FOM: misuse of G"odel's theorem

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Mon Feb 15 14:28:44 EST 1999

Joe Shipman 12 Feb 1999 09:54:03 writes:
 >  > I would note that even G"odel's incompleteness theorem is often
 >  > popularly misused by academics and others as an argument against
 >  > reason and science in general, and even against particular
 >  > technologies such as nuclear energy and missile defense.  ...
 > Steve, can you please give more specific quotations or citations
 > here?

At the height of the late 1960's debate on the US-Russia ABM (=
Anti-Ballistic Missile) treaty, Jerome Wiesner testified before the US
Congress that ABM technology is and always will be impractical,
because of G"odel's theorem.  Actually G"odel's theorem implies no
such thing, so this was a shocking misuse of G"odel's theorem on
Wiesner's part -- all the more shocking because of the high position
that Wiesner held in the scientific community.  He was president of
MIT at the time.

I have heard similar misuses of G"odel's theorem in the debate over
nuclear energy, but unfortunately I can't cite names or dates, because
I didn't make a note of them.

I haven't yet gotten around to reading the Sokal-Bricmont book, but
Martin Davis gave me the impression that it documents other misuses of
G"odel's theorem, by postmodernist academics.

I think that scientific professionals ought to do what they can to
combat the misuse of science.  As a special case of this principle,
f.o.m. professionals ought to combat the misuse of f.o.m.  Let's use
the FOM list to compile a list of misuses of G"odel's theorem in the
non-specialist literature.  I would ask all FOM subscribers who come
across such whoppers to please bring them to the attention of FOM.

-- Steve

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