beecee

In Praise of Scientific Theory

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Interesting article I came across, and which I find appropriate particularly with the undeserved and mostly invalidated criticism leveled at science, by many "would be's if they could be's" out there....My question is highlighted at the end of the two articles........

In Praise of Scientific Theory

Just a hunch? Hardly. Think germ theory, atomic theory and the theory of evolution.

Science can make life difficult for manipulators and demagogues. Without science, it would be much easier to convince the public that an intelligent designer created the world, or that greenhouse gas warming and lead contamination are just the fantasies of “alarmists.” To physicist and historian Gerald Holton, attacks on science tend to go along with moves toward authoritarian rule. “History has shown repeatedly that a disaffection with science and its view of the world can turn into a rage that links up with far more sinister movements,” he wrote in his 1993 book “Science and Anti-Science.”

Those who want to fight the conclusions of scientific research often strike at its points of vulnerability -- like scientists’ insistence on using the word “theory” to describe even well-established ideas. In popular language, a “theory” implies a hunch or guess –- something less than a fact. That wrongly suggests weakness. “The theory of global warming is just that: a theory,” then-congressman and climate skeptic Mike Pence told an Indiana newspaper in 2003. He probably couldn’t get away with a similar dismissal of germ theory, atomic theory or Einstein’s theory of relativity.

“It’s unfortunate the way the word ‘theory’ is used,” said philosopher of science Peter Godfrey-Smith. “To say something is a theory is to say it’s been expressed as an idea. It’s not to say anything about whether the claim is justified or not justified -- true or false.”

The 19th-century philosopher William Whewell was one of the first people to put forward a definition of scientific theory as a product of observation and reasoning. And he had in mind a particular form of reasoning -- inductive reasoning, by which people draw broad conclusions from individual examples. That lines up with Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is backed by the fossil record, DNA evidence and even changes in animal anatomy.

more at https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2017-07-05/in-praise-of-scientific-theory

extract:

The most insidious misperception skewing today’s debate over climate change is confusion between uncertainty about the predictions of a theory and uncertainty about the theory itself. To illustrate the difference, Harvard University philosopher Peter Galison brings up evolution by natural selection: The theory is on solid ground, but that doesn’t mean it can predict exactly what foxes will look like 800,000 years in the future.

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another at https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2017-05-23/science-s-weakness-is-also-its-strength

Science's Weakness Is Also Its Strength

One of the beauties of science is that it’s self-correcting — and there are times when its methods and the culture need rethinking, too.

 

Pride and self-reproach have both been on display in the scientific community in recent weeks. At this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for example, some scientists took up pro-science signs and marched in a nearby public square, while others gathered in conference rooms to agonize over a recent proliferation of questionable claims.

The fields suffering most from dubious results are social science and medical research, where critics say too many highly-cited findings are evaporating as soon as others try to replicate the original experiments.

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How can science improve and promote its image?  I sometimes hear criticism of popular science shows, as giving lay people the wrong message and answers, in their efforts to simplify the concept they are trying to promote. I'm not really sure all this criticism is deserved.

To my way of thinking, the likes of Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, Brian Greene, Sir David Attenbourough, are at least getting the message out there. Now of course sometimes the analogies they use to get their message/s across may not be strictly correct...[eg: the BB being an explosion] But at least they could be promoting an Interest in science out there, and just as obviously, those that are Interested, may be just interested enough to at least start asking questions, taking specific courses, or coming to forums such as this for extra clarification of the science aspect they find an interest in. Isn't this a good thing? and doesn't it over ride the  pop sci message that the BB was an explosion? Isn't this far better then still only having the myth forged into one's brain of some magical, unscientific, mythical all powerful, omnipotent deity doing the deed? 

I'm simply a retired maintenance Fitter/Machinist/welder with absolutely no professional education in science above high school physics and chemistry. I have though read plenty of reputable stuff, starting with Hawking's "Brief History of Time, Kip Thorne's "Black Holes and Time Warps", Stephen Weinbergs, "The First Three Minutes""and many others to promote and improve my general scientific knowledge. Those readings were prompted actually by the late great Carl Sagan and his "Cosmos" TV series in the early/mid seventies. Another great TV series that got me on the road to learning and over riding the brain washing that I received was Jacob Bronowski's  "The Ascent of Man"

Anyway, that's how pop science, reputable reading, science forums participation,  and a couple of well presented TV shows, sparked my now insatiable thirst for knowledge and science. 

 

 

Edited by beecee

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My question again was "How can science improve and promote its image?" 

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4 hours ago, beecee said:

I sometimes hear criticism of popular science shows, as giving lay people the wrong message and answers, in their efforts to simplify the concept they are trying to promote. I'm not really sure all this criticism is deserved.

The only way to introduce these complex ideas is to simplify them. Even students of science get taught simpler models first!

In some cases people will be satisfied with the simplified explanation. Others will look for a bit more detail and some will be inspired to go study it seriously. All those outcomes are good. 

I do wish that there were some sort of standard disclaimer pointing out that the explanation is simplified, that the analogies are inexact, the math is complex, etc. It might reduce the number of people who come here to point out the “obvious” flaw in relativity!

Edited by Strange

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1 hour ago, Strange said:

The only way to introduce these complex ideas is to simplify them. Even students of science get taught simpler models first!

In some cases people will be satisfied with the simplified explanation. Others will look for a bit more detail and some will be inspired to go study it seriously. All those outcomes are good. 

I have watched many science docos, where I observe simplified versions "slightly wrong" and yet still enjoyed them overall. But yes, exactly what I'm trying to say.

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I do wish that there were some sort of standard disclaimer pointing out that the explanation is simplified, that the analogies are inexact, the math is complex, etc. It might reduce the number of people who come here to point out the “obvious” flaw in relativity!

Not a bad suggestion in actual fact. 

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On 29/10/2018 at 6:43 AM, beecee said:

he most insidious misperception skewing today’s debate over climate change is confusion between uncertainty about the predictions of a theory and uncertainty about the theory itself. To illustrate the difference, Harvard University philosopher Peter Galison brings up evolution by natural selection: The theory is on solid ground, but that doesn’t mean it can predict exactly what foxes will look like 800,000 years in the future.

A very important paragraph in a very important article.

Sorry, Strange. I am not sure where your comic fits in with this thread. Please enlighten me as i am a bit slow sometimes.

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21 minutes ago, NortonH said:

Sorry, Strange. I am not sure where your comic fits in with this thread. Please enlighten me as i am a bit slow sometimes.

it is a little story about how misleading analogies are, particularly in quantum theory.

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57 minutes ago, NortonH said:

A very important paragraph in a very important article.

yep agreed. Did you read it all?

here's some more......

" The theory behind climate change is also grounded in observation and reason. It all started with a puzzle: By the early 1800s, physicists realized that an earth-sized rock orbiting the sun at a distance of 93 million miles should be frozen according to the known laws of physics. French physicist Joseph Fourier proposed that the atmosphere keeps the planet warm. Others tested this theory in laboratory experiments, sending a simulated version of sunlight through various gases. They found that oxygen and nitrogen had no effect on the light, but carbon dioxide did. In repeated experiments, carbon dioxide absorbed and re-radiated infrared waves, which on a planetary scale would prevent some of the sun’s energy from escaping to space.

But now climate science has something even stronger on its side, said atmospheric physicist Lee Harrison of the State University of New York, Albany. The premise is all predicted by a powerful theory in physics known as quantum mechanics, which describes in detail the behavior of light and matter on the scale of molecules, atoms and subatomic particles. Like Einstein’s theory, quantum mechanics is bolstered by hundreds of experiments. Quantum mechanics predicts how infrared radiation coming up from the earth will be affected by carbon dioxide and other gases.

“What the public doesn’t understand is the extreme interconnectedness of physical reality,” Harrison said. “If someone proposes that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas, this requires ripping up essentially all of modern physics … Now you aren’t just arguing with those measurements of carbon dioxide; you are arguing with the whole body of molecular quantum mechanics and all confirming measurements.”  

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12 minutes ago, NortonH said:

Sorry, but I am unclear. Is this thread about climate science?

It's about appreciation of science, scientific theory and the scientific method, of which climate science is a part of. Stop being so naive.

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Just now, beecee said:

It's about appreciation of science, scientific theory and the scientific method, of which climate science is a part of. Stop being so naive.

Sorry I was just trying to be precise. It is so easy to go off-topic if one is not careful.

I am a total supporter of the scientific method but i believe it needs to be adhered to rather than just recited.

ie If you have a hypothesis you need to apply the Scientific Method rigourously, even if that means that a beloved and popular theory is found to be inadequate.

Obviously is is hard for a human to let go of a cherished idea but if it lacks some necessary quality (eg fails to meet the requirements of the SM) then that idea has to be deemed false.

On 29/10/2018 at 6:43 AM, beecee said:

critics say too many highly-cited findings are evaporating as soon as others try to replicate the original experiments.

That is an important matter. If it cannot be replicated it is not science.

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47 minutes ago, NortonH said:

Sorry I was just trying to be precise. It is so easy to go off-topic if one is not careful.

I am a total supporter of the scientific method but i believe it needs to be adhered to rather than just recited.

ie If you have a hypothesis you need to apply the Scientific Method rigourously, even if that means that a beloved and popular theory is found to be inadequate.

Obviously is is hard for a human to let go of a cherished idea but if it lacks some necessary quality (eg fails to meet the requirements of the SM) then that idea has to be deemed false.

In general it is adhered to. Can you cite some area or aspect where it is not adhered to?

As far as letting go of a cherished idea, what you need to remember is that if suddenly one bit of supposed evidence comes forward say for example that indicates that "c" is not the universal speed limit, it is approached by the other end of the balance scale with loads of evidence supporting it as the speed limit.eg: The experiment a few years ago, which supposedly invalidated that postulate. It was later found that a fault in the equipment was to blame. So please, unless you are able to site a definite example where science is obviously being incalcitrant, your inferences are baseless.

The ball's in your court.

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That is an important matter. If it cannot be replicated it is not science.

true, but again, many supposed critics wouldn't really know what they are talking about, plus of course that which we see often here and other scientific forums, an agenda is afoot.

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I am thinking of scientific claims made without any reference to a quantitative model.

Sometimes we hear some claim about the future state of some system or other but without any reference to a model that can be scrutinised. Obviously no scientifically rational person would give such a claim any credence but there are a lot of people around who do. They seem to be caught up in the general mood and tend to go along with the crowd rather than adhere to the scientific method. It actually comes down to the decision - do I follow the scientific method or do I follow popular opinion?

Since humans are humans it is not always so easy do separate out human nature. I guess such situations can only be described in terms of religious faith - "I believe this because a lot of other people claim to believe it and if I disagree will be subject to ridicule and abuse."

I do remember the events a few years ago when the speed of light was called into question. I had little doubt that it would soon be discovered that the experiment was flawed but I did note the way in which the matter was discussed calmly and scientifically and without any abuse of the people who performed the experiment which threw up the apparent contradiction.

 

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7 minutes ago, NortonH said:

Sometimes we hear some claim about the future state of some system or other but without any reference to a model that can be scrutinised. Obviously no scientifically rational person would give such a claim any credence but there are a lot of people around who do. They seem to be caught up in the general mood and tend to go along with the crowd rather than adhere to the scientific method. It actually comes down to the decision - do I follow the scientific method or do I follow popular opinion?

Since humans are humans it is not always so easy do separate out human nature. I guess such situations can only be described in terms of religious faith - "I believe this because a lot of other people claim to believe it and if I disagree will be subject to ridicule and abuse."

Trust in scientific institutions, methods and practices - and practitioners working within professional codes of conduct - is not the same as believing something because random people claim something. People who study stuff and work with it full time are almost always more knowledgeable than those who don't. People who study stuff and commit to permanent records the data and the reasoning can  and do have their conclusions reviewed and critiqued by others before it gets accepted more widely. Ridicule and abuse is what people tend to get when they think they know better than the post-review and critique knowledge that has earned it's right to be widely accepted by other experts.

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OK so what is the scientific method about - claims by individuals with reputations or is it about models, predictions and evidence?

I do not believe that people, institutions, reputations, trust or authority get any mention in the Scientific Method.

I am no expert, however.

 

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19 minutes ago, NortonH said:

I am thinking of scientific claims made without any reference to a quantitative model.

Sometimes we hear some claim about the future state of some system or other but without any reference to a model that can be scrutinised. 

All models/theories were at one time just hypotheticals. Some, yes are entirely speculative, but that is not denied, nor is any speculation put as fact, unless its some u tube discovery/history channel nonsense. Sometimes a certain line of speculation is all that is open to scientists...eg:https://www.astrosociety.org/publication/a-universe-from-nothing/ ignoring the unscientific supernatural/paranormal myths. And as far as scrutiny goes, who is doing the scrutinising...you? 

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Obviously no scientifically rational person would give such a claim any credence but there are a lot of people around who do.

Not necessarily, as I previously said, sometimes even without evidence, only one possibility is evident...such options certainly are considered. Abiogenesis is another.

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Since humans are humans it is not always so easy do separate out human nature. I guess such situations can only be described in terms of religious faith - "I believe this because a lot of other people claim to believe it and if I disagree will be subject to ridicule and abuse."

I have no qualms with anyone that is into religious beliefs...I have lived with one for 42 years now. It is only when they chose obtuseness, unfounded scientific criticism and conducting evangelistic crusades that I load my gun.

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I do remember the events a few years ago when the speed of light was called into question. I had little doubt that it would soon be discovered that the experiment was flawed but I did note the way in which the matter was discussed calmly and scientifically and without any abuse of the people who performed the experiment which threw up the apparent contradiction.

Scientists are people also, and sometimes something dear to one's self maybe hard to let go. But as always, science is a discipline in continued progress, hence the continued testing of GR and the search for a QGT.

Do you also remember the BICEP2 experiment? Remember the premature announcement that gravitational waves had been discovered? Remember that it was other scientists on another experiment that found the result was most likely due to dust contamination.

8 minutes ago, NortonH said:

OK so what is the scientific method about - claims by individuals with reputations or is it about models, predictions and evidence?

I do not believe that people, institutions, reputations, trust or authority get any mention in the Scientific Method.

I am no expert, however.

The individuals, the reputations they obtain, and scientific authority in general, are schooled in the scientific method and in general abide by it..there are always exceptions though, for whatever reasons.. Do you go to your butcher if you are having a heart attack?

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8 minutes ago, beecee said:

I have no qualms with anyone that is into religious beliefs

Neither do I. I just refuse to accept religious arguments for something in place of the scientific method. If you believe in something just  because other people do then, whether that thing is right or wrong, your belief is religious. If you have seen a model make predictions which are validated then that is scientific. So without a quantitative model able to make usefully accurate predictions you have nothing.

 

11 minutes ago, beecee said:

Do you go to your butcher if you are having a heart attack?

Not sure what you are talking about.  ??

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26 minutes ago, NortonH said:

Neither do I. I just refuse to accept religious arguments for something in place of the scientific method. If you believe in something just  because other people do then, whether that thing is right or wrong, your belief is religious. 

That is actually more cynicism then any critical review. Again, it is impossible for most people to say verify the discovery of gravitational waves. So your saying for me to accept that, is religious? Again, that's going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Obviously, at least to me, it appears you are grabbing at straws to support what you yourself believe.

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Not sure what you are talking about.  ?

I'm referring to the fact that all scientific experts are not all competent to rule or judge on all scientific disciplines. Horses for courses so to speak. If I want expert support in a debate on evolution say, I don't normally go to a cosmologist.

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2 minutes ago, beecee said:

That is actually more cynicism then any critical review.

No. I am simply stating a fact. The reasons you have for believing something are what determine the nature of your belief.

If your belief is because of faith then that is religious belief. If your reason is because you have seen a scientific case presented that abides by the Scientific Method then that is scientific belief. I don't think that what I have said here is controversial in anyway. It is just a dry statement of fact.

 

4 minutes ago, beecee said:

Obviously, at least to me, it appears you are grabbing at straws to support what you yourself believe.

Really? What straws? What is it I am claiming to believe?

5 minutes ago, beecee said:

I'm referring to the fact that all scientific experts are not all competent to rule or judge on all scientific disciplines.

ANY scientist is able to judge whether a prediction has been falsified by the criteria laid down by the proponent of a theory.

eg. If Einstein says the speed limit is c and then someone produced a tachyon then anyone can see that the falsification criteria have been satisfied.

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45 minutes ago, NortonH said:

Neither do I. I just refuse to accept religious arguments for something in place of the scientific method.

!

Moderator Note

Which is decidedly off-topic. Grind your axe somewhere else.

If you do it here, (in a new thread) it had better be more than innuendo and straw men

 

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