A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

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

Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Heavy_Water on May 2nd, 2017, 6:51 pm 

Depends on what the particular topic is.....insofar as believing what scientists tell you.

On matters like politics, art, theology, and fashion, perhaps they're not your optimal go to guys.

But in questions pertaining to their respective fields of expertise, sure, a scientist in that area is the best source you can hope for.

It's what they do.

Sure, exceptions are possible. Scientists are not always infallible. Or even right. And done if them do have personal agendas that may color their opinions on things. Or even the outcomes of their experiments. But by and large, mostly due to the process of peer review, a man of science working professionally in his field is your most likely source for correct and objective answers.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 6:57 pm 

Heavy_Water » May 3rd, 2017, 7:51 am wrote:Depends on what the particular topic is.....insofar as believing what scientists tell you.

On matters like politics, art, theology, and fashion, perhaps they're not your optimal go to guys.

But in questions pertaining to their respective fields of expertise, sure, a scientist in that area is the best source you can hope for.

It's what they do.

Sure, exceptions are possible. Scientists are not always infallible. Or even right. And done if them do have personal agendas that may color their opinions on things. Or even the outcomes of their experiments. But by and large, mostly due to the process of peer review, a man of science working professionally in his field is your most likely source for correct and objective answers.



I agree with what you say -- you're more likely to get the correct answer from a scientist (on matters of science) than from a non-scientist -- but this, in itself, does not constitute sufficient grounds for belief.

See my two posts at the bottom of the previous page. I believe you're falling foul of the same fallacy as Ken. In order to constitute sufficient warrant for belief you'd have to demonstrate that the expert/scientist is more likely to be right than wrong.

"the best source you can hope for" and "your most likely source for correct and objective answers" (here I'm quoting you) is not enough.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 7:06 pm 

Suppose I stand a 5% chance of winning the lottery (I've bought 5% of the tickets). No one else has bought as many tickets as I have. I am more likely to win the lottery than anyone else.

Now, the question is: Is the epistemic warrant of such a weight that you should you believe the proposition "NoShips will win the lottery"?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on May 2nd, 2017, 8:28 pm 

NoShips » Tue May 02, 2017 5:50 am wrote:If the point is still unclear, suppose the question is "What is the capital of France?" Our friendly omniscient evil demon -- a maths whiz to boot! -- informs you that my answer (a non-expert) has a 5% probability of being correct. The expert's answer, meanwhile, has a 10% probability of being right.


You are shading the percentages to make this sound close - if its 5% non-expert compared to 99% expert the decision is then a no-brainer - just to shade it the other way :D

Now, if what you're advocating here is a kind of instrumentalist approach to scientific claims ("who cares about truth and knowledge as long as the planes fly, the computers don't break down, the Viagara works, and science can get us to the Moon and back safely") then your position is very close to my own.
But you did use the B-word (believe) in your last post, after all. What is a man to think?


I don't think it counts to say I used the B-word if I was just restating the question you posted lol. Regarding an instrumentalist approach - are there any scientist out there who do not take this perspective? Even your favorite guy Tyson will say something is "FACT" when really it just has tons of "planes flying behind it support" so to speak. How many times does the sun need to rise for it to be a fact that the sun always rises?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on May 2nd, 2017, 8:35 pm 

NoShips » Tue May 02, 2017 10:33 pm wrote:The former, with its presumptuous capitals, has been refuted. The latter receives little or no serious attention. Why? At least in part this is out of a fear that paying it attention will give comfort to the creationists and in part because the static of ID drowns out any id signal that may be there.[/i]"
... as pernicious propaganda, inasmuch as a lay audience, less familiar with the ins and outs of the philosophy of science, is likely to take the scientist at his word, and thus be led down the garden path without knowing it.
"refuted to my satisfaction", or "refuted, in my opinion" I can live with, but "refuted" simpliciter stands as an insult to intellectual integrity.
(I'm not religious in case you're wondering, not that it should matter in cases such as these)


The latter receives no serious attention because "intelligent design" offers no predictive input. What influence does an intelligent design offer to outcomes we are observing? Should we add a G representing god factor to all mathematical formulas? The notion is a waste of time.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on May 2nd, 2017, 8:40 pm 

NoShips » Tue May 02, 2017 10:57 pm wrote:I agree with what you say -- you're more likely to get the correct answer from a scientist (on matters of science) than from a non-scientist -- but this, in itself, does not constitute sufficient grounds for belief.

See my two posts at the bottom of the previous page. I believe you're falling foul of the same fallacy as Ken. In order to constitute sufficient warrant for belief you'd have to demonstrate that the expert/scientist is more likely to be right than wrong.

"the best source you can hope for" and "your most likely source for correct and objective answers" (here I'm quoting you) is not enough.


Fallacy? lol. Ok, perhaps you can clarify what exactly constitutes sufficient grounds for belief?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 9:08 pm 

SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 9:40 am wrote:
You are shading the percentages to make this sound close - if its 5% non-expert compared to 99% expert the decision is then a no-brainer - just to shade it the other way :D


I'm shading the percentages to make a conceptual point. What the actual percentages would be in any real world scientific case are almost certainly indeterminate. If you disagree, tell me the probability that evolutionary theory, say, is true. 5%? 99%? Don't forget to show us your working. :-)


SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 9:40 am wrote:
I don't think it counts to say I used the B-word if I was just restating the question you posted lol. Regarding an instrumentalist approach - are there any scientist out there who do not take this perspective? Even your favorite guy Tyson will say something is "FACT" when really it just has tons of "planes flying behind it support" so to speak. How many times does the sun need to rise for it to be a fact that the sun always rises?


I presume, though I have no statistics, that the vast majority of scientists do not take this perspective [i.e. instrumentalism], but, rather, take their theories to be attempts at representing reality. Instrumentalism, by contrast, treats theories as only a tool; a calculating device. Ask Eclogite how he feels on that perspective. :-)

(Quantum physics may well constitute an exception to my claim: QM, as these guys will tell you themselves, is weird, and thus seems to defy any common-sense realistic interpretation. As a calculating device, on the other hand, it works wonders by all accounts. "Shut up and calculate; never mind what it all means" as they say LOL)

As for "facts", suit yourself. You might be in a tight spot one night, though, when a gang of armed but philosophically-inclined muggers hold a pistol to your head and demand to see your rational justification for this "fact". Better start rehearsing LOL. "Um, well, er, it's always been that way. Don't shoot me, bro!". See also Russell's chicken and the fact that the farmer comes to feed it every day.


SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 9:40 am wrote:The latter receives no serious attention because "intelligent design" offers no predictive input. What influence does an intelligent design offer to outcomes we are observing? Should we add a G representing god factor to all mathematical formulas? The notion is a waste of time.


If what you say is true then evolutionary theory deserves no serious attention either inasmuch as it, too, offers no (non-trivial) predictive input.


SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 9:40 am wrote:Fallacy? lol. Ok, perhaps you can clarify what exactly constitutes sufficient grounds for belief?


You're the salesman, pal. I would suggest the burden of proof lies with yourself.

Pssttt! Wanna buy a piece of the Cross? You can trust me, it's real. I got it in Bangkok. I got a PhD from Harvard too :-)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on May 2nd, 2017, 9:32 pm 

NoShips » Wed May 03, 2017 1:08 am wrote:
SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 9:40 am wrote:
You are shading the percentages to make this sound close - if its 5% non-expert compared to 99% expert the decision is then a no-brainer - just to shade it the other way :D


I'm shading the percentages to make a conceptual point. What the actual percentages would be in any real world scientific case are almost certainly indeterminate. If you disagree, tell me the probability that evolutionary theory, say, is true. 5%? 99%? Don't forget to show us your working. :-)


SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 9:40 am wrote:
I don't think it counts to say I used the B-word if I was just restating the question you posted lol. Regarding an instrumentalist approach - are there any scientist out there who do not take this perspective? Even your favorite guy Tyson will say something is "FACT" when really it just has tons of "planes flying behind it support" so to speak. How many times does the sun need to rise for it to be a fact that the sun always rises?


I presume, though I have no statistics, that the vast majority of scientists do not take this perspective [i.e. instrumentalism], but, rather, take their theories to be attempts at representing reality. Instrumentalism, by contrast, treats theories as only a tool; a calculating device. Ask Eclogite how he feels on that perspective. :-)

(Quantum physics may well constitute an exception to my claim: QM, as these guys will tell you themselves, is weird, and thus seems to defy any common-sense realistic interpretation. As a calculating device, on the other hand, it works wonders by all accounts. "Shut up and calculate; never mind what it all means" as they say LOL)

As for "facts", suit yourself. You might be in a tight spot one night, though, when a gang of armed but philosophically-inclined muggers hold a pistol to your head and demand to see your rational justification for this "fact". Better start rehearsing LOL. "Um, well, er, it's always been that way. Don't shoot me, bro!". See also Russell's chicken and the fact that the farmer comes to feed it every day.


SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 9:40 am wrote:The latter receives no serious attention because "intelligent design" offers no predictive input. What influence does an intelligent design offer to outcomes we are observing? Should we add a G representing god factor to all mathematical formulas? The notion is a waste of time.


If what you say is true then evolutionary theory deserves no serious attention either inasmuch as it, too, offers no (non-trivial) predictive input.


SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 9:40 am wrote:Fallacy? lol. Ok, perhaps you can clarify what exactly constitutes sufficient grounds for belief?


You're the salesman, pal. I would suggest the burden of proof lies with yourself.

Pssttt! Wanna buy a piece of the Cross? You can trust me it's real. (Got it in Bangkok)



You are the one saying "its good enough" does not reach sufficient grounds for belief - I need you to clarify that before we can move on!

I'd be interested to hear what Eclogite has to say about it - I'll wait to see his response before moving forward on that topic -- other than with regards to the chicken who obviously ceased further scientific investigation to his detriment.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 9:37 pm 

SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 10:32 am wrote:You are the one saying "its good enough" does not reach sufficient grounds for belief - I need you to clarify that before we can move on!

I'd be interested to hear what Eclogite has to say about it - I'll wait to see his response before moving forward on that topic -- other than with regards to the chicken who obviously ceased further scientific investigation to his detriment.


That makes no sense, and I've been uncommonly sensible lately, by my own standards anyway.

Where did I say that?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on May 2nd, 2017, 9:56 pm 

NoShips » Wed May 03, 2017 1:37 am wrote:
SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 10:32 am wrote:You are the one saying "its good enough" does not reach sufficient grounds for belief - I need you to clarify that before we can move on!

I'd be interested to hear what Eclogite has to say about it - I'll wait to see his response before moving forward on that topic -- other than with regards to the chicken who obviously ceased further scientific investigation to his detriment.


That makes no sense, and I've been uncommonly sensible lately, by my own standards anyway.

Where did I say that?


You wrote:
NoShips » Tue May 02, 2017 10:57 pm wrote:





I had to piece together the logic, which is why I am trying to have you clarify.

You directly said, "I agree with what you say -- you're more likely to get the correct answer from a scientist (on matters of science) than from a non-scientist -- but this, in itself, does not constitute sufficient grounds for belief."

Then went on to say, "See my two posts at the bottom of the previous page. I believe you're falling foul of the same fallacy as Ken. In order to constitute sufficient warrant for belief you'd have to demonstrate that the expert/scientist is more likely to be right than wrong.

'the best source you can hope for' and 'your most likely source for correct and objective answers' (here I'm quoting you) is not enough."


So I am assuming my fallacy is suggesting that attaining real world results "demonstrates" that experts/scientists are more likely to be right than wrong. (Which in the sports world, the argument would simply be called, "Scoreboard")

Therefore - what constitutes sufficient grounds for belief?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 10:15 pm 

SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 10:56 am wrote:
So I am assuming my fallacy is suggesting that attaining real world results "demonstrates" that experts/scientists are more likely to be right than wrong. (Which in the sports world, the argument would simply be called, "Scoreboard")


I'm not sure I understand you correctly, Ken, but I think what you're doing here (as other members have done throughout the thread) is arguing from the success of scientific theories to the truth of scientific theories.

Often called the "no miracles" or "success argument", it goes something like this:

Premise 1 : Science is successful (it "attains real world results" as you put it)

Conclusion : The best explanation for the success of science is that our best scientific theories are true, or approximately true. (Anything else would be a "miracle")


Scumbag antirealists/instrumentalists like myself generally affirm the premise ("got us to the Moon and all that, eh?"), but reject the conclusion.

There's no denying the "no miracle" argument is certainly persuasive, at least at first blush, but the antirealist's (and antirealist, I hasten to add, does not equate with anti-science) arsenal is not without counter-weaponry. The anti-realist is likely to appeal to:

(i) the pessimistic induction argument : the history of failed theories in science gives us little reason to be complacent about the epistemic status of our current theories, and

(ii) the argument from underdetermination : any given body of data/evidence is compatible with an indefinite number of logically incompatible theories. Therefore, it would be something of a miracle if we had, from among this embarrassment of riches, hit upon the true candidate.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 10:16 pm 

SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 10:56 am wrote:
Therefore - what constitutes sufficient grounds for belief?


Ah, there's the rub, innit guvnor.

If you find out, be sure to gimme a nudge.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on May 2nd, 2017, 10:36 pm 

NoShips » Wed May 03, 2017 2:15 am wrote:(i) the pessimistic induction argument : the history of failed theories in science gives us little reason to be complacent about the epistemic status of our current theories, and

(ii) the argument from underdetermination : any given body of data/evidence is compatible with an indefinite number of logically incompatible theories. Therefore, it would be something of a miracle if we had, from among this embarrassment of riches, hit upon the true candidate.


The premise is flawed in that it assumes there is no connection between progressive scientific theories. In other words it denies scientific progress.

Another way to write the The Pessimistic induction argument would be that once a scientist is wrong he can never be right again. Its horribly prejudiced to the detriment of anyone who wants to know how the world really works!

Regarding the second argument I think you meant to say *compatible* theories, as per wikipedia:

The argument is as follows:
There are an infinite number of possible theories,
There can only be a finite amount of experimental evidence,
Therefore it is impossible to disambiguate between all viable theories.

as suggested by Wikipedia, this is why we have Occam's razor - to identify the simplest of theories to explain a phenomenon.

All this though is fun to bicker about, but I think the problem lies here:
"I'm not sure I understand you correctly, Ken, but I think what you're doing here (as other members have done throughout the thread) is arguing from the success of scientific theories to the truth of scientific theories."
I am arguing the success of scientific theories is why we should "believe" what scientist have to say. Truth is a whole different concept.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 11:08 pm 

SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 11:36 am wrote:The premise is flawed in that it assumes there is no connection between progressive scientific theories. In other words it denies scientific progress.


If progress is construed as progress towards truth, I think you're right. There are other ways to characterize progress, though. Kuhn, for example, would affirm that science progresses in its ability to solve puzzles. He would deny it converges on truth.


SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 11:36 am wrote:Another way to write the The Pessimistic induction argument would be that once a scientist is wrong he can never be right again. Its horribly prejudiced to the detriment of anyone who wants to know how the world really works!


I don't see how that follows at all.


SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 11:36 am wrote:Regarding the second argument I think you meant to say *compatible* theories, as per wikipedia:

The argument is as follows:
There are an infinite number of possible theories,
There can only be a finite amount of experimental evidence,
Therefore it is impossible to disambiguate between all viable theories.

as suggested by Wikipedia, this is why we have Occam's razor - to identify the simplest of theories to explain a phenomenon.


The argument from underdetermination of theories by evidence maintains that an indefinite number of mutually incompatible theories are compatible with all the empirical evidence. For an empiricist (antirealist/instrumentalist) that's all the evidence there is. A realist, on the other hand, might appeal to what I'll call non-empirical evidence in order to break the deadlock. This might include qualities of a theory such as explanatory loveliness, elegance, simplicity, etc. The realist argues that these qualities give us additional reason to believe that a theory is true.

How many times, for example, have you heard it said that evolutionary theory provides the best explanation of certain biological phenomena? This is an appeal to non-empirical evidence, namely, explanatory goodness.

Now there are two ways to think about simplicity (Occam's razor): (i) all else being equal, the simpler of two rival theories should be adopted as a matter of methodological principle, and (ii) all else being equal, the simpler of two rival theories is more likely to be true. The antirealist would probably affirm the former, but deny the latter.


SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 11:36 am wrote:All this though is fun to bicker about, but I think the problem lies here:
"I'm not sure I understand you correctly, Ken, but I think what you're doing here (as other members have done throughout the thread) is arguing from the success of scientific theories to the truth of scientific theories."
I am arguing the success of scientific theories is why we should "believe" what scientist have to say. Truth is a whole different concept.


To believe a proposition X is, almost by definition, to believe that X is true. Can you believe "Paris is the capital of France" if you don't think Paris is the capital of France? o_O
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 11:12 pm 

By the way, if you want to read more on the Pessimistic Induction argument, the locus classicus is...

http://philosophy.hku.hk/courses/dm/phi ... Laudan.pdf

Make up your own mind!
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Positor on May 2nd, 2017, 11:17 pm 

NoShips » April 29th, 2017, 7:59 am wrote:I don't think I'd ever be inclined to bet for.

How would you bet yourself, Positor?

I would bet for 4.5 billion years, with a margin of error of 1 billion years each side. In view of the weight of evidence, I would consider the likelihood more than 50% that the correct figure is somewhere within this band.

On the question of belief: if you object to "believing" that something is so, would you be happy with "thinking" it is so? Is there a crucial difference? (There are different strengths of belief, e.g. "I believe in the One Almighty God"; "I believe what you say"; "I believe [= think] he is right"; "I believe she may have spoken to you".)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 11:26 pm 

Positor » May 3rd, 2017, 12:17 pm wrote:On the question of belief: if you object to "believing" that something is so, would you be happy with "thinking" it is so? Is there a crucial difference? (There are different strengths of belief, e.g. "I believe in the One Almighty God"; "I believe what you say"; "I believe [= think] he is right"; "I believe she may have spoken to you".)


I can't immediately see that any salient distinction can be made between believing and thinking, Positor, at least in relation to propositions. Seems to me to be two ways of saying the same thing. To think that Paris is the capital of France is just to believe that Paris is the capital of France, is it not?

(Believing in God, say, seems to me a different usage of the word)

I objected earlier in the thread to Ken's use of degrees of knowledge, i.e. that we can "100% know something", for example. I can make no sense of this.

Degrees of belief, on the other hand, are a big deal in Bayesian models of scientific confirmation, as you probably know already. With friends and foes, of course.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on May 2nd, 2017, 11:41 pm 

NoShips » Wed May 03, 2017 3:08 am wrote: To believe a proposition X is, almost by definition, to believe that X is true. Can you believe "Paris is the capital of France" if you don't think Paris is the capital of France? o_O


You love this example - but it is not the same thing. Paris by consensus is the capital of France. This was not true at the dawn of time and may not be true in the future - it is purely our agreed upon reality that Paris is the capital of France. However, objects of mass fall to the earth -we can't wish that away by consensus. Newtonian physics was for its time the best approximation of the phenomenon. Likewise, the theory of evolution is the best approximation we have for the phenomenon for why organisms change with time. But this Paris stuff -- that is just apples and oranges.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 11:46 pm 

SciameriKen » May 3rd, 2017, 12:41 pm wrote:
NoShips » Wed May 03, 2017 3:08 am wrote: To believe a proposition X is, almost by definition, to believe that X is true. Can you believe "Paris is the capital of France" if you don't think Paris is the capital of France? o_O


You love this example - but it is not the same thing. Paris by consensus is the capital of France. This was not true at the dawn of time and may not be true in the future - it is purely our agreed upon reality that Paris is the capital of France. However, objects of mass fall to the earth -we can't wish that away by consensus. Newtonian physics was for its time the best approximation of the phenomenon. Likewise, the theory of evolution is the best approximation we have for the phenomenon for why organisms change with time. But this Paris stuff -- that is just apples and oranges.



Sigh!

Paris is the capital of France in the year ....um, what year is it again?

As for consensus, are you saying it's not true that that green folding stuff in your wallet is really money? If so, can I have it?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 2nd, 2017, 11:50 pm 

To be less flippant, what you're doing is drawing a distinction between observer-dependent facts (money, capital cities, etc) and observer-independent facts (the Sun and the Stars and the lovelight in your eyes...).

The distinction is valid, but both are facts nonetheless, and thus both "truth evaluable" (can be assigned a value of true or false). Unless you wanna hand over the dosh, sucker.

It is not a matter of opinion that Paris is the capital of France or that Donald Trump is president of the USA (yes, yes, indexed to a certain time), oh yeah, and married too. These are institutional facts.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on May 3rd, 2017, 12:03 am 

NoShips » Wed May 03, 2017 3:50 am wrote:To be less flippant, what you're doing is drawing a distinction between observer-dependent facts (money, capital cities, etc) and observer-independent facts (the Sun and the Stars and the lovelight in your eyes...).

The distinction is valid, but both are facts nonetheless, and thus both "truth evaluable" (can be assigned a value of true or false). Unless you wanna hand over the dosh, sucker.

It is not a matter of opinion that Paris is the capital of France. It is an institutional fact.


Both facts - so you'll treat both the same applying the same evaluation methodology and then you start complaining that it doesn't make sense to you -LOL I think you need to spend more time understanding the nuances of these facts.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Positor on May 3rd, 2017, 11:33 am 

I think the "no miracle" argument still stands.

NoShips » May 3rd, 2017, 3:15 am wrote:There's no denying the "no miracle" argument is certainly persuasive, at least at first blush, but the antirealist's (and antirealist, I hasten to add, does not equate with anti-science) arsenal is not without counter-weaponry. The anti-realist is likely to appeal to:

(i) the pessimistic induction argument : the history of failed theories in science gives us little reason to be complacent about the epistemic status of our current theories, and

That depends on the degree of confirmation of the "theory". Highly speculative theories often fail; seemingly well-confirmed theories (e.g. the luminiferous ether) sometimes fail. But there is a level of confirmation (quantifiable in principle, I think) above which theories/beliefs are never seen to fail — e.g. that the Earth is roughly spherical, or that water boils at 100 degrees C at normal pressure. (Note: Here I am not just picking examples that have happened to survive so far; I am correlating them to a certain degree of confirmation, and saying that because of that they have a vanishingly low likelihood of failing.)

NoShips wrote:(ii) the argument from underdetermination : any given body of data/evidence is compatible with an indefinite number of logically incompatible theories. Therefore, it would be something of a miracle if we had, from among this embarrassment of riches, hit upon the true candidate.

But not such a miracle it were approximately true. And we have Occam's Razor to help us.

Why should we adopt a methodological principle if it is not based on (approximate) truth? Why should we expect it to work? Sure, it has worked in the past (in general and in particular cases), but if we do not think it is true, what grounds do we have for thinking it will continue to work?

A few questions for NoShips:
Are scientific theories usually wrong? [Y/N]
Do you think/believe that scientific theories are usually wrong? [Y/N]
You mentioned degrees of belief; do you have degrees of belief? [Y/N]
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby TheVat on May 3rd, 2017, 12:35 pm 

NoShips » May 1st, 2017, 7:33 pm wrote:
Braininvat » May 2nd, 2017, 5:37 am wrote:Let them [philosophers] natter on about Truth, keeps them out of trouble, and the rest of us can get on with our lives and living in this world.


As promised, the BBC will intermittently be posting quotes, as we come across them, to demonstrate that it's not just philosophers with no lives who natter on about truth.

"All this [i.e. Kuhn's ideas] is wormwood to scientists like myself, who think the task of science is to bring us closer and closer to objective truth."

-- Steven Weinberg (from "Facing Up", essay 17, "The Non-Revolution of Thomas Kuhn")


Note that Weinberg says "closer and closer." He means one never reaches it, but rather that the probability of having a useful model increases when scientists are doing good and scrupulous work. I think everyone has already agreed that science doesn't do absolutes, and so when scientists say "truth," it's lower-case "t" and a provisional sort of truth. It's an asymptote, not a destination?

I think that's why I'm not posting much here. I agree with a lot of what you say, but I think concrete examples make clear that science and philosophy go a slightly different direction in using a word like "truth." The place in science where a truth can be absolute in in equations that are effectively tautological and so can't really be wrong. F=ma, for example, is really just defining what we mean by "force." It doesn't really wobble or crumble in some Quinean web of assumptions and theories. It's just a trivial defining statement like: "Duck" refers to those things that quack and have webbed feet. Two things plus two things is called "four things." Etc.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 3rd, 2017, 8:59 pm 

Positor » May 4th, 2017, 12:33 am wrote:That depends on the degree of confirmation of the "theory". Highly speculative theories often fail; seemingly well-confirmed theories (e.g. the luminiferous ether) sometimes fail. But there is a level of confirmation (quantifiable in principle, I think) above which theories/beliefs are never seen to fail — e.g. that the Earth is roughly spherical, or that water boils at 100 degrees C at normal pressure. (Note: Here I am not just picking examples that have happened to survive so far; I am correlating them to a certain degree of confirmation, and saying that because of that they have a vanishingly low likelihood of failing.)


What you say sounds eminently sensible to me, Positor, except that the examples you've chosen are not, I think, what would normally be thought of as scientific theories, and the quintessential scientific knowledge is surely theoretical knowledge: knowledge of the general and the universal. But if water boiling at 100 degrees C and the Earth being roughly spherical count as theories then I'm on your side.

(cf. Is water being transparent what you would call a scientific theory?)



Positor » May 4th, 2017, 12:33 am wrote:Why should we adopt a methodological principle if it is not based on (approximate) truth? Why should we expect it to work? Sure, it has worked in the past (in general and in particular cases), but if we do not think it is true, what grounds do we have for thinking it will continue to work?


The obvious reason for adopting Occam's razor as a methodological principle is that simpler theories are easier to work with. That simpler theories are more likely to be true, on the other hand, surely requires an additional argument, and as far as I'm aware, no one has ever formulated one.


Positor » May 4th, 2017, 12:33 am wrote:A few questions for NoShips:
1. Are scientific theories usually wrong? [Y/N]
2. Do you think/believe that scientific theories are usually wrong? [Y/N]
3. You mentioned degrees of belief; do you have degrees of belief? [Y/N]


1. None of us are able to stand outside ourselves, assume a "God's-eye view", and ascertain once and for all the truth of such-and-such a theory. The best I can do here is to adopt scientists' own judgements; whether they regard particular theories as true or untrue. So..

Yes! Overwhelmingly so! The vast majority of scientific theories ever proposed and once taken (by at least some scientists) to be true are no longer regarded as such.

2. Yes. Overwhelmingly so.

3. Dunno. I'm in two minds about that one :-)


A few quotes for me to hide behind while the cannonballs fly...

"If there is one thing we can learn from the history of science, it is that the scientific theorizing of one day is looked on by that of the next as flawed and deficient. The clearest induction from the history of science is that science is always mistaken - that at every stage of its development, its practitioners, looking backward with the wisdom of hindsight, will view the work of their predecessors as seriously deficient and their theories as fundamentally mistaken. And if we adopt (as in candor we must) the modest view that we ourselves and our contemporaries do not occupy a privileged position in this respect, then we have no reasonable alternative but to suppose that much or all of what we ourselves vaunt as "scientific knowledge" is itself presumably wrong." -- Nicholas Rescher

"For in formulating the question as to how to explain why the methods of science lead to instrumental success, the realist has seriously misstated the explanandum. Overwhelmingly, the results of the conscientious pursuit of scientific enquiry are failures: failed theories, failed hypotheses, failed conjectures, inaccurate measurements, inaccurate estimations of parameters, fallacious causal inferences, and so forth. If explanations are appropriate here, then what requires explaining is why the very same methods produce an overwhelming background of failures and, occasionally, also a pattern of successes. The realist literature has not yet begun to address this question, much less to offer even a hint of how to answer it." -- Arthur Fine

"The ephemeral nature of scientific theories takes by surprise the man of the world. Their brief period of prosperity ended, he sees them abandoned one after the other; he sees ruins piled upon ruins; he predicts that the theories in fashion today will in a short time succumb in their turn, and he concludes that they are absolutely in vain. This is what he calls the bankrupcy of science." -- Henri Poincare



@ BiV - more later...
Last edited by NoShips on May 3rd, 2017, 9:59 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 3rd, 2017, 9:12 pm 

@ Positor

I feel I should add a little. Don't wanna ruin anyone's good mood LOL.

Yes, scientific theories almost invariably turn out to be (regarded as) false, but this is not necessarily reason to despair. One might counter-argue, for example, it is precisely because of the exacting standards they set themselves in rigor and accuracy that they succumb in this way.

Wanna make a theory that will resist all comers and stand the test of time? Easy peasy! Try the horoscope section of your local trashy tabloid.

"You will have a propitious encounter today" o_O

"Pisceans tend to be witty and charming" *blushes* :-)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby TheVat on May 4th, 2017, 9:43 am 

Yes, scientific theories almost invariably turn out to be (regarded as) false, but this is not necessarily reason to despair. One might counter-argue, for example, it is precisely because of the exacting standards they set themselves in rigor and accuracy that they succumb in this way.


Nailed it! (And thanks for the "more later" promise....I will cruise by later, accelerating my mass in keeping with my force)

Pisceans do tend to wit and charm....and Virgos perceptively see through it. (wink wink)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby vivian maxine on May 4th, 2017, 1:05 pm 

Biv, as for "truth", doesn't the same hold for "proven"? I have been told - and read - many times that science never proves anything. They develop the best evidence and others work at it to confirm what has been said. The more confirmations, the closer they come to "proven" but they never make it 100% (as Newton would confess if he could).
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 4th, 2017, 7:35 pm 

Braininvat » May 4th, 2017, 1:35 am wrote:
I think that's why I'm not posting much here. I agree with a lot of what you say, but I think concrete examples make clear that science and philosophy go a slightly different direction in using a word like "truth." The place in science where a truth can be absolute in in equations that are effectively tautological and so can't really be wrong. F=ma, for example, is really just defining what we mean by "force." It doesn't really wobble or crumble in some Quinean web of assumptions and theories. It's just a trivial defining statement like: "Duck" refers to those things that quack and have webbed feet. Two things plus two things is called "four things." Etc.


BiV, I had been planning to write a lot more in reply to this post, as it touches on some of the most fascinating (for lost causes like myself) -- and difficult! -- aspects of the philosophy of language, but this would entail making stops, among other hellish ports of call, at Kuhnian incommensurability, descriptive and causal theories of reference, Quinean holism, and, why, it would almost be like working!! Fortunately for all concerned, today, as every other day, the NoShips household is religiously observing International Lazy Sod Day, so for now, at least, just this:

(i) The philosophy of language you're defending here is, I believe, demonstrably false, as evidenced by actual developments in science, and

(ii) Inasmuch as its consequences for scientific realism -- a doctrine you're clearly eager to uphold -- would be catastrophic, it's not a philosophy you'd want to be defending anyway.


Let's start with (i) and your claim:

"The place in science where a truth can be absolute in in equations that are effectively tautological and so can't really be wrong. F=ma, for example, is really just defining what we mean by "force." It doesn't really wobble or crumble in some Quinean web of assumptions and theories. It's just a trivial defining statement..."

As I'm sure you remember, BiV, I ran a thread on the f=ma issue a couple of years ago, when I hadn't done much reading in the phil. of language. The way I would now look at the matter is something like this:

I think it's quite plausible to suggest, as you do, that when Newton introduced his second law of motion, he did indeed regard it as a definition, true by stipulation, and thus neither a discovery nor (in his view) an empirical hypothesis subject to confirmation or infirmation by evidence. Thus understood, the statement "force is the product of mass and acceleration" would stand analytically (in philo lingo) true, in the manner of "a vixen is a female fox". F is to ma what vixen is to female fox; f just is ma, and a vixen just is a female fox, the two expressions are synonymous, the former (f, vixen) acting merely as a kind of shorthand for the latter (ma, female fox), but nonetheless intersubstitutable salva veritate (as the pretentious types say) in all cases.

On this interpretation, we need never fear of coming to learn one day that force is not (always) the product of mass and acceleration, or that vixens are not (all) female foxes. In your words, BiV, these would be "trivial defining statements"; true now, true for all time, and viva España.

Now, whether or not we're reading Newton right is irrelevant for the point I want to impress here. Let us just assume that he introduced his f=ma in the manner I've described above, intending for it to be treated by others the same way he treats it himself.

But here's the rub. Given what I've said so far, Newton, preparing to introduce his new definitional truth to genteel sciencedom, would find himself in somewhat the same position as the optimistic father introducing his toothsome ingénue daughter, who has just come of age, to lupine Parisian society:

"My daughter is a virgin, gentlemen, and I intend for her to remain that way."

Salacious snickers might be heard emanating from certain corners, as the Casanovas and Lotharios among the audience mutter sotto voce, "We'll see about your intentions, monsieur. Chortle, chortle."

Language is public property, and boys will be boys. The only guarantee of keeping one's definitional truths true and one's toothsome virgins pure is to keep them safely under lock and key at home... but, but, but, then they wouldn't be part of language or society in the first place.

The point to be made here is, somewhat like the creations of writers and artists, regardless of the intentions of their parents, these things have a nasty habit of taking on a life of their own. Once admitted into the public machinery, f=ma, all vixens are female foxes, etc., become like components in a system of gears and cogs and sprockets, within which no principled distinction can be made between moving parts and non-movable parts. All elements of the system may turn at some point or other. There can be no guarantee that any given components will stand immovable come what may, your own noble prostestations to the contrary notwithstanding, BiV.

The reason I believe your philosophy of language is false, BiV, as I asserted at the beginning of this novella, is simply that f=ma -- as a matter of brute fact -- is no longer universally regarded as being analytically true, even assuming it was to begin with. There are (at least some) scientists who already regard the statement as having been falsified, a scenario irreconcilable with that of a putative immutable definitional truth that you've been imputing to Newton's 2nd law. Remember what Marshall said (bottom of page 5)?

"Since F=ma has been known to be false for over 100 years, there is no way it could be definitional in contemporary physics."

Or even yourself?

"As Ken pointed out, F=ma is still a perfectly sound equation for 99.999 percent of the physics that is done with moving bodies on and around Earth." - you (page 6)

This is not consistent with your claim in red near the top of this post. There is no such thing as a tautology which is sound 99.999% of the time. You told us "it doesn't wobble or crumble". It's already crumbling!


The world will have to wait for part (ii) -- ducks and such -- on grounds of brain fag... Back later, Swampman.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby TheVat on May 4th, 2017, 10:12 pm 

Hmm, you give a thorough answer there, but I hope we can look at other analytic statements that are less wobbly for you. I would suggest that, for f=ma, 99.999 percent isn't much of a crumble since we can precisely say where that percentage resides. Within its domain of Big and Slow, it can still call itself an analytic statement and hold its head up. And having eaten too much this evening, I too find myself in the domain of big and slow, and must repair to my couch, perhaps to leer at Parisian debutantes. I always enjoy your analogies.

Vivian, you are correct in saying that science does not prove things. Results can be more or less strongly confirmatory, but they don't render proof in the way that a logician or mathy does.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on May 5th, 2017, 1:43 am 

vivian maxine » May 5th, 2017, 2:05 am wrote:Biv, as for "truth", doesn't the same hold for "proven"? I have been told - and read - many times that science never proves anything. They develop the best evidence and others work at it to confirm what has been said. The more confirmations, the closer they come to "proven" but they never make it 100% (as Newton would confess if he could).


To which BiV replied...

Vivian, you are correct in saying that science does not prove things. Results can be more or less strongly confirmatory, but they don't render proof in the way that a logician or mathy does.


Vivian, with all due respect to Swampman, er I mean BiV, I'd once again advise caution.

The answer offered you by BiV is, I think it's safe to say, that which would be offered by most scientists you ask. It's important to realize, though, that there is no be-all-and-end-all answer to questions like the one you just asked, which constitute grist to the philosopher-of-science's mill.

To elaborate a little, as evidence (whatever that is - a question for another day), or perhaps I should say, as that which is taken to be evidence, accumulates for a theory, the scientists' confidence in the truth of that theory is likely to grow commensurately.

Confidence, or subjective degree of belief (i.e., one dude's opinion), it's essential to understand, is quite a different kettle of fish from objective probability. Trust me (yeah, baby) when I say that no one has the foggiest idea what the objective probability of the theory of general relativity, or the theory of evolution, or any other theory that suits your fancy, being true is, or even if the notion of objective probability is meaningful at all in this context.

Some brave souls (Carnap et al) have tried, to articulate such a notion of objective confirmation with an attempt to generate a formal inductive logic ... as you might have guessed by now, to no avail, alas. It certainly would be a nice thing to have: then we could say, for example, such-and-such a theory, given our current body of evidence, stands a 63% chance of being true -- objectively! (i.e. not just my opinion)

Every time you hear a scientist aver "Science is all about [...]", or "Science has nothing to do with [...]" I strongly suggest you take it with a pinch of sodium chloride. What you're hearing is an opinion, if that is not made explicit by the scientist herself, and bet yer Sinatra collection losers like myself with no life, given a little time, can scrape up a few quotes from noted scientists who aver the exact opposite. :-)

Back to confirmation then. Well, despite what BiV and I daresay most other scientists will tell you on the matter, you'll find other thinkers (e.g. Hume, Popper - yes, the falsification dude, and hero to every scientist) who will insist, insofar as the problems of induction are (apparently) insoluble, scientific theories are never confirmed to any degree. Yes, you heard right; forget what you hear about "confirming evidence" -- there ain't no such thing!

Popper came to see a theory's ability to incorporate any observation (evidence) whatsoever as more of a vice than a virtue. And when I have to listen to the more zealous apologists of evolutionary theory bloviating on their mountains of confirming evidence, their complete paucity (so it appears) of negative evidence, and their disdain at the pathetic pseudoscientific fumblings of Creationist imbeciles (whom they've clearly never read), I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the Popperian programme.

Too much evidence, like mangos and lychees, is not necessarily a good thing.

To recap then, I'd revise your "The more confirmations, the closer they come to "proven" but they never make it 100%" as

"The more confirmations, the closer they come to being regarded as proven. For all we know, the theory might still be hopelessly and utterly false."
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