A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

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A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 4:03 am 

A deceptively simple question perhaps.

Have scientists been right before? I have little doubt. And thanks!

Have scientists been wrong before? I have no doubt whatsoever: the historical list is both lengthy and incontrovertible. Even those theories considered most highly confirmed and embraced with certainty, or near certainty (Newtonian mechanics, say), have subsequently been abandoned by scientists themselves as an accurate representation of reality, if not as a useful tool ("Got us to the Moon", and all that).

This much, ladies and gentlemen, is, I assume, entirely uncontroversial. That said, what is the appropriate epistemological weight we should assign to the knowledge claims of science? When should we believe them, and when might a more circumspect attitude be appropriate?

Does smoking really cause cancer? (*cough*) Is global warming really due to our planetary mismanagement? Do quarks exist? Are tectonic plates real? (ever seen one?) Is the luminiferous aether real? (J. C. Maxwell allegedly claimed it was the most highly confirmed entity in all science). Is Dawkins justified in claiming that only the ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked would doubt the scientific account of evolution?

How do we decide these things?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on March 12th, 2017, 10:41 am 

It's all about the quality of the evidence, my friend.

E.g. Chomsky's theory of universal grammar and recursion and that "innate language organ." (let's pick on Noam for a minute - his ego will survive, from what I've seen) The field of linguistic science grew up with this as a cornerstone, then Daniel Everett published his famous 2014 paper on the Piraha tribe of the Amazon, which he had studied for decades. Universal grammar, that great edifice, crumbled. Turned out that Chomsky and his cadre of indoor linguists (they didn't touch field work, it seems, and looked down on it from their lofty towers of ivory, or Building 20 at MIT) had never had terribly good evidence and hadn't really comprehensively beaten the bushes (literally) for aboriginal groups that strayed from the principles of UG. Everett found a black swan, it seems. Many of the elements of a universal grammar and recursion were absent from the Piraha's language. Could it be that humans simply had an array of cognitive skills that opened the door for inventing vocal communication systems in various ways, but didn't actually constitute an innate language organ? Everett injected healthy levels of doubt into the matter.


I think it's a good example, offering suggestions as to how to judge scientific theories. Are they based on mysterious hypotheticals (innate organs of language) or on years of scrupulous data collection. Do they follow a charismatic public intellectual (like Chomsky) or wherever the evidence leads? The more a theory circles around a black box ("we don't know what's in there, but we think it might be this..."), the longer the jury should deliberate.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Forest_Dump on March 12th, 2017, 11:36 am 

I couldn't avoid thinking about some of the most spectacular mistakes in science. I do think there is some over-use of natural selection but perhaps Darwin's biggest fail was in his suggesting that gemules (I think there were called) was the source of variability on which natural selection acted.

Louis Leakey was quite a populist of human evolution and brought East Africa and Olduvai Gorge to the world's attention (although it was his wife, Mary, who was the real professional and serious scholar). No question about the significance of that site and some of the fossils found there. However, no one (epecially creationists) will forget the spectacular fail of Nebraska Man - just a pig's tooth.

But my favorite has to be Hoyle who proposed the Steady State model of the universe. However he also argued that Stonehenge was a UFO londing site and, best of all, that our noses point down so that organisms from space don't fall into them.

"...the history of philosophy is in large measure the history of very smart people making very tempting mistakes, and if you don't know the hitory, you are doomed to making the same darn mistakes all over again." (Dennett "Intuition Pumps" p, 19 - which is actually the first page of a chapter devoted to the value of making mistakes. And one of the best passages I have read on the very value of making mistakes.)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on March 12th, 2017, 12:28 pm 

Years ago, I read Hoyle's entire book on space germs. The nostrils-down theory was one of my favorite parts.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby wolfhnd on March 12th, 2017, 5:11 pm 

Although the original post is fairly long I think instead of asking if we should believe scientists it would be better to ask if we should believe in those things that have considerable scientific consensus. The tricky part is that scientists almost always avoid being dogmatic by qualifying the consensus as being current but subject to refinement. This gets back to the question of truth being relative. I would say relative in the sense of approximation. Absolute truths tend to be mundane or if you like trivial. To some extent even scientific truths are trivialized because we take them for granted if they are well entrenched in our paradigm.

To be the devils advocate if we compare science to philosophy doesn't the same problem emerge in the sense that every philosophy is approximately representing some metaphysical principle?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 8:35 pm 

wolfhnd » March 13th, 2017, 6:11 am wrote:Although the original post is fairly long I think instead of asking if we should believe scientists it would be better to ask if we should believe in those things that have considerable scientific consensus. The tricky part is that scientists almost always avoid being dogmatic by qualifying the consensus as being current but subject to refinement. This gets back to the question of truth being relative. I would say relative in the sense of approximation. Absolute truths tend to be mundane or if you like trivial. To some extent even scientific truths are trivialized because we take them for granted if they are well entrenched in our paradigm.

To be the devils advocate if we compare science to philosophy doesn't the same problem emerge in the sense that every philosophy is approximately representing some metaphysical principle?



Wolf, I find it quite amazing that people still perpetuate this fairy tale. Are you familiar with the historical studies of Thomas Kuhn? Even Popper (everyone's hero) was forced to admit eventually that dogmatism plays a vital role in science.

Dogmatism is not necessarily a bad word. If scientists ditched their theories at the first whiff of negative evidence... um, we'd have no theories left.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 9:04 pm 

"I believe that science is essentially critical... But I have always stressed the need for some dogmatism: the dogmatic scientist has an important role to play. If we give in to criticism too easily, we shall never find out where the real power of our theories lies. " - Karl Popper

... and he's the good guy :-)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby wolfhnd on March 12th, 2017, 11:58 pm 

I would say that there is a certain appeal to authority here that is unwarranted. Whatever Kuhn and Popper may have had to say on scientific dogmatism, dogmatism remains a logical fallacy. That is not to say that just because something is illogical that it is wrong. In this case however there is sufficient evidence that scientist engage in the construction and the defense of theories not dogma to make calling their rejection of dogma a fairy tale disingenuous. If we take the accepted definition of dogma as a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true then you could argue that science is impossible without dogma but that is an oversimplification. Of course there is a building up of evidence that is a waste of time to question most of the time but in science the principles are not established by an authority but by a preponderance of evidence. Even then I have never known a scientist to say that any principle is absolutely true outside of it's logical framework. Dogma in fact is almost exclusively the domain of religion because for a principle to be absolutely true it has to be derived from an absolute authority. If you can point to an absolute authority in science then I would accept your argument. Principles and sets of principles in science are constantly being challenged by refinements. In many cases it is not that the principles and sets of principles are wrong it is just that a closer approximation is made possible by advancements in technology or insight.

Playing these semantical games such as discussing the meaning of dogma is exactly why many scientist reject philosophy because it reminds them of the tactics theologians used on their predecessors. Ironically it is the scientists unwillingness to commit to absolutes that makes the trap so effective for non scientist to employ.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby hyksos on March 13th, 2017, 12:04 am 

Does smoking really cause cancer? (*cough*) Is global warming really due to our planetary mismanagement? Do quarks exist? Are tectonic plates real? (ever seen one?) Is the luminiferous aether real? (J. C. Maxwell allegedly claimed it was the most highly confirmed entity in all science).

This is a good time to list the scientific crackpots who, years later, were vindicated as having the correct theory.

Michael Faraday. Said light was an electromagnetic wave decades before Maxwell. Was laughed at too soon.
Alfred Wegener. Said the continents are drifting slowly over geological plates. Rejected as a crackpot for 40 years. His theory suddenly transformed into canonical geology in the early 1950s.
Frank Wilczek. Proposed that Time Crystals could be created in cold quantum systems. Widely rejected as crackpot physics by his colleagues. Then last October, University of Maryland researchers created a Time Crystal.





That said, what is the appropriate epistemological weight we should assign to the knowledge claims of science? When should we believe them, and when might a more circumspect attitude be appropriate?

What epistemic weight should we place on science? This is a totally different question. It reaches into the philosophy of science.

I don't really see a way that belief could relate to epistemology, unless you might adopt an epistemic rule which says that "believability" is a criterion of knowledge. I could list a dozen reasons why that would be a bad idea.

In many cases, scientists don't even believe the colleagues in their own discipline. (Depending on how much Philosophy-of-Science we allow to penetrate this conversation), scientific journals do not allow papers into them unless and until they pass peer review. Peer review is done anonymously, or at least they try to do it that way.

Do quarks exist? Is the luminiferous aether real?

You could always adopt instrumentalism here. Particularly with this question of quarks. You could just deny their existence, and say quarks are convenient fictions. Unfortunately for quantum mechanics, they have adopted the word fundamental "particle" to refer to those things which comprise energy storage packets (??!) in quantum fields. In no way do such things act like "particles" of dust. The mass confusion caused by this poor choice of words continues unabated into the 21st century.

Then there is this question of how far down the rabbithole you want to take your instrumentalism. If quarks are convenient fictions, then so are electrons. Maybe 'atoms' are convenient fictions. Or molecules. And what about "planets". Is pluto a "planet" -- or another icy body in the outer solar system?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby wolfhnd on March 13th, 2017, 2:17 am 

Entertaining conversation which I guess is the point.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Eclogite on March 13th, 2017, 3:16 am 

hyksos » Mon Mar 13, 2017 4:04 am wrote:
Does smoking really cause cancer? (*cough*) Is global warming really due to our planetary mismanagement? Do quarks exist? Are tectonic plates real? (ever seen one?) Is the luminiferous aether real? (J. C. Maxwell allegedly claimed it was the most highly confirmed entity in all science).

This is a good time to list the scientific crackpots who, years later, were vindicated as having the correct theory.
Alfred Wegener. Said the continents are drifting slowly over geological plates. Rejected as a crackpot for 40 years. His theory suddenly transformed into canonical geology in the early 1950s.

Wegener was not rejected as a crackpot. Such a statement makes good background for a Hollywood dramatisation, but it fails to consider the facts. I shall be happy to expand upon these points if required.

1. His hypothesis was rejected for lack of a convincing mechanism.

2. A number of geologists supported the concept, most notably Southern Hemisphere specialists familiar with the evidence from the south and Arthur Holmes, who proposed many of the features of plate tectonics in the late 1920s.

3. The solid evidence did not become available, largely, until the 1950s.

4. Far from being canon in the 1950s, that did not occur until the late 1960s.

5. The theory that eventually emerged was very different in detail from Wegener's.

Wegener is rightly acknowledged for spotting something curious in the data, but he did not deliver an explanatory paradigm in the way that Darwin did for evolution (unless you are thinking of Erasmus).

And, to repeat, he was not judged a crackpot. (Unless you have significant citations to the contrary.)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Athena on March 13th, 2017, 12:10 pm 

Eclogite » March 13th, 2017, 1:16 am wrote:
hyksos » Mon Mar 13, 2017 4:04 am wrote:
Does smoking really cause cancer? (*cough*) Is global warming really due to our planetary mismanagement? Do quarks exist? Are tectonic plates real? (ever seen one?) Is the luminiferous aether real? (J. C. Maxwell allegedly claimed it was the most highly confirmed entity in all science).

This is a good time to list the scientific crackpots who, years later, were vindicated as having the correct theory.
Alfred Wegener. Said the continents are drifting slowly over geological plates. Rejected as a crackpot for 40 years. His theory suddenly transformed into canonical geology in the early 1950s.

Wegener was not rejected as a crackpot. Such a statement makes good background for a Hollywood dramatisation, but it fails to consider the facts. I shall be happy to expand upon these points if required....



Wegener is rightly acknowledged for spotting something curious in the data, but he did not deliver an explanatory paradigm in the way that Darwin did for evolution (unless you are thinking of Erasmus).

And, to repeat, he was not judged a crackpot. (Unless you have significant citations to the contrary.)


I googled "Alfred Wegener a crackpot" and found several links saying he was considered a crackpot, and he was not the only one wrongly judged. Scientists defend their beliefs and brutally discredit those who say things are different than they agree they are. It was such men who forced the church to act on silencing Galileo. I think the problem has something to do being human and personalities and having positions of power that lead to defending those positions of power.

He was judged a crackpot and an apology to hyksos is appropriate. This is a matter of being respectful or not. Your comment "Such a statement makes good background for a Hollywood dramatisation" is what moves your argument from civil disagreement to disrespect, and this is how scientists maintain their wrong positions for so long. It is like using the words "obsessing" and "babble" to discredit someone. If you want to argue respect is what is earned and being wrong means someone does earn respect, well, that puts you in a bad position because you are wrong and here is the proof.

https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=c ... crackpot&*
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Athena on March 13th, 2017, 12:37 pm 

wolfhnd » March 12th, 2017, 9:58 pm wrote:I would say that there is a certain appeal to authority here that is unwarranted. Whatever Kuhn and Popper may have had to say on scientific dogmatism, dogmatism remains a logical fallacy. That is not to say that just because something is illogical that it is wrong. In this case however there is sufficient evidence that scientist engage in the construction and the defense of theories not dogma to make calling their rejection of dogma a fairy tale disingenuous. If we take the accepted definition of dogma as a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true then you could argue that science is impossible without dogma but that is an oversimplification. Of course there is a building up of evidence that is a waste of time to question most of the time but in science the principles are not established by an authority but by a preponderance of evidence. Even then I have never known a scientist to say that any principle is absolutely true outside of it's logical framework. Dogma in fact is almost exclusively the domain of religion because for a principle to be absolutely true it has to be derived from an absolute authority. If you can point to an absolute authority in science then I would accept your argument. Principles and sets of principles in science are constantly being challenged by refinements. In many cases it is not that the principles and sets of principles are wrong it is just that a closer approximation is made possible by advancements in technology or insight.

Playing these semantical games such as discussing the meaning of dogma is exactly why many scientist reject philosophy because it reminds them of the tactics theologians used on their predecessors. Ironically it is the scientists unwillingness to commit to absolutes that makes the trap so effective for non scientist to employ.


Yes, interesting discussion. Exactly what are the boundaries between dogma and theory? My gut tells me the big the difference is how "important" people think they are, and what they have on the line when they might be proven wrong. I get that from communicating with a man who lives in India. The eastern point of view is so different from ours, and this thread is making me glaringly aware of his eastern rejection of our western democracy and attitude towards "authority", which by the way is not democratic.

I suppose speaking of cultural blindness and the matter of respect does fit in this thread. Every culture has a consciousness just like individuals, and it is our consciousness that controls that of which we become aware and that which we can not see at all. - Yipes- just realized I have an appointment and not time to complete this post, but I hope people think about what I said and reply to what our culture has to do with our what we can know and what we are blind to knowing.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby mitchellmckain on March 16th, 2017, 1:41 pm 

NoShips » March 12th, 2017, 3:03 am wrote:
Have scientists been wrong before? I have no doubt whatsoever: the historical list is both lengthy and incontrovertible. Even those theories considered most highly confirmed and embraced with certainty, or near certainty (Newtonian mechanics, say), have subsequently been abandoned by scientists themselves as an accurate representation of reality, if not as a useful tool ("Got us to the Moon", and all that).



This is an example of poisoning the well fallacy. That a person or something which you include in a generalized category like science was wrong at sometime in the past has absolutely no bearing on whether something they claim is wrong now. This is part of the general class of ad-hominem or distraction fallacies.

But isn't science wrong far more recently revealed by revolutionary new theories? Not in the hard sciences! The FIRST test of whether a theory even could be true is whether it agrees with current theory where the current theory is proven to be correct. Take an example like General Relativity. The first test is to show it reduces to Newtonian gravity in regime where those formulas are known to work. It was already known that there were conditions where Newtonian gravity didn't work and it is why we looked for something like General Relativity. Thus the fact is, that modern hard science is founded on evidence that NEVER GOES AWAY! Because of this, Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions is pure hogwash when it comes to the hard sciences.

Now it is true that in the softer science like psychology a great deal has been founded on wild guesses with very little hard evidence to support them and thus they have jumped from one paradigm (or fad) to another. Some sciences begin this way until hard evidence of the facts are discovered. Health and medicine is a good example, where we see advice overturned and contradicted from one generation to another as gross blunders are discovered one after another. But even in such softer sciences we have the hope that science eventually finds the hard evidence upon which to base some reliable claims.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 24th, 2017, 9:52 am 

mitchellmckain » March 17th, 2017, 2:41 am wrote:
But isn't science wrong far more recently revealed by revolutionary new theories? Not in the hard sciences! The FIRST test of whether a theory even could be true is whether it agrees with current theory where the current theory is proven to be correct. Take an example like General Relativity. The first test is to show it reduces to Newtonian gravity in regime where those formulas are known to work. It was already known that there were conditions where Newtonian gravity didn't work and it is why we looked for something like General Relativity. Thus the fact is, that modern hard science is founded on evidence that NEVER GOES AWAY! Because of this, Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions is pure hogwash when it comes to the hard sciences.



Hmm, it's not quite that simple, I'm afraid. Let's go all the way back to to first post, J. C. Maxwell, the luminiferous aether, and his comment to the effect that the aether is the most highly confirmed entity in all science (quoted somewhere in Laudan). Had Maxwell been asked about the evidence supporting the existence of said aether, he -- and countless others like him -- would presumably have described it as strong, or perhaps even overwhelming. What else does highly confirmed mean if not well supported by evidence?

I choose Maxwell and the aether because I assume you Mitchell, and all the rest of us, can agree on the following:

(i) physics is a hard science
(ii) the late 19th century can be regarded as "modern"
(iii) the aether does not exist

So, returning to your claim which I highlighted, Mitchell, and granting the trio of assumptions above, it would seem your options are:

1. Insist there is still strong/overwhelming evidence for the aether. ("... [evidence] that NEVER GOES AWAY"), or

2. Withdraw the claim as false
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 24th, 2017, 10:04 am 

Braininvat » March 12th, 2017, 11:41 pm wrote:It's all about the quality of the evidence, my friend.

E.g. Chomsky's theory of universal grammar and recursion and that "innate language organ." (let's pick on Noam for a minute - his ego will survive, from what I've seen) The field of linguistic science grew up with this as a cornerstone, then Daniel Everett published his famous 2014 paper on the Piraha tribe of the Amazon, which he had studied for decades. Universal grammar, that great edifice, crumbled. Turned out that Chomsky and his cadre of indoor linguists (they didn't touch field work, it seems, and looked down on it from their lofty towers of ivory, or Building 20 at MIT) had never had terribly good evidence and hadn't really comprehensively beaten the bushes (literally) for aboriginal groups that strayed from the principles of UG. Everett found a black swan, it seems. Many of the elements of a universal grammar and recursion were absent from the Piraha's language. Could it be that humans simply had an array of cognitive skills that opened the door for inventing vocal communication systems in various ways, but didn't actually constitute an innate language organ? Everett injected healthy levels of doubt into the matter.


I think it's a good example, offering suggestions as to how to judge scientific theories. Are they based on mysterious hypotheticals (innate organs of language) or on years of scrupulous data collection. Do they follow a charismatic public intellectual (like Chomsky) or wherever the evidence leads? The more a theory circles around a black box ("we don't know what's in there, but we think it might be this..."), the longer the jury should deliberate.




I suspect you invoked Chomsky as a wee jab at yours truly, old pal. Well, he is kinda cuddly, eh? Nevertheless, to the contrary, nerdy Noam will serve my purposes splendidly.

Do I think he's a brilliant scientist? Without a doubt.
Do I think his work in linguistics enjoys the virtues of usefulness, fruitfulness, and all the other goodies we expect from a successful research programme? Absolutely -- but that's a far cry from being true, and thus worthy of belief, which after all, is what we're examining here. So next question...

How would I rate the chances of his latest theory (whatever that is) being true and still being widely regarded as so, say, 500 years from now? Roughly zero.

How about you, BiV?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby mitchellmckain on March 25th, 2017, 4:09 am 

NoShips » March 24th, 2017, 8:52 am wrote:
mitchellmckain » March 17th, 2017, 2:41 am wrote:
But isn't science wrong far more recently revealed by revolutionary new theories? Not in the hard sciences! The FIRST test of whether a theory even could be true is whether it agrees with current theory where the current theory is proven to be correct. Take an example like General Relativity. The first test is to show it reduces to Newtonian gravity in regime where those formulas are known to work. It was already known that there were conditions where Newtonian gravity didn't work and it is why we looked for something like General Relativity. Thus the fact is, that modern hard science is founded on evidence that NEVER GOES AWAY! Because of this, Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions is pure hogwash when it comes to the hard sciences.


Hmm, it's not quite that simple, I'm afraid. Let's go all the way back to to first post, J. C. Maxwell, the luminiferous aether, and his comment to the effect that the aether is the most highly confirmed entity in all science (quoted somewhere in Laudan). Had Maxwell been asked about the evidence supporting the existence of said aether, he -- and countless others like him -- would presumably have described it as strong, or perhaps even overwhelming. What else does highly confirmed mean if not well supported by evidence?

I choose Maxwell and the aether because I assume you Mitchell, and all the rest of us, can agree on the following:

(i) physics is a hard science
(ii) the late 19th century can be regarded as "modern"
(iii) the aether does not exist

So, returning to your claim which I highlighted, Mitchell, and granting the trio of assumptions above, it would seem your options are:

1. Insist there is still strong/overwhelming evidence for the aether. ("... [evidence] that NEVER GOES AWAY"), or

2. Withdraw the claim as false



Evidence accumulates and never goes away. Going back to a time before we had hard evidence about something has absolutely no bearing on this. Thus your examples from the early history of some aspect of science are irrelevant. It is true that interpretations of evidence may alter. But where there is room for interpretation the science is a bit soft.


... or ...
3. The theory of aether was not founded on a lot of evidence. Physics as a hard science does not extend indefinitely into the past AND biology and medicine becomes more and more founded on hard evidence all the time AND psychology as a soft science may not extend indefinitely into the future.

No doubt a hundred years in the future someone like you will be dredging up string theory as a similar sort of example, but string theory is NOT founded on hard evidence. Just because physics is a hard science and something is physics doesn't mean it is founded on hard evidence. We say that physics is a hard science compared to psychology because the well established facts of physics are founded on a lot of hard evidence and is not some ridiculous absolutist claim that every hypothesis and incomplete theory under the topic of physics is established by overwhelming evidence.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 25th, 2017, 6:43 am 

@ Mitchell (directly above)

All I can say, sir, is you enjoy a decidedly Pickwickian understanding of the term "evidence", which we might encapsulate with the slogan "Once evidence, always evidence!" -- a bit like accumulating gold ingots in Fort Knox, say, at least the way you envisage matters. What comes in the vault, STAYS in the vault!

The problem is, gold is gold in virtue of its physical constitution; evidence is only evidence in virtue of the relation in which it stands, or is taken to stand, with respect to some other entity: a theory or hypothesis, for example. Evidence, unlike gold, is a relational term; nothing is intrinsically evidence.

Look on it, if you will, as a husband and wife kinda thing. Mr Smith is a husband in virtue of the relationship in which he stands to Mrs Smith; not in virtue of anything intrinsic to Mr Smith. Whether through divorce, bereavement, or force majeure, the conjugal bliss tragically comes to an end, then Mr Smith qua husband ceases to exist, even while Mr Smith qua human being marches bravely onward. Um, right?

That stash of gold ingots in Fort Knox ("evidence never dies!" and all that), for purposes of analogy with evidence, I suggest, might better be thought of as possessions -- possessions of the US government, alas. Supposing the entire human race is wiped out by an uncommonly virulent strain of athlete's foot next year (pssst, stay well away from BraininVat), for all I know that gold might remain gold until the universe suffers the heat death, but it will no longer be anyone's possession (c.f. evidence). The relationship, or putative relationship, of possession will have ceased to hold.

And if you don't like my aether because, er, um, it happens to be inconvenient to your own facile claims, choose your own fave well-supported-by-evidence-in-a-modern-hard-science entity; how about electrons, say? Is it at all possible, even if extremely unlikely, that physicists may one day renounce electrons the same way they renounced caloric fluid and the aether? Yes? No? Given that you're not some kind of wayward scientific infallibilist, I'll take that as a yes: it's not inconceivable. Good! Now, come that sorry electronless day, even if hypothetically speaking, what are we to say of all that evidence, or what we currently take to be the evidence, for electrons?:

(i) We thought we had very strong evidence for electrons, but turns out we were wrong. After all, there can be no evidence for a non-existent entity. (see also witches), Or

(ii) The evidence for electrons remains very strong, even though they are now known not to exist.

And if you choose (ii), I'm afraid I'll not only have to shoot you, but talk to you about God too. After all, the evidence for God, until quite recently, was taken to be so overwhelming as to be not worth mentioning -- by virtually everyone, um, if you'll pardon my Eurocentricity. Ask Isaac Newton. Or perhaps, on his behalf, I might impertinently ask you, Mitchell: "Just look at all that exquisite design in nature, eh. Don't you agree that the evidence for God's existence is overwhelming?"
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby RoccoR on March 25th, 2017, 8:47 am 

Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?
NoShips, et al,

Now I found this very interesting. Can you explain who believes this and why?

NoShips » March 25th, 2017, 6:43 am wrote:@ Mitchell (directly above)

(i) We thought we had very strong evidence for electrons, but turns out we were wrong. After all, there can be no evidence for a non-existent entity. (see also witches), Or

(ii) The evidence for electrons remains very strong, even though they are now known not to exist.

(COMMENT)

Yes, we all know that process of education and the pursuit of scientific knowledge is never-ending. So there is always room for doubt; in the science and in the results as we understand them.

But tell me about this electron business (existence vs non-existence)...

Most Respectfully,
R
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 25th, 2017, 8:58 am 

RoccoR, hiya!

No need to be alarmed: electrons are still safe and sound last I heard. I chose electrons as a hypothetical example since Mitchell didn't like my actual, historical aether example; not only is the late 19th century pre-modern on his account (funny, I'm usually told modern science begins around 1600), but Mitchell would have us believe, it seems, that no 19th century physicist ever claimed any evidence supporting aether theories. (which kinda makes you wonder why they wasted so much time on the darn stuff rather than researching Bigfoot)

Not inclined to argue the point(s); easier to get hypothetical. The point I'm trying to make, R, is using our pre-philosophical intuitions, which would you find more natural to say in the unlikely event that physicists one day abandon electrons, as they once abandoned the aether: (i) or (ii)? (see bottom of my previous post)

And if (ii), do you think they'd still be saying the same 500 years thereafter? i.e. "The evidence for electrons remains extremely strong ... even though no one has believed in them for 500 years?" -- unnamed 26th century physicists

(Psst, remember, "evidence [in modern hard science] NEVER GOES AWAY" - Mitchell)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby RoccoR on March 25th, 2017, 11:02 am 

Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?
NoShips , et al,

Many thanks. The JJ Thomson particle is a key.

NoShips » March 25th, 2017, 8:58 am wrote:No need to be alarmed: electrons are still safe and sound last I heard.

(COMMENT)

However I do understand the urge to throw the "penalty flag" when Physicists start with the quark business. While I do believe that the collision of proton beams does make for exotic detector pictures, I suppose that such collision occur naturally in the universe.

When I listen so the Physicists take about Up-Quarks, Down-Quarks and Strange Quarks, and the eV and mV charges and (and the two-thirds, one-third charges) how the fit together to make photons; I tend to think that they are making this up to explain impact chips of energy created by the collision. They dazzle people with the puzzle of hadron remnants --- like filming two crystal glasses colliding and trying to make sense of the shards.

Yeah, I understand the nature of the question (Should We Believe Scientists?) and count myself somewhat skeptical at these far fetched explanations. I shook my head at the explanation of Beta (-) decay when a Neutron mysteriously changed into a Proton (the invention of a anti-neutrino in order to balance the equation and balance/conserve energy). I guess the turning point for was when they speak the "Strong Nuclear Force" attractive until the nuclei space reaches ≈ 0.5 femtometers, then magically changes its force characteristics --- almost becoming repulsive. THEN: there is the Gluon as the messenger carrier for the "Strong Force." It has no mass and no electric charge (how can that be called a particle and how could it affect anything). In fact, how can we even detect a Gluon if it has no mass and no charge?

I understand the importance of being skeptical; not biased, one way or the other.

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R
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby mitchellmckain on March 25th, 2017, 1:25 pm 

RoccoR » March 25th, 2017, 10:02 am wrote:Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?
NoShips , et al,

Many thanks. The JJ Thomson particle is a key.

NoShips » March 25th, 2017, 8:58 am wrote:No need to be alarmed: electrons are still safe and sound last I heard.

(COMMENT)

However I do understand the urge to throw the "penalty flag" when Physicists start with the quark business. While I do believe that the collision of proton beams does make for exotic detector pictures, I suppose that such collision occur naturally in the universe.

When I listen so the Physicists take about Up-Quarks, Down-Quarks and Strange Quarks, and the eV and mV charges and (and the two-thirds, one-third charges) how the fit together to make photons; I tend to think that they are making this up to explain impact chips of energy created by the collision. They dazzle people with the puzzle of hadron remnants --- like filming two crystal glasses colliding and trying to make sense of the shards.

Yeah, I understand the nature of the question (Should We Believe Scientists?) and count myself somewhat skeptical at these far fetched explanations. I shook my head at the explanation of Beta (-) decay when a Neutron mysteriously changed into a Proton (the invention of a anti-neutrino in order to balance the equation and balance/conserve energy). I guess the turning point for was when they speak the "Strong Nuclear Force" attractive until the nuclei space reaches ≈ 0.5 femtometers, then magically changes its force characteristics --- almost becoming repulsive. THEN: there is the Gluon as the messenger carrier for the "Strong Force." It has no mass and no electric charge (how can that be called a particle and how could it affect anything). In fact, how can we even detect a Gluon if it has no mass and no charge?


Not sure whether you are serious or being ironic.... but in any case to clarify I am forced to address your literal statements.

The photon has no charge or mass so by this reasoning "how can that be called a particle and how could that effect anything" Yet the fact remains that photons are the force particle (messenger carrier) for the electromagnetic force.

Scientists have been poking and testing the Standard Model (that is the name of the theory with quarks in it, by the way) hunting desperately for any flaw as a clue for new physics and none has been found. Because of this the evidence has accumulated to a very high degree. But have quarks been detected in particle accelerators? Yes. The last was the top quark, heaviest of the bunch, reported in 1995. It was after this they moved on to a bigger challenge of discovering the Higgs boson, which was confirmed in 2012.

When we ask if someone should be believed, is this an absolute or relative question? Is the claim being made that scientists are never wrong and never lie? Or are we asking about the reliability of scientists compared to others? Only the most foolishly argumentative person with empty rhetoric as their agenda would interpret the question as the former. And it is "scientists" plural in the question which I take to mean what the scientific community agrees has been established by the objective evidence, and not what a singular scientist might claim belief of. The fact is that those who base there conclusions on objective evidence are more reliable than anyone else, and science has the highest standards of evidence. Therefore, if ANYONE should be believed it is the scientific community. I rest my case.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby mitchellmckain on March 25th, 2017, 1:33 pm 

NoShips » March 25th, 2017, 5:43 am wrote:And if you choose (ii), I'm afraid I'll not only have to shoot you, but talk to you about God too. After all, the evidence for God, until quite recently, was taken to be so overwhelming as to be not worth mentioning -- by virtually everyone, um, if you'll pardon my Eurocentricity. Ask Isaac Newton. Or perhaps, on his behalf, I might impertinently ask you, Mitchell: "Just look at all that exquisite design in nature, eh. Don't you agree that the evidence for God's existence is overwhelming?"



Wait... You talk like this belief in the existence of God has been disproved. LOL!

Provoked to hilarity and beyond all seriousness I am attempted to talk about the discover of the so called "god particle."


Ok, putting my serious face back on... Have scientists believe in God? Sure, and many still do. I am one of them. Is the belief in God founded on objective evidence? No, the evidence for the existence of God has always been quite subjective. Did the belief in God come from science? No. So what is the relevance of this belief to the topic of discussion? Nothing whatsoever.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 26th, 2017, 5:49 am 

Not particularly relevant to the topic at hand, but since Chomsky's name has been mentioned, and it's my thread anyway...


It's come to my attention recently that Noam Chomsky, polemic prowess and nonpareil brilliance in the field of linguistics notwithstanding, earned himself something of a reputation during the so-called "linguistics wars" of the 1960s and 70s for misrepresenting and distorting the arguments of his rivals.

"Chomsky fights dirty", bemoaned one disgruntled linguistic pugilist, lying beaten and bloody on the canvas.

Apparently of the same mind, W. V. O. Quine, towering giant of 20th century analytic philosophy, voiced his displeasure somewhat more eloquently:

"Chomsky's remarks leave me with feelings at once of reassurance and frustration. What I find reassuring is that he nowhere clearly disagrees with my position. What I find frustrating is that he expresses much disagreement with what he thinks to be my position."
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on March 26th, 2017, 1:01 pm 

I have way more respect for Quine than Chomsky. Chomsky has been overhyped for decades and walks around with this magical Great Public Intellectual scepter - I find the display distasteful. Regarding....

How would I rate the chances of his [Chomsky] latest theory (whatever that is) being true and still being widely regarded as so, say, 500 years from now? Roughly zero.

How about you, Biv?


Well, given that I example (in my first post) his failure to "beat the bushes" for counterevidence to Universal Grammar, and subsequent implosion of same when news arrived from a linguist sweating in the rainforest, I think my answer is clearly "zero," too.

I think, as Mitchell points out, that matters are much clearer with hard sciences. Whatever we construe an "electron" to be, in some deep ontological way (only looks "pointy" when a field perturbation is measured in a certain way, is really just a knot of field strength, it's all just fields interacting and fields are just spacetime fibers woven into an attractive rug that ties the whole room together, whatever), certain kinds of evidence of a regular pattern of behavior will remain. But we may end up talking about the measurement in different ways. Galileo measured quite carefully the behavior of classical objects as they are acted upon in Earth's gravity field, and his evidence is still valid when we are talking about a certain macro-scale field of play. If a man sitting in a boat tosses a tennis ball up in the air, the ball will still travel with the boat and land back in his hand if he's not clumsy. The evidence is solid and in no way undermined by the discovery of a quark or a boson or quantum entanglements between Alice and Bob. Hard science adds layers, and old layers still have some validity and use.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 26th, 2017, 11:47 pm 

Braininvat » March 27th, 2017, 2:01 am wrote:
I think, as Mitchell points out, that matters are much clearer with hard sciences. Whatever we construe an "electron" to be, in some deep ontological way (only looks "pointy" when a field perturbation is measured in a certain way, is really just a knot of field strength, it's all just fields interacting and fields are just spacetime fibers woven into an attractive rug that ties the whole room together, whatever), certain kinds of evidence of a regular pattern of behavior will remain. But we may end up talking about the measurement in different ways. Galileo measured quite carefully the behavior of classical objects as they are acted upon in Earth's gravity field, and his evidence is still valid when we are talking about a certain macro-scale field of play. If a man sitting in a boat tosses a tennis ball up in the air, the ball will still travel with the boat and land back in his hand if he's not clumsy. The evidence is solid and in no way undermined by the discovery of a quark or a boson or quantum entanglements between Alice and Bob. Hard science adds layers, and old layers still have some validity and use.


Hi Biv,

Yes, yes, none of that is controversial, but all besides the point I was making about evidence, don't you think?

The phenomenena or observations or whatever else we take as evidence for X (where X might be a theory or an unobservable entity of some kind) will remain unperturbed ..... but it will no longer be evidence for X if it turns out that X is abandoned as illusory.

And why can't people just say "evidence" without having to bolster it with rhetorically impressive but utterly vacuous (as far as I can discern) adjectives such as "solid", "objective", "concrete", "hard", etc.? Might as well just shout and thump the table LOL :-)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 27th, 2017, 12:17 am 

One of the most, or perhaps THE most, sophisticated writers on science I've discovered recently is John Ziman (according to the cover jacket: "professor of theoretical physics, member of the Royal Society, etc., etc).

On the topic of dogmatism (see various posts earlier in the thread), I quote from Prof Ziman's "Real Science", page 311:

"The distinction [between science and religion] is surely valid, but very far from absolute. As we have seen, science rarely lives up to its ideals. Scientific paradigms often become socially entrenched, and are presented as if entirely beyond question. The notion that science is never dogmatic is one of its dogmas!"


Edit: this is worth quoting at some length. Continuing from above, same paragraph...

"At the same time, not all religious systems are hostile to originality and scepticism. Hinduism and Buddhism are continually open to new wisdom gained by personal enlightenment. Even a 'revealed' religion such as Judeo-Christianity or Islam, where any line of argument can be closed off by reference to a text provided by an omnipotent deity, can never be systematically fundamentalist. Its teachings are reshaped by Prophets and Saints. Its founder texts become the focus of creative heresy, critical debate and doctrinal re-interpretation. For example, vigorous scholastic controversy within medieval Christendom created a fertile intellectual seedbed for new belief systems, such as Reformation theology, Renaissance humanism and scientific naturalism. The notion that 'religion' is always dogmatic is also a scientific dogma!"
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on March 27th, 2017, 8:49 am 

Just reading through the thread again (and thanks to everyone who has contributed), I was struck by the similarity between what Wolfhnd said (post 5)...

"To some extent even scientific truths are trivialized because we take them for granted if they are well entrenched in our paradigm."

... and what John Ziman says in my post above:

"Scientific paradigms often become socially entrenched, and are presented as if entirely beyond question."

Once again, I'd emphasize my view that dogmatism, within certain boundaries, is not necessarily a bad thing. No doubt we all have certain beliefs or principles that we would be extremely reluctant to give up. I suspect the reason why scientists tend to deny the prevalence of dogmatism in science is simply because of the negative connotations the word carries.

Conversely, the expression "open minded" brings with it a cachet of respectability; open-mindedness, on conventional wisdom at least, is something we ought to strive for. Given a little reflection, though, it seems to me that on a scale of extreme open to closed mindedness, somewhere near the closed end is actually the appropriate place to ensconce oneself, if avoidance of false beliefs is our desideratum.

I once had a fall-out with a scientist friend (sigh!) for contradicting her in her insistence that science is characterized by open-mindedness. Seems to me scientists, by and large, would be found somewhere very near the closed end of the spectrum -- no Loch Ness monster, no aliens, no psychics, thank you very much -- which is precisely where they ought to be.

What's so great about being open-minded, ladies and gentlemen? ... oh, and you too, Bigfoot.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on March 27th, 2017, 9:52 am 

There's an old Jewish saying about that: "Keep your mind open, but not so open that your brain falls out on the floor."

Regarding my Galileo example and evidence for things that later prove illusory....I guess one could say that his, and later Newton's, evidence for a gravitational force remains valid if we recognize that gravity is what physicists call a pseudoforce. It's still useful to treat it as a force, even if we recognize at the same time that this is an illusion created by the curvature of space and objects taking a trajectory that follows that curvature. So, again, something can prove illusory but we still make use of the illusion when we are making calculations, designing a rocket for structural integrity, etc. And I think many things in hard science are like that - the old evidence was not a figment of the imagination, and it did provide a legitimate window onto some regular pattern in the world. (unless the evidence was simply bad data from a researcher who was a bit delusional, like the fellow who saw "canals" on the surface of Mars and concluded it harbored civilizations)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on March 27th, 2017, 3:10 pm 

NoShips » Mon Mar 27, 2017 12:49 pm wrote:I once had a fall-out with a scientist friend (sigh!) for contradicting her in her insistence that science is characterized by open-mindedness. Seems to me scientists, by and large, would be found somewhere very near the closed end of the spectrum -- no Loch Ness monster, no aliens, no psychics, thank you very much -- which is precisely where they ought to be.

What's so great about being open-minded, ladies and gentlemen? ... oh, and you too, Bigfoot.


I think the point you are missing is scientist like to round up - technically its not 100% no loch ness monster - its 99.9999% sure there is no Lochy! We reserve that 0.0001% for the moment that foul devil creature washes its moldy bones to the shore - and even then we will still doubt it came from the lake.
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