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What do astrophysics and the world's oldest profession have in common?


Martín López-Corredoira

Objectivity in the scientific method is usually aimed at a target. However, in turbid matters, the method to be applied is usually not very objective and basically is as follows:

– Given a theory A self-called orthodox or standard, and a non-orthodox or non-standard theory B. If the observations achieve what was predicted by the theory A and not by the theory B, this implies a large success to the theory A, something which must be divulged immediately to the all-important mass media. This means that there are no doubts that theory A is the right one. Theory B is wrong; one must forget this theory and, therefore, any further research directed to it must be blocked (putting obstacles in the way of publication, and giving no time for telescopes, etc.). – If the observations achieve what was predicted by theory B rather than by theory A, this means nothing. Science is very complex and before taking a position we must think further about the matter and make further tests. It is probable that the observer of such had a failure at some point; further observations are needed (and it will be difficult to make further observations because we are not going to allow the use of telescopes to re-test such a stupid theory as theory B). Who knows! Perhaps the observed thing is due to effect “So-and-so”, of course; perhaps they have not corrected the data from this effect, about which we know nothing. Everything is so complex. We must be sure before we can say something about which theory is correct. Furthermore, by adding some new aspects in the theory A surely it can also predict the observations, and, since we have an army of theoreticians ready to put in patches and discover new effects, in less than three months we will have a new theory A (albeit with some changes) which will agree the data. In any case, while in troubled waters, and as long as we do not clarify the question, theory A remains. Perhaps, as was said by Halton Arp, the informal saying “to make extraordinary changes one requires extraordinary evidence” really means “to make personally disadvantageous changes no evidence is extraordinary enough”.

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