The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 15th, 2015, 6:12 pm 

Well, is there such a beast? And if so, what does it look like?

I'm curious what the consensus, if any, among members here might be. Recent decades of research in the philosophy of science cast doubt on the existence of anything we might call the scientific method. Many philosophers and scientists have written on the topic, but among those who affirm its existence, there seems little agreement on just what this method is.

Meanwhile countless scientifically inclined websites and textbooks continue to assert its existence and efficacy. Details are not always forthcoming, but when they are, tend to take the form of something dismayingly simplistic and hopelessly inadequate along the lines of:

1. Observe
2. Formulate hypothesis
3. Test hypothesis
4. Revise or abandon hypothesis

These days I'm sometimes told (e.g. see Wiki) that The Scientific Method refers not to one method, but to a collection of methods; a rather dubious assertion which -- more to the point -- would appear to defeat the whole purpose of positing a unique and unifying method in the first place.

If indeed, as I suspect myself, there is nothing we can properly call The Scientific Method, does not intellectual integrity demand that we stop propagating myths and come clean with the general public who, presumably. take its existence for granted?

I'll be happy to hear all opinions. Thanks.
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby Eclogite on January 16th, 2015, 3:10 am 

Complexity of any system can only be fully understood by those who are simultaneously immersed in the system, yet capable of examining it objectively from the outside. Consequently, simplifications are necessary in order to convey the general sense of the nature of the system. This is certainly true of the scientific method.

Here is an even simpler description of the method: the rigorous testing of observations and explanations of those observations in no particular order.

The bold part is the central element of the method; the italicised words are the point that is generally overlooked. As usually defined the scientific method is idealised. Reality is somewhat different. All the elements of the method are there, but the order can vary.

Should we do a better job of explaining that? Perhaps, but it is not, as you suggest, dishonest to use a simplified version.

And, keep in mind, the method itself is subject to evolution.
Eclogite
Forum Moderator
 
Posts: 1362
Joined: 07 Feb 2007
Location: Around and about


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 16th, 2015, 4:34 am 

Eclogite

Thanks for your interest. A couple of initial thoughts on your response.

1. I think we should first acknowledge that, just as with any other prized hypothesis, with a little ingenuity those so inclined can always find some way to defend The Scientific Method (TSM), or their own conception of it. As we all know though, the cost of salvaging a cherished notion through dubious tactics such as redefinition or making the concept so vague as to apply to almost anything (and thereby rendering it devoid of any explanatory power) may seem prohibitively high to those on the outside who are less devoted to it.

I'm afraid that your own explication of TSM above may fall into this category. You suggest that TSM might be the "rigorous testing of observations and explanations". Doesn't this strike you as excessively vague? Is this the kind of procedure we would really want to call a method? Does this capture the essence of what it is that all scientists do, and only scientists do, thereby explaining the success of science? Are scientists the only people who test hypotheses or explanations? (I'm not even sure what testing an observation might mean)

Compare, for example, a recipe for making a cheesecake, the epitome of a well-behaved, algorithmic method: simply follow the steps as outlined in the recipe and we can guarantee, or almost guarantee, that a cheesecake will be the result.

Now contrast this with a process to which we would presumably not want to attach the epithet 'method' : Hitting the lottery jackpot.

Step 1 : Buy (or otherwise obtain) a ticket
Step 2 : Check numbers against winning numbers
Step 3 : Collect the dosh or else goto Step 1

I take it that the steps above constitute necessary conditions for winning the lottery -- all previous winners did these things -- but surely the following of these steps does not make it certain, or even likely, that a win will ensue.

So, to recap, at one extreme we have a cheesecake recipe, an exemplary method, and at the other, the lottery strike, a process which I trust fails to earn the title 'method'.

I take it as obvious that the purpose of The Scientific Method as traditionally understood is to generate knowledge of the world. Can we agree on this much? Otherwise what is TSM supposed to do?

Now, having said all this, where exactly does your sketch of TSM fit in between these two extremes? If we follow your method (assuming it can even be followed at all; after all it seems overly vague) can we guarantee that knowledge will result? If not, what can we say? That knowledge is likely to result? That knowledge might result? (and as you see, we creep towards to lottery end of the continuum)

Supposing we commandeer a class of fifty science students, give them a year's paid leave from tuition, and instruct them, in accordance with your version of TSM, to go out into the world and "rigorously test observations and explanations of those observations in no particular order", what might we expect the result to be? With all due respect, I suspect we'd be met with fifty confused stares.



2. The second impression I elicit from your post is a kind of defense mechanism : (to paraphrase) "Only those involved in science can understand, or are qualified to speak on these matters". I'm happy to admit I'm not a scientist. But once again, with all due respect, this strikes me as a dubious gambit (eerily reminiscent of our religious friends who would rather keep outsider busybodies firmly out : only they can understand).

Rather than debate the merits of insularity, I'd simply point out that many scientists would disagree with your analysis that doing science is a methodical process, moreover ought not to be a methodical process, inasmuch as rigid adherence to a methodology -- supposing such a thing were even possible -- would act as an impediment to creativity and resourcefulness.

Here's what Nobel prize laureate Percy Bridgman has to say on TSM:

"Scientific method is something talked about by people standing on the outside and wondering how the scientist manages to do it....
What appears to [the working scientist] as the essence of the situation is that he is not consciously following any prescribed course of action, but feels complete freedom to utilize any method or device whatever which in the particular situation before him seems likely to yield the correct answer. In his attack on his specific problem he suffers no inhibitions of precedent or authority, but is completely free to adopt any course that his ingenuity is capable of suggesting to him. No one standing on the outside can predict what the individual scientist will do or what method he will follow. In short, science is what scientists do, and there are as many scientific methods as there are individual scientists."


Eclogite, how would you respond to remarks such as those above from distinguished scientists? Is Mr Bridgman simply wrong? What of those scientists and philosophers who, like yourself, do believe there is such a thing as The Scientific Method, but whose explication of it differs from your own? Are they simply wrong too?
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 16th, 2015, 5:46 am 

Just to say a little more...

It seems to me that the defender of The Scientific Method can either:

(i) be so vague that she can't possibly fail to describe, in a sense, what scientists do. For example, (and I exaggerate deliberately) TSM1 : "Get out there and find out stuff", or TSM2 : "Have ideas and test them". (cf "buy low sell high")

Does this describe what Newton, Darwin, Galileo, et al did? Presumably yes. Presumably it also describes what almost every non-scientist does too though. Meanwhile our TSM1 and TSM2 are entirely useless as a normative guide for how young aspiring scientists ought to conduct their inquiries. Yes, The Scientific Method can be defended, but only at the cost of robbing it of all explanatory teeth, and appearing as ridiculous as the astrologer who brags of his accurate prediction "Something will happen today."


or (ii) be more specific

This increase in explanatory power and normative guidance, however, seems inevitably to run the risk of yielding a version of TSM which is simply untrue. The more detail we add to our explication of The Scientific Method, the likelier it is that it will fail to describe what all scientists in all scientific disciplines, and only scientists, do.


Every attempt I've seen to articulate TSM suffers from this malady; it's either vacuously true and utterly useless, or else substantive but false.
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby Eclogite on January 16th, 2015, 8:14 am 

While I am composing a thorough reply to your thoughtful response, which may take a day or two, please reread my initial observations giving full consideration to the significance of words such as rigorous (with its implications of repeated replication of results, peer review and the like), or sentences such as "All the elements of the method are there, but the order can vary", which anticipates and agrees with Bridgman's remarks.
Eclogite
Forum Moderator
 
Posts: 1362
Joined: 07 Feb 2007
Location: Around and about


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby life_sucks on January 16th, 2015, 8:46 am 

My personal idea of the scientific method is to determine which method is more useful for scientific purposes, and to use it.
The standard scientific method is a method, which helps in learning, understanding and utilizing science, but from a limited perspective...
life_sucks
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 16th, 2015, 9:45 am 

life_sucks » January 16th, 2015, 8:46 pm wrote:My personal idea of the scientific method is to determine which method is more useful for scientific purposes, and to use it.


I think you've encapsulated real world science very nicely: the scientist in any given discipline will employ whatever method, techniques, or reasoning she thinks will get the job done. This also appears to be precisely what Percy Bridgman is saying above.

To call this The Scientific Method, though, I would suggest is to reduce the idea of method to absurdity. "Do whatever you think is best" is surely not what we would want to call a method.

No?
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby life_sucks on January 16th, 2015, 10:58 am 

But for that, you would have to define what you mean by a method.
I think that the definition is individual..
The method which seems absurd to one, may seem to be quite useful to another.
Scientists can use that method in their researches well, and so they call it a "method".
For other purposes like educating, a more strictly structured and definite system may be required, as provided for by the standard scientific method.[widely used in books, etc.]

In the end, it boils down to one's preference, and the output...
life_sucks
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby Eclogite on January 16th, 2015, 11:09 am 

Here is a holding question for All Ships: give me a single example of research that has not followed the simplified descriptions of the scientific method.
Eclogite
Forum Moderator
 
Posts: 1362
Joined: 07 Feb 2007
Location: Around and about


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby TheVat on January 16th, 2015, 11:43 am 

I always thought the simplicity and vagueness of the standard definition was its principal virtue. The 4 step list in the OP, not necessarily in that order, seems good to me. Not "vacuous" at all.

I also think of Wittgenstein's idea of defining things by "family resemblance" as applicable here to the range of specific methods.
User avatar
TheVat
Forum Administrator
 
Posts: 7191
Joined: 21 Jan 2014
Location: Black Hills


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby mtbturtle on January 16th, 2015, 11:51 am 

For an updated treatment of the demarcation problem those interested might take a look at Reconsidering the
Demarcation Problem Philosophy of Pseudoscience edited by Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry. Massimo also runs an excellent science and philosophy blog at Scientia Salon https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/.
User avatar
mtbturtle
Banned User
 
Posts: 9742
Joined: 16 Dec 2005


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 16th, 2015, 1:21 pm 

My sense of things, respecting the scientific method, is that it is borne from the success of science. And it is a success that is sufficient to have a methodology to it, otherwise it would splinter into a discipline that is not sufficiently unified to call it a science. There may very well be sciences that have yet to be successful (psychology?) and remain dominated by theoretical ideas, but to the extent to which a science is successful, it can not only predict outcomes from its theoretical reservoir, but explain them. Note that this doesn't imply that it can predict everything, or explain everything, but to the extent to which it does succeed in this, it must be due to how it achieved it. And while the Scientific Method, in its textbook account, may have flaws in it, it is not what constitutes the source of that success, but rather it is a derivative, perhaps taken up by philosophers, of that success, and thus becomes a best guess as to how the science has been successful, something that is an observation, perhaps even by self-reflection, were scientists engaged in it, that science wishes to teach to budding scientists. It is subject to change.
owleye
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 16th, 2015, 6:37 pm 

Eclogite » January 16th, 2015, 11:09 pm wrote:Here is a holding question for All Ships: give me a single example of research that has not followed the simplified descriptions of the scientific method.



Ok, let's take the simplistic model I sketched earlier which you'll still find flogged to death (much to my chagrin) on websites, textbooks, and the Discovery Channel, viz.


1. Observe

Ahem. Well, that rules out blind people. It rules in everyone else, as well as kangaroos and pterodactyls to boot. Not very helpful, I'd say.


2. Form hypothesis

This is tantamount to saying "have an idea". Once again, utterly useless. It would be equivalent to offering methodological advice to a writer or musician of the form "Have inspiration and write".

Of course, later methodologists drew a division between the "context of discovery" and the "context of justification", dismissing the former as irrational (non-methodical) and focusing on the latter. See below.


3. Test hypothesis

Once again, inasmuch as we're not told how, it would seem we're left in the non-methodological lurch. This step also seems to presuppose a Popperian "generate and filter" model for appraising hypotheses individually. But putative progress in real world science seems more relevant to determining which of two or more rival hypotheses is superior. How do we do this? Our "Method" is silent.

Once again, if we try to be less vague and introduce specifics -- say, test through experimentation -- the price may be intolerably high. Are we now to say that all those who do not perform experiments -- archaeologists, paleontologists, economists, astronomers, Darwin, Copernicus, etc, etc, -- are not doing science?

4. Revise or abandon hypothesis

Once again, too vague to be useful. And if we do go into details, as many methodologists have done, we get into trouble. Should we abandon our hypothesis at the first whiff of prima facie disconfirmatory evidence? Clearly, history tells a different story.



Other posters have mentioned peer review, for example. Are we to make this a necessary condition for doing science? Again, caveat emptor. Copernicus gets kicked out of the Good Science Club, while Creationists and palm readers are admitted providing they implement a system of peer review. And supposing Einstein, say, had NOT been peer reviewed, would we really want to conclude that he wasn't doing science?


Eclogite, in summary, it's hard to meet your challenge for precisely the reasons I outlined earlier: the model is simply too vague. It does appear to capture in some sense what science does. At the same time, though, it also appears to capture what car mechanics, police detectives, and hungry cats do too. The model passes muster perhaps, and allows the overzealous defender of The Scientific Method to boast of vindication, but only in the same sense, I suggest, as the astrologer who predicts "Something will happen today" can brag of his unfailing accuracy.

I think we'd need to be more specific. Don't you?
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 16th, 2015, 6:45 pm 

mtbturtle » January 16th, 2015, 11:51 pm wrote:For an updated treatment of the demarcation problem those interested might take a look at Reconsidering the
Demarcation Problem Philosophy of Pseudoscience edited by Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry. Massimo also runs an excellent science and philosophy blog at Scientia Salon https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/.



I have it here. Haven't read it yet though. What did you think of it?
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby mtbturtle on January 16th, 2015, 6:53 pm 

AllShips » Fri Jan 16, 2015 5:45 pm wrote:
mtbturtle » January 16th, 2015, 11:51 pm wrote:For an updated treatment of the demarcation problem those interested might take a look at Reconsidering the
Demarcation Problem Philosophy of Pseudoscience edited by Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry. Massimo also runs an excellent science and philosophy blog at Scientia Salon https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/.



I have it here. Haven't read it yet though. What did you think of it?


Only started it. I like Massimo's writing and approach from his blogs.
User avatar
mtbturtle
Banned User
 
Posts: 9742
Joined: 16 Dec 2005


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 16th, 2015, 7:00 pm 

Here's another Nobel prize winner, Peter Medawar, on method:

"Darwin's self-deception is one that nearly all scientists practice, for they are not in the habit of thinking about matters of methodological policy. Ask a scientist what he conceives the scientific method to be, and he will adopt an expression that is at once solemn and shifty-eyed: solemn, because he feels he ought to declare an opinion; shifty-eyed because he is wondering how to conceal the fact that he has no opinion to declare. If taunted he would probably mumble something about 'Induction' and 'Establishing the Laws of Nature', but if anyone working in a laboratory professed to be trying to establish Laws of Nature by induction we should begin to think he was overdue for leave."

and...

"You must admit that this adds up to an extraordinary state of affairs. Science, broadly considered, is incomparably the most successful enterprise human beings have ever engaged upon; yet the methodology that has presumably made it so, when propounded by learned laymen, is not attended to by scientists, and when propounded by scientists is a misrepresentation of what they do. Only a minority of scientists have received instruction in scientific methodology, and those that have done seem no better off."
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 16th, 2015, 8:32 pm 

AllShips » Fri Jan 16, 2015 5:00 pm wrote:Here's another Nobel prize winner, Peter Medawar, on method:
and...

"You must admit that this adds up to an extraordinary state of affairs. Science, broadly considered, is incomparably the most successful enterprise human beings have ever engaged upon; yet the methodology that has presumably made it so, when propounded by learned laymen, is not attended to by scientists, and when propounded by scientists is a misrepresentation of what they do. Only a minority of scientists have received instruction in scientific methodology, and those that have done seem no better off."


Hmm... I'm not entirely convinced that "only a minority of scientists have received instruction in scientific methodology." I say this because it seems to play a role in the early education of a scientist, when one is not yet a scientist. To become a scientist, besides the growing amount of knowledge (information) accruing to it that which needs to be learned, requires a certain discipline that is dedicated to becoming one. Pedagogically, then, the scientific method represents that discipline. I suppose mere curiosity is a sufficient motivator, but as the science comes to be more or less institutionalized, it may be necessary to weed out the merely curious. More than that, I suppose, because the science itself is intentionally divided into parts (e.g., testing, theorizing), it means that budding scientists will see themselves as better suited to one part rather than another. The implication here is that parts are comprised of separate individuals because there is a need to avoid any contamination that might accrue to having individuals who have developed their own theories test them. (Similarly for other parts, not given).

However, beyond its pedagogical merit(?) what actually passes for how scientists actually work when they are conducting science may or may not conform to how they are originally taught.
owleye
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby dlorde on January 16th, 2015, 8:42 pm 

AllShips » January 16th, 2015, 10:37 pm wrote:1. Observe

Ahem. Well, that rules out blind people. It rules in everyone else, as well as kangaroos and pterodactyls to boot. Not very helpful, I'd say.

Well, no. Observation is not restricted to vision; and in this context it implies obtaining data or information that seems to require explanation.

2. Form hypothesis

This is tantamount to saying "have an idea". Once again, utterly useless. It would be equivalent to offering methodological advice to a writer or musician of the form "Have inspiration and write".

Not really. An hypothesis is a particular kind of idea. In this context, it's a testable idea that's intended to explain or help explain the observation.

And so-on.
dlorde
Member
 
Posts: 886
Joined: 15 Jul 2009


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 16th, 2015, 9:10 pm 

Owleye,

I'm always delighted when you're around to share your wisdom. You point out -- as Kuhn did -- that science is largely a social activity.

I've no doubt you've read Kuhn, and if I'm understanding him correctly, he would argue that aspiring scientists are not taught any explicit rules or methodology, but rather are taught through exemplars. Physicists working under one particular paradigm would look to Newton, say, for guidance on how physics ought to be done; biologists meanwhile, presumably look to Darwin, and so on and so forth for the various scientific disciplines.

It is the paradigm, then, that determines norms and standards of method and evidentiary propriety. The problem, of course, though is that paradigms vary across disciplines and through time in any given discipline. Therefore there is no unity or constancy of "Method".

The best Kuhn could come up with to defend science against accusations of relativism was a set of five or so "virtues" of a good theory which supposedly transcend upheavals at the local level. And "virtues" do not appear to be the kind of beast either that we would want to call method.

Am I reading Kuhn correctly, Owleyes? Do you find his account convincing?

The most convincing account of all that I've read regarding scientific rationality or method is offered by Imre Lakatos, but at the end of the day, I still incline towards Feyerabend's "anything goes" as the only plausible description for the history of scientific progress.

And why not? It appears that any suggestion of methodological anarchy sends shivers up the spines of scientists everywhere for reasons I don't quite understand. Why is it so important that there be a unifying, universal, rigid method of science? Musicians and composers seem to get by just fine without a Universal Method of Music.

Remember MacGyver? In every episode he would be captured by the baddies, locked up in a storeroom ("We'll be back to finish you off later"), and would invariably escape through his ingenuity and knowledge of science. MacGyver was a smart chappie. He prevailed time after time. But would it be possible to identify a "MacGyver Method"?

Sounds implausible to me. Unless, of course, we make the method so vague that it can't possibly fail to capture what he does. "Be smart", "Have good ideas", etc ... and we're back to the central issue of this thread. How exactly is one supposed to "have a good idea"?

Is it so important that there be a MacGyver Method?
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 16th, 2015, 9:36 pm 

dlorde » January 17th, 2015, 8:42 am wrote:
AllShips » January 16th, 2015, 10:37 pm wrote:
2. Form hypothesis

This is tantamount to saying "have an idea". Once again, utterly useless. It would be equivalent to offering methodological advice to a writer or musician of the form "Have inspiration and write".

Not really. An hypothesis is a particular kind of idea. In this context, it's a testable idea that's intended to explain or help explain the observation.



This objection clearly misses the main point; namely, how is this idea -- no matter how you choose to characterize it -- to be generated methodically?



To say a little more though....

Well, the Intelligent Design folks (of which I'm not one, I hasten add for health reasons) also produce hypotheses which are apparently testable. They had a hypothesis about "irreducible complexity" which supposedly demonstrated the inadequacy of Darwinian natural selection.

As I understand it, the consensus among the mainstream scientific community is that Darwinian processes are perfectly adequate, thank you very much, to explain the cases of putative irreducible complexity adduced by the ID people. It would appear, then, that the ID folks produced a testable hypothesis which has been refuted to the satisfaction of mainstream scientists. (If it's untestable, how could it be refuted?)

Why, then, am I invariably told -- in no uncertain terms -- that these people are not doing science?

On the other hand, when Stephen Jay Gould, say, challenges evolutionary orthodoxy, no one would ever suggest that he's not doing science.
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 17th, 2015, 9:02 am 

AllShips » Fri Jan 16, 2015 7:36 pm wrote:
dlorde » January 17th, 2015, 8:42 am wrote:Not really. An hypothesis is a particular kind of idea. In this context, it's a testable idea that's intended to explain or help explain the observation.



This objection clearly misses the main point; namely, how is this idea -- no matter how you choose to characterize it -- to be generated methodically?


Hmm...
What sort of methodological requirements are you imposing on science that demands that ideas be generated methodically? Is there someone out there that is making these demands and you are just passing them along? If you need some structure to it, why not consider it trial and error? You seem to want to get into the psychology of science, something I don't think is going to be all that constructive. This, despite that in my experience, there does seem to be a front that scientists observe in so far as they wish to be objective. Journal articles tend to omit all references to the people who actually do the work involved in the article, save perhaps mentioning them on the cover. The idea is that presumably anyone in their shoes would have obtained the same results.



Allships wrote:To say a little more though....

Well, the Intelligent Design folks (of which I'm not one, I hasten add for health reasons) also produce hypotheses which are apparently testable. They had a hypothesis about "irreducible complexity" which supposedly demonstrated the inadequacy of Darwinian natural selection.

As I understand it, the consensus among the mainstream scientific community is that Darwinian processes are perfectly adequate, thank you very much, to explain the cases of putative irreducible complexity adduced by the ID people. It would appear, then, that the ID folks produced a testable hypothesis which has been refuted to the satisfaction of mainstream scientists. (If it's untestable, how could it be refuted?)


If Darwinian natural selection inadequacy were demonstrated, it would certainly create a major problem for biology. One may wonder about the strength of that demonstration. It is not uncommon that science will resist major changes in its theoretical underpinnings, so it would have to be pretty strong demonstration. The predictions and explanations associated with demonstration would have to be a marked advance over current theory. Clutch sizes of birds, for example, in various habitats, are (statistically) predictable through the use Darwinian analysis. Would this new theory do any better? It's my understanding that ID advocates don't actually consider their theory as forming predictions. They merely regard it as intelligently designed. It's true that Darwinian advocates, of which the entire scientific community adheres, doesn't always draw on its predictive capability, instead relying on its explanatory framework, but this doesn't mean it is entirely absent either. Biology covers a lot more than just the life on this planet. It gets involved in its environment as well.

Anyway, this is not the place to defend Darwinian science against alternative theories. To even consider Intelligent Design a science seems to go way beyond what science is about. There has to be something missing in your analysis that requires ID to be considered a science. And the burden I should think would fall upon those who would characterize science just so it should be included. You seem to be making he scientific method some kind of dogma.

Allships wrote:Why, then, am I invariably told -- in no uncertain terms -- that these people are not doing science?


I'm on that bandwagon. Were it an acceptable science, and an actual alternative to Darwinian evolution, there would be some sort of testing regime that would discriminate the two. So far as I can tell, ID has no testing regime at all that it could apply. Darwin's main concern when he came up with his theory was that there may not have been enough time for all of life to have evolved. It was only later that it was found that there was enough time, at least respecting what has been determined to have been the origin of life on this planet. ID merely posits its claims, with no requirement to test them empirically. How one can call this a science, I have no idea, especially since Darwinian principles have been so successful.

Allships wrote:On the other hand, when Stephen Jay Gould, say, challenges evolutionary orthodoxy, no one would ever suggest that he's not doing science.


Well, individuals may be scientists, though in this case, it might be better to call them theorists. Considerations of group selection are not outside the mainstream of Darwinian evolution, but so far have not found its way into mainstream biology (as far as I know anyway). Cooperation can be handled in other ways than adapting a group policy. In any case, there remains a debate on this topic within biology, one that doesn't overturn Darwinism, but merely challenges one of its main pathways.
owleye
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby dlorde on January 17th, 2015, 10:45 am 

AllShips » January 17th, 2015, 1:36 am wrote:... how is this idea -- no matter how you choose to characterize it -- to be generated methodically?

Well I can't give you a methodology of scientific creativity and inspiration, if that's what you're asking for, but explanatory ideas may be generated by making use of our knowledge and experience to find similarities or relationships between the observation and what we already know, expect, or have previously considered. If we can't find direct relationships or similarities, we can try to generalise, looking for analogous patterns beyond the immediate field of interest, etc.

In my experience, a number of potential explanations may be generated, which are informally ranked according to estimated probability, testability, and 'promise' or interest, for attention. I don't think it's much different in principle from the sort of idea generation we do in everyday life - for example, if you're home alone and you hear a thump from another room, you'll generate a number of possible explanations based on your knowledge and experience of the causes of thumps in particular, or the causes of sounds in empty houses in general.

It would appear, then, that the ID folks produced a testable hypothesis which has been refuted to the satisfaction of mainstream scientists. (If it's untestable, how could it be refuted?)

Why, then, am I invariably told -- in no uncertain terms -- that these people are not doing science?

Why don't you ask the people who 'invariably' tell you that?

Perhaps they think that science is about trying to find explanations for our observations, rather than trying to find observations that match our beliefs. I can imagine that someone who thinks ID'ers are trying to find support for their unfalsifiable belief in an intelligent designer would think it unscientific; or that it's unscientific to claim that the unexplained supports that hypothesis; or that having seen ID arguments that misunderstand or misrepresent the science, they feel they don't have the knowledge or understanding to take a scientific approach, or that if they understood the science, they wouldn't find the items they choose to be beyond possible evolutionary explanation. Or maybe they see ID as a pseudoscientific 'God of the gaps' argument, and that ID is pseudoscience because it starts with an unfalsifiable assertion and tries to find evidence to support it.

On the other hand, when Stephen Jay Gould, say, challenges evolutionary orthodoxy, no one would ever suggest that he's not doing science.

Perhaps that's because he appears to be trying to refine the existing model to more closely match his observations and have greater explanatory power, which is consistent with scientific enterprise. He also has a known history of expertise in the field, so he is taken more seriously than those who haven't.

Let's not forget that this is a human endeavour, with all the human issues of honesty, emotion, trust, ethics, group-think, obsession, desire for attention, authority, power, etc. Even within the scientific community, people accuse each other of pseudoscience, ulterior motives, dishonesty, etc., and even eminent scientists can cross over from doing high quality science to pseudoscience.
dlorde
Member
 
Posts: 886
Joined: 15 Jul 2009
Eclogite liked this post


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby TheVat on January 17th, 2015, 12:48 pm 

Put an S after method, that helps. Without the S, i. e. having an umbrella that covers taxonomy, string theory, ethology, vulcanology, astrophysics, biochemistry, chaos theory, etc. will have to be vague.
User avatar
TheVat
Forum Administrator
 
Posts: 7191
Joined: 21 Jan 2014
Location: Black Hills


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 17th, 2015, 2:14 pm 

dlorde...

I'm not sure there is a consensus among scientists that they are driven by what they observe. Though I recall one text book example of the scientific method began with data gathering, the hypothesis formation doesn't necessarily begin with an examination of the data, in the sense that it going to be the determining factor in developing the theory. Empiricists of a certain stripe are inclined to think that we are mere receptacles that absorb the data and, by means of association or some other way our mind works on incoming data, develop theories that account for that data. This idea, in some sense goes way back to Bacon. British Empiricists seemed to light on the idea that we are empty vessels until we receive input from the world.

This may be the case, but there's an alternative view, perhaps originating with Immanuel Kant, who deemed it his version of the Copernican Revolution, wherein we impose the order on what we observe prior to considering whether that order is meaningful. It becomes more of a trial and error approach, rather than a blank slate absorbing what data is presented to us. We ask questions of nature to which nature must respond, rather than having nature inform us with what its about. Indeed, in some cases, say the Dirac solution to quantum theory's need to consider relativity theory, there was no consideration whatsoever given to actual data. And I think Dirac was proud of that feature of his work.

No matter, in the end, however science actually gets the job done, I think it fair to say that evidence reigns supreme.
owleye
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby dlorde on January 17th, 2015, 3:00 pm 

owleye » January 17th, 2015, 6:14 pm wrote:I'm not sure there is a consensus among scientists that they are driven by what they observe.

The way I see it, the fundamental purpose of science is to gain knowledge about the world and attempt to model how it behaves. The only information we obtain about the world comes via observation, so regardless of consensus, observation comes first. I'm curious to know how else it could work.

Though I recall one text book example of the scientific method began with data gathering, the hypothesis formation doesn't necessarily begin with an examination of the data, in the sense that it going to be the determining factor in developing the theory.

If the hypothesis is intended to explain the data, where else should it start?

This may be the case, but there's an alternative view, perhaps originating with Immanuel Kant, who deemed it his version of the Copernican Revolution, wherein we impose the order on what we observe prior to considering whether that order is meaningful. It becomes more of a trial and error approach, rather than a blank slate absorbing what data is presented to us. We ask questions of nature to which nature must respond, rather than having nature inform us with what its about. Indeed, in some cases, say the Dirac solution to quantum theory's need to consider relativity theory, there was no consideration whatsoever given to actual data. And I think Dirac was proud of that feature of his work.

I don't really see the relevance of this. Kant's 'Copernican Revolution' was a metaphysical experiment (his description) concerning the intuition of objects - that our experience of objects must conform to our a-priori concepts of space, time, substance, and causality, and that we cannot address what lies beyond our experience, the 'thing in itself'. It seems to me that science is the attempt to address the contents of our experience, it says (and can say) nothing about 'reality', i.e. things in themselves, but models the behaviour of the objects we experience, structured by our rules of understanding, in terms of the concepts of space, time, substance, and causality.

As in much of theoretical physics, Dirac worked at a level of abstraction from real-world data; his data was the theories themselves; he observed interesting relationships and analogies between them, and formulated and tested mathematical hypotheses to explain them.

No matter, in the end, however science actually gets the job done, I think it fair to say that evidence reigns supreme.

It is the ultimate arbiter.
dlorde
Member
 
Posts: 886
Joined: 15 Jul 2009


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 17th, 2015, 8:14 pm 

Thanks to all who've posted. I'd like to make some general comments first before addressing individually the valuable insights made by each contributor.

Firstly, I'd point out that we already see happening in this thread is what usually happens in discussions of this type. First of all, all the devotees of science (and I'm by no means anti-science; perhaps just less obviously passionate than other members) will affirm that The Scientific Method (TSM) is real. But if or when we get down to the nitty-gritty of what exactly it might look like, no two people seem able to agree.

It seems I'm the only skeptic among us. Everyone else is apparently convinced of the reality of TSM, yet no one so far has actually laid out a complete formulation of TSM for me to critique. I cannot possibly attempt to identify the inadequacies of any particular version of TSM until you tell me precisely what it is. Why can no one just explicitly list the steps of this Method for me?

No one has even told me what general form this Method takes. Is it a method for generating and appraising hypotheses/theories? Or only for appraising them?

Eclogite implied (in his/her first post) that, unfortunately for people like myself, TSM is so esoteric that only those immersed within are able to fully apprehend it. Well, I've quoted two Nobel prize-winning immersees who claim TSM does not exist, yet everyone here seems eager to sweep this unpleasant evidence under the carpet, or otherwise explain it away. Is it utterly impossible that Bridgman and Medawar are right?

To be clear, I am not denying the achievements of science. What I am denying (although perfectly amenable to persuasion that I'm wrong) is that these achievements have been produced methodically; that they all result from the application of a single shared method. What I am denying is that science is in possession of a unique method allowing it to reliably generate knowledge of the world. Presumably no one denies the ability of the Beatles, and other bands, to produce hit song after hit song, but I would certainly want to deny that they do so methodically. (Otherwise I'd be using their method and getting filthy rich)

It appears we have very different notions of what constitutes a method. Life_sucks suggested that TSM is some kind of "Do whatever comes to mind". OwlEye mentioned trial and error. I fail to see how these could possibly be construed as a method. Surely trial and error is the kind of tactic people are forced to adopt when no reliable method is available.

Consider the pre and post Heimlich manoeuvre days. Which of the following do you consider more appropriate? (paramedics, calm down; what follows is for illustrative purposes only. I've no idea how factually accurate it is)

(i) Before the discovery of the Heimlich manoeuvre, which reliably dislodges food stuck in the windpipe, we used a method known as the Get-Stuff-Out-The-Throat-Method (GSOTM). GSOTM is very esoteric and hard to articulate explicitly. It would sometimes involve thumping the victim on the back, turning him upside-down, forcing our fingers down his throat, or perhaps all of the above in no particular order, etc, etc.

(ii) Before the discovery of the Heimlich manoeuvre, we had no reliable method for removing food stuck in the windpipe.
Last edited by AllShips on January 17th, 2015, 9:26 pm, edited 4 times in total.
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 17th, 2015, 8:17 pm 

@ Owleye. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

You said - "What sort of methodological requirements are you imposing on science that demands that ideas be generated methodically? Is there someone out there that is making these demands and you are just passing them along?"

I find this very puzzling. I'm making no demands. Other posters tell me TSM is real. I'm skeptical. I'd just like for someone to tell me what it is.

You said - "And the burden I should think would fall upon those who would characterize science just so it should be included. You seem to be making he scientific method some kind of dogma."

Again, with all due respect, I'm puzzled. Yes, I agree, the burden should fall on the person who dismisses ID (or whatever) as unscientific to specify how that which is scientific is to be demarcated from that which is not. That person is not me.

Dogma? It's of no importance to me whether TSM is real or not. I have no pro or anti science agenda. I'm simply an ordinary Joe who enjoys reading and would like to describe science accurately, even if that involves painting in a few warts. I'm not the one asserting the existence of an entity yet unable to show other people what it is. I'm not the one blithely dismissing the testimony of Nobel prize-winning scientists.

But yes, we should probably avoid the topic of ID and Creationism lest a riot break out :) .
Last edited by AllShips on January 17th, 2015, 8:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 17th, 2015, 8:26 pm 

@ dlorde. Thanks for your comments.

You said : (sorry, I'm having difficulty with the quote function. Is there a tutorial somewhere?)

QUOTE
"Well I can't give you a methodology of scientific creativity and inspiration, if that's what you're asking for, but explanatory ideas may be generated by making use of our knowledge and experience to find similarities or relationships between the observation and what we already know, expect, or have previously considered. If we can't find direct relationships or similarities, we can try to generalise, looking for analogous patterns beyond the immediate field of interest, etc.

In my experience, a number of potential explanations may be generated, which are informally ranked according to estimated probability, testability, and 'promise' or interest, for attention. I don't think it's much different in principle from the sort of idea generation we do in everyday life - for example, if you're home alone and you hear a thump from another room, you'll generate a number of possible explanations based on your knowledge and experience of the causes of thumps in particular, or the causes of sounds in empty houses in general."
UNQUOTE




Well, is there a method of generating hypotheses or not? Newton, Mill, et al say yes. Popper et al say no. Who's right?

Next you mention generalizations from observation, in other words inductivism. Again, Newton and Mill would have slapped you on the back and declared "That's it! That is The Scientific Method"

Unfortunately inductivism as a candidate for TSM is well and truly dead these days, I believe. Induction, as you point out, is a more-of-the-same inference. We infer from "all observed emeralds are green" to "all emeralds are green", or from "all observed planets move in ellipses" to "all planets move in ellipses".

You'll notice that the terms in the conclusion of an inductive inference are the same as those in the premises. Nothing new appears. Inductivism therefore must be rejected as a candidate for TSM insofar as (among other things) it fails to explain the appearance of unobservables (atoms, quarks, genes, etc) in scientific theories. How can an inductive generalization lead to atoms?

In your second paragraph, you're referring to what's known as "Inference to the Best Explanation" (IBE) - another candidate for TSM (although you still don't explain the method for generating these rival hypotheses). IBE helps explain the appearance of unobservables in scientific theories, but comes with a host of problems of its own. Once again we face the same old problem. There are some who do champion IBE as a candidate for The Scientific Method, but many others who demur.

Do you see what I'm saying? For every person who claims inductivism (Newton) just is The Scientific Method, there is another who will tell him he's wrong; it's deduction (Descartes), or another who will assert a hypothetico-deductive model (Whewell, Popper), another who invokes paradigms (Kuhn), or Inference to the Best Explantion, or Bayesianism, or.... those such as Bridgman, Medawar, and Feyerabend who deny TSM altogether.

They cannot all be right. But of course, each one is convinced that HE is.
Last edited by AllShips on January 17th, 2015, 8:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
AllShips
 


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 17th, 2015, 8:30 pm 

@ Braininvat

In response to your remarks (thanks), I'll reproduce below a blog I wrote somewhere else:



That elusive beast known as The Scientific Method (TSM) as traditionally conceived is supposedly a timeless, unchanging, overarching method for reliably generating knowledge of the world. It CHARACTERIZES science. It unites all the sciences, serves as a demarcation criterion to distinguish science from non-science or pseudo-science, and explains the success of science.

The last few decades of research in the philosophy of science has shown this to be a difficult -- some would say impossible -- position to defend. It's simply not supported by the facts. Chances are there is no such thing as The Scientific Method as traditionally construed. At the very least, we can say no one has yet been able to identify it.

(No one denies the obvious fact that scientists in their respective disciplines employ a variety of methods for specific purposes, but that's not the question. We want to know: Is there a method OF DOING SCIENCE?)

Many people (Discovery Channel et al) still go about their business of propagating the myth of TSM unhindered by scholarly advancement. Those of a higher degree of philosophical sophistication recognize the problem, but are often not quite willing to simply abandon --with dignity -- TSM as a myth. Instead, they attempt to salvage the concept with a little tinkering.

You'll sometimes be told these days : "Oh, surely you didn't think there was just ONE method. There are lots of them." (Wiki shows hints of this)

Now, the price to be paid for this kind of legerdemain is substantial. If TSM is so important to you that it must be defended at any cost, then of course you're free to resort to REDEFINITION to "fix" the problem. It's an old trick. The price, though, is that a substantive concept is reduced to triviality. In lieu of the definition I gave at the start, TSM now becomes -- "The collective name for ALL methods used by scientists."

TSM is saved, if you want to call it that, but it re-emerges from its methodological cocoon now as an eviscerated lame duck. We have defeated the whole purpose of advancing the concept in the first place, and are left with a shell. It can no longer aspire to unite the sciences or demarcate science from non-science; nor can it explain the success of science. It does nothing.

And the answer to the question -- "Is there such a thing as The Scientific Method?" -- becomes TRIVIALLY "yes". It cannot fail to be true. No investigation is required.
AllShips
 
doogles liked this post


Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 17th, 2015, 8:36 pm 

I could ramble on all day (I'd love to comment on the fascinating exchange between Owleye and Dlorde : I think Owleye is dead right; observation is not pure, different observers presented with precisely the same stimulus may see different things (consider the notorious duck/rabbit) And the production of scientific hypotheses/theories is a creative, as opposed to a methodical, act) but I'd better shut up before I get accused of long-windedness LOL.

Thanks again to all. It's a marvelous topic.
AllShips
 


Next

Return to Philosophy of Science

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests