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"Cargo Cult" Science Essay

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Cargo cult science is an expression used to designate what is also known as pseudo-science. The physicist, Richard Feynman first used this term during his famous speech at the California Institute of Technology in 1974. He used this term when making an analogy to the cult of cargo planes in the South Seas. During the war, Islanders saw airplanes land bringing numerous useful goods; they desired to see the planes landing again. They decided to built airstrips, placed fires along the trails, built a wooden hut where a man sits with two pieces of wood on his head mimicking a helmet and bamboo sticks as antennas - it's the air traffic controller - and they are waiting for the planes land. They do everything right. The method is perfect. They followed the basic principle of causality that stipulates that the same cause always produces the same effect and reproduced the same conditions as during the war, but no planes landed. This is the mechanism of pseudo-science in which the formal rules of true scientific research are met but they do not produce the expected results because pseudo-science is not real science. They have the appearance of science but lacks its substance. One could also say that it lacks honesty and integrity.
Richard Feynman emphasizes the need for an honest experimental method in the field of science. The purpose of the scientific method is to provide explanations to better understand a phenomenon through a process that stipulates that assumptions must be verified by observations, stringent measurements and rigorous tests. Thus, the very validity of the scientific process is based on the intellectual honesty of the researchers. The intellectual honesty that Richard Feynman refers to is similar but not limited to i...


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...fact that the easiest person to fool is our self. Scientific research is now a lucrative business; companies and business groups are looking to develop the next technology that will generate billions in profits. Any research that does not have direct and marketable applications is considered futile and is rarely funded. Having your work published in scientific magazine, receiving awards confer notoriety and status to scientists and provide them with additional findings. All these factors sometimes pressure scientists in denying their personal convictions and forsaking their intellectual honesty and self-integrity. A true scientist even when he is working to improve the condition of mankind should isolate himself from the materialistic considerations and the passions of our societies, it is only at that price that he will able to practice science and not cult cargo.


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