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lemur

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  1. 1. what is the basis for scientific authority

    • empiricism and reason
    • institutional authority
    • appeals to empiricism and reason cannot be evaluated outside of institutional authority


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What causes people to cling to established authority, even when presented with valid reason to question it? When do people choose to accept challenges to authority as legitimate and when do they resist it? Is there social-political pressure among scientists to defend each other's authority against challenges or do all scientists place reason and empiricism above all other bases for authority? Would you take sides with a crackpot against a veteran researcher if the crackpot presented valid reasoning or evidence against claims of a reputable person?

Edited by lemur

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Would you take sides with a crackpot against a veteran researcher if the crackpot presented valid reasoning or evidence against claims of a reputable person?

 

 

Crackpots, essentially by definition, do not present either valid reasoning or valid evidence.

 

Scientific theories are regularly challenged by real scientists using real data and formulating logical and potentially valid theories. It is not a matter of "taking sides". It is a matter of logical consistency of a theory, and, more importantly, consistency of the consequences of that theory with experimental data.

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Crackpots, essentially by definition, do not present either valid reasoning or valid evidence.

 

Scientific theories are regularly challenged by real scientists using real data and formulating logical and potentially valid theories. It is not a matter of "taking sides". It is a matter of logical consistency of a theory, and, more importantly, consistency of the consequences of that theory with experimental data.

I guess the issue here is how do you deal with challenges to established authority, such as knowledge and definitions from textbooks, etc. If a textbook defines something like potential energy in a way that has shortcomings, what basis would you have for questioning the textbook's authority?

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what basis do you claim in order to declare the textbook's shortcomings? is there an internal inconsistency or do you have empirical data? there is no basis for a truculent refusal to accept established learning on the basis of personal incredulity or lack of understanding.

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I guess the issue here is how do you deal with challenges to established authority, such as knowledge and definitions from textbooks, etc. If a textbook defines something like potential energy in a way that has shortcomings, what basis would you have for questioning the textbook's authority?

#1, when the new empirical data does not support the knowledge in the textbook.

#2, when the logic of the new facts does not support the statment in the testbook.

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You

#1, when the new empirical data does not support the knowledge in the textbook.

#2, when the logic of the new facts does not support the statment in the testbook.

 

 

Me

what basis do you claim in order to declare the textbook's shortcomings? is there an internal inconsistency or do you have empirical data?

Jeff

Great Minds think alike ...

unfortunately the second half of that aphorism is that

...idiots seldom differ

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Jeff

 

Great Minds think alike ...

 

unfortunately the second half of that aphorism is that

 

...idiots seldom differ

I'm not sure what that means.

Anyway, I hope that we are helping OP in the same direction.

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#1, when the new empirical data does not support the knowledge in the textbook.

#2, when the logic of the new facts does not support the statment in the testbook.

 

Aye, but both of these require evidence. If someone provides the evidence, the textbooks change. We see that happen quite often.

 

I guess the issue here is how do you deal with challenges to established authority, such as knowledge and definitions from textbooks, etc. If a textbook defines something like potential energy in a way that has shortcomings, what basis would you have for questioning the textbook's authority?

 

We require actual evidence and workable predictions to explain why the textbook (and by this we usually mean 'mainstream physics') is wrong. Without actual predictive work and evidence, no one will replace the textbook.

 

There's a difference between a textbook being too vague or having statements that a reader misunderstands or not good enough to explain things -- than mainstream physics being wrong about the definition of a concept. The first just requires extra help *understanding* the real concept. The second requires evidence and some work to show that current work is lacking or untrue.

 

In any case, no one will accept "conceptual explanations" without mathematical predictions to replace the current work that *has* mathematical prediction, works wonders and is actually showing itself to be repeatedly true.

 

~mooey

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Especially in biological sciences there is quite a high turnover in terms of textbook knowledge. This is generally achieved by a) introduction of new evidence that eventually b) leads to new consensus forming which then eventually c) diffuses into text books.

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The OP raises the whole question of scientific revolutions, first generated by Thomas Kuhn's 'Structure of Scientific Revolutions' back in the 1970s. The problem is that science operates on two incompatible tracks: One track seeks to bend all new facts back into interpretation according to the existing paradigm of explanation. Facts that don't fit the paradigm are pushed aside by the experimental proceedures generating them being questioned, by the graph being smoothed out, by being ignored, or by being explained away as due to some extraneous variable which was not accounted for. The other track seeks to develop theories strictly in response to the empirical data, whatever it is, and to abandon or revise theories which fail to reflect the data.

 

Which track science adopts in response to any froward datum is always hard to predict. Generally, as the recalcitrant data accumulate, the patience of scientists in respecting the established authority of the existing explanatory paradigm is strained as they contrive ever new methods to repair the theory they already have to match the data. When the strain becomes sufficiently great, they abandon their respect for the existing paradigm, a scientific revolution occurs, and a new paradigm springs into existence.

 

Imre Lakatos has refined Kuhn's ideas to make them reflect more closely what actually happens in this process, which can be observed in the transition from Ptolemaic to Copernican astronomy; from Cartesian particles in motion physics to Newtonian forces operating at a distance; from phlogiston- to oxygen-based theories of chemical reactions in Lavoirsier's work; from subtle fluid to dynamic theories of heat in Rumford's work; and from Newtonian to relativistic physics in Einstein's work.

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what basis do you claim in order to declare the textbook's shortcomings? is there an internal inconsistency or do you have empirical data? there is no basis for a truculent refusal to accept established learning on the basis of personal incredulity or lack of understanding.

Whatever your basis, you simply explain your reasoning. If your reasoning makes sense, there should be no tension for true scientists to immediately recognize validity. My point is that there is social-political tension coming from the fact that oftentimes people don't really recognize empiricism as a more ultimate foundation for authority than institutional authority. So if potential energy is defined a certain way in one or more textbooks, people will resist questioning the authority of the textbooks regardless of the reasoning of the critique. They will turn it into an ego-issue ("who do YOU think YOU are to disagree with a textbook?") or they will simply ignore the challenge because they don't want to take sides against established authority. If no one had any particular investment in protecting the legitimacy of any orthodox knowledge, it would not be such a big deal to question and discuss definitions, axiomatic assumptions, etc.

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Whatever your basis, you simply explain your reasoning. If your reasoning makes sense, there should be no tension for true scientists to immediately recognize validity. My point is that there is social-political tension coming from the fact that oftentimes people don't really recognize empiricism as a more ultimate foundation for authority than institutional authority. So if potential energy is defined a certain way in one or more textbooks, people will resist questioning the authority of the textbooks regardless of the reasoning of the critique. They will turn it into an ego-issue ("who do YOU think YOU are to disagree with a textbook?") or they will simply ignore the challenge because they don't want to take sides against established authority. If no one had any particular investment in protecting the legitimacy of any orthodox knowledge, it would not be such a big deal to question and discuss definitions, axiomatic assumptions, etc.

 

There are many tricks and illusions that seem to make sense and are still bunk. How would you propose we sift through what SEEMS true (but isn't) to what SEEMS unreal (but is) without some empirical data? Calculations, mathematics and physical theories with evidence, observations and repeatability are meant to supply exactly that - a consistent method to know what is real *despite* what might *seem* real to us.

 

I can give you a dozen examples of things people think are entirely reasonable but are, in fact, false. The most notable one is "the world is flat". The only reason you might consider this no longer reasonable is because of CURRENT knowledge and satellites and spaceflight, etc. But 2000 years ago, the laymen would undoubtedly argue the scientists who said the world is spherical, since the laymen, walking out and looking at the horizon, saw flat surface.

If we were to accept "logic" without empirical evidence, we'd be still afraid to fall off the edge of the Earth.

 

~mooey

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There are many tricks and illusions that seem to make sense and are still bunk. How would you propose we sift through what SEEMS true (but isn't) to what SEEMS unreal (but is) without some empirical data? Calculations, mathematics and physical theories with evidence, observations and repeatability are meant to supply exactly that - a consistent method to know what is real *despite* what might *seem* real to us.

 

I can give you a dozen examples of things people think are entirely reasonable but are, in fact, false. The most notable one is "the world is flat". The only reason you might consider this no longer reasonable is because of CURRENT knowledge and satellites and spaceflight, etc. But 2000 years ago, the laymen would undoubtedly argue the scientists who said the world is spherical, since the laymen, walking out and looking at the horizon, saw flat surface.

If we were to accept "logic" without empirical evidence, we'd be still afraid to fall off the edge of the Earth.

I agree with you. I really do. I would just point out that there's a difference between simply accepting the world is round instead of flat without reason or evidence, as many people do, simply because they're told that experts 'know' the world is round not flat. Further, I think it is or at least should be part of the mission of scientists to apply critical reasoning to any claim, not just those that come gift-wrapped as articles for peer-review. Part of such critical reasoning is to recognize and state when a particular question can only be answered with empirical evidence and what kind of evidence would be needed and why. All this makes up a process of scientific reasoning; i.e. thinking logically about questions and claims and reasoning about what evidence demonstrates what and how. I think the issue of whether textbook knowledge is right or wrong is secondary to knowing how and why.

 

 

 

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I guess the issue here is how do you deal with challenges to established authority, such as knowledge and definitions from textbooks, etc. If a textbook defines something like potential energy in a way that has shortcomings, what basis would you have for questioning the textbook's authority?

 

I am quite competent to challenge shortcomings in a textbook all by my little own self. That is because I understand the underlying physics and mathematics.

 

Your challenge in the thread on potential energy is invalid because you understand neither, and have made a number of factually incorrect assertions in your "challenge".

 

If you don't like a definition then what you do is define an alternate term and DEMONSTRATE the benefits of your alternate concept.

 

What you don't do is pervert the meaning of a well-defined concept and claim that it is something that it is not.

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That's why we have teaching labs in the undergraduate curriculum. You literally get to try out fundamental concepts for yourself, and observe that the mathematics really do line up with reality. That's also another reason that the math is so important. It truly is the purest, most unambiguous, and objective logic.

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That's why we have teaching labs in the undergraduate curriculum. You literally get to try out fundamental concepts for yourself, and observe that the mathematics really do line up with reality. That's also another reason that the math is so important. It truly is the purest, most unambiguous, and objective logic.

 

And that is why theories live and die on the basis of agreement with experiment. There is nowhere to hide.

 

“It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong” – Richard Feynman

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Your challenge in the thread on potential energy is invalid because you understand neither, and have made a number of factually incorrect assertions in your "challenge".

You state this in a general way, but the only person who has made any specific claims in that thread was Mooeypoo, who claimed that any object has a potentially unlimited number of frames in which it can be measured as having more potential energy.

 

If you don't like a definition then what you do is define an alternate term and DEMONSTRATE the benefits of your alternate concept.

The benefit of recognizing potential energy as an empirical fact instead of an artifact of framing is that the law of energy conservation is practically respected as no energy is treated as "final" except insofar as it is framed within a finite context. In practice, an object's/system's energy is not suddenly dissipated because the limits of the frame have been reached, correct? So why wouldn't it be beneficial to recognize energy-potential as a form that kinetic energy takes as it converts from one form to another? Even an object 'at rest' on the ground is pushing against the ground with a certain amount of force, which represents a potential to do work. Why wouldn't it be beneficial to recognize this as frame-independent? Yes, measuring a finite amount of potential energy requires a frame, but so does measuring a finite amount of kinetic energy, no?

 

What you don't do is pervert the meaning of a well-defined concept and claim that it is something that it is not.

I'm not trying to pervert anything. I'm trying to acknowledge why it is beneficial to frame and measure energy as finite quantities in some applications but it can also be useful to recognize that energy is continuously transforming and dissipating through any series of frames you apply to define it according to specific instances. Plus I think it is misleading to claim that potential energy only exists as a frame-relative concept, because the frame-relativity is an analytical convenience, not a law of nature.

Edited by lemur

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Science can be summed up: Reality Wins

 

That is, it wouldn't matter if it came form a 5 year old, or Einstein, if the evidence shows that something is wrong, science will accept the new results.

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The problem is that when experimental results demonstrate something that challenges a basic theory in a fundamental way, the first response of science is typically defensive, saying "There must be something wrong with the experiment," because there often can be shown to be extranenous variables that have crept into the result, or some benign reinterpretation of the bothersome result can make it fit well enough into the predominant paradigm of explanation once again.

 

If you look for example at the historical debate between the defenders of the predominant phlogiston theory of chemical reactions and those of the new oxygen-combustion theory, for the most part those with the superior knowledge of chemistry in terms of data (as opposed to having the right theory) were the people whom history now labels as having been wrong. The phlogiston-advocates, who were still publishing up to ca. 1800, decades after Lavoisier's result, were also generally the better experimental chemists, though they were misled by using the wrong explanatory hypothesis. Just as it is difficult to find something in a jumble unless you have a clear picture of it in mind before you start looking, so too experiments often fail to speak unless you already have the right theory to explain them.

 

One of the reasons why medicine, for example, is so slow to progress even though it is an experimental science is that no experimental result is ever accepted as final, since they are often so easy to explain away, so contradictions aboud. Thus in diabetology the reigning hypothesis is that hyperglycemia causes the vascular and neurological complications of the disease, but a New Zealand ophthalmologist, Dr. Adams, has demonstrated clearly that the changes in the diabetic retina are identical to the type of damage known to be caused only by autoimmunity, not hyperglycemia. Instead of this result having changed diabetology, diabetology changed it, and it languishes in obscurity, published in an excellent, peer-reviewed journal, but ignored as too disturbing.

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The problem is that when experimental results demonstrate something that challenges a basic theory in a fundamental way, the first response of science is typically defensive, saying "There must be something wrong with the experiment," because there often can be shown to be extranenous variables that have crept into the result, or some benign reinterpretation of the bothersome result can make it fit well enough into the predominant paradigm of explanation once again.

It's not defensive, it's careful.

 

When an experiment goes against what we know in reality there are two main options: Either the experiment wasn't done right, or our theory should be fixed accordingly.

 

The first option should be first eliminated for us to accept the second option, so scientists (going by the scientific method) demand a rigorous peer-review process that includes shredding the theory/experiment apart and having it retested multiple times. The purpose isn't to be defensive, it's to test the idea and make sure it really is working.

 

Only after the experiment was verified to be CONSISTENTLY working can we really move to the next step and correct our theories.

 

 

 

 

Theories *are* being corrected in science all the time. That's how progress is made.

 

~mooey

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The whole theory of scientific revolution maintains that while some of the scientific resistance to novel and challenging experimental results is just empirical scrupulousness, some is also just plain stubborn or defensive. If an explanatory paradigm is suddenly and dramatically changed by some result, all the established figures in the field become neophytes like everyone else, since they are all now alike in having to learn things from the beginning again. When you are chairman of the department and pulling in $300k a year for your absolute mastery of some theory which turns out to be wrong, not only are you exposed as dumb for not having seen it, but your hold on your prestige and money becomes tenuous, and you have to start scrambling to understand a new theory when you thought you could just coast into retirement on what you did 20 years ago. That is all so unpleasant that there is a strong motivation to hunt for something wrong in the defiant experiment rather than admit its validity, even when, in strict science, you should.

 

It is often not just that the experimental result is doubted beyond all reasonable grounds for skepticism, but that it is worked into the existing paradigm via contrived elaborations designed to preserve the paradigm at any cost. If you look at the cycles and epicycles that eventually adorned the Ptolemaic theory of solar system, or the artificial solutions offered to explain away the Michaelson-Morley experiment while still preserving the old aether hypothesis, you wonder how people could have been so foolish as to think these constructions made sense.

 

What is often required is simply a new look at things that brings the old paradigm crashing down, since the experiment itself often fails to speak clearly to its implications. Thus when Galileo dropped two balls of different weights from the leaning tower of Pisa and noted that the timing of their striking the ground failed to correspond to the result predicted by the reigning Aristotelian physics, he had to admit that there still was a difference in the time the balls struck, as the Aristotelians maintained, but that it just wasn't as large as it should have been. Does this result prove anything? It depends on whether you discount the difference as due to an undetected extraneous factor or not, and the experiment doesn't tell you that, but only your own sense of what the small apparent difference must mean.

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The benefit of recognizing potential energy as an empirical fact instead of an artifact of framing is that the law of energy conservation is practically respected as no energy is treated as "final" except insofar as it is framed within a finite context. In practice, an object's/system's energy is not suddenly dissipated because the limits of the frame have been reached, correct? So why wouldn't it be beneficial to recognize energy-potential as a form that kinetic energy takes as it converts from one form to another? Even an object 'at rest' on the ground is pushing against the ground with a certain amount of force, which represents a potential to do work. Why wouldn't it be beneficial to recognize this as frame-independent? Yes, measuring a finite amount of potential energy requires a frame, but so does measuring a finite amount of kinetic energy, no?

 

 

 

The real problem in trying to educate you is that you think the above juxtaposition of nonsense words constitutes a cogent argument.

 

There is nothing to debate or correct. It doesn't mean anything.

 

You refuse to learn physics, even the basic concepts and the meaning of specific well-defined technical terms. As a result you babble. It is the height of arrogance to think that you can understand a scientific discipline, let alone criticize and improve upon it, without studying it enough to know the basic content.

 

Read a physics book.

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The real problem in trying to educate you is that you think the above juxtaposition of nonsense words constitutes a cogent argument.

 

There is nothing to debate or correct. It doesn't mean anything.

 

You refuse to learn physics, even the basic concepts and the meaning of specific well-defined technical terms. As a result you babble. It is the height of arrogance to think that you can understand a scientific discipline, let alone criticize and improve upon it, without studying it enough to know the basic content.

 

Read a physics book.

Subtract your belligerence from your posts and what is left? You may be very good at expressing mathematical physical concepts but the rest of what you say is really just posturing and bullying. Are you familiar with the psychology of authoritarian personality?

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Subtract your belligerence from your posts and what is left? You may be very good at expressing mathematical physical concepts but the rest of what you say is really just posturing and bullying. Are you familiar with the psychology of authoritarian personality?

 

One could say the same about your defensiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

Did you notice that it's about 10 people already who told you the SAME thing about your defensive reactions and insistence on being ignorant about actual physics? None of it strikes you as a catalyst to .. say.. try to see if, perhaps, you have SOME flaws in your logic? God forbid, not all wrong, just.. something.... perhaps inaccurate.

 

Just a thought, here.

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One could say the same about your defensiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

Did you notice that it's about 10 people already who told you the SAME thing about your defensive reactions and insistence on being ignorant about actual physics? None of it strikes you as a catalyst to .. say.. try to see if, perhaps, you have SOME flaws in your logic? God forbid, not all wrong, just.. something.... perhaps inaccurate.

 

Just a thought, here.

Ok, then subtract my posturing from the content of my posts and see how much of what I say is substantive vs. how much is oriented toward defending against personal criticisms not substantively oriented. I think you'll find that my orientation is primarily substantive and only becomes personal where personal attacks were initiated by someone else. I'm not claiming to be perfect but I strive to avoid interpersonal bickering because I've had enough bad experiences with it to actively avoid it. This doesn't mean I want to let people walk all over me either.

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