Paradigm shifts in and ignorance

I’m thinking today about scientific paradigms. I saw a delightful example of scientific ignorance on the Reddit today.


A person was concerned that electricity derived from solar panels near Chernobyl might be radioactive. Electricity can’t be radioactive. The motion of electrons cannot carry charged particles or photons from one place to another. This Facebook post could be pure trolling. I don’t know. But I took it at face value at first and thought about how to disprove this hypothesis.

It would be easy to put a piece of copper wire into a radioactive substance and then put a detector at the other end of the copper wire and see if radioactivity was transmitted down the wire. It won’t be transmitted on the wire. It doesn’t work that way.

I have the impression that this experiment would be lost on someone who made this Facebook post. This Facebook post (again, assuming it’s not just a troll) is the product of a particular paradigm. I don’t think you can combat it with facts. I think you need to confront the paradigm. My guess is that the paradigm is an idea that “the government is hostile to poor people and old people.”

I don’t know that the Ukrainian government is particularly good or bad with regard to old and poor people. My point is not that the government is good. My point is that the assumption that the government is hostile and actively working against the interests of vulnerable people is what inspired this Facebook post.

Addressing this person’s ignorance about radioactivity would largely miss the point. If education has a role to play in helping this person have a better world view, then it needs to be both scientific and civic. It’s not enough to teach about how radiation works.