A Discovery Magazine blog is running a poll on confidence in various physics theories. Specifically, what likelihood do people assign to various theories being actually real and true. The comments are open to anyone to add their own opinions (go on, do it!); most respondents seem to be:
- Specialists: actively researching some aspect of cosmology, particle physics, or string theory;
- Physicists: training in physics, working in fields not unrelated to the questions (or even physics);
- Engineers: training in science and engineering, working in unrelated fields; or
- Laymen: no or limited science training, with views informed by popular science reading
The survey is assigning probabilities that a Truth Fairy would confirm specific theories, although the comments often sidetrack into discussion on the possibility of experimentally proving a theory (ever, or within a specific timespan).
I’m tallying the responses to do a bit of statistical analysis (both overall, and with opinions by category). I’ll post more once the comments die down and the dataset is reasonably stable. A few initial (and mostly unsurprising) observations:
- Laymen are most likely to declare certainty (0% or 100% probabilities).
- Specialists are most likely to have complex answers and an unwillingness to assign a specific probability.
- Specialists are most likely to assign contingent or interrelated probabilities.
Of course, the observation that thrills me most is that Stargate: Universe was jokingly referenced as an appeal to authority. I count this as yet more proof that plausible science in entertainment helps drive scientific literacy.