Groupthink in Science

“I have grown up in Germany. Throughout my education I have been told over and over and over again to not form my opinions based on the opinions of others. I have been warned by everyone from the neighbors to my grandparents that people in large groups can come to believe unbelievable things, if only sufficiently many others believe those things too.

“It’s not knowledge I thought I’d ever need. I mean, it’s not like I’m in the military – I’m a theoretical physicist.

“But then I was at this large conference and one speaker after the other repeated the same arguments, arguments to believe in a particularly beautiful theory called supersymmetry. It was like a profession of faith, really, and it freaked me out. I wanted nothing to do with that and I began working on something else.

“That was 15 years ago. I had assumed this belief would go away if no evidence was found to support these ideas. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, it has become accepted practice to amend theories that run into conflict with experiment. The result is that now most theories in the foundations of physics are pretty but unfalsifiable. And no one sees anything wrong with that. Because everyone does it.

“It’s a failure of science to self-correct. It’s something that shouldn’t happen. But it’s happening.

“And it’s not just physics.”