Philosophical Society of Washington

The Value of Crazy Ideas in Science

Bob Ehrlich
George Mason University

2154th Meeting Abstract
Friday, December 6, 2002 at 8:15 PM


Science often makes great strides when it entertains crazy or unconventional ideas. But, since most crazy ideas lead nowhere, scientists need ways to judge how fruitful new bizarre ideas are likely to be. Citizens wishing to make informed judgments are in a similar position to scientists. Using the tools of science they too can decide which of this week's crop of strange ideas are more likely to be correct, without needing to rely on the experts. This talk takes a look at a variety of ideas, and attempts to judge how likely each is to be true. Essentially, it is a primer in how to evaluate the strength of evidence for a strange-sounding idea, illustrated through a series of case studies.

About the Author:

ROBERT EHRLICH is a professor of physics at George Mason University, where he chaired the department from 1977 to 89. He began his career after receiving a Ph. D. in physics from Columbia in 1964. Prior to joining George Mason, he held faculty positions at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, and the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he chaired the physics department for five years. Dr. Ehrlich has authored or edited twenty books, his most recent effort being “Nine Crazy Ideas in Science,” by Princeton University University Press. He has also authored over 60 articles on subjects such as particle physics, science education, and nuclear arms control. In recent years he has done research on tachyons—hypothetical particles than travel faster than light.

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