Talk:Cargo cult science

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"In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw [...]" - which war? What is the timeframe here? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:54, 17 January 2014 (UTC)


This entry has a lead-in but no pay off! The reader needs to know what defines cargo-cult science well enough to identify in operation on his own. Wetman 10:40, 21 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Audio link[edit]

There are already html and pdf copies of the speech in the links section. Can anyone find an audio version?

The best I could do was this, which has excerpts. --JianLi 04:26, 1 January 2006 (UTC)

Copyrighted status of the text in the external link?[edit]

Does anybody know what is the copyright status of the text in the page linked in the external link section? -- AnyFile 14:08, 22 February 2007 (UTC)

anti creationism category[edit]

Should this article really be in there?--Filll 23:20, 9 August 2007 (UTC)

I can't see why, except that it's a pretty good description of YE creation "science". I was under the impression that the cat was for people and organisations that oppose creationism.ornis (t) 06:27, 10 August 2007 (UTC)

I also believe it's the perfect description of neo-darwinism, the Cult of Darwin. (talk) 05:47, 18 May 2008 (UTC) Jay

Not Science, but Science Education.[edit]

It's been many years since I read Feynman's bio. I'll have to read it again sometime, but I do remember that when he spoke of "cargo-cult science," he was talking mainly about science education. His central exhibit was a description of how he met with a grad student one day. He quizzed the student, asking questions about the laws of optics, and the student answered every question flawlessly. Then he held a pencil against the edge of the glass table that separated them, and he asked why the image of the pencil seen through the glass did not line up with the pencil itself. The student had no clue.

Feynman said that the student's education had consisted of "going through the motions" with no understanding of how physical laws relate to real-world phenomena. He likened that to pacific islanders who went through the motions of building and staffing airstrips, hoping that planes would land and unload valuable goods, but not comprehending anything about economics and international trade—nothing of the reasons why planes fly and carry cargo. (talk) 22:14, 24 August 2010 (UTC)

What book are you referring to? Can you quote a relevant passage (such as the one containing the example you mention) for those who do not have the book? Or can you at least give a link? Notice that the article is referring to a speech by Feynman himself, which you can easily check by perusing the external links. The example you gave does not occur in the text, and it uses the exact definition given in Wikipedia. This would seem to be a far more relevant source than an unnamed biography which nobody can check to verify your assertion (which, additionally, contradicts with Feyman's own words). That's why I'm skeptical and demand better proof. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 22:14, 6 March 2011 (UTC)
This sounds like something that Feynman would say, but we need additional details: the name of the book or article where he wrote this, or an interview where he said this, etc. Maybe he simply explained it in two different ways in different occasions. --Enric Naval (talk) 06:15, 7 March 2011 (UTC)
I noticed there are two version, i.e. the PDF and HTML referenced at the bottom, and they differ! In particular note the differences in the part about the guy giving the girl a massage. The HTML version reads e.g. "Right away I began thinking, "Gee! How am I gonna get started talking to this beautiful nude babe?". The PDF version seems "cleaned up" :-) I wonder where is the original transcript? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:33, 12 May 2011 (UTC)
The passage that ([User talk:|talk]) is referring to is from Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! Part 4 "From Cornel to CalTech With a Touch of Brazil" in the chapter titled "O Americano, Outra Vez!" : "In regard to education in Brazil, I had a very interesting experience. I was teaching a group of students who would ultimately become teachers,

since at that time there were not many opportunities in Brazil for a highly trained person in science. These students had already had many courses, and this was to be their most advanced course in electricity and magnetism--Maxwell's equations, and so on. The university was located in various office buildings throughout the city, and the course I taught met in a building which overlooked the hay. I discovered a very strange phenomenon: I could ask a question, which the students would answer immediately. But the next time I would ask the question--the same subject, and the same question, as far as I could tell--they couldn't answer it at all! For instance, one time I was talking about polarized light, and I gave them all some strips of polaroid. Polaroid passes only light whose electric vector is in a certain direction, so I explained how you could tell which way the light is polarized from whether the polaroid is dark or light. We first took two strips of polaroid and rotated them until they let the most light through. From doing that we could tell that the two strips were now admitting light polarized in the same direction--what passed through one piece of polaroid could also pass through the other. But then I asked them how one could tell the absolute direction of polarization, for a single piece of polaroid. They hadn't any idea. I knew this took a certain amount of ingenuity, so I gave them a hint: "Look at the light reflected from the bay outside." Nobody said anything. Then I said, "Have you ever heard of Brewster's Angle?" "Yes, sir! Brewster's Angle is the angle at which light reflected from a medium with an index of refraction is completely polarized." "And which way is the light polarized when it's reflected?" "The light is polarized perpendicular to the plane of reflection, sir." Even now, I have to think about it; they knew it cold! They even knew the tangent of the angle equals the index! I said, "Well?" Still nothing. They had just told me that light reflected from a medium with an index, such as the bay outside, was polarized; they had even told me which way it was polarized. I said, "Look at the bay outside, through the polaroid. Now turn the polaroid." "Ooh, it's polarized!" they said. After a lot of investigation, I finally figured out that the students had memorized everything, but they didn't know what anything meant. When they heard "light that is reflected from a medium with an index," they didn't know that it meant a material such as water. They didn't know that the "direction of the light" is the direction in which you see something when you're looking at it, and so on. Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words. So if I asked, "What is Brewster's Angle?" I'm going into the computer with the right keywords. But if I say, "Look at the water," nothing happens--they don't have anything under "Look at the water"! Later I attended a lecture at the engineering school. The lecture went like this, translated into English: "Two bodies . . . are considered equivalent . . . if equal torques . . . will produce . . . equal acceleration. Two bodies, are considered equivalent, if equal torques, will produce equal acceleration." The students were all sitting there taking dictation, and when the professor repeated the sentence, they checked it to make sure they wrote it down all right. Then they wrote down the next sentence, and on and on. I was the only one who knew the professor was talking about objects with the same moment of inertia, and it was hard to figure out. I didn't see how they were going to learn anything from that. Here he was talking about moments of inertia, but there was no discussion about how hard it is to push a door open when you put heavy weights on the outside, compared to when you put them near the hinge--nothing!" (talk) 15:36, 29 May 2014 (UTC)


The lecture includes a detailed description of some rat-running experiments by a Mr Young, conducted in 1937; subsequent experimenters apparently ignored his method entirely. But who was Mr Young? What was his full name? Is he famous in the field of rat-running experiments? The only references I can find are to Feynman's speech, and it's tricky to search for "young rats 1937 experiment" (for example) without bumping into lots of results about young rats. -Ashley Pomeroy (talk) 15:00, 18 August 2011 (UTC)

I too have been searching in vain. I've come to three conclusions:
  1. It was not by Paul Thomas Young.
  2. It may have been by another Young, who, not bowing to orthodoxy never amounted to much and is forgotten.
  3. Feynman may have mixed up the name in his talk and the author is not called Young at all.
I'm convinced the article exists and I'd love to find it. Axel Berger (talk) 01:35, 11 February 2012 (UTC)
  • It's not clear that Feynman had any idea what the purpose of the ultimate experiment was so its difficult to know what we should make of his description of the experiment. For example, its hard to think of why psychologists would ever want to know the absolute time it takes rats to solve a puzzle. It is much more like Young (or whoever) simply wanted to make the task *harder* for the rats in order to get useful comparisons in some other condition. Given that "the rats learn too quickly" issue (which is what Feynman describes being addressed) doesn't show up in the literature the work may simply have been rendered irrelevant, probably by higher quality mazes. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:30, 29 May 2013 (UTC)

examples cited[edit]

Currently three examples are cited at the end of the article. The third is listed as a "recent example":

The Cranfield University report “Aircraft Cabin Air Sampling Study”[3] provides a recent example of cargo cult science. The government-sponsored study purported to measure the concentrations of toxic substances in aircraft cabin air but used such inappropriate[vague] methodology the results were of little value.[4][5][6] Nevertheless, they were used to make comparisons with domestic environments of dubious relevance in order to assert that “...there was no evidence for target pollutants occurring in the cabin air at levels exceeding available health and safety standards and guidelines.”[3]

Each of the citations is to primary literature: The original study, and then three studies that refuted it. However, I would expect that for a paper to be labeled an exemplar of "cargo cult science" or some other highly critical term, that it should have been called exactly that, and on more than one occasion. That should also be quoted in the article. Without that, I'm not sure how it is distinguishable from any other case of results being published, and then not replicated. I also note that since the original paper was published in 2011, and refuted in 2011, it hardly seems likely to have been able to accumulate such a scientific following to qualify it as "cargo cult science". --Lquilter (talk) 13:20, 29 March 2013 (UTC)

  • User:Ankababel added it, and looking at that user's contributions, seems to have quite an axe to grind on this matter. Anyway, here's the edit if someone wants to dig into this further to see if labeling the original paper "cargo cult science" is in fact appropriate, or not. To me it doesn't seem supported. --Lquilter (talk) 13:25, 29 March 2013 (UTC)

Article seems one-sided[edit]

The article could usefully cite criticisms of Feynman's views if any Reliable Sources can be found that do criticise them. Presumably some would be replies from the 'soft sciences' he mostly criticizes, and others would be a criticism of some or all of his claims as unrealistic idealism that can hardly ever have operated in the real world given that scientists are real human beings, and that Science's self-correcting methods ensure that Science has managed rather well for centuries without requiring such impossibly ideal scientists. (For example, Science eventually got to the right value for the electon's charge despite the human imperfections of the scientists involved). Or that his impractical recommendations are liable to unnecessarily and unjustifiably provide endless ammunition for the enemies of Science. But maybe the cult of Feynman is such that no Reliable Source can be found that says any of this, and instead perhaps real Science in practice simply quietly ignores him on this issue, while perhaps also paying lip service to him about it. However if anybody can find such a Reliable Source it would improve the article. (I should perhaps add that I myself am pretty sceptical about Science (and everything else) so I would rather have wished that Feynman's criticisms were more valid than they appear to be, at least to me, but my views and wishes are rather beside the point, since we can only add Reliably-Souced criticisms to the article). Tlhslobus (talk) 04:58, 28 May 2014 (UTC)

It really is a matter of what the reliable sources say. Expressing a wish for what sources say to agree with you is not the same as finding the actual sources and reading them carefully to find out what they do say. Review the Wikipedia content guideline on reliable sources to see what is at issue here. -- WeijiBaikeBianji (talk, how I edit) 15:32, 28 May 2014 (UTC)
I did not (or at any rate not intentionally) 'express a wish for what sources say to agree with me', as distinct from expressing a wish that if any such Reliable Sources did exist that somebody might find them. I tried, perhaps not too successfully, to say the article looked unbalanced (whether it is actually unbalanced or not is a separate issue), and that it would improve the article if Reliable Sources can be found that counter that unbalanced look (if such sources are a minority, they can be stated to be a minority as per Wikipedia guidelines). I could of course go looking for such sources myself, and some day I may even do so if I have the time and inclination, but Wikipedia is not compulsory, and in the meantime it seems to me that persons more interested and expert than me might already know of such sources, or know where to look for them, especially if their text is not available online, and that finding such sources and incorporating them into the article would improve it, which is the supposed purpose of this Talk page.
I also tried to help the search for such Reliable Sources (and thus to help improve the article) by listing some possible plausible criticisms that might be out there while conceding that there may well be no such Reliable Sources (and, perhaps unwisely, I offered one speculative reason why that might be so). No doubt there is much else I could have added, such as, on the one hand, that much of the detail of what Feynman says seems interesting and probably valid, and on the other hand that Reliable Sources may (or may not) well be available that make further criticisms, such as that his accusation is a form of Projection (accusation that is really confession) since he accuses others of not understanding Science while seemingly demonstrating that he himself doesn't really understand Science as it actually has to work in the real world; that, contrary to his assertion, witch-doctors probably do 'work' up to a point thanks to the placebo effect, which may well help explain why they get accepted; and that Melanesian cargo cults may well be well-informed, rational, and to some extent successful attempts to acquire wealth by attracting Western money, initially from anthropologists and their support teams and later from tourists, as well as to earn such psychological benefits as social cohesion and pleasant nostalgia through playing at living in 'The Good Old Days' (to name one very similar once-televised British tradition). But I probably can't list every such possible Reliably-Sourced criticism here.
Meanwhile, if no Reliable Sources can be found that criticise Feynman's idea, it would seem to be helpful to the reader (and thus an improvement to the article) if he or she could somehow be told something such as that this is why there is no criticism section. I'm not too clear how that might be said within our rules, especially as it would seem to violate WP:Extraordinary, but perhaps somebody else might know how to do it, or might even know of other cases where it has already been done.
In the meantime, the strange absence of any criticism or of any mention of any replies made by the rather powerful groups whom Feynman criticizes (including implicitly the entire educational and penal studies establishments, among many others) makes the article, at least in my opinion, at least appear (whether fairly or not) rather less like an encyclopedia article than an (illegal-under-Wikipedia-rules) POV tract by a quasi-cult of Feynman-quasi-worshippers. As in my experience that's often par for the course in Wikipedia, it doesn't worry me enough to go looking for such reliable sources right now (though I may well do so at some future date), but mentioning it here just might encourage others to try to address the matter, thereby hopefully improving the article, which, as already mentioned, is the supposed purpose of these Talk pages.
That said, I've wasted more of my time on this than I can reasonably afford, so I hope to now bow out of the conversation. But past experience unfortunately teaches me that I am often foolishly unable to resist the temptation to get back in, especially when provoked, so I'm also now taking the article off my watchlist in the hope that I will fail to notice if anything gets said that might provoke me back in, especially given that some may understandably feel that some of what I've written here is itself unnecesarily provocative (which may or may not be true, and, if it is, I apologize). Tlhslobus (talk) 19:31, 28 May 2014 (UTC)
Your bias is showing. "cult of Feynman" and "real Science" ignoring and/or paying "lip service" to him are pretty loaded terms. If you come with an agenda - sweet. Research it and provide the Reliable Sources and the criticism section you long for, and if you can't find them - you may want to draw the logical conclusion. I suspect the reason they are not there is because they do not exist, in large part because Feynman's caution about "cargo cult science" is a warning against doing bad science (ie. activity that looks like science, but does not follow the rules of science involving refinement by hypothesis and experiment) - and those who do it either are unaware they are doing so, or are frauds or charlatans, who already know they aren't doing real science, and have no interest in drawing attention to that fact by debating the words of a dead physicist. The "real scientists" all pretty much agree Feynman was a smart cookie who was dead on in this warning and the majority of what he said. (talk) 05:14, 5 June 2015 (UTC)

Original vs Adapted Caltech Address[edit]

Feynman gave his original 1974 address to Caltech. The official version is posted at the Caltech Engineering Library. The statement on Feynman's address is in "Surely you're kidding Mr. Feynman" - is NOT accurate. Feynman explicitly says that the version in "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" (2010 p 338) is adapted. I have restored the correction.DLH (talk) 16:31, 12 December 2014 (UTC)