The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

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

Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby doogles on January 18th, 2015, 6:09 am 

I think Braininvat is on the right track. I was closely involved with research for 40 of the 50 years of my working life, and I have to admit that the first time I ever heard of the term 'The Scientific Method" was in this post. All of the researchers I have known have used scientific rigour at every stage of their work, but I've never heard any discuss such a thing as 'The Scientific Method'.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby doogles on January 18th, 2015, 6:14 am 

Just to correct an error.

It was Allships I meant to praise. I caught Braininvat's name at the top left of the post as I glanced through them.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby dlorde on January 18th, 2015, 7:41 am 

AllShips » January 18th, 2015, 12:36 am wrote:... observation is not pure, different observers presented with precisely the same stimulus may see different things (consider the notorious duck/rabbit) ...


I think you misconstrue 'observation'. It is the collection of data (and often taken to include the analysis into information in which the interesting, unusual, or unexpected may be noticed). The fallibility of human senses is well understood, and the development and use of calibrated instruments and repeatable, reliable techniques of observation has been a feature of scientific observation since the early 19th century. One could say it is part of the scientific methodology ;)
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 18th, 2015, 10:53 am 

AllShips » Sat Jan 17, 2015 6:17 pm wrote:@ 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.


Supposing other posters tell you its real, does this mean that they advocate generating ideas (presumably referring to hypotheses) methodically? That's what I was objecting to. You critiqued dlorde, I think, for missing the point, only to guide him toward an opinion about the origin of ideas, At least that's how I was reading it.

Allships wrote: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.


I was a bit hasty regarding the burden idea, but what I was seeing in your critique of those who mounted a defense of TSM, treating it as if they were being dogmatic in its use, pinning them down to something they may not have intended. I'd agree that in critique one can pick out what someone says, interpret it and come up with certain ramifications. But, this should only be done as a way of prompting them to clarify, not as a sign that they've been wrong. They may not have thought the question through. Or they may not have understood the original question. Or they may have not clearly expressed what they had in mind. My reading of your critique is that you demanded of them that they assume a commitment to what they've writing that really isn't there. You're treating TSM as a ontological doctrine that must be adhered to if one is going to defend it. This was my objection. You were pressing them to adopt TSM in some dogmatic form.

Nobel prize winners or not, the topic is largely philosophical at this point, not so much empirical. I'd grant that different sciences may have different ways of doing things, some of which are much more methodical than others, and which may (will) have evolved over time. If the topic were to fall within the sociology of science, I would imagine that objections would arise respecting the methodology of (social) science being empirically determined by a self-serving evidence. In any case, respecting authority, philosophy is not exactly keen on accepting arguments from it.

Note that I welcome very much your penetrating questions in the area of the philosophy of science. The Scientific Method is one of those things that perhaps deserves such questions. How did it arise? How comest its need? Why is it important? I have the feeling that one needs some reason to think science is different than other disciplines and that they are not basing their work on groundless principles and unsound practices. It may be that they have a feeling self-importance that requires this, but it may be more practical, namely that there are folks out there with strong anti-science messages that interfere with the growth and success of science.

In any case, it may happen that developing a methodology can get out of hand. The Logical Empiricists came to think they were on the right track. If we could only follow these logical principles we could solve all the worlds problems. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating. Philosophers tend to want to figure out why science is different than other disciplines, so it isn't surprising that a number of ideas have been offered. No one should think, however, that philosophy is itself a science (notwithstanding that Kant sought to build one). Progress in philosophy lies largely in the background, perhaps changes in vocabulary of the educated, perhaps filtering down to the uneducated. It doesn't yield answers in any direct way. (Of course, those who have in mind a Philosophy of Life,, think of philosophers as sages who speak their wisdom in various adages they create.) In particular within science itself, especially following the development of the two pillars of 20th century physics, overthrowing previous theories, science needed something to cling to to assure itself that it was producing knowledge (if only within a certain theoretical framework, something that could be later challenged). Science found Popper's notion of 'falsification' adequate to that task. It works as long as it doesn't. And the longer it works the more comfortable they are that they are on the right track. Yes, they had to give up certainty, and their language changed relative to what they came to rely on, but they nonetheless came to regard it as a positive. That there are problems with Popper isn't so important in this regard. Nagel and Kuhn have certainly improved on Popper and science has been slow to move toward them, but to have put science on the carpet in order to beat them for not realizing the defects inherent in Popper seems like a fool's errand. It will happen when there's a good reason for a change.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 18th, 2015, 11:24 am 

A quick response to Allshiips response to my use of 'trial and error' I referred to it merely as a form or structure that can be placed on some methodology. I didn't consider it adequate to consider it that methodology. To begin with a trial is to emphasize the origin or starting point as within us, not the data itself.

One reason for thinking that we need data first is that this has been the approach of social and political sciences in blanketing us with it throughout the 20th century. We have a tremendous amount of information (data) about almost every thing we do or say we do. Data Gathering itself seems to take on a life of its own. The question then arises, what is the relation between information and knowledge. Well, what seems obvious to me (though I get part of this from the philosopher Fred Dretske who has developed an information-theoretic knowledge idea) is that we must adopt a conceptual framework that generates meaningful relations that can only be completed by having sufficient information that satisfy the requirements of what that knowledge encompasses. This is to say that to make progress, "knowledge" has to precede information, or at least useful information. And this, despite that all that information is out there. (One might argue that it really isn't information until it is made so by how our mind takes it in.)
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby TheVat on January 18th, 2015, 1:22 pm 

There seems to be a lot of semantic wrangling here, which is to be expected. I still think we need to heed Wittgenstein on the matter of categories - his notion of categories where no single unifying trait is common to all members yet we understand that all are joined by a "family resemblance." Though all the branches of the sciences have, as I suggested, their own idiosyncratic toolkits and methods, we can discern the family resemblances in terms of how observations are conducted, hypotheses are tested, fresh conjectures offered, etc. This thread of resemblance maybe shouldn't be called THE Method, but it does seem like something we can grasp.

Doogles, thanks for briefly thinking I was on to something. ;-)
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby dlorde on January 18th, 2015, 3:10 pm 

I'd second Braininvat's appeal to Wittgenstein, and add that it seems to me that TSM is more descriptive & general than prescriptive & specific.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby neuro on January 18th, 2015, 4:28 pm 

I'd like to offer a trivial contrbution to the debate.

First of all, I believe "The Scientific Method", if it exists, has nothing to do with generating hypotheses.
This is something we cannot but keep doing always and everywhere in the face of whatever happens.
A scientific approach (a method in evaluating hypotheses) may help in avoiding to build absurd or inconsistent hypotheses, which already would be a quite significant achievement.

Then, I think "The Scientific Method", if it exists, is not "a method to gain knowledge".
I believe the scientific method (or scientific approach) is a skeptical one, and although it may be used to gain knowledge, it actually helps only in an indirect way to this aim.
AllShips proposed the example of a cooking recipe: that actually is a method!

Well, suppose you are a gold searcher.
Somebody may teach you a method to find the gold.
But suppose you have no means, once you find something, to be sure t is gold.
If someone taught you, at least, a method to test whether somethng cannot by any means be gold...

Such a methd would markedly help you not to carry a lot of garbage with you.

Similarly, if you are looking for knowledge and nobody can gve you a gauge to test the truth, it would be good to have at least a method to test whether something cannot by any means be the truth...

A nice method simply is to imagine all the consequences of a possble "truth" (hypothesis) and check whether they occur or not.
This, in essence, is what one can call "The Scientific Method", at least AFAIK, and it is neither a "vague" nor a "useless" method.

Provided you do not try to use it to look for gold (or truth) but only to gauge whether what you found (hypothesized) MAY BE gold (true) or not.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 18th, 2015, 7:31 pm 

Don't forget that is a standard for behavior that anyone wanting to be taken seriously concerning their concept of physical reality should by social convention adhere to. Like all social conventions it is convoluted and difficult to apply.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 18th, 2015, 7:40 pm 

I live in a Chinese speaking part of the world. There is a commonly used proverb in Chinese which never fails to rattle my cage whenever I hear it. It translates roughly into "I would rather believe it is so than not so"; anathema to the judicial principle of "innocent until proven guilty" and to the scientific attitude of healthy skepticism until the weight of evidence compels acceptance.


Thanks once again to all who have commented. With no disrespect meant to anyone, I find myself somewhat in the position of the sole bewildered agnostic at an international religious convention. My fellow attendees eye me suspiciously -- wondering "what's wrong with that dude" -- all utterly convinced that their god or gods are real, but no two of them in agreement over details, and no one of them able to direct me to where I might find this god or gods.

Like any well behaved agnostic, I candidly acknowledge the possibility that I might be quite wrong in my skepticism. Perhaps your god is real. No one else does though. They're all certain. Their faith is unshakeable. Not one of them says "I believe, but I might be wrong".


I've read all your comments above carefully, and find much wisdom contained within, even if I don't address all remarks individually.

The last poster, Neuro, suggests that TSM might be better thought of an attitude or an approach; an approach of healthy skepticism. I'm sure there's much truth in this, even if an attitude is surely not the same kind of beast as a method.

But more to the point, I'm left wondering why do I see such precious little evidence of this attitude of healthy skepticism in my thread. Not one of the defenders of The Scientific Method has added "... but I might be wrong."
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby mtbturtle on January 18th, 2015, 8:35 pm 

AllShips,

I think if you read the introduction and first chapter to Pigliucci's book you'll have a start to an answer to your questions. No there is no THE method or set of necessary and sufficient criteria for Science.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 18th, 2015, 8:57 pm 

mtbturtle

I'm looking forward to reading it. Since you're ahead of me, perhaps you might share your discoveries with all of us.

I have read at quite some length on The Scientific Method though (I can recommend some other marvelous books if you want more). The position I've been advancing in this thread -- that there is no such thing as TSM -- is by no means rare or extreme in the philosophy of science, in fact, I suspect it may well be the dominant position these days.

I think it's also worth pointing out that, with all due respect to our scientist friends here, scientists are possibly not the best people to ask about The Scientific Method (OwlEye already hinted at this above). Scientists do science. Scientists don't get paid to spend their days ruminating over philosophical issues of methodology or conduct historical investigations into whether or not any commonalities can be identified among landmark achievements in science. Philosophers do.

This is not a turf claim on my part. I consider myself no more a philosopher than a scientist (and I doubt either side would want me anyway :) )

Who knows more about baseball than a baseball player, you might ask? Well, I suggest we'd be very foolish not to listen to what the players have to say. But surely we've all seen these Discovery Channel type investigations into the science of baseball.

In many cases, the players are simply misrepresenting what it is they think they're doing -- precisely as Peter Medawar suggested in the quote I posted.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 19th, 2015, 1:22 am 

AllShips I have addressed this issue before by suggesting that the scientific process is a reflection of the process of intelligent life. As an analogy take a micro organism. The organism moves toward an object that may be food. As it gets closer it tests this hypothesis by analyzing chemical signals. If the signals indeed identify the object as food it engulfs it. The organism will then have established a theory of certain types of objects being food if what it engulfs does not kill it and if it can subsequently identify similar objects.

The human mind develops in relationship to experience and while it is true that after some level of external experience it is capable of creating it's own experiences the foundation remain external stimulus. The scientific method simply implies that internal experience should be checked against external experience for confirmation. That is why I say philosophy should be restrained by science. That is not to say I'm hostile to philosophy and agree with the reason for continued philosophical work as elegantly explained by owleye. All I mean is that the imagination is wonderful and is essential to advancing science but it is experience that makes us wise.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 19th, 2015, 2:10 am 

wolfhnd

I'm not sure I understand your post, so forgive me if my response misses the mark. I get the impression that you're suggesting a bare bones outline of TSM along the lines of "Just Test Hypotheses, dammit" similar to what other posters have implied, I think. And with a formulation as basic as that how could we possibly go wrong?

Well, before we go any further, I'd point out that these "hypotheses" everyone keeps mentioning -- apparently taken for granted to be sine qua non in any discussion of method -- were anathema to the likes of earlier methodologists such as Newton and Mill. Speculative hypotheses, or conjectures to use Popper's jargon, had no place in science. They could not constitute any part of The Scientific Method.

Changed days indeed. Well, let's ignore all that. And let's ignore the problem of where these hypotheses are supposed to come from. Let's assume that we already have a hypothesis, and that the only demand made by TSM is to test it.

Well, how exactly do we do that? This is the equivalent of Mary following her cheesecake recipe; Step 1 : Prepare the specified ingredients (easy!); Step 2 : Make cheesecake (!).

Um, er, how? "Make cheesecake" is surely no more methodical than "test hypothesis". More detail is required. And as we add detail, we get into trouble.

You might say, for example, test your hypothesis by way of comparing the predictions of the hypothesis against Mother Nature (using direct observation, or perhaps an experiment). We'll also ignore the awkward question of where the inspiration for this experiment comes from; after all, the designing of an experiment would appear to be a creative rather than a methodical process (as with hypothesis formulation).

So far so good. Now what? How about this? : If there is a match between the predictions of your hypothesis and observation, the hypothesis may be considered as having attained some degree of confirmation and should be retained. If there is a mismatch, the hypothesis should be abandoned.

We might call this formulation of TSM naive falsificationism. The problem is, it simply does not capture what scientists in the real world do. Scientists do not simply and unfailingly abandon a hypothesis/theory in the face of prima facie disconfirmatory evidence. The Copernican model was not abandoned despite a theory-observation mismatch (lack of parallax effects in the stars, etc); Newtonian physics was not abandoned despite countless mismatches between theory and observation (the anomalous orbit of Mercury, etc). The list is endless. As Lakatos says, all theories are born refuted. They all contain anomalies.

Naive falsificationism is clearly not The Scientific Method. Or if it is, scientists don't follow it.

Back to the drawing board.

How exactly are we to test a hypothesis?
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 19th, 2015, 4:00 am 

Most of the time it's trial and error but we don't want to admit that :-)

The scientific method as I understand it is to make an observation, try and explain it, test if your explanation is valid, have other people repeat your test to validate your test. This is all done with the understand that there will always be a statistical aspect to your explanation as science deals with probabilities not absolutes. This relates to your reference to historical observations. While at one time they thought they were looking for laws it some became apparent they were looking for close fits. Newtons "laws" are sufficient depending on how concerned you are about your probabilities or accuracy. Classical physics explains some things sufficiently well to be useful in explaining other things if you don't need the accuracy of quantum mechanics. The fact that TSM is not one hundred percent reliable in no way invalidates it. It remains the most reliable method for acquiring knowledge about physical reality. In my example of a microbe most of the time what it believes is food will in fact be food but occasionally it will ingest something that is not food. As long as it ingest food more often than not it's working hypothesis is said to be reliable. How reliable well that is a question of probabilities.

The fact that scientist do not always report their work in terms of probabilities is a result of a variety of factors. An observation can be tested and confirmed even if the explanation is not validated. This can result in a high degree of uncertainty that is difficult to quantify in regards to how probable the tests will remain positive under varying conditions. If the explanation and tests are both confirmed then their is a high degree of probability that future test will be positive. When applying the test results to the "real" world there is always some degree of uncertainty because the conditions are said to be uncontrolled and a probability will be assigned to represent that uncertainty.

Randomness plays a part in all of this as it does with all aspects of life. Things are discovered due to random accidents, Some aspect of the environment may change randomly. But Random is an unfortunate choice of words that scientist should avoid. When a scientist says random he means unpredictable not the mathematical definition.

In it's simplest form TSM implies that it is more probable that a correct explanation will be devised if that explanation is based on prior knowledge and is tested. The other approach would be to test everything and hope by chance to find an explanation and that is in fact what actually happens a good percentage of the time. When "random" testing is used the results will still be retested under different conditions to assign a probability to the results.

It is not naive falsification because the test are repeated in most cases under varying conditions to assign a degree of probability that the explanation is most likely valid. There is nothing absolute about science nothing is expected to ever be one hundred percent explained or falsified. Abstract thinkers have a problem with this way of thinking. That is why mathematicians sometimes don't make good scientist. They insist on proofs that simply are not a property of the real world.

Let me give you an example that people use on me when I say I reject their absolutes.

Someone will say you will die that is an absolute "truth". The scientist will say what is the probability that i will die sooner or later and what will be the probable physical cause. The scientist is only interested in the practical aspects of the linguist abstraction (death) or the physical manifestations there of. Death is a scientific fact or a philosophical "truth" but the meaning is derived from references that the systems do not necessarily share. Science has no moral reference for death and philosophy has no physical definition of death. We spend most of our time in the philosophical world of absolutes because language is abstract and it is how we think we think. It is hard to remember that most things are only probable not certain.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 19th, 2015, 4:23 am 

wolfhnd

Well, thanks for the lengthy response, and with no disrespect intended, but it strikes me as just more of the same uninformative propaganda that always appears in a discussion of this type and that certain other members have posted too.

Something like... "Yes, it's not perfect, but it's the best we've got, and we're always looking to improve it, and it's better than religion, or fortune telling, and... and... and... blah blah"

In other words, it tells me a lot about what this putative method can and can't do. It simply presupposes that such a method exists which is supposed to be the very thing we're trying to establish in this thread!

Unfortunately, though, it doesn't tell me what the method is. Apparently NO ONE can tell me what the method is. Will somebody please oh please just give me an explicit step-by-step formulation of this method. Why is this apparently so hard to do?

Thanks and peace and love.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby Eclogite on January 19th, 2015, 6:22 am 

Allships, you are just being silly. Many here could provide detailed explanations of the scientific method as it is applied in many disciplines today. Some could talk about how it was applied yesterday.

The detail would be, potentially, overwhelming. When we extract the common aspects of each of these sets of details what we are left with is the simplification you seem so offended by. What troubles you about that.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 19th, 2015, 6:48 am 

If he is trouble over if TSM actual exists I can assure him that nothing he has ever thought he knew actually exists.


"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy"

Shakespeare


The thing itself is unknowable all we have is it's reflection in the minds eye.

wolfhnd :-)
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 19th, 2015, 7:11 am 

Eclogite » January 19th, 2015, 6:22 pm wrote:Allships, you are just being silly. Many here could provide detailed explanations of the scientific method as it is applied in many disciplines today. Some could talk about how it was applied yesterday.

The detail would be, potentially, overwhelming. When we extract the common aspects of each of these sets of details what we are left with is the simplification you seem so offended by. What troubles you about that.




Many here could? Well, not one has.

What troubles me? What troubles me is that when we get 100 defenders of TSM together in one room, not one of them seems able to tell me anything more explicit than "it's about testing stuff". And if they are forced to go into detail, we end up with 100 different versions of TSM. Meanwhile, the testimony of Nobel prize winning physicists and philosophers of science -- those people who devote careers to investigating this kind of thing -- is ignored or conveniently explained away.

What troubles me is that, while I have the greatest respect for all your various scientific qualifications, I'm getting the distinct impression that few or any here have actually read any books on the topic at hand, i.e. The Scientific Method. Or am I wrong? The one member who has, or is in the process of doing so -- mtbturtle -- has already affirmed what I've been suggesting, quote:

"I think if you read the introduction and first chapter to Pigliucci's book you'll have a start to an answer to your questions. No there is no THE method or set of necessary and sufficient criteria for Science."

Mtbturtle's testimony has also been conspicuously and conveniently ignored. The testimony of another poster (doogles) who claims he spent 40 years conducting scientific research yet hasn't a clue what The Scientific Method might be has been conveniently ignored too.

What troubles me is that if the topic was Bigfoot or alien abductions, we'd see enough healthy scientific skepticism to sink the Titanic. But as soon as the topic turns to The Scientific Method, it seems all I get is assertions of faith with not a shred of evidence adduced to show that all great scientific achievements have been the result of the application of a single common method.

Why don't we treat TSM as an empirical hypothesis, like any other scientific hypothesis? Why don't those who assert its existence please present their evidence?

Is this so much to ask?

I emphasize I mean no offence to anyone. But I am getting the feeling that many people here are taking an almost religious, instead of a scientific, attitude.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 19th, 2015, 7:24 am 

I reproduce below for your careful consideration part of the Medawar quote I posted on page 1. I'd say Medawar's remarks are remarkably poignant given events so far in this thread:

"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."
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby wolfhnd on January 19th, 2015, 8:12 am 

"In order that thinking might not degenerate into ‘metaphysics’, or into empty talk it is only necessary that enough propositions of the conceptual system be firmly enough connected with sensory experiences and that the conceptual system, in view of its task of ordering and surveying sense-experience, should show as much unity and parsimony as possible."

Einstein 1944

It's not that we don't know where you are trying to take us AllShips it's just not a nice place to visit.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby Eclogite on January 19th, 2015, 8:29 am 

AllShips » Mon Jan 19, 2015 6:11 am wrote:
Eclogite » January 19th, 2015, 6:22 pm wrote:Allships, you are just being silly. Many here could provide detailed explanations of the scientific method as it is applied in many disciplines today. Some could talk about how it was applied yesterday.

The detail would be, potentially, overwhelming. When we extract the common aspects of each of these sets of details what we are left with is the simplification you seem so offended by. What troubles you about that.




Many here could? Well, not one has.

What troubles me? What troubles me is that when we get 100 defenders of TSM together in one room, not one of them seems able to tell me anything more explicit than "it's about testing stuff".

This is precisely why I said you were being silly. You have implicitly rejected considering detailed explanations of method as they relate to any branch of science and have insisted upon us discussing a general, overarching description that is necessarily - well, general.

You appear to think that for the scientific method to exist it ought to be followed by scientists, as though as a recipe from a cookery book - an analogy I think you used earlier. That is why I am asserting you are being silly, or at least ill-informed.

The introduction of the idea of the scientific method is an attempt to provide a broad description of what scientists do, not to facilitate their doing of it. It is equivalent to a historian recording the events of history, while the politicians and generals create history.

The reason you find such diversity, indifference, disagreement or ignorance of the method is that, to the average and the exceptional scientist it is not actually very important. I can ride a bike, but have very little idea how I actually do it.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 19th, 2015, 9:02 am 

"The introduction of the idea of the scientific method is an attempt to provide a broad description of what scientists do, not to facilitate their doing of it."


Once again, with no disrespect intended, this is sheer nonsense and betrays a complete lack of reading on the topic. I would suggest that until the 1960s or so virtually all writing on The Scientific Method - from Bacon, through Descartes, Newton, Mill, Whewell, the logical positivists, and Popper -- was almost entirely normative. These thinkers are telling us how science ought to be done.

It was only with the so-called "historical turn" in the philosophy of science around the 1960s that researchers began in significant numbers to compare descriptions of the history of science with the prescriptions of the methodologists, finding as a consequence that they simply don't match up.

Kuhn showed that Popper's account was woefully inadequate. Lakatos, Laudan and others did the same to Kuhn. Feyerabend did likewise to all of them.

Owleye is a wise man who is obviously very well read. Why don't you ask him?

Just one final question : I've already conceded with humility that I might well be wrong about all I've said. How about you? Is there ANY possibility at all that you might be wrong and that there is really nothing we can properly refer to as The Scientific Method?

Or am I being silly again?
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby owleye on January 19th, 2015, 9:44 am 

Allships...Though I don't believe I've claimed the existence of the Scientific Method, I certainly haven't made it a sacred cow. Yet, as Eclogite has read into your critique, you seem to be thinking that we must be clinging to some unchanging dogma that keeps us from seeing the light. Again, you give us Medawar, as an appeal to authority. Why should we believe he represents what he purports to represent? Note that this is not to say that Medawar is wrong. I see you as taking a sledge-hammer approach to what constituents TSM just so you can knock it down, making it seem as if our responses totally miss the point of what constitutes your critique. To engage in a discussion, you are intentionally making those who don't align themselves with what you think the question is about as basically dense. You allow certain things to go through, something about skepticism, for example, but reject anything about hypothesis formation. On this latter score, your complaint is that it is too mysterious to be part of any method (at least that's my assessment, where TSM requires it to be methodologized). We can't be the adherents to TSM we are claiming to be.

To be more specific, sometimes this has been advanced as Hypothetical-Deduction portion of TSM, something I've seen in a text book, the point being that there is an objective to forming hypotheses, one that intends to move away from older notions of induction. Maybe those who advocate this are full of sh*t, but to think that it's some kind of religious attachment to this characterization seems to me to be missing the entire point of what many are advocating here. It might seem to be better to specify the TSM as clearly as possible, if we were believers in it, but supposing TSM were more of a vague undertaking, clarity itself may not be possible.

As mentioned in my first response, specific renderings of TSM are found within the early education of budding scientists. They aren't topics in science itself. They appear where they do as giving some kind of pedagogical support for what scientists are supposed to be doing. And, supposing science is in need of support, it looks to certain key ideas that have been promulgated, notably, falsification. One can beat a drum that informs us that falsification is not actually what science is about, but as far as I'm concerned, that's not particularly relevant The intent was to have a way of justifying what it is doing, and make it responsible for its success. If nothing is available (say TSM doesn't exist) then there's a sense in which science is stabbing in the dark, with no justification at all for its success. They've merely been lucky. It was blind luck that the Higgs Boson was uncovered, confirming (or not disconfirming) the theory that proposed it.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby mtbturtle on January 19th, 2015, 11:20 am 

Allships,

What you need is for a creationist or HIV denialist to show up and the floodgates of that is not science, that is pseudoscience would open wide. This despite the reluctance to state clearly what science is. Among the reasons Pigliucci gives for why the demarcation problem is important. Not for training future scientists, or for current scientists to recognize or do science, but for all of us to combat the dangers of psuedoscience.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby Eclogite on January 19th, 2015, 12:14 pm 

AllShips » Mon Jan 19, 2015 8:02 am wrote:"The introduction of the idea of the scientific method is an attempt to provide a broad description of what scientists do, not to facilitate their doing of it."


Once again, with no disrespect intended, this is sheer nonsense and betrays a complete lack of reading on the topic.
Two points:
1. Feel free to disrespect me all you wish. It would be as valid as your arguments thus far.

2. While I have done some minor reading of some of the "authorities" you mention, this is irrelevant. The specific methods in the sciences evolved through practice, independent of the description of them.

Now you assert these descriptions were normative. (It might be nice if you provided some evidence to support this assertion.) But so what? I am at a loss to see what point you are seeking to make.

It was only with the so-called "historical turn" in the philosophy of science around the 1960s that researchers began in significant numbers to compare descriptions of the history of science with the prescriptions of the methodologists, finding as a consequence that they simply don't match up.

Kuhn showed that Popper's account was woefully inadequate. Lakatos, Laudan and others did the same to Kuhn. Feyerabend did likewise to all of them.
Meanwhile scientists continued to go about their business in a continuously evolving manner that, when the common elements were considered, was conveniently called the scientific method.

Note: I find it difficult to take you seriously when you make claims such as "palaeontologists do not conduct experiments."

AllShips » Mon Jan 19, 2015 8:02 am wrote:Or am I being silly again?
Apparently so, for you continue to misunderstand the simplification involved in describing the scientific method, or the extent and manner in which attention to this simplification effects scientists in their work.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby dlorde on January 19th, 2015, 3:10 pm 

So, where are we?

Allships asked us what TSM is, we explained what we understand it to be. He said we're wrong, it doesn't exist.

We suggested he might be taking too narrow a view. He said we don't know what we're talking about, that we're blindly defending it, that he knows better because he's read all about it and we clearly haven't.

OK; I can't say I find that 'proof by assertion' especially convincing, but I haven't done all that background reading about it that he says he's done.

I do know that when I worked in medical research, we tried to follow a set of common guidelines for best practice, which until now, I'd thought were part of the 'scientific method'. Now I've been told there's no such thing, I'll just have accept that they were common guidelines for best practice that weren't part of the (non-existent) scientific method.

Meh <shrug>
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 19th, 2015, 5:32 pm 

dlorde » January 20th, 2015, 3:10 am wrote:So, where are we?

Allships asked us what TSM is, we explained what we understand it to be. He said we're wrong, it doesn't exist.

We suggested he might be taking too narrow a view. He said we don't know what we're talking about, that we're blindly defending it, that he knows better because he's read all about it and we clearly haven't.

OK; I can't say I find that 'proof by assertion' especially convincing, but I haven't done all that background reading about it that he says he's done.

I do know that when I worked in medical research, we tried to follow a set of common guidelines for best practice, which until now, I'd thought were part of the 'scientific method'. Now I've been told there's no such thing, I'll just have accept that they were common guidelines for best practice that weren't part of the (non-existent) scientific method.

Meh <shrug>




I don't find proof by assertion convincing either. Our topic is The Scientific Method. Several posters have asserted its existence. Not one has even begun to offer proof.

And with regards your final paragraph, it seems we're talking at cross purposes. I have stated several times that no one denies the obvious fact that scientists in various disciplines and at different times use a variety of methods for specific purposes. Perhaps sometimes you use litmus paper to test for the presence of an acid (Would you want to claim that this is The Scientific Method?). Perhaps you employ double-blind trials in the testing of pharmaceuticals. Very well. But quite obviously Darwin, Einstein, Newton and Copernicus did not.

This is not the question. The question is : Is there a single, common method that unites all the sciences, demarcates them from non-science (or pseudoscience or metaphysics or whatever), and explains the success of science?

The question is : Is it possible to identify a method or form of reasoning that characterizes all, or most of, the significant breakthroughs in scientific history?
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby dlorde on January 19th, 2015, 5:47 pm 

AllShips » January 19th, 2015, 9:32 pm wrote:This is not the question. The question is : Is there a single, common method that unites all the sciences, demarcates them from non-science (or pseudoscience or metaphysics or whatever), and explains the success of science?

The question is : Is it possible to identify a method or form of reasoning that characterizes all, or most of, the significant breakthroughs in scientific history?

I would nominate scepticism and critical thinking as characterising the reasoning underlying a scientific approach.

The idea that a single method can encompass all scientific fields and techniques and account for all or most significant scientific breakthroughs in history is naive - but let me know if you find an intelligent person who seriously thinks that is what TSM does.
Last edited by dlorde on January 19th, 2015, 5:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Scientific Method : Does It Exist?

Postby AllShips on January 19th, 2015, 5:50 pm 

@ Owleye

I'd like you to know that I think you are a man of uncommon learning and wisdom, I've profited immeasurably from studying your posts on this site, and I take your input and advice extremely seriously. As I write I am entertaining the possibility that you're right and my whole take on this topic is misguided. (although I see no one else adopt the slightest trace of intellectual humility)

With that said, I find the final few sentences of your post above almost unbelievable. The same can be said for mtbturtles's most recent post.

Owleye, you seem to be suggesting (more or less) that perhaps I should back off, because if indeed there is no such thing as TSM, the feelings of certain scientists might be hurt. Mtbturtle, meanwhile, seems to be implying that it might be dangerous if there is no such thing as TSM; this would constitute a victory for the enemies of science.

Frankly I care nothing for this. I only care about what's true.

I'm not religious. I have little sympathy for the Creationist cause. Likewise I'm a United fan. I like to see United win. But they must win in the right way. If the only way they can secure victory is through foul play, I'll boo them off the park.

Yes, I do see dogma here. Perhaps I should rename the thread "The Scientific Method: My Invisible Friend".


Oh, finally, I'm bewildered once again by your comment to the effect that supposing TSM doesn't exist, then the success of science can only be explained by luck. I don't see at all how this follows. I don't believe there is a Beatles Method or a Bob Dylan Method. Do you? Does that mean their success can only be imputed to luck? Surely not.
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