What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

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

Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby wolfhnd on January 30th, 2015, 11:23 am 

Eclogite » Fri Jan 30, 2015 3:12 pm wrote:He may be trying to say: "Philosophers are seeking to pin down the truth, which they take to be unitary. Scientists are exploring the truth and therefore must keep an open mind."


Or I could just be an idiot ;-).

What I was trying to say MTB is that the logical inconsistency they are trying to resolve require a wait and see attitude. It isn't clear to me they will settle on falsification or testability and even if they do settle on testability, testability without falsification may require some fairly elaborate foot work.

I didn't mean to annoy you or be a smart ass?
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 30th, 2015, 12:07 pm 

Eclogite » Fri Jan 30, 2015 1:21 am wrote:Marshall, it seems to me that the points you raise here are not so much about what the rules defining science are, but whether those rules are being followed in a specific instance. Have you explored that possibility in your mind?


Good question! Thanks for what I think is a real contribution. I assume you read the Silk Ellis paper, if not please do!
1. since words are subject to subtle differences of interpretation, I don't know what the written laws mean until I see them argued in court and specific cases decided. theory and practice have to go together. I don't know what are actually the rules until I see them in action.

2. one of the things S&E object to is prominent people explicitly arguing the need to change the rules. Eg Sean Carroll, they mention. Also David Gross (a kind of string godfather) has been urging people to read Dawid's book which explicitly argues the need to relax standards. There was just a conference in Jerusalem earlier this month, honoring Einstein and 100 years of GR where he was the main organizer/star speaker/moderator. I watched some of the videos of talks and he was again pushing Dawid's book and the relaxation of standards.

3.So yes, I have thought some about different ways you can look at what is going on. there is a strong movement to change the wording of the rules. So what the prevailing SAYINGS should be is in question (and needs to be settled in conference by the traditional polite combat that science has developed over the centuries). But also it should be noted that people do not follow rules in any precise way. They fudge. They fool themselves. They stretch meanings. You only know what the words mean when there is a showdown and something real is being decided.

4. Notice that S&E are proposing slight changes in departmental HIRING policy, and in journal EDITORIAL policy. Who gets hired, what kind of research gets published in physics journals and what gets shunted into publications that are less empirical/observational, like math journals. What kind of work gets funded. Who gets invited to give the plenary session talks at the big annual and bi-or-tri-ennial conferences and who gets shunted into the parallel sessions where you only present to a specialized subset of the participants. they did not mention all the facets (just hiring and publication) but it is clear.

I should get you a link to Paul Steinhardt/s Nature article. I think it was June. He's great.
(I'm not saying I agree or indicating my personal view, I'm saying he is awesome. Worth watching speak for the brilliant incisiveness turns of phrase etc.)
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 30th, 2015, 12:38 pm 

Let's google "steinhardt inflation flexible nature" and see...
YES! I't is the first hit:
http://www.nature.com/news/big-bang-blu ... le-1.15346

The actual title is "Big Bang Blunder Bursts the Multiverse Bubble"

But the alliterative title is just style. What he is really critical of is the standard Inflation paradigm of Alan Guth and Andrei Linde that has dominated early universe cosmology since 1980s.
Guth and Linde have inadvertently shown that their inflation framework is too FLEXIBLE.

It was originally a limited idea to explain how uniform and even the cosmos appears and there were no alternative explanations proposed. So they got a lot of celebrity. But they never were able to come up with a version of their story that didn't run hog wild and produce an infinite variety of universes. The general framework (paradigm some call it) is too flexible. And now there are alternative explanations (for the uniformity/evenness) which are less flexible and thus more testable. So Steinhardt is putting them on the defensive. It's too flexible to be science. Fix it, make it less flexible. Or get out of the way and let the more predictive observationally testable paradigms take the stage.
The ultimate determinant, as always, is traditionally polite combat.

In december at big Paris conference there was a 4 person debate on inflation involving major physics/cosmology people: Steinhardt Mukhanov Linde Brandenberger . Video is available. Everybody appeared courteous friendly affable and I suspect Linde got creamed :^) Kudos to the Paris organizers! The conference was about the cosmology results of the fabled Planck space mission. Maybe I should get the link to those videos from the Paris Planck conference.

Anyway good question! The explicit verbal rules are, I think, epiphenomena which float on the surface of community behavior, the real process which we observe. Foam on the mighty river. they arise from deeper churning and they show us the directions of the currents. Could that be right? It's possible. :^)
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby TheVat on January 30th, 2015, 1:42 pm 

There is often testability without falsification. For example, we could test the hypothesis that month of birth affects character and profession, and get meaningful results (as has been done) showing that basic character traits and job choices are scattered randomly around the calendar. Yet we haven't falsified it. Someone can claim that a more careful analysis, asking different questions, and so on, might reveal some correlations. Our common sense says that absolute disproof wasn't needed and that such claims can be dismissed, but the believers will persist because absolute falsification hasn't happened. This is one of the big problems in demarcation, that pseudoscience followers will cling to falsification like a life preserver, while everyone else can see that a rigorous testing that yields very low probabilty is sufficient and can move on. In many areas of science, more and more testing yields greater and greater degrees of probability without ever handing over absolute proof or falsification.

That Silk Ellis paper I mostly agreed with, but I think "testability" should take precedence over Popperian falsification. String theory is a metaphysical model and cannot aspire to be more than that. As with any metaphysics, one is free to believe or disbelieve.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby neuro on January 30th, 2015, 2:45 pm 

My impression is that the big problem is not in testing (or even falsifying) a hypothesis, according to current paradigms and general consensus.

The problem comes about when the evaluation of the results of testing (or falsification) rely (directly or not) on some dogma which might actually be part of our current paradigms rather than a "Natural truth".

I mean, a theory may be dismissed because it appears to be in total contrast with something we "are sure of" (logically or due to direct [!?] perception), something we "cannot" doubt to be true. Or possibly accepted because it is "necessary", i.e. it is the only theory compatible with both the data and what "we are sure of".

So, the demarcation problem becomes tougher to face.
I'm not sure, but I believe this is more or less what Kuhn tried to warn us about...
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 30th, 2015, 2:53 pm 

To what Braininvat just said: Yes! My personal view (not that it matters all that much, I'm more just an observer of science behavior) is that science (as an activity, tradition, community) makes progress by stability, makes progress by being able to resist change...

"...pseudoscience followers will cling to falsification like a life preserver, while everyone else can see that a rigorous testing that yields very low probabilty is sufficient and can move on."

The great thing is that the herd has the ability to sense that something is no longer worth the bother and can MOVE ON!
The great thing is that cosmology (as activity, tradition, community) had the ability to LOSE INTEREST in the "steady state" and "tired light" ideas and move on.

And so science can stay the same, over the long haul. by some kind of inner "inertia" or conservatism. It helps them move on when jobs in an area are curtailed and opportunities to publish are restricted. That encourages the process.

I think what we are discussing, the paramount topic here, is the structure of scientific stability.

this is being strained and challenged now by the infinitely various string theory "landscape" and the allied concept of the "multiverse".

I agree with what you said about metaphysics. there should be special journals devoted to non-observational metaphysics where these guys can be invited to publish! Instead of in empirical-type physics journals. Maybe there are. A little magazine called "The Quarterly Review of Speculative Cosmology" :^)
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 30th, 2015, 3:08 pm 

To what Neuro just said: it is an interesting idea. Could you give some examples of where a community-wide blindness or a missing conceptual piece has obstructed progress? there must be dozens of notable ones. Just having one or two specifics to focus on would help though.

In the world as I see it (individual vision is always distorted and always needs correction) it is the radical revolutionary ideas that are PLENTIFUL. Maybe I just need to be reminded of instances when they were lacking.

Maybe the paramount thing is the cultural memory that we are a tribe of observers, that the imagination must be disciplined to remain faithful to Nature. Whether his ideas are old or new is less important, even what his ideas actually are is perhaps less important, than that he love Nature with all his heart and is more fascinated by her than by his own imaginings. And whatever formulas he might dream up or which might appear, as they did to Archimedes in his bathtub, he is always thinking of how they might be tested against observation.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby wolfhnd on January 30th, 2015, 6:39 pm 

Here is something for you to consider from a non scientist.

As an engineer one of you goals is to make no mistakes ever, every calculation is checked, double checked and pasted on to someone else to be checked again. The problem is that I know from experience every engineering project because of, what a lawyer once told me was minutiae :-), the size, detail, and technical nature of the work will have hundreds of "errors". The key to sorting this out is not to prioritize the items within the project to get right, such as the as safety, because those things should be obvious, but to put the priority on not leaving a key feature out. Cost overruns are the primary concern of management and that is what they focus on but failing to imagine some key element of design will have more consequence than a balanced budget, internal consistency or lack of error.

Whatever the method of science is or should be imagination is a key ingredient. As I tried to illustrate above rules that place a premium on internal error prevention are not necessarily as important as making sure you don't miss the unimagined that was key to the completeness of your objective. It's better to make 9 small mistakes than fail to notice the tenth item that was of central importance to you project. Many errors can be more a problem that effect faith in the project by outsiders with a limited perspective than a serious problem.

This is a personal perspective on what neuro has labeled community-wide blindness or a missing conceptual piece.

The divide between theoretical an experimental should be the first line of demarcation and actually already deals with many of the problems being discussed. As I suggested many fields of theoretical science could be moved to the philosophy department with out doing any harm if rigor is your primary concern.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 30th, 2015, 6:54 pm 

Hi Wolfie! Glad your interest continues in the "What is Science?" question! Actually it was I (not Neuro) who applied the label "community-wide blindness or a missing conceptual piece".
wolfhnd » Fri Jan 30, 2015 3:39 pm wrote:This is a personal perspective on what neuro has labeled community-wide blindness or a missing conceptual piece.

The divide between theoretical an experimental should be the first line of demarcation and actually already deals with many of the problems being discussed. As I suggested many fields of theoretical science could be moved to the philosophy department with out doing any harm if rigor is your primary concern.

What Neuro actually said was "dogma" which is slightly different. I'll quote what he said, because it's interesting:
neuro » Fri Jan 30, 2015 11:45 am wrote:My impression is that the big problem is not in testing (or even falsifying) a hypothesis, according to current paradigms and general consensus.

The problem comes about when the evaluation of the results of testing (or falsification) rely (directly or not) on some dogma which might actually be part of our current paradigms rather than a "Natural truth".

I mean, a theory may be dismissed because it appears to be in total contrast with something we "are sure of" (logically or due to direct [!?] perception), something we "cannot" doubt to be true. Or possibly accepted because it is "necessary", i.e. it is the only theory compatible with both the data and what "we are sure of".

So, the demarcation problem becomes tougher to face.
I'm not sure, but I believe this is more or less what Kuhn tried to warn us about...

BTW, notice that in this discussion when we say demarcation problem we consistently mean SCIENCE VS NON-SCIENCE demarcation problem.
I would like, for clarity, for that term to be reserved for the problem of where you draw the line to exclude work that might pretend to be science, but is pseudo or which might be confused with rigorous more reliable work, and get mistakenly get accepted and treated as science.

I don't want us to make "demarcation" so broad that it includes how to distinguish science from activities where confusion is unlikely---where the "perpetrators" wouldn't PRETEND to be scientists or try to foist phony facts about nature on us.

Please see how that narrow usage of the word "demarcation" feels to you.
Marshall
 


Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby wolfhnd on January 30th, 2015, 7:40 pm 

Marshall Please remove demarcation from my comment and replace neuro with Marshall to eliminate confusion. Sorry about attributing your thoughts to neuro I was distracted by my other thoughts on nano robots. lol

Please read my slim mold link it is fascinating stuff. Nanorobots are something nobody thought of a hundred years ago but seem pretty plausible now. Stifling imagination is the last thing we want to do.

I kind of used demarcation on purpose because I'm not so concerned about pseudoscience as a science problem but consider it a social issue. People believe what they want to believe with a general disinterest in what scientists or philosophers have to say about anything if it isn't entertaining. That was the other point I was trying to make. Whatever happens with string theory the public could care less. There will always be someone to provide the far out theories that people love and scientist have no control over that. It's how scientist present their own theories to the public that is a public interest issue.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 30th, 2015, 7:59 pm 

Heh heh. Bravo. I think your comment is both perceptive and entertaining. We need to keep your earlier post intact because it explains and motivates our subsequent conversation.
I think what you say about people always having goofy theories they love and scientists having no control is fun.

It is not so much a social problem as it is a resources problem within science. there are only so many postdoc fellowships to support young researchers, only so many assistant professorships to be a young person's first faculty job.
Public support for science is limited. Private foundation support is limited.
Departments can get loaded with "dead wood"---people whose research is not going anywhere interesting and never will.
demarcation becomes a vital matter. Defense against phony fad science becomes a survival issue. And there's what Ellis Silk call INTEGRITY. (pride, standards, longterm excellence).

I'm not asking Joe Public to take demarcation seriously from his PoV. I'm just asking you (not the public :^) to understand how physicist/cosmologists might feel about it and to see it as serious from THEIR PoV.

But actually we can relax, none of this is up to us. We just can watch if we feel like it :^)
Marshall
 


Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby mtbturtle on January 31st, 2015, 7:43 pm 

Does the lack of a single method of science discredit science and the claims made on its
behalf regarding rationality, knowledge, and progress? If there is no such thing as the
scientific method, can we make a distinction between a scientific investigation of a
subject and a non-scientific investigation? I think it is still possible to do so. Even if there
is no one thing that is the scientific method, there are still scientific methods. As I have
maintained in the previous section, there are methods that science itself tells us are
reliable. Science, experience and reason tell us that the method of clinical testing, even if
not perfect, is a highly reliable method of assessing the efficacy of treatments. So using a
clinical trial will be to make a scientific investigation of a scientific claim. Reading tea
leaves, however, is unscientific. There is no theoretical reason for thinking it is likely to
be effective. Nor does experience tell us that it is—there is no inductive evidence for
thinking reading tea leaves is reliable.
There is another aspect of a scientific investigation which will differentiate it from the
unscientific. This lies in the range and kind of potential explanations which are
considered. In the Introduction, I described how Judge Overton declared that scientific
explanations involved natural laws and the forming hypotheses that can be tested against
observation. This contrasts with the ready recourse of the creationists to supernatural
explanations.
(Alexander Bird Philosophy of Science pg 178)
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 31st, 2015, 8:27 pm 

Beautiful. Sincere thanks for that passage.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 31st, 2015, 8:33 pm 

Anne made deep dish pizza with italian sausage, spinach, sundried tomatoes, mozzarella, well seasoned with lots of tomato sauce and a generous supporting crust. We just had some for a late lunch and I am having my last piece while I read the Alexander Bird passage. Happiness.
Marshall
 


Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 31st, 2015, 8:47 pm 

Ellis and Silk could use that passage in their effort to relieve physics of the threefold burden of multiverse, string "theory" and certain types of cosmic inflation that run hog wild.

That scientific investigation "involved natural laws and the forming [of] hypotheses that can be tested against observation."

Well, it's time for us to take our walk up the open-space hillside near here---part woods, part field, fine views of the Bay, and the two peninsulas between which Golden Gate.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby wolfhnd on January 31st, 2015, 9:35 pm 

Perhaps we are going about this the wrong way. Instead of trying to define what it is, it may be easier to say what it is not. We can get some ideas on what it is not by knowing what pseudo science is but that still might lead to a cumbersome definition.

The scientific method systematically avoids:

Explanations that rely on spiritual and supernatural information.

Explanations that are not testable.

Explanations that are formulated in a way not open to consensus.

Explanations that rely on the authority of individuals

Explanations that rely on personal intuition.

Explanations that are purely theoretical.

Explanations that require locality.

Explanations that are absolute in that they don't allow for refinement

Explanations that are not relative to other explanations of equal validity

Explanations that rely purely on abstractions that have no physical manifestation in a previous stage



Some of this may be wrong and should be removed or other items added or refined but I think you can develop a fairly short list. I could not come up with any exceptions but if you were clever enough you could probably come up with a few exception so that not all the conditions have to be meet.

This approach allows the full range of techniques and imagination. It also frees the philosophy of science to focus on more important issues like public responsibility and ethics. Leaving the epistemologists and logisticians to help develop better procedures.

I was originally total focused on what it is because honestly new techniques are more interesting than rehassing known techniques. That proved fairly fruitless so I abandoned it.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby mtbturtle on January 31st, 2015, 9:41 pm 

Marshall » Sat Jan 31, 2015 7:27 pm wrote:Beautiful. Sincere thanks for that passage.


You realize that Bird's sentiments is what AllShips was saying all along, don't you?
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on January 31st, 2015, 10:15 pm 

I thought it is what several of us were trying to say all along. About A.S. in particular I'm not sure--I wouldn't put those words in his mouth. But if he wants to he may subscribe to them! :^) Can't think of anything that would please me more at the moment. Just saw A.S. present at the moment, must have read you post.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby neuro on February 1st, 2015, 10:38 am 

mtbturtle » February 1st, 2015, 12:43 am"[quote="mtbturtle wrote:
Marshall » Sat Jan 31, 2015 7:27 pm wrote:Beautiful. Sincere thanks for that passage.


You realize that Bird's sentiments is what AllShips was saying all along, don't you?

Thanks, mtb,
I think this was due to Allships.
His was a precise, theoretical and methodological "philosophy of science" question (I've had the occasion of extending him my appreciation for his rigor in a PM), although I, among others, kept stressing the practical (and social, political, economic) fallout of such a question, especially if by saying there is NO ONE SCENTIFIC METHOD one let's the idea go through that science and scientists do not have a specific attitude toward rigor, defined criteria to accept a theory and methodological attention to “objectivity” (as far as possible :°) and reproducibility.

On the other hand I believe yourself were concerned about the criteria to discern science from non-science.
Apart from quite reasonable gut feelings, I still believe that the crucial question lies in the ASSUMPTIONS.

Were our current scientific paradigms free of any assumptions, we could much more easily dismiss creationism, due to its need for supernatural premises.
The whole story of testability (falsifiability) would be pretty nice, if in testing and falsifying we never made use of assumptions in science (reasonable as they might be)
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby wolfhnd on February 1st, 2015, 11:39 am 

I see no reason to think that a simple, concise, clarifying definition should not be the object here for the philosophy of science. A need for discussing the various methods, standards, and values of science are side issues. If you ask for a definition and then refer to several hundred volumes of philosophical debate that is not clarification. As there is no unifying body that speaks for science how is the public to be informed of what science is? More importantly there is no reason to believe that scientist are capable of effectively communicating with clarity what science is.

I see a similar problem with Ellis and Silk in so far as identifying the problem. String theory etc. and the question of what approaches are scientific is not the issue. The problem of strange theories arises because physics has stalled out. If physics moves on string theories and all the other outriders will disappear for the most part. Kicking the crazies out is going to have little effect other than reducing the noise and there is plenty of that anyway. Any authoritarian approach is likely to be counter productive as imagination and creativity are central to removing the impasse.

This is a problem for all democracies is there are no clear objective and everyone has their own agenda. The question of what science is and where physics is headed are about agreeing on an objective and setting priorities not endless debate over what the methods should be or how they should be defined.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on February 1st, 2015, 3:16 pm 

Congratulations on an admirably forceful statement of your opinion! However, were I to go down the list of points and state the opposite and give supportive examples where I could think of them, nothing material would be gained, in my view. That would simply be my opinion. We have to wait and see how the issues here are decided by the physics community itself.

Will there be a conference? We don't know. that is one of the explicit ways the demarcation issues are resolved. In a self-selecting self-ranking aristocratic system it is often the case that issues are decided by polite combat---adversarial struggle regulated by traditional rules of courtesy and honor. What is "fair fight" so to speak. the English legal system reflects that tradition. Lawyers battle it out according to rules. to some extent the issues raised by Silk and Ellis WILL BE AND ALREADY ARE BEING decided in a polite adversarial manner according to the way the community is structured.

I've explained why these issues are vital. Resources are finite and also the integrity of physics (an issue raised by Silk and Ellis) matters to its longterm health.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on February 1st, 2015, 4:05 pm 

As I interpret the current developments, Silk and Ellis raising "the scientific method" issue in their article is a kind of
"throwing down the gauntlet"
it is a step in the process by which demarcation is customarily resolved.

We won't really know the OPERATIONAL MEANING of "the scientific method" until we see how the game plays out. Does "the scientific method" include multiverses? In every generation the criteria are re-established by how people talk about things like this and how issues are finally decided.

Wolfie, why do you say physics has STALLED?!! Cosmology has become the business end. there is a HUGE FLOOD OF NEW DATA because of orbital instruments like the Hubble telescope and the Planck spacecraft. Ellis Silk Steinhardt are cosmologists---ie world leaders in the hot branch of physics. Several of the newer theories say what was happening instead of the "big bang singularity" which everybody knows is a canard (the french for "duck") :^)
There are issues like dark matter, dark "energy", multiverse (I'm sorry to say), primordial black holes, huge unexplained explosions in the gamma and radio frequencies, primordial fluctuations visible in the ancient light, inflation-or-other-ways to explain the light's statistical characteristics.

I simply cannot make sense of this:
==quote==
The problem of strange theories arises because physics has stalled out. If physics moves on string theories and all the other outriders will disappear for the most part. Kicking the crazies out is going to have little effect other than reducing the noise and there is plenty of that anyway. Any authoritarian approach is likely to be counter productive as imagination and creativity are central to removing the impasse.
==endquote==
Marshall
 


Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby wolfhnd on February 1st, 2015, 4:15 pm 

Marshall I appreciate your not so subtle way of saying> who are you to have an opinion :-) It's a very valid point that has to be covered.

My point is that this whole thread could be thought of as a history lesson on what is science. My problem with that is there is nothing new here. I appreciate the work of educating people like me about that history of the philosophy of science. This thread however demonstrates that an in depth study of the issues is a lifetime's work. I really thought that when MTB suggested that the issue of how do we educated the public on what science is suggested a topic that was narrow enough in focus. In other words education was a subtopic of the original post that we could handle. Or more accurately is something that everyone could have an opinion on without requiring a rigorous scholastic background. If we are not here to share opinions what is the point? It's painful at times to have your opinions bashed but it is also fun as long as you are not to thin skinned.

About your point that clearly I have no right to an opinion based on my lack of education I couldn't agree more. But I did prompt you to make an interesting observation "In a self-selecting self-ranking aristocratic system it is often the case that issues are decided by polite combat---adversarial struggle regulated by traditional rules of honor". That nicely ties into MTBs observation that what started in opposition to tradition and authority is now dependant on it. This addresses why we care if people are pursuing weirdness like string theories? My argument is if free speech and democracy works for the rest of society why shouldn't it work for science? My guess is that the traditions on which science is founded insures that the aristocratic system will prove once again to be irrelevant. People will go on doing whatever they want because it is more or less not desirable to create an authoritarian system. As you said the real issues are funding and resources which are democratically controlled to some extent and I may say I have a vote on ;-).

The noise from people like me is easy enough to ignore :-)

"I simply cannot make sense of this"

My point was that when basic questions are not answered there is a dam built that will cause the stream of culture to diverge down many path until they merge again when the answers are found.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on February 1st, 2015, 4:29 pm 

It's not a question of you not having a RIGHT, or anything derogatory. You Wolfie can make up any neat concise set of rules for Science want. But the question of methods and criteria to apply in this case is a weapon in a demarcation struggle going on somewhere else. To repeat, I simply cannot make sense of the following quote. Maybe you can explain:
==quote==
The problem of strange theories arises because physics has stalled out. If physics moves on string theories and all the other outriders will disappear for the most part. Kicking the crazies out is going to have little effect other than reducing the noise and there is plenty of that anyway. Any authoritarian approach is likely to be counter productive as imagination and creativity are central to removing the impasse.
==endquote==

String theorists are not crazies, in my experience. They are people (often sensible and likable at individual level) who have invested heavily in something that does not connect with the current flood of new data, as far as we can see. We've been waiting fairly patiently for a connection. Other theoretical developments DO connect, happily. And the field has been over-hyped to the public, which has a distorting effect.

the traditional science way of settling controversies is rather more aristocratic than authoritarian. And it has not been shown to be counter-productive to imagination and creativity. As I see science history these great controversies have tended to STIR imagination and creativity.

I don't know what you mean by "If physics moves on string theories and all the other outriders will disappear for the most part". It sounds prophetic and portentous. How do you know? What does "moves on" mean? What are "the other outriders". Do you know what you are talking about, and making predictions about?

I tend more to trust the strategic judgement of people like Silk Ellis Steinhardt. They have seen an awful lot of changes in physics and been a part of a lot those changes over the past 40 years.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby wolfhnd on February 1st, 2015, 5:00 pm 

"the traditional science way of settling controversies is rather more aristocratic than authoritarian."

I hope it is more of a republican system where members of the community elect "wise" men to represent them. I think I could demonstrate that is based more on ability than pedigree but obviously your point has more to do with who has an interesting opinion than a serious discussion of science politics. Your change in tone also reflects a good deal of irritation so it would be a good idea perhaps to drop it.

"It sounds prophetic and portentous."

Good point, I have no idea if they will ever reach a consensus.

They need a convention that is clear and it should obviously be lead by people who know what they are talking about. I'm also anxiously awaiting what they come up with because it is an interesting subject.

Sorry for the diversion I just had been unable to determine why people thought the subject was important. Which I think reflects a divergence of interest and a reluctance to discuss feelings in a serious discussion.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby mtbturtle on February 1st, 2015, 5:50 pm 

Since several have touched on the importance of education - I'll point out that the Judge quoted in the above Bird passage was ruling on the issue of What is science involving an Arkansas law that was attempting to have Creationism taught in public schools as Science. The issue of what will be taught in schools as science is also present with the String theorist and Ellis and Silk.

From Bird's Introduction
Indeed, the state of Arkansas passed a law that required equal treatment of evolution and creationism. Scientists and churchmen immediately challenged the constitutionality of the new law in the courts. They argued that, despite the rhetoric and the appearance of scientific respectability, creation science simply is not science but religion dressed up as science. What is at issue is not science versus religion (many religious people reject creationism), or the question of whether creationism is true or even reasonable. The debate focuses on the claims of creation science to be scientific. So the court had to ask: what is science? When is a claim scientific? How do we distinguish science from nonscience or pseudo-science? These are all philosophical questions, and the court had the benefit of the testimony of philosophers as well as scientists in its deliberations. The opinion of the judge, William R.Overton, is interesting in this respect, because he summed up the criteria he used in deciding whether creationism is scientific.3 He said that a scientific theory has the following features:
(a) It is guided by natural law.
(b) It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law.
(c) It is testable against the empirical world.
(d) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word.
(e) It is falsifiable.
(p 2)
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on February 1st, 2015, 6:27 pm 

Dynamite issue! that is far more vital and potentially more bitter than what Ellis and Silk are concerned with, but the controversies do seem to roll on some of the same track.
School curriculum, especially when education is publicly supported, is an area where the scholarly issue of demarcation joins uneasily with Law. I must admit that at that point reducing down to concise formulas/prescriptions does seem necessary.
that gives the lawyers ammunition and they can take it from there.

basically it is "trial by combat" either way. For Silk and Ellis you don't get to use lawyers, if you get a conference then YOU have to do the arguing, based on whatever written textual support is admissible. And it is necessarily very case by case.

One way it can work out is that the THREAT of a conference which MIGHT lead to a tipping point of condemnation could serve to achieve a satisfactory curtailing of jobs, funds, and publication without actually having to go to conference. I think we are already seeing a reduction in String research paper output, and in citations to recent stringy papers, and fewer first-time faculty jobs going that direction (more into cosmology, and AFAICS none of the cosmology first-time faculty hires are to Multiverse advocates) Recently, like past 3 years.
Also the annual String conference in 2014 was held in Princeton and there were no string multiverse speakers and Paul Steinhardt was an invited plenary speaker and he hit the non-testability issue very hard. There is a video if anyone wants to see him laying into the string theorists at their own annual conference.
So this business might work out without a conference, but it is good to CALL for one and issue the challenge so to speak. That is part of being persuasive.

But what Mtb is talking about is like Texas schoolchildren, so it matters more in the big picture than this Silk Ellis demarcation fight. I haven't thought about that so much. How do you feed ammunition to the lawyers and judges who have ultimately to decide the demarcation in public education curriculum? Or is there some other way to think of it? Have to pause a bit.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby mtbturtle on February 1st, 2015, 6:33 pm 

I don't think there is any legal, constitutional issue with Silk and Ellis and string theory but the basic issue of What is Science, what will be taught in schools is there.
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Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby Marshall on February 1st, 2015, 7:25 pm 

wolfhnd » Sun Feb 01, 2015 2:00 pm wrote:...They need a convention that is clear and it should obviously be led by people who know what they are talking about. I'm also anxiously awaiting what they come up with because it is an interesting subject.
...


Right! I'm glad you are interested. I realize that what happens to physics and the untestable cuckoo eggs that got laid in its nest is a comparatively minor issue when you see it in context of battle over Creationism in the school curriculum.

I too am anxious.

The Alexander Bird quotes are very good. I can see them working in both the context of a court case on curriculum and a conference debate with tacit consequences for hiring funding publication policies. But every case, I know, is different and I have far too little direct experience to say anything definite.

I did have some minor participatory experience in the 1970s fight over the Breeder Reactor and the proposed government sponsorship of plutonium fuel recovery by nuclear fuel reprocessing. Our Utility "industry" thought they wanted the government to build a first big Breeder. Some other people thought more energy efficiency was the way to go. Members of the physics community were called in on both sides. The so-called National Academy of Sciences (and Engineering) sometimes called NAS and sometimes NASE supposedly exists to advise Congress. People within the NAS fight it out according to a certain etiquette. I can see how they might now be fighting with each other over the issue of funding more or less string theory. There is a culture of this.
It is not actually dEMOCRATIC or as you say rEPUBLICAN. Who would vote, and if they elected representatives what would the representatives do. We have Congress for that, and the Executive branch, that appoint commissions and bodies like the NRC that oversees funding. Those people want ADVICE. They want fact-finding REPORTS. What gives the reports and recommendations weight is scientifiic track-record and credentials.

I really don't know much about this first-hand but I can see what this Alexander Bird says carrying some weight.
Have to think about it some. Look him up.
Marshall
 


Re: What is Science? (scratch the "does it exist?")

Postby wolfhnd on February 1st, 2015, 7:38 pm 

I don't want to sound like I'm beating my own drum but the points the judge, William R.Overton settled on have the same problem as the original post. It forces you to prove a negative and puts the burden on science to prove that a pseudo science does not have the properties that would validate it. That is why I recommended outlining what science is not. Forcing the proponents of pseudo sciences to prove they have none of the proscribe principles. They would be put in the weaker position of proving a negative. For example if A.S. had stated that There is evidence that the scientific method does not exist, he could have then followed up by outlining what the evidence cannot be such as vague cultural references or ill defined definitions. At that point the opposing side would have had to prove that their evidence was not vague and their definitions ill defined. Being forced to prove that the scientific method does not exist was an almost impossible task.

Marshall I'm just a rebel by nature don't take it too seriously but I do dislike the way politics are manifested at educational institutions. Vicious fights over positions are also unsettling and annoying. The alternative popularity contests would be equally annoying so it's not like I have a solution but I do think that in general scientist gain their status from the respect of their peers which is slightly democratic.
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