Adam Savage responds to the concept of "No basis in science"

Originally published at: Adam Savage responds to the concept of "No basis in science" | Boing Boing


This is why it grinds my gears when people say they “believe in science.” I think I understand what they are speaking against, but I worry they don’t understand what they are speaking for.


And then you have people arguing that the plane on the treadmill can’t take off, or that the earth is flat, where you don’t need to use the scientific method, as long as you can rationalize your wrong position to yourself, often using science-y sounding language that’s complete nonsense. But I guess he did say he can’t help those people. Which, fair enough, no one can.


I’m not sure if mathematics is adjacent to science or a subset of science?

A mathematician once told me that in equations that there are numbers that are used that don’t make any sense but prove different hypothesis or diverse mathematical questions?!

The ‘god’ is in the detail I guess… not having a background in science or mathematics.

Would it be ‘drawing a long bow’ to suggest that there may be metaphysical relationship between ‘the sciences’ and the human imaginings and observations of the world around us…

Going to suck on another ‘bucket bong’ and consider further…

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Yeah, the day we have houses of worship that rely on some Holy Book of Science as their “source material” is the day we’re all super-fucked.


I have heard it said that the scientific method is something to get us “further from untruth.”


Sciences involves searching for patterns in the world we live in, and trying to understand those patterns.

Mathematics is the formal study of patterns. In practice numbers are very useful for this, as are equations.

I’m not really sure what your comment is getting at, but in general scientists are very well aware of which parts of their fields are still in need of more investigation or deeper understanding. You can tell, because it’s what they spend all their time, effort, and funding on.

Major props to Savage for swiftly and lucidly calling out the primary problem - that many people mistake science for some established body of knowledge rather than a process or methodology.

Would add to that one additional facet of the confusion that has warped the popular understanding in some quarters - the tendency to regard or frame “Science” as an institution - comprised of a population of initiates from which members of the laity are definitionally separate and alienated from an ultimately mysterious realm of ideas.

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So basically, “no basis in science” has no basis in science.


It necessarily is that, too – unless each individual citizen is to personally repeat every experiment in history, we do need some kind of cultural framework to allow us to entrust the work of science to other people. We think of modern science being born with people like Newton and Hooke, but it’s just as much due to institutions like the Royal Society and the culture of scientific letters that arose at the same time. Without that, there wouldn’t be such a thing as a working scientist – we’d only hear about prodigies like Euclid and Archimedes, and we’d have to carefully sift the useful knowledge from the crankery in each case.

Where people go wrong (IMO) is to think that you can “believe in” the institutions of science without taking part in the process. You can be a consumer of movies without being part of Hollywood. But because science is the process, not the product, it does require everyone to be a scientist. Like, when you read (a summary of) a journal article, that’s not someone answering a question for you, it’s a report from a colleague about their investigation of questions we’re all asking. If you don’t grok the situation on that level, then it’s a problem that you “believe in science”. I mean, there’s a reason you can’t ace high school science exams just by writing “I support AP Chemistry 100%”.


Mathematics is the philosophical system science uses to build models.

“Science is not about building a body of known “facts”. It is a method for asking awkward questions and subjecting them to a reality-check, thus avoiding the human tendency to believe whatever makes us feel good.” Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen - The Science of Discworld

“SCIENCE: a way of finding things out and then making them work. Science explains what is happening around us the whole time. So does RELIGION, but science is better because it comes up with more understandable excuses when it’s wrong.” Terry Pratchett - Wings.

Of course he also said “Logic is a wonderful thing but doesn’t always beat actual thought” in the Last Continent because he has met some actual scientists :smiley:

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Disclosure- I have not watched the video.

That said, while it’s true science is a method of testing to see what’s true, there’s also an important plausibility element which may be what his viewers were getting at. It is not worthwhile for science to test certain things that have no reasonable chance of being true. We can’t test every crackpot idea because testing things costs resources. If you say you have a new free energy machine that violates thermodynamics, it’s not worthwhile to test that because it has near zero plausibility. Sure, it’s possible you have invented something that will require us to rewrite all of physics, but it’s so incredibly remotely unlikely that it’s a waste of time to test it unless you have some incredible evidence to suggest it’s worth looking into further.

The more existing science something goes against, the less likely it is to be true. There’s a line at some point where we have to stop testing things. However, people with a grade-school understanding of science miss this part and try to hide behind it, as though science is a dogma because nobody will test their homeopathic cure for COVID.

Now, testing nonsense things for a TV show is perfectly fine. It illustrates the process of science in a fun way and maybe people learn something without wasting the time of people in physics departments around the country (you should see the emails they get).


I’ve long maintained that the Jewish dietary restrictions are, in essence, the work product of early science. Because if you live in the desert without refrigeration or modern sanitation practices, they are mostly sound advice that seem about as evidence-based as one could expect from a bronze-age society.

It’s for this reason that I’d argue it is imperative to counter the all-too common popular conception of Science as a faction, or belief-system, reality-based community, political agenda whatever other cockamamie characterization it is that undergirds attacks on scientific work in the public sphere and fuels chemtrail and microchip-vaccine madness.

He gets into that a bit, and discusses some of the points you raise. What isn’t done more though in some of these types of free-energy debunking videos, (and could be really interesting to hear) - is a description of why the class of all types of free-energy schemes are logically doomed from first/generalized principles. It probably gets a little abstract - and would maybe fit more of a format like Kurzgesagt or 3Blue1Brown - but discussing the issues from a Maxwell’s demon, or Feynman–Smoluchowski ratchet type thought experiment level I think would go some distance towards addressing the nonsensical nature of the super-set of free-energy machines at the level of pure logic with the side effect of introducing interesting philosophical questions about assumptions about the world common to human experience.

I would argue that the process draws from a compendium of knowledge, making it as much a part of science as the process. Anything consistently useful from the process contributes to the compendium, improving the process. The compendium itself would be both process and data. Yeah, just looking at the data doesn’t give you much, separate from the process that explains it, but it’s not nothing either.

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