“Too Good to Be True”?—Not True

2022-03-17 – I sometimes follow science groups on Facebook. For some reason, the FB algorithm thinks that means that I would like to follow pseudoscience groups. I don’t, of course. I like to read about science. My only interest in pseudoscience is to keep constantly aware of stupid. The truth is that I don’t have to join any group to keep aware of stupid. Stupid is very aggressive at marketing itself. They think they are independent thinkers. But they don’t want to go it alone. They want you and me to join them.

So it may not be the FB algorithm that’s to blame.

These folks dress their pseudoscience up in fancy science-y clothes. When FB offers me a new group that I “might” be interested in, the group looks like a science group.

But, like lousy poker players, these folks usually have a “tell.”

The tell is their headline. It’s often a promise of something that is too good to be true. If I see a headline like that, I know it isn’t science. Headlines like “James Web Space Telescope Discovers Alien Life,” or “Scientists Discover Method to Allow You to Breathe in Space,” or “Evidence of Neanderthal Hibernation Point to Strategy for Space Travel,” or “Scientifically Verified Way to Get Drunk Without Alcohol.”

Just kidding about the last one (which could actually be true). The other two are paraphrases of headlines I actually saw.

If it’s too good to be true, I’d give you 10 to 1 that it’s not true.

If it’s too good to be true and they are gloating that conventional wisdom has been upended, I’d give you 100 to 1 that it’s not true.

This is not to say that scientists don’t once in a while discover something surprising. They do this a lot. But the narrative that scientists tell isn’t “too good to be true” or “revolutionary”—even if it is too good to be true or revolutionary.

Because science is a process of trial and error and testing. Scientists can certainly get excited about their findings, especially if they are unexpected. But they want to show you how they figured it out. The pseudoscience buffs rely on the surprise alone. They got nothing to prove their claims other than the gotcha feeling of proving real scientists wrong. Gotcha, not proof.

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