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What people believe about science

Apologies if posts are a little off and on until after Easter - it's school holiday time again!

There's a rather interesting piece about scientific beliefs on Derren Brown's blog. Apparently over a fifth of the population believe that light sabres exist, more than 40% believe in Back to the Future style hover boards and most mind-boggling of all, 18% of adults believe they can see gravity. (I think this must surely have been them misreading the questionnaire and thinking it was asking them if they could see gravy. I can see gravy.)

But what I found most interesting of all was how much Derren Brown's post got wrong - so it's not just the British population that has misconceptions about science. For example, Brown's post crows that 30% of Britains believe that time travel is possible. Ho, ho, silly people! They've been watching too much Dr Who! Unfortunately, Derren, time travel is possible. Thanks to relativity, for example, every time we move or experience a gravitational field, we travel through time compared with people who aren't moving or feeling that field. This is why GPS satellites have to be corrected for relativity - because they are travelling in time with respect to the surface of the Earth. Not a lot, admittedly, but time travelling they are. (As Yoda might put it.)

He also listed some of the things the poor deluded public thought weren't possible, but really were. For example, Harry Potter style invisibility cloaks. He notes quite rightly that there are techniques that can make small things disappear - but they don't work well with visible light, and only with very small things. Yes, one day, some variant of this technology may be used to build some form of invisibility device (I can't imagine it would ever literally be a cloak), but we're a long way off. The public is right - they don't exist today.

Even better is his assertion that 'Seven out of ten adults questioned thought it was impossible to move objects with their mind.' Well, yes Derren, all the evidence is that telekinesis is bunk. What he then uses to disprove this is that there are devices that enable people to control things by monitoring brain activity and interpreting it. Yes, this is perfectly true. But then this is exactly what happens when you pick something up with your hand. Activity in your brain is detected and that causes muscles to act. But no one would think that picking something up with their hand is 'moving objects with their mind.' You know, and I know, and Derren knows that people are thinking of direct mental action on solid objects - for which there is no evidence.

So full marks to Derren for pointing out the odd beliefs - but minus marks for trying to manipulate the evidence to show something it doesn't.

Image from Wikipedia


  1. When I come across a blog post that reminds me of Hugh Laurie, it is a lovely day indeed.


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