Engineers and scientists pride themselves on careful application of
the scientific method. In many engineering applications, much is at
stake - human life, integrity of the environment, material losses,
etc. Because of the importance of good engineering practice, I often
use in my courses at Berkeley the transcript of a lecture given by a
Nobel Prize winner Dr.
Irvin Langmuir at the GE Research Center in Schenectady, N.Y., on
December 18, 1953. In his lecture, Dr. Langmuir identified the
following symptoms of pathological science, i.e., unscientific
rambling and speculation:
maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of
barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is
substantially independent of the magnitude of the cause.
effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of
detectability; or, many measurements are necessary because of the very
low statistical significance of the results.
Claims of great accuracy.
Fantastic theories contrary to experience.
Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of
Ratio of supporters to critics rises up to somewhere near 50% and then
falls gradually to oblivion.