Are these all guilty of contributing to science illiteracy? And who/what is high-end audio's Lord Voldemort?
A recent news article "Hollywood blamed for scientific ignorance" talks about how science as depicted in the movies may be promoting science illiteracy among the general population. This is a topic I've written about in the past, both in general and specifically in regard to audio.
In "Harry Potter and the vanishing engineer" I compared the current popularity of fantasy and magic to that of science fiction in the 50s and 60s - when many of today's engineers first became interested in science - and wondered aloud if this bodes ill for the future of engineering:
Can tales of magic, dragons, wizards, and elves—all elements clearly removed from reality—inspire a real sense of wonder about the world we actually live in? I doubt that years from now it will be noted as having inspired a generation of engineers.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed reading and watching both the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series. But I wonder if their enormous popularity is a symptom or a cause - at least in a small way - of a seeming general lack of interest in (or respect for) science.
This is an issue that comes up frequently in high-end audio - a field that seems to have more than its share of magic and myths. In fact, it even has its own Lord Voldemort, in the form of double-blind testing (DBT) - a topic that's so contentious among audiophiles that on some forums it's literally become "That Which Can Not Be Named."
Although a confessed audiophile myself, I don't subscribe to many of these typical audiophile beliefs - such as "analog is technically better than digital" and "the human ear is better at discerning minute audible differences than test instruments" - and I favor the idea of blind testing. In "High-end audio: The sounds of science?," I took some "golden-ear" audiophiles to task for adopting a double standard when it came to justifying their sometimes outrageous claims:
If audiophiles wish to adopt the language of science to justify their beliefs, they should also be willing to adopt the methodology. Yet most dismiss the idea of testing to prove (or disprove) their hypotheses—a critical part of the scientific method—as unnecessary.
I'm not insisting on such testing - only on consistency. After all, half the fun of playing around with high-end audio involves the subjective evaluation of the equipment. And in that case, who's to say what's "better" or not?
Comments, questions or suggestions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.