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Can scientists walthrough debatable ideas?


Baby Astronaut
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There's an inherent flaw to asking why scientists are reluctant to accept new ideas.

 

First of all, the question is poorly reasoned, as many scientists are excited about new possibilities. An obvious example of this is the search for life on Mars and

of exploring the unknown.

 

Also, there is a difference between someone just accepting a new claim blindly and someone willing to explore the validity of a testable claim.

 

So might a better question to ask be, why scientists are reluctant to explore untested claims?

 

Not really.

 

That still makes an assumption that is contradicted by the passion in scientific exploration; but it's also closer to being on track. Scientists are reluctant to explore untestable claims scientifically (as that's impossible), but many are willing to explore it philosophically (a method of examination that doesn't need absolutely consistent replicable experiments).

 

But there's an inherent flaw as well to proposing that the only alternative to being reluctant of accepting untested claims without evidence is to instead eagerly accept such claims.

 

Isn't that going from one extreme to another, skipping over a middle ground?

 

Pure reluctance doesn't advance knowledge. It might keep science pure, but it alienates the person seeking knowledge, of which science is only an important part but not equal to it.

 

Science is under attack by certain entrenched interests, and though science has been adequately defended by other significant interests, those who know science have a duty to not feed the damage of the anti-science interests.

 

We need a standard answer we can give to people who bring untested claims or ask why scientists are reluctant to explore new ideas. A template we can download or link to, addressing the points raised here.

 

Compare the approach of Mythbusters to debatable or unverified claims, to the other approach of some people who debate in the name of science. While the Mythbusters show's tests aren't peer-reviewable or even scientific, the viewers likely perceive that if the hosts were presented with an untested claim, they'd answer with: ok let's test it.

 

On the other hand, what answer do you expect if the typical forum veteran here, who's representing science in the eyes of a visiting layman, were to be presented such an untested claim?

 

Would it be "Prove it"? or "Science can't accept that into the body of thoroughly replicated experiments it has amassed over centuries as evidence, but let's have a closer look by reviewing the observations and testing the math to learn if there's any scientific evidence to that, as opposed to philosophical value."

Edited by Baby Astronaut
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Usually the response is along the lines of what has been done to test this idea, this idea is fundamentally flawed due to this, what tests support/falsify this idea, what predictions does this idea make.

 

I don't think it's there is a necessary flaw in the way scientists, or this forum, handles ideas brought forth. I think the main flaw is that people seem to either want to verify their ideas as scientific without using scientific methodology or do not understand what is necessary for scientific ideas. So far as I can see most people on this forum try to explain what the flaws in ideas are and why they are flaws without being aggressive in any manner, most of the time at least. IMO it's not a problem with scientists necessarily, it's a problem with the general understanding of what science is.

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The approach of the Mythbusters is the best approach. And perhaps people come to our forum looking to get the same kind of help. But at SFN, we are volunteers with jobs and lives who spend some minutes per day online to talk about what we think is interesting. That's a huge difference with the multi-million dollar TV show that is broadcast worldwide.

 

Also, the Mythbusters, by the nature of their TV show, are interested in things that are not likely to work.

 

So, while the Mythbusters say: "Ok, let's test it" (after dismissing many ideas, which they don't show on TV), on SFN we answer: "Ok, if we can test it from behind our computers, within a few minutes, let's do it, otherwise you test it, and show us". We cannot do anything else. No budget. No time.

 

I am sure that if someone would actually design a test, and show some results, interest would increase a lot. If we can investigate something within a reasonable amount of time (i.e. some minutes), we often do it. But if actual physical experiments need to be designed, you can forget about it.

 

People come here with a nice idea. They do not test it themselves. And when we also don't test it for them, they get upset. It's weird.

What other response do they expect from us? Of course we tell them to prove it. The only scientific alternative is that we prove it, and we don't have time or money to do that. Of course we bounce it back to the owner of the idea.

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So, while the Mythbusters say: "Ok, let's test it" (after dismissing many ideas, which they don't show on TV), on SFN we answer: "Ok, if we can test it from behind our computers, within a few minutes, let's do it, otherwise you test it, and show us". We cannot do anything else. No budget. No time.

 

I am sure that if someone would actually design a test, and show some results, interest would increase a lot. If we can investigate something within a reasonable amount of time (i.e. some minutes), we often do it. But if actual physical experiments need to be designed, you can forget about it.

 

People come here with a nice idea. They do not test it themselves. And when we also don't test it for them, they get upset. It's weird.

What other response do they expect from us? Of course we tell them to prove it. The only scientific alternative is that we prove it, and we don't have time or money to do that. Of course we bounce it back to the owner of the idea.

Bingo.

 

I agree with the OP that the original question is poorly framed — scientists look at new ideas all the time. It's just that the ones they look at show up in journals, and have met a basic burden of having a mathematical model and discussing ramifications, aka ways to test the idea. Discussions that appear hear typically lack one, if not both, of those attributes. And the prevailing attitude is that other people should do that work (all the while putting forth the assumption is that the idea is correct and questioning it is a personal affront to the poster)

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Swansont and CaptainPanic,

 

Excellent points.

 

A few of them should be incorporated into the template answer we can give to people. The main problem I'm addressing is that the question asker (but just as -- or even more importantly -- the lurker who's viewing) is given an opportunity from the very beginning to see all the variables at play. A standard format answer to their misunderstanding of science, a crisp, elegant reply that leaves no room for ambiguity and misinterpretation.

 

So that if the question asker then responds unreasonably, any reasonable onlooker is going to intuitively recognize 100% why the asker's further retorts get unceremoniously dismissed.

 

But also, keep in mind (also imatfaal) that I didn't request the we set up experiments for any question asked.

 

I only brought up math. Perhaps in the template answer, we can use an example with math to show how difficult it's for scientists to resolve a seeming conflict with a part of the Standard Model, and how there's other proper channels for inquiring about untested claims, maybe even with links and a concise etiquette guide. And if you're feeling generous, perhaps use some math to help them understand flaws in one of their basic assumptions or premises.

 

This kind of standard answer, if it became a habit for the scientific community to point others to, could be a tremendous opportunity for advancing science in the eyes of others.

 

.

 

(edit: in addition to math, I also brought up reviewing the observations)

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Scientists look at new ideas all the time. It's just that the ones they look at show up in journals [...].

To be pedantic: The majority of ideas I looked into never appeared in journals - they turned out to be wrong, useless, or just less promising than an alternative idea that I could spend my time working on. That said, I'm talking about humble solutions to "why do I get result X?" or hypotheses about "what happens if I toy around with Y?". Not mighty questions about Life, the Universe, and everything.

Edited by timo
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