Talk:Not even wrong

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This article seems to be unsubstantiated opinion[edit]

This article appears to be unsubstantiated opinion. The definition given here is different than I have understood it, and it's different than has been explained by physicists that that are much closer to its original usage. I strongly suspect Wolfgang Pauli would disagree with the definition given in this article - but that is just my opinion. And that is the crux of it. If we can only offer opinion (not substantiated facts), and those opinions are very much in question, I think the article is potentially harmful, and certainly does not have a place on Wikipedia Spork33 (talk) 06:26, 19 August 2012 (UTC)

Is Peter Woit self-promoting?[edit]

A large number of anonymous edits both here and at Peter Woit appear to be emanating from an AOL account. (AOL addresses start with 172.188). I just removed a huge amount of linkspam and Peter-Woit-promotion from this article. zowie 00:14, 5 June 2006 (UTC)

I just got an e-mail from Peter, indicating that it's not him. Future discussion of Peter, his blog, or his book is directed to the Peter Woit page. :-) zowie 14:36, 6 June 2006 (UTC)

Not OR[edit]

"Not Even Wrong" is a well known and oft-used expression in scientific circles. A simple google search will reveal how common it is. See here, for example. okedem 07:13, 8 February 2007 (UTC)

It seems to me that the definition here is incorrect. Pauli clearly meant an argument that was based on false assumptions, a collection of ignorance, not something that could not be falsified. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Jhalpern (talkcontribs) 14:54, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

That's not how I've seen it used. okedem 15:34, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

To know what Pauli was refering to, one have to know which paper he was talking about, which I have not seen anywhere. Besides that, the quote have been used a lot to refere to theories that cannot be falsified. Regarless what Pauli intended, this is how many people understand it today. Peter Woit's book has of cause made this interpretation more popular, regardless of what you otherwise may think of the book, so I think it is right to include the part about about theories that cannot be falsified. Gisles 15:42, 3 October 2007 (UTC)

The article seems to asssume that in order to mean something, a statement has to refer to material entities. This seem to be one of the standard self-refuting propositions. Can it be that to call something "Not even wrong" is not even wrong?Twr57 (talk) 12:39, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

unreferenced|section|March 2007[edit]

I restored an unreferenced tag to the article. The one reference merely covers the quote. It does not back up the other information in the article. Johntex\talk 02:58, 7 March 2007 (UTC)

Personal Opinion[edit]

Given the lack of documented context, making difinitive satements about the meaning of "not even wrong" is unwarranted. However, given the contributions of Popper and the issues of proving a negative, I've never associated "not even wrong" with situations in which the premise is factually incorrect as this article seems to indicate. Science depends on asking falsifiable questions. So personally I always associated "not even wrong" with situations that failed to provide falsifiable questions or explainations, independent of the validity of the explaination. If it is known to be wrong, as the article states, then it is simply wrong. Which is a good thing in science and doesn't qualify as "not even wrong". There are, in my view three ways to be "not even wrong".

1. If it is by definition untestable (unfalsifiable) then it is not science, regardless of validity or lack of.

2. Adding a new perspective that says nothing new to the physics. Common in relativity, like watching two meteors collide and arguing over which one hit which.

3. If the claim is so broad that it must by definition always be right. For instance, calling an observation some sort of electromagnetic effect is "not even wrong", because even a boucing beach ball can lagitamately be defined as an electromagnetic effect.

These are far worse claims than falsifiable claims even when previously falsified, because falsifiable claims are valid claims in the sense that science can test them. I think the first line of the article is misleading. ( (talk) 07:22, 21 August 2009 (UTC))

Personal Opinion #2[edit]

Hmm. I find the original article and the follow-up comments baffling. From the first time I saw this phrase, I immediately understood it to refer to a very specific, though common, occurrence in maths and sciences where one encounters an argument that is superficially similar to a traditional argument in the field that, on closer analysis, proves to be so divorced from the proper conventions (of the field and/or of logical argument in general) that it very nearly defies rebuttal, even though it is obviously incorrect. The situation is very difficult to articulate simply, which is why having a handy phrase like "not even wrong" is so convenient.

Yes, part of it is "unfalsifiability", but this is only a part. Making merely unfalsifiable claims, like "God exists" or "the human soul is eternal" are not examples of being "not even wrong". On the other hand, proving that God exists or the human soul is eternal using a complex topological argument (preferably involving diffeomorphisms on fiber bundles) is much more likely to be "not even wrong".

More realistic examples would include two-page papers supposedly "proving" Fermat's Last Theorem that look like traditional mathematical arguments, but use obscure definitions and convoluted "arguments" in such a way that it's almost impossible for a reviewer to identify "the error". In contrast, a real, traditional mathematical argument that happens to be in error is usually easily refuted by identifying a step in the argument that is false and providing a counterexample, for instance.

The only phrase in the above comments that rings true to me is "collection of ignorance". Unfortunately, this is only a precondition for being "not even wrong" and won't serve as a definition.

I find my definition so compelling that I find it impossible to believe that the phrase could mean anything else. Unfortunately, I find my definition so hard to articulate that it may always remain my private definition. I hope someone who can express it better than I can takes a crack at rewriting this article. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:58, 22 April 2010 (UTC)

Definition should be based on absence of falsifiability and not on incorrect assumptions.[edit]

I would like to suggest a critique of the definition of the expression used for this article:

"An apparently scientific argument is said to be not even wrong if it is based on assumptions that are known to be false, is based on theories that cannot be falsified, or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world. In science and philosophy, the second meaning is known as the principle of falsifiability."

First, whatever Pauli or any early user of the expression may have originally had in mind, it seems clear that being "based on assumptions that are known to be false" is not a normal contemporary understanding of the expression. Additionally, the second and third parts of the description have essentially the same meaning and refer to the principle of falsifiability. However, they assert the absence of falsifiability in this context. Therefore, the last sentence is actually incorrect. In this connection, see the Wikipedia articles on Falsifiability, Logical Positivism, and Karl Popper.

For these reasons, I recommend that the definition be changed to

"An apparently scientific argument is said to be "not even wrong" if it is based on theories that cannot be falsified or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world. This asserts the absence of what, in science and philosophy, is known as falsifiability. In this connection, see the Wikipedia articles on Falsifiability, Logical Positivism, and Karl Popper."

Because there is an actual error here which is not a matter of opinion, I am going to implement the change. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Dagme (talkcontribs) 23:31, 16 May 2010 (UTC)


This article is nothing more than a deconstruction of a famous quip where a few well intentioned scientific types read their own meaning into it. This term doesn't have widespread meaning or usage outside of a couple essays or books which have appropriated the line for their own purposes.

Love the quip, but nothing ruins a joke like explaining it. Let the article die Rpf (talk) 09:01, 28 May 2011 (UTC)

Even if it were just a book title, WP has thousands of pages on book titles. It is a useful phrase. Keep the article. Roger (talk) 15:52, 28 May 2011 (UTC)
It's a well-known phrase with significant coverage in quality sources (academic books, major newspapers, etc). As such it is not a candidate for deletion, much less speedy deletion. Short Brigade Harvester Boris (talk) 15:58, 28 May 2011 (UTC)

See also - NPOV?[edit]

The "see also" link for Intelligent Design seems to be a patent insult to the idea in a way that goes beyond WP:FRINGE. In addition, not being familiar with Karl Popper's philosophy, from just reading his page, the most likely reason for linking to him seems to be as an attack on critical rationalism, although it might also be in reference to his views on theism. Twin Bird (talk) 00:46, 22 December 2011 (UTC)

  • I have removed the link. Although in my opinion ID is a perfect example of a claim which is "not even wrong" and stating as much is as far from the fringe as I could possibly imagine, it makes little sense to have only one example in the see also section. Protonk (talk) 01:24, 22 December 2011 (UTC)
The edit comment says, "It's mentioned in several of the cited sources - can you provide any legitimate reason for its exclusion?". I don't see Intelligent Design mentioned in any of the sources for Not Even Wrong. It does not look like a good example to me, as many people say that it is right or that it is wrong. Can you explain? Roger (talk) 06:44, 24 December 2011 (UTC)
The reason it's "not even wrong" is that, to many observers, it seems to follow from a fundamental misunderstanding of the scientific method, responding to unanswered questions in mainstream science by introducing ancient myths. To be honest, I think it's a good example, and in many contexts I'd yoke those two right up, but this is Wikipedia, and NPOV is king, not to mention that that illustration isn't really what the "see also" section is for. As it stands, it might still be worth mentioning in conjunction with a source elucidating the concept, but although it's a fringe position, it's too bold a statement just to plop it down like that. Twin Bird (talk) 17:10, 24 December 2011 (UTC)

There is no shortage of reliable sources that discuss ID as an example of "not even wrong," e.g., Smolin's book. As a side note there's a common perception that NPOV means we have to treat all ideas uncritically and as equally valid. The policy explicitly states that we don't. Thus NPOV doesn't mean that we have to say "while some believe the Earth is flat, others hypothesize that it is round." Short Brigade Harvester Boris (talk) 18:18, 24 December 2011 (UTC)

No, Smolin's book does not say that. Roger (talk) 20:24, 24 December 2011 (UTC)
My position is clear above. I have no doubt many sources refer to ID as "not even wrong" (and many more describe it in equivalent terms) but it seems unfair to have one and only one example on this page. Protonk (talk) 21:19, 24 December 2011 (UTC)
If this were a page about ID, Short Brigade, I'd agree with you, but just because a position is demonstrably wrong isn't a reason to go around the wiki bringing it up to attack it. In any case, I don't think I've seen a case where the "see also" page is used for a prominent example of the concept in this way, and I'd say there's no source "reliable" enough that you can make such a direct value judgment without attribution, and certainly not without argument. If you think it's a prominent enough example to bear note, write about Smolin's view, rather than just saying "speaking of gibberish, how about them creationists?" Twin Bird (talk) 22:26, 24 December 2011 (UTC)
Please note that I'm not arguing that we should include the link here, only pointing out that references exist and that sometimes NPOV is misused to prohibit criticism. I'm sensible enough not to get embroiled in Wikipedia's creationism wars. That way madness lies. Short Brigade Harvester Boris (talk) 22:56, 24 December 2011 (UTC)

Actual Quotation[edit]

The actual quotation from source 2 is: "a friend showed [Pauli] the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli's views. Pauli remarked sadly, 'It is not even wrong.'" We've had a few well-meaning people over the history of this page who "corrected" that to the well-known "It is not only not right, it is not even wrong" version of the phrase, but that is in fact not in this particular original source. As far as I have been able to determine, it's not in _any_ original source -- but if someone has a counterexample, posting it here would be useful. In the interim, _please_ do not muddy the history further! (talk) 04:30, 19 April 2013 (UTC)

Thanks for checking this. I agree with what you propose. Blue Rasberry (talk) 11:50, 19 April 2013 (UTC)
Either way, the English isn't a complete rendering of the German text given, so if both are kept in their present form, they should be either be given consistently, or an explanation of the difference added. The Crab Who Played With The Sea (talk) 16:13, 15 May 2013 (UTC)
That is an issue, I agree -- I have tried to edit the text to clean that up by also mentioning the apocryphal version without citation. (I am assuming a citation to Google search results would be inappropriate, though it would demonstrate the point.) Is there any primary source for the German text, or any reason to believe that it's not a backformation from the English? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:22, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
Refs here and in Wolfgang_Pauli#cite_note-peierls-11 both lead to but I don't have access to that online. Maybe someone has a copy they can check? The Crab Who Played With The Sea (talk) 08:21, 7 June 2013 (UTC)
Quoting Pauli's original German words was helpful, at least to readers with some knowledge of the language. Could somebody add the German original of Pauli's second quotation, either inline or in a footnote? Thanks! Reify-tech (talk) 13:56, 9 December 2013 (UTC)

There is a pre-Pauli version of the "Not Even Wrong" type statement given by the physicist Arthur Schuster in 1911, "We all prefer being right to being wrong, but it is better to be wrong than to be neither right nor wrong", Arthur Schuster (1911), "The Progress of Physics", Cambridge University Press, p.117. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:55, 10 March 2014 (UTC)

An interesting precursor to Pauli's quote. Probably worth adding to the article, if the ref checks out. Reify-tech (talk) 17:25, 10 March 2014 (UTC)
I do not have access to that book but Wikipedia policy is to assume good faith. This user provided a quote and reference so I added it. Blue Rasberry (talk) 18:33, 10 March 2014 (UTC)
It's here on Google Books or here on for those who can't see Google Books. It's not really applicable; it's about condemning those unwilling to hazard a guess about the nature of things in modern physics, instead of standing behind the numbers.--Prosfilaes (talk) 01:07, 28 May 2014 (UTC)

The meaning of the quote may not directly relate to a lack of falsifiability or other errors of hypothesis. To be "wrong" is to be within the realm of being right. If you are much further from being right than that, you are "not even wrong".Ryukurai (talk) 21:03, 27 May 2014 (UTC)

That's not what the quote means in common parlance, or as far as I can tell in original usage. "The Earth orbits Jupiter" would be wrong; "the Earth orbits the Sun because of its essential essence desiring communion with the Sun" is "not even wrong" (though others may have better examples), because there's nothing checkable there, nothing meaningful there.--Prosfilaes (talk) 01:12, 28 May 2014 (UTC)