Fringey science

This article at Esquire paints a fascinating picture of Dr. Mark Roth. The way this article tells the story, Dr. Roth went into the Fringe and came back with an interesting research subject. He figured out how to put mice into a state of near suspended animation.

Another scientist, Dr. Luca Turin gave a TED talk about the Science of Scent. I found it fascinating for several reasons, not the least of which is it iconoclasm. The accepted view on receptor-ligand interactions (that happen when you smell something) is based on the shape of the molecule. Dr. Turin suggests something quite different. He suggests that the interaction is (in a sense) spectroscopic/vibrational. And it sounds vaguely like some ideas from homeopathy which are pretty fringey.

That leads to the my real topic for today: what is to be done with an idea that is interesting, worth investigating, but that sounds like quackery? The danger of the fringe is that the majority is crap. It’s the kind of thing that will capture a scientist’s imagination and take them on a never-ending wild goose chase. That’s called pathological science. And it’s worth avoiding. The people who chase it get a bad reputation.

These two gentlemen, Dr. Roth and Dr. Turin risked madness and explored potentially career-ending hypotheses and came out on the far side successful. As Morgan Freeman put it, they crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.