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Encyclopedia > Cargo cult science

Cargo cult science is a term used by Richard Feynman in his 1974 Caltech commencement address to describe work that has the semblance of being scientific, but is missing "a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty". Richard Phillips Feynman (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988; IPA: ) was an American physicist known for expanding the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, and particle theory. ... California Institute of Technology The California Institute of Technology (commonly known as Caltech) is a private, coeducational university located in Pasadena, California, in the United States. ... Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. ...

The speech is reproduced in the book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and on many web sites. He based the phrase on a concept in anthropology, the cargo cult. Feynman cautioned that to avoid becoming cargo cult scientists, researchers must first of all avoid fooling themselves, be willing to question and doubt their own theories and their own results, and investigate possible flaws in a theory or an experiment. Surely Youre Joking, Mr. ... Anthropology (from Greek: ἀνθρωπος, anthropos, human being; and λόγος, logos, knowledge) is the study of humanity. ... A cargo cult is any of a group of unorthodox religious movements appearing in tribal societies in the wake of Western impact, especially in New Guinea and Melanesia. ...

He recommended that researchers adopt an unusually high level of honesty which is rarely encountered in everyday life, and gives examples from advertising, politics and behavioral psychology to illustrate the everyday dishonesty which should be unacceptable in science. Feynman cautions that "We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it's this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science."

An example of cargo cult science is an experiment that uses another researcher's results in lieu of an experimental control. Since the other researcher's conditions might differ from those of the present experiment in unknown ways, differences in the outcome might have no relation to the independent variable under consideration. It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with scientific control. ... In an experimental design, the independent variable (argument of a function, also called a predictor variable) is the variable that is manipulated or selected by the experimenter to determine its relationship to an observed phenomenon (the dependent variable). ...

In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, most of the examples are from the social sciences and educational research. He pointed out that the difficulties there, of this sort, are worse than in the physical sciences. The social sciences are a group of academic disciplines that study human aspects of the world. ... Educational research is research which investigates the behaviour of pupils, students, teachers, and other participants in schools and other educational institutions. ...

See also

The Sokal Affair was a famous hoax played by physicist Alan Sokal on the postmodernist humanities academics world. ... Bad science usually refers either to substandard scientific methods or to findings that have been arrived at by such methods. ... Junk or bunk science is a term used to describe purportedly scientific data, research, analyses or claims which are perceived to be driven by political, financial or other questionable motives. ... In psychology and cognitive science, magical thinking is non-scientific causal reasoning (e. ... Phrenology is regarded today as a classic example of pseudoscience. ... Post-Normal Science is a concept developed by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz, attempting to characterise a methodology of inquiry that is appropriate for cases where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent. It is primarily seen in the context of the debate over global warming...


  • Diaconis, P (1985) "Theories of data analysis: from magical thinking through classical statistics", in Hoaglin, D.C et al. (eds). Exploring Data Tables Trends and Shapes. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-09776-4. 

Persi Diaconis at Stanford (Summer 2004). ...

External links

  • Cargo Cult Science (pdf) article with pictures as originally published in Engineering and Science, Volume 37:7, June 1974.
  • Cargo Cult Science (html) by Richard P. Feynman.
  • Audio Excerpts

  Results from FactBites:
AllRefer.com - cargo cult (Anthropology: Terms And Concepts) - Encyclopedia (289 words)
The cult aims to restore a past time and to regain the goodwill of ancestors who are being lured into giving cargo to the white foreigners, cargo originally intended for the native Melanesians.
Cargo cults are revivalistic, in that the adherents expect the restoration of a golden age in which they will be reunited with their ancestors, and nativistic (see nativism), in that the whites are to be driven away.
However, as the cargo is composed principally of European goods, and native goods and rituals are abandoned, both the nativistic and revivalistic aspects of cargo cults are qualified by a strong motive toward acculturation.
  More results at FactBites »



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