is so important. Browsing lots of stuff on the internet cannot be confused with expertise. To make good use of information one also needs to be able to assess critically what one finds.

      The more complex the issue, the more difficult it is to do this.
  • Mar 19 2014: I have seen discutions that refutate some of the sayd "pseudo-science" by the "main-stream" technicals that the technicals argument is something like, "its obviously", "everybody knows", things that was not obvious att all.

    So i mean that it seams for me that there is a lot of technical areas that is simply badly formulated, and defended by bad/stupid technical people that doesnt acept any other ideia even without having any motive to refute.

    Because of people like those i think its very much valid to propose new ideas, even if it get classified as "pseudo-science", for me that is a lot of pseudo-science that holds much better than the main-stream science

    The astonomy is a area i always though was very bad explained, but never heard nothing against the "old" theories and get real big atention
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    Apr 5 2014: research should not be based on a single principle or view nor should it be based on baseless evidence. ....
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    Mar 26 2014: Richard,

    What about reclaiming the Moon for mineral assemblage or pumping air into the core and creating more surface area. Would you mind an Earth with a hollow core. I am not clear on why anyone would want to expand the Earth.

    My observation of the Universe as a non specialist is to try to grasp the patterns of movement to gain a view of transforming energy and try to understand. It seems movement must occur prior to anything occurring. Did something move out of nothing or has something always been moving and I misperceive it came from nothing? The plot of the mystery thickens, am I in a layered dream where the moving conscious mind is moving a static universe somewhat like driving and everything appears to move outside. Then we have the concept of the multiverse where things no longer explode big bang like from nothing but gently percolate into existence from something.

    Digging into ones mind is much like digging into the sentiment you can only go so far until it disappears into the core erased in time and you're left holding supposition.
    • Mar 27 2014: The expanding earth hypothesis holds that the position of the continents is due to the expansion of the earth and not due to plate tectonics. But to get the present situation of 70% ocean and 30% continent, you would have to expand the volume of the earth over 30 times!
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        Mar 27 2014: Thank you for being clear on the details. At first I thought you were talking about a group who were looking to make the Earth bigger and then were going to ask me to drink their special Kool-Aid.

        As a layman I don't find the expanding earth hypothesis to appear that far out. We are sitting on top of a molten thermal core. Heat energy gives rise to expansion, expansion gives rise to pressure, pressure gives rise to movement. If I have got any of it correct so far it's only the tip of the iceberg. I could see where there are many, many other factors at play such as surface thickness, material, temperature and so on. I don't see where expansion being a driving force to move the plates necessarily would mean expanding the total volume of the Earth. Our little blue planet is quite the system. If nothing else I have gained a new found respect for what it means to be a geologist and what they do.

        BTW: I do not believe you think the idea is "crackpottery".
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    Mar 24 2014: Non-specialists have the advantage over specialists in very many situations.

    Non-specialists are more likely to see context first, rather than detail. In an ideal world, context would set the stage for detail to be added, in that order - but in reality (and somewhat dysfunctionally, in my opinion), it is very often the other way around. Context cannot follow from detail without questionable functionality in the realms of ethics, interdisciplinary communications, fitness for purpose, democracy and many other areas of holistic philosophy.

    Talking to a specialist means you are hearing one, or a very narrow, version of reality and sometimes it is the type of reality that lacks context in a greater world - which actually has more legitimacy to the accolade of reality than the parts that form it.

    The problem is, we are taught from an early age that to have a specialism is a good thing. We must embark on a single unitary career path, and if we deviate from that, we will be labelled as dabblers, dilettantes, jacks-of-all-trades-masters-of-none...

    We may only see the specialist as the one true expert, but should we also regard the non-specialist's grasp of context also as a valuable expertise in it's own right?
  • Mar 23 2014: I infer from your lead in, that; you disapprove of the non-specialist in your area of expertise and avidly criticize BB theory as a non-specialist...? We narrow our perspectives to focus on an issue. On rare occaisions a non-specialist will bring us out to a more global / imperical speculation that leads to a new angle of view from which to take measure of the question.
    So the answer to your question is usually no, but stay open to a little quantum tunneling.
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    Mar 22 2014: You have made some valid points.... But, as one of those none tech types, you have not come close to listing all the questions I have had. I leave it to the forest from the trees thing. But, the one response that too often comes from the technicians to the rest of us... "you aren't smart enough to understand, let alone ask!"

    It seems in modern science, that technicians back into solutions or theories, sort of like... here is an answer, what are the factors? But, it is not just the Big Bang Theory, there are many scientific rationales out there, equally questionable..

    I have come to the conclusion the greater offense taken by the technicians to questions, the weaker their case.
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    Mar 22 2014: As you mention technical subjects, we know that there has been an increasing role for "citizen science" in data analysis as well as in DIY work like design and manufacture of prototypes in the home shop.

    Here is from Scientific American on citizen science projects: http://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/

    On the last day of the TED conference, the head of MIT's media lab spoke specifically about ground up tech development.
  • Mar 21 2014: Do you mean to say that only those can understand the movie who know the technicalities of movie making and those who don't know should not watch the movie , but even if they watch they should shut their mouth.
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    Mar 20 2014: The non-specialist keeps our feet firmly planted, keeps an eye on the ball as specialists soar to the heights. I love the predictions of quantum physicists, and am uplifted by their imagination. I eschew the leaden proofs and formulae. Perhaps "...I am just a dreamer, but you are just a dream; you could have been anyone to me..."

  • Mar 18 2014: Yes because they are not just bound to that specific area and they may also view the topic differently as well