Dark Matter: The Science of Selling Headlines

Despite never having been actually observed, measured or tested empirically, hypothetical ‘dark matter’ is a regular feature of scientific reporting.

One would suppose that the existence of dark matter is relatively settled science, as often as it is discussed in scientific literature and journalism. Most people would be surprised to find out that dark matter is just sort of a guess to fill in gaps of knowledge. It is a sort of abstract placeholder for what is not known. Yet more and more it appears to be used as an assumption in scientific hypotheses, which creates a confirmation bias loop.

While many scientists seem to be jumping into this loop sort of naively, there are others who may be knowingly exploiting dark matter for ulterior purposes.


The most scandalous culprits doing this are scientists themselves, who take advantage of popular and exotic-seeming ideas in order to get funding. Dark matter is certainly a trendy idea, and definitely seems exotic. It sounds almost like something out of a science fiction story. As human beings we are drawn into such mysterious ideas. And so if you want human beings to fund your research, it is always easier to do when that research is based on something exotic, mysterious and appealing.

I have no way of getting any figures on what kind of money gets spent on science based on dark matter every year, but I can almost guarantee that it tops many other more practical scientific endeavors which could solve immediate issues of living human beings. Scientists will almost always argue that you never know what you will discover when exploring something completely different, which is true, but is also an irresponsible use of after-the-fact justifications being given before the fact. While there is human suffering and desire, you would think that would be top priority. But priorities make for hard sells, and scientists know that unless they want to trade in their beakers and telescopes in for spatulas and brooms, they need to go where the money is. And the money is in ideas that pique the human imagination, even when they do not realistically meet human needs.

There is a big difference between a justified belief and an empirical fact, so the question remains – can justified beliefs ever be truly scientific?

Given that kind of complexity, I can certainly understand why scientists end up following the money. I can generally understand why just about anyone in today’s world would make a few sacrifices to do what they love, rather than being swept into some unfulfilling or soul-sucking line of employment. However it is not my empathy at stake, but the relationship of science to society which stands to be compromised if such dishonesty remains at the heart of scientific endeavors and decision-making.

Read the full article with more supporting links at The Dungherder.