Paolo (while taking a coffee with Mario): "Mario, I think I have an idea and I am rather excited about it. Why don't you come to my office so that we can discuss it?"
P. and M. enter into P.'s office. Then P. tries to explain his idea, giving arguments in favor of it and explaining the logic that underlies the idea itself. He has barely finished speaking, when M. shoots:
M. "It's wrong"
M. "Your idea is wrong. You're wrong"
P. "Ok. Where do you think my mistake is? Am I making wrong assumptions, giving false arguments? Do you think there is a flaw somewhere?"
M. "Dunno. All I know is you're wrong."
M. "Your idea is wrong because MY alternative idea is right. My idea is right, so yours must be wrong."
P. "Come on Mario, try to be reasonable. I have invited you here in my office to discuss my idea and you state that my idea is wrong without giving a single counterargument or telling me where my mistake is. Frankly..."
M. "Stop insulting me! You blindly refuse to take MY idea into consideration! You belong to a conservative establishment completely closed to new and original ideas!"
P."What? Which establishment? First, I think I'm an individualist and then..."
M."You're so stupid you will never be able to grasp MY brilliant alternative idea."
Some say I have a bad temper, but I think most of you will agree with me that I would be justified if I kicked Mario's ass in order to give him strong arguments in favor of the hypothesis that he should leave my office.
Paolo (while taking a coffee with Susanna): "Susanna, I think I have an idea and I am rather excited about it. Why don't you come to my office so that we can discuss it?"
P. and S. enter into P.'s office. Then P. tries to explain his idea, giving arguments in favor of it and explaining the logic that underlies the idea itself.
S. "It is maybe an interesting idea and it doesn't look completely wrong at first sight. However I wish I could give a closer look at it before giving my opinion. Could you write it down and give me more details?"
P."I'll be pleased to to this. "
Then P. writes down the details of his idea; S. reads them and tries in every possible way to find a mistake, a flaw or to give an argument against P.'s idea. Then...
S. "P., I was unable to kill your idea to the best of my knowledge. It could be that your idea is not wrong, after all."
P." Thank you very much for your interest. I think I will consider publishing a paper on this idea."
Then P. writes a paper and submits it to a peer review Journal, making it public and accepting the risk that his colleagues will eventually find a fault in his reasoning. I should maybe add that Paolo knows that his career, his job, the possibiity to earn money depend on his accepted pubblications. We are not talking about small risks here.
Needless to say, what scientists do closely resembles to SCENE #2. However, when I wrote my two articles, the reaction was closer to SCENE #1. Notice that apparently Susanna is aggressive towards Paolo. This is by no means the case, since S. attacks P.'s ideas, rather than his person. The same cannot be said about Mario.
Actually, in my articles I was simply trying to clarify some issues related to the relationship between the Theory of (special) Relativity's predictions and recent experimental results claiming faster-than-light velocities for a rather elusive particle called "neutrino". A simple subject, or at least I thought so. To my great surprise, I was flooded by an enormous number of comments advertising more or less exotic models featuring much more complicated issues, including, but not limited to:
"Black holes, early universe, quantum gravity, string theory, event horizon, Dirac neutrinos, Quantum Field Theory, spontaneous LSB, decoherence, renormalizability, 3 ns proton pulses, Large Extra Dimensions, membranes,..."
Gosh, how could I possibly answer to all of this? I actually tried at the beginning, but I soon realized I couldn't, simply for lack of free time (my job is another one, you know). When I wrote this on one of my replies, I involontarily triggered a burst of comments similar to Mario's ones.
What went wrong?
I think that there is an intimate belief beyond what many commenters write, which produces the following attitude:
"If Paolo (or anyone else) makes a claim, proposes an idea a model or states something, then he MUST prove that he is right by demonstrating that ANY alternative idea, claim, statement, model are wrong."
Personally I find this attitude, roughly corresponding to Mario's one in SCENE#1, to be arrogant and aggressive. But this is not the point. If I spent all of my time trying to answer to all possible questions, then the people that give me the money for the subsistance of my family wouldn't be very happy, and I can't lose my job. The situation could have changed if Hank had foreseen the possibility of donating a million dollars to me, but I don't know why he refused to do so without giving a plausible argument. But the point is not even this one. The point is that demonstrating that ALL possible alternative arguments/ideas/models are wrong is impossible. This should be easy to understand: there is, literally, an infinite number of such alternatives, being limited only by your fantasy. But we are given only a finite amount of time in this life. At least I think so.
I think that the many readers/comment writers of Science 2.0 should consider behaving like Susanna in SCENE #2. Which means, trying to understand what Paolo has to say in first place. Then making polite questions in order to avoid possible misunderstandings. Then think very seriously about Paolo's arguments. Then, and only then, trying to challenge Paolo. But this should be done, so to say, in Paolo's Arena, since it's Paolo arguments we are talking about. Which means, any discussion should be based ONLY on Paolo's arguments. Proposing whatsoever "alternative idea" comes across your mind and pretending that Paolo should be FORCED to address it (SCENE #1) is not a good idea. And it won't work.
In any case, what happens in SCENE #2 is similar to the way scientists discuss scientific issues. Do you have a better proposal? We can talk about it. Do you think it is a bad method? Everyone is entitled to his own opinions. Actually, I think that the method of SCENE #2 is a good way to lower the risk of propagation of false ideas in the scientific community. But don't blame scientists for not doing what you think they should: maybe they don't do it because they can't, and they can't do it for the simple reason that it is impossible.
A final comment. I think the sad part of the story is that someone is missing the possibilities offered by a precious opportunity. The words I chose in my articles might seem simple, and possiibly they are. But I think they reveal something of the impressive predictive power and the inner beauty of the Theory of Relativity. And of the immense deepness of thought of his creator Albert Einstein, who you might happen to have heard of. Let my finish with what I think is a relevant quote, from someone you also might have heard of, who had the gift of describing and evocating through words in a form whose beauty, I am afraid, is unreacheable by me.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act 1 scene 5