Not even wrong

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The phrase "not even wrong" describes an argument or explanation that purports to be scientific but is based on invalid reasoning or speculative premises that can neither be proven correct nor falsified. Hence, it refers to statements that cannot be discussed in a rigorous, scientific sense.[1] For a meaningful discussion on whether a certain statement is true or false, the statement must satisfy the criterion called "falsifiability"—the inherent possibility for the statement to be tested and found false. In this sense, the phrase "not even wrong" is synonymous to "nonfalsifiable".[1]

The phrase is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or careless thinking.[2][3] Rudolf Peierls documents an instance in which "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'."[4] This is also often quoted as "That is not only not right; it is not even wrong", or in Pauli's native German, "Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig; es ist nicht einmal falsch!". Peierls remarks that quite a few apocryphal stories of this kind have been circulated and mentions that he listed only the ones personally vouched for by him. He also quotes another example when Pauli replied to Lev Landau, "What you said was so confused that one could not tell whether it was nonsense or not."[4]

The phrase is often used to describe pseudoscience or bad science and is considered derogatory.[1]

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  1. ^ a b c Oliver Burkeman (September 19, 2005). "Not even wrong". The Guardian.
  2. ^ Shermer M (2006). "Wronger Than Wrong". Scientific American.
  3. ^ Jung, C. G.; Pauli, Wolfgang; Meier, C. A.; Zabriskie, Beverley; Roscoe, David (2014-07-01). Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters, 1932–1958. Princeton University Press. p. xxxiii. ISBN 978-0-691-16147-1.
  4. ^ a b Peierls, R. (1960). "Wolfgang Ernst Pauli, 1900–1958". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 5: 186. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1960.0014.

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