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 Forest_Dump on April 11th, 2017, 9:35 am 

I would say that some scientists are certainly dogmatic and even opine that some philosophical schools such as positivism might even be more susceptable to that but the very nature of the role of critique both from within and from the philosophy of science helps counter that by challenging the very dogmas that threaten to "ossify" science (citing Feyerabend).
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 11th, 2017, 9:37 am 

Forest_Dump » April 11th, 2017, 10:35 pm wrote:I would say that some scientists are certainly dogmatic and even opine that some philosophical schools such as positivism might even be more susceptable to that but the very nature of the role of critique both from within and from the philosophy of science helps counter that by challenging the very dogmas that threaten to "ossify" science (citing Feyerabend).


Chalk up one for the good guys :-)

Now, let's see you convince the rest. It's my bed time.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Lomax on April 11th, 2017, 9:40 am 

NoShips » April 11th, 2017, 2:19 pm wrote:Is it your position, then, Lomax, that science (as opposed to scientists) is dogma-free?[/color]

That's the spirit of the distinction I'm making, although - as I entered by saying - I think "dogma-free" might be too strong a claim. My confirmation-holism is such that, although no single statement need ever be permanently incorrigible, we have to award some theorem X temporary incorrigibility every time we revise some theorem Y. But this is only really to say that pragmatic concerns play some role in choosing between theories.

I found Ziman's quote a little wide of the mark. The fact is that if a Christian ceases to believe in Christ, she is no longer a Christian. Buddhism may encourage you to develop wisdom but it does not allow you to develop any wisdom which would be inconsistent with the propositions laid down by the books, churches, leaders and traditions of Buddhism: to do so would be to excommunicate yourself. And no kind of test or demonstration will be called upon to determine whether you have, in fact, discovered something that Buddhists were previously all deluded about. Religions allow dissent only within narrowly - and dogmatically - defined margins. The Anabaptists were able to form a new sect by persuading enough people that baptism is only valid for suitably mature individuals; but imagine them forming a new sect by persuading people that there is no deity, no heaven, no messiah and no salvation.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 11th, 2017, 9:46 am 

Lomax » April 11th, 2017, 10:40 pm wrote:[quote="[url=http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=319422#p319422]
That's the spirit of the distinction I'm making, although - as I entered by saying - I think "dogma-free" might be too strong a claim. My confirmation-holism is such that, although no single statement need ever be permanently incorrigible, we have to award some theorem X temporary incorrigibility every time we revise some theorem Y. But this is only really to say that pragmatic concerns play some role in choosing between theories.


Fee fie fo fum, I smell the blood of a Quinean

Your comments on Ziman are noted with respect. Check him out, Lomax. A splendid discovery! (don't expect much wit though)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 11th, 2017, 9:50 am 

Oh, but this...

[quote="[url=http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=319430#p319430]The Anabaptists were able to form a new sect by persuading enough people that baptism is only valid for suitably mature individuals; but imagine them forming a new sect by persuading people that there is no deity, no heaven, no messiah and no salvation.[/quote]

Fair 'nuff, but imagine scientists trying to get by with no laws of nature.

("Laws of nature, you say? There are none. Now get to work.")

Don't leave me this way, baby!

(Been here 43 years and still can't figure out the quote function. Sigh!)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Athena on April 11th, 2017, 10:34 am 

NoShips » April 11th, 2017, 7:30 am wrote:
Forest_Dump » April 11th, 2017, 10:25 pm wrote:
NoShips wrote:P.S. And where can I pick up a rule book for this kind of thing so that I might check for myself?


That would be my point. This rule book exists for the navy but not for science.


That being the case, how does Lomax, or anyone else, determine that the "practices and methods" of science are anti-dogmatic?


When a read an old logic book, it seemed to me anyone read such explanations of logic would be immune to being dogmatic.

I think it matters that we have education for good well rounded individual growth that makes everyone generalists versus education that specializes the individuals. A specialist is much more likely to know only one point of view and to feel very important for having that point of view. They are not well rounded.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 17th, 2017, 1:58 am 

Browsing through the forums, I find the following "definition of science" attributed to Richard Feynman and encomiastically endorsed by another member:

"Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation . . .As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."

Very touching, Prof Feynman, but, um, is it true? Our topic here is "should we believe scientists?" and this latest definitional panegyric, though pretty, strikes me about as plausible as the suggestion that Donald Trump is the messiah incarnate, sent here to save humankind from moral turpitude and rap music.

"Science alone of all the subjects ..." ?

Cough cough, splutter splutter. Hands up who thinks Bertrand Russell is infallible? Or Wittgenstein? Or Quine or Searle or Putnam? Seems we're not alone after all, professor; in fact it's liable to get kinda crowded in here.

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts" ?

Oh yeah? Tell that to the incensed defenders of neo-Darwinian evolutionary orthodoxy and see what happens. I've been hurt before. Hands up who thinks Darwin was lacking in knowledge (i.e. ignorant)? *bolts for safety*

Given that Prof Feynman's 'definition' bears about as much resemblance to real world science as I do to Brad Pitt, perhaps his remarks might more charitably be interpreted as a characterization of how science, in its ideal manifestation, ought to be conducted. In that case, though, we need to ask: what's a normative prescription doing dressed up as a definitional description?



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Oh yeah? How does he smell?

Terrible!
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby BadgerJelly on April 17th, 2017, 4:25 am 

You shouldn't believe scientists. You will, inevitably, choose someone/something to believe in.

Question authority. The authority that dislikes being questioned the most is, in my opinion, the kind of authority that I will endeavour to destroy (Like the authority that made this computer who decided to make US English default and made it damn near impossible to change!)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Eclogite on April 17th, 2017, 10:08 am 

NoShips » Mon Apr 17, 2017 5:58 am wrote: Hands up who thinks Darwin was lacking in knowledge (i.e. ignorant)? *bolts for safety*
Of course he was ignorant. Only a fool would claim otherwise. What you seem to be avoiding is the dual perspective with which we can view knowledge.

If the sum of all an expert's knowledge is represented as a sphere, how does the volume of that sphere compare with that of a non-expert? The sphere is larger, the expert is shown to be knowledgeable. No compare the volume of the sphere with the imagined sphere of all knowledge. The size of expert's sphere is arguably laughable. The expert is clearly ignorant.

So, despite the ignorance of the expert, we are more likely to gain a knowledge of reality by accepting the conclusions of the expert than by taking wild assed guesses, believing in a snake oil salesman, or any of the other alternatives open to us.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Lomax on April 17th, 2017, 12:27 pm 

NoShips » April 17th, 2017, 6:58 am wrote:Browsing through the forums, I find the following "definition of science" attributed to Richard Feynman and encomiastically endorsed by another member:

"Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation . . .As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."

Of course my doctor is ignorant of medicine. The problem for me is that, not being a doctor, I am more ignorant still.

When we concede that scientists don't know everything, that does not mean our own best guess is just as good. We are by all means free to challenge scientists, but we had better make sure we know what we're talking about first. I would say that that, vague as it is, demarcates when we should "believe" scientists from when we should not.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on April 17th, 2017, 1:15 pm 

Yes. I don't know much about determining the age of the dinosaur bones that are liberally sprinkled around this part of South Dakota. But the scientists who dig them up and subject them to various tests, like K-Ar testing, are less ignorant than I am and get such consistent results over hundreds of thousands of samples that there is no reasonable basis for me to believe that they were all created in 4004 BC rather than, say, 69 million years ago. There is no absolute proof in science, but there can be such a preponderance of consistent evidence that we can provisionally assent to the fossil ages reported by scientists.

And I can learn what the various assumptions are regarding the dating of fossils, e.g. the usefulness of dating adjacent layers that contain igneous rock - quite important with specimens millions of years old that can't be directly dated with C14 testing. Or knowing that the parent nuclide, K40, decays at a rate independent of its physical state and is not affected by differences in pressure or temperature. This is a well founded major assumption, common to all dating methods based on radioactive decay. Once I understand the solidity of the assumptions made, I can see that believing the scientists is a reasonable course and that their approach has been scrupulous and cautious.

If a scientist were to say, however, "These T-Rex bones are 68 MYO, and so is the empty Aquafina bottle we found squashed under its right femur," then, of course, there would be introduced a new batch of assumptions that might cause me to revise my opinion of this particular researcher. IOW, we should always examine the network of assumptions that any factual statement comes embedded in.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 17th, 2017, 7:09 pm 

Seems to me all above (Eclogite, Lomax, BiV) are simply trivializing Prof Feynman's remarks: so you're telling me that what he means by scientists being ignorant is that they don't know everything?; they're not omniscient?

Well, whoever thought they were?

(e.g. "When we concede that scientists don't know everything..." - Lomax) You don't say! Next you'll be telling me they can't leap over tall buildings in a single bound :-)

But anyway, rather than argue the semantics and standard usage of the term "ignorant" (which I suggest is not normally used as a contrary to omniscient), given that science turns out -- who would've guessed! -- to be a celebration of ignorance, let's examine Eclogite's remark:

"So, despite the ignorance of the expert, we are more likely to gain a knowledge of reality by accepting the conclusions of the expert than by taking wild assed guesses, believing in a snake oil salesman, or any of the other alternatives open to us."

Back to evolutionary theory, Eclogite. Can experts in the field claim knowledge or not? If yes, then they're not ignorant as you claim.

In case you balk at the audacity of an answer such as "Yes, they can claim knowledge", would you or would you not endorse a more modest claim like, say, "I believe they can claim knowledge of evolutionary processes"?

But this would still be a denial of ignorance.

"More likely to gain a knowledge of reality..." [my emphasis], you say? What if you have a 1% likelihood of gaining knowledge by listening to me, and a 2% likelihood by listening to the experts: should you listen to them?

("I think she has a 2% chance of being right" = "I think she's wrong", n'est-ce pas? Should you choose to believe her, it would be out of desperation, and not because you think she possesses knowledge -- "It's a long shot, Jim, but we have to try it". Is this how we should think of scientific claims?)

Last question, Eclogite: how do you personally rate the probability of evolutionary theory, as it stands right now, being true?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 17th, 2017, 9:31 pm 

Just to add a little more, let's look at Prof Feynman's controversial remark again:

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."

Now, if we read this as "science is the belief that experts don't know everything" or "science is the belief that experts are not omniscient", as I believe my interlocutors do above, Prof Feynman's remark reduces to utter triviality of the form:

"Scientific experts are ignorant of matters where they lack knowledge", or even more baldly...

"Scientific experts lack knowledge of matters about which they have no knowledge"

Heavens above! Either Prof Feynman is a fool spewing vacuous drivel or else we're misreading him. Give the nice man some credit, whaddya say? I suggest what he's telling us is something more like:

"Science is the belief that the claims to knowledge made by scientific experts are, by and large, almost certainly false and will be superseded in time."

And if this be the correct reading of Prof Feynman's remark, it brings his position and my own perilously close. A friend at last! :-)

That said, is the remark representative of science as a whole? Has Prof Feynman captured the attitude working scientists take to their own research?

I don't think so. Should I post some Dawkins videos? Krauss? deGrasse Tyson?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on April 17th, 2017, 9:37 pm 

NoShips » Mon Apr 17, 2017 5:58 am wrote:"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts" ?

Oh yeah? Tell that to the incensed defenders of neo-Darwinian evolutionary orthodoxy and see what happens. I've been hurt before. Hands up who thinks Darwin was lacking in knowledge (i.e. ignorant)? *bolts for safety*


I believe the statement is an inside joke to scientist - and not be taken literally as you have done. Mix in the the favorite: "True knowledge is in knowing that you know nothing" and Feynman makes a bit more sense here.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 17th, 2017, 9:46 pm 

"I believe the statement is an inside joke to scientist - and not be taken literally as you have done. Mix in the the favorite: "True knowledge is in knowing that you know nothing" and Feynman makes a bit more sense here."

Ah well, I hope you're right. People who know a lot -- or at least claim to know a lot -- make Socrates and myself distinctly nervous.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Forest_Dump on April 17th, 2017, 10:08 pm 

My onw take, having a bit of a sense of him since I am literally in the midst of his semi-autobiography, is that he meant that science doesn't rely on appeals to authority in quite that way. We don't put faith or belief in scientists. We look for ways to independently test everything they say and in fact vigourously try to falsify their claims and/or find other different ways to explain things. And then we look for a whole bunch of other ways to compare, contrast and test the alternative interpretations.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 17th, 2017, 10:13 pm 

Forest_Dump » April 18th, 2017, 11:08 am wrote:My onw take, having a bit of a sense of him since I am literally in the midst of his semi-autobiography, is that he meant that science doesn't rely on appeals to authority in quite that way. We don't put faith or belief in scientists. We look for ways to independently test everything they say and in fact vigourously try to falsify their claims and/or find other different ways to explain things. And then we look for a whole bunch of other ways to compare, contrast and test the alternative interpretations.



Thanks for the input, Forest, but if Feynman means what you suggest, i.e.

"We look for ways to independently test everything they say and in fact vigourously try to falsify their claims and/or find other different ways to explain things."

then I would once again appeal to the historical studies of Kuhn, Lakatos et al: it is simply not true, as evidenced by the historical record, that scientists, by and large, behave this way.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 17th, 2017, 10:18 pm 

P.S. on "falsification"

I was recently directed by a footnote to a comment by Steven Weinberg supposedly to the effect that he is not aware of a single instance of falsification in science (physics?) during the past 100 years.

I checked out the book in question ("Dreams of a Final Theory") at the library, but was unable to locate the quote.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Forest_Dump on April 17th, 2017, 10:34 pm 

NoShips wrote:then I would once again appeal to the historical studies of Kuhn, Lakatos et al: it is simply not true, as evidenced by the historical record, that scientists, by and large, behave this way.


I think once again you are taking a bit of a slanted take on this. (Truth be told I think you have been relying on a number of what appear to ne to be simplistic straw man arguments lately.)

In Feynman's book ("You Must be Joking Mr. Feynman!") there are may anecdotes of him interacting with people like Bohr, Einstein, Fermer, etc. and it is always about one of these guys making a statement of some sort, usually some kind of interpretation of observations, etc., both before and after the Manhattan project, and it is always treated as a kind of puzzle to solve, alternatives to look for etc. And I would say it is perfectly in line with Kuhn's ideas - normal science is puzzle solving and the experts only decide what counts a worthwhile puzzles.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 17th, 2017, 10:38 pm 

Forest_Dump » April 18th, 2017, 11:34 am wrote:
NoShips wrote:then I would once again appeal to the historical studies of Kuhn, Lakatos et al: it is simply not true, as evidenced by the historical record, that scientists, by and large, behave this way.


I think once again you are taking a bit of a slanted take on this. (Truth be told I think you have been relying on a number of what appear to ne to be simplistic straw man arguments lately.)

In Feynman's book ("You Must be Joking Mr. Feynman!") there are may anecdotes of him interacting with people like Bohr, Einstein, Fermer, etc. and it is always about one of these guys making a statement of some sort, usually some kind of interpretation of observations, etc., both before and after the Manhattan project, and it is always treated as a kind of puzzle to solve, alternatives to look for etc. And I would say it is perfectly in line with Kuhn's ideas - normal science is puzzle solving and the experts only decide what counts a worthwhile puzzles.


And puzzle-solving, on Kuhn's account, is always conducted within a theoretical framework which is itself not under test. Right?

Contrast with your earlier interpretation of Feynman's remarks:

"We look for ways to independently test everything they say and in fact vigourously try to falsify their claims and/or find other different ways to explain things."

So, on the one hand (on your account), scientists normally engage in puzzle solving -- wherein (on Kuhn's account, which you say you endorse) the overarching theoretical framework is simply taken for granted; assumed to be true; no attempt is made at falsification, quite the opposite, falsification is fiercely resisted -- and on the other hand (on your reading of Feynman) scientists "vigourously try to falsify their claims".

Well, which is it?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Eclogite on April 18th, 2017, 3:11 am 

NoShips, I stated in my initial remark post "What you seem to be avoiding is the dual perspective with which we can view knowledge." You still seem to be avoiding it.

Here is an analogy I have used successfully with students to give them confidence to admit that there are things the don't know and to view this as a positive thing, not a negative thing. I begin with the sphere analogy.

Consider that what you know is defined by a sphere. The surface of the sphere is where your knowledge contacts your ignorance. It is where you glimpse, for the first time, the knowledge and understanding that are just beyond your reach - at least without effort to extend the sphere.

Your ignorance is defined by the surface area of the sphere. These are the things you know you do not know. As you learn more and extend the sphere, its surface area increases. Consequently your ignorance increases.

I set myself the goal of being more ignorant at the end of the day than I was at the beginning. If you are unable to appreciate the perspective I am using in this analogy then we are likely doomed to be talking past each other.


Back to evolutionary theory, Eclogite. Can experts in the field claim knowledge or not? If yes, then they're not ignorant as you claim.
They can certainly claim knowledge. They can also claim ignorance. If they could not claim ignorance there would be nothing left for them to research.

Last question, Eclogite: how do you personally rate the probability of evolutionary theory, as it stands right now, being true?
That depends very much on the granularity of the theory. Do I think terrestrial life exhibits a nested hierarchy of common descent developed through natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift and other factors? Yes. Do I think we have a solid grasp on all the other factors. No.

That is to say, we have considerable knowledge about evolution, but we also have large areas of ignorance. This dual perspective seems to be a problem for you. Why?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 18th, 2017, 3:26 am 

Eclogite » April 18th, 2017, 4:11 pm wrote:

That is to say, we have considerable knowledge about evolution, but we also have large areas of ignorance. This dual perspective seems to be a problem for you. Why?


It's a problem because, as far as I can discern, everything you've said (pace your theory of spheres) amounts to triviality of the highest order, namely: scientists know some stuff, and there is some stuff that scientists don't know too... but that's ok.

Do you know anyone who denies this? A neonate perhaps?

The question we're supposed to be addressing is should we believe scientists' claims to knowledge, or more specifically, under what circumstances should we believe these claims? Your comments do nothing to address this.

Supposing Dawkins lectures on evolutionary theory for an hour, making numerous claims to knowledge. Should we believe everything he says? Nothing he says? Some of what he says? Isn't Richard Feynman's remark a kind of caveat emptor? -- let the believer beware!
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Eclogite on April 18th, 2017, 4:58 am 

NoShips » Tue Apr 18, 2017 7:26 am wrote:
Eclogite » April 18th, 2017, 4:11 pm wrote:

That is to say, we have considerable knowledge about evolution, but we also have large areas of ignorance. This dual perspective seems to be a problem for you. Why?


It's a problem because, as far as I can discern, everything you've said (pace your theory of spheres) amounts to triviality of the highest order, namely: scientists know some stuff, and there is some stuff that scientists don't know too... but that's ok.

Do you know anyone who denies this? A neonate perhaps?
You appeared to be denying it. You view the observation as trivial, whereas I view it as fundamental. Just because it is obvious does not automatically render it trivial.

You ask a very general question. General questions are best answered with general answers. The general answer, rephrased somewhat, is that we should believe some of what scientists say, the amount depending upon the context (experience of scientist, supporting data, duration of study, novelty of concept, etc.).

If you wish more specific answers, you need to ask more specific questions. This will move the answers from what you class as trivial, to what you may find more satisfactory.

NoShips » Tue Apr 18, 2017 7:26 am wrote:The question we're supposed to be addressing is should we believe scientists' claims to knowledge, or more specifically, under what circumstances should we believe these claims? Your comments do nothing to address this.
My comments fully address your general query in a general way. It depends. Until and unless you specify fully the context the answer cannot be comprehensively detailed. The responses are as varied as the circumstances.

You seem to feel a specific, all-embracing answer can be given to a general question. I don't think so.

And, at the risk of moving the thread off-topic, I don't hold with believing scientists at all. I hold with accepting the findings of science, on a provisional basis, the degree of acceptance being dependent upon the quality of the evidence and argument.


You asked a more specific question in relation to evolutionary theory; I gave a more specific answer. If you narrow the question further, I can narrow the answer further.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 18th, 2017, 5:19 am 

Eclogite » April 18th, 2017, 5:58 pm wrote:And, at the risk of moving the thread off-topic, I don't hold with believing scientists at all. I hold with accepting the findings of science, on a provisional basis, the degree of acceptance being dependent upon the quality of the evidence and argument.


Ah, I like this answer, Eclogite. Common ground at last! The attitude of "acceptance", espoused by Bas van Fraassen, is one that I'm sympathetic to myself.

To accept a scientific theory, on van Fraassen's account, is to commit oneself only to a belief in its empirical adequacy, which is to say no more than the theory is in agreement with the observable evidence.

Such an attitude of circumspection stands in contrast to the rabid scientific realist who is liable to scream that the very same theory is true, yes TRUE, thus transcending an assertion of mere empirical adequacy, claiming further that all unobservable entities and mechanisms posited by the theory do indeed exist as described.

"Why hang for a lamb when you can hang for a sheep?" is not an epistemic principle we ought to endorse, van Fraassen is wont to emphasize.

But then again, I suppose, science has always been pulled by the opposing desires to stick as close to the evidence as possible (the empiricist), on the one hand, and provide satisfying explanatory theories -- to get the world right! (the realist) -- on the other.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Forest_Dump on April 18th, 2017, 8:10 am 

NoShips wrote:But then again, I suppose, science has always been pulled by the opposing desires to stick as close to the evidence as possible (the empiricist), on the one hand, and provide satisfying explanatory theories -- to get the world right! (the realist) -- on the other.


I think I get confused by what appears to me to be a manufactured dichotomy in some of your arguments. I have difficulty imagining a "pure" empiricist wandering around mindlessly gathering random data and then engaging in hat is sometimes called a drunken search for patterns although I know there are some who come close. Perhaps my (mistaken?) charactature of the scientist almost randomly looking for anything that causes cancer in order to get funding to keep the lab going comes close in some ways. Closer to my own field we have people randomly picking up artifacts (or pseudo artifacts) from fields or lake shores in the vain hope that they will find something that will put them on the cover of some pop archaeology magazine, change the world, etc. The reality is that scientists collect data with some question in mind and the desire to collect data that will address that question. Of course what often gets overlooked is the ideological (political, etc.) origins of those questions.

There is probably more truth to the idea of the relatively more pure theoretician, usually wandering the halls of the ivory tower academic institutions, dreaming up "pure theory" and models of how the world might work. However, even here I think most sooner of later want to see what happens when the rubber meets the road as it were and test their models against some kind of real world data.

In other words, while I can conceive of this dichotomy between extreme "empiricists" vs. extreme "realists" (in your terms) I don't think it accurately describes any kind of majority of scientists. I might even go further and suspect that the extremes exist more in the non-professional world but that might be a different conversation.

I will admit that, as much as possible, in addition to the factors mentioned by Eclogite and others, i.e., the data and the nature and structure of the argument, I also try to get a sense of the broader context of the statements/arguments, etc. I try to be more skeptical when the statements seem to come from contexts with more of a conflict of interest. Simply, some kinds of statements just come from contexts more loaded by political, religious, and/or economic conflicts of interest and biases.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on April 18th, 2017, 8:57 am 

Forest_Dump » April 18th, 2017, 9:10 pm wrote:I think I get confused by what appears to me to be a manufactured dichotomy in some of your arguments. I have difficulty imagining a "pure" empiricist wandering around mindlessly gathering random data and then engaging in hat is sometimes called a drunken search for patterns although I know there are some who come close. Perhaps my (mistaken?) charactature of the scientist almost randomly looking for anything that causes cancer in order to get funding to keep the lab going comes close in some ways. Closer to my own field we have people randomly picking up artifacts (or pseudo artifacts) from fields or lake shores in the vain hope that they will find something that will put them on the cover of some pop archaeology magazine, change the world, etc. The reality is that scientists collect data with some question in mind and the desire to collect data that will address that question. Of course what often gets overlooked is the ideological (political, etc.) origins of those questions.


Hmm, no idea what you mean about a "manufactured dichotomy" or "wandering around mindlessly gathering random data", Forest. It seems our understandings of the term empiricist diverge quite radically.

To me, a scientist or philosopher of a more empiricist bent will emphasize the observable, and will be deeply suspicious of unobservable, (what he takes to be) metaphysical notions such as causation (you mentioned smoking causing cancer), will be reluctant to affirm the existence of unobservable entities (quarks, say), and may downplay or deny any role to explanation in science.

The proper function of science, for the empiricist, is simply to systematize our experience for purposes of prediction and intervention. Spare us the behind-the-scenes drama, thank you very much!

If it's examples (of bona fide scientists) you want, you'll find strong empiricist tendencies in the writings of Mach, Duhem, Poincare, Bridgman, and the early Einstein, among others.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Forest_Dump on April 18th, 2017, 9:39 am 

NoShips wrote:Hmm, no idea what you mean about a "manufactured dichotomy" or "wandering around mindlessly gathering random data", Forest. It seems our understandings of the term empiricist diverge quite radically.

To me, a scientist or philosopher of a more empiricist bent will emphasize the observable, and will be deeply suspicious of unobservable, (what he takes to be) metaphysical notions such as causation (you mentioned smoking causing cancer), will be reluctant to affirm the existence of unobservable entities (quarks, say), and may downplay or deny any role to explanation in science.

The proper function of science, for the empiricist, is simply to systematize our experience for purposes of prediction and intervention. Spare us the behind-the-scenes drama, thank you very much!

If it's examples (of bona fide scientists) you want, you'll find strong empiricist tendencies in the writings of Mach, Duhem, Poincare, Bridgman, and the early Einstein, among others.


Well there might be some prospect for clarity here. Although I would prefer to avoid dwelling on contrasting definitions, some of this seems more like the definition of a realist (leading me to wonder if there is a sharp distinction between an empiricist vs a realist - I am more familiar with the dichotomy of realists vs. positivists). But I will move on.

By what I take to be your usage, the empiricist simply notes observations, presumably including correlations between phenomena, but without looking for underlying causal factors? So no attempt is made to determine whether correlations are spurious?

How about something as simple as dropping a ball? In your useage, wouldn't even the most strict empiricist eventually notice that a released ball almost invariably moves in a very predictable direction that would/could/should(?) be explained by the unobservable (?) "cause" of this metaphysical thing we call gravity? Would it then be consistent with that view that we still don't have a solid handle on what causes gravity (beyond the perhaps now trite observation that gravity appears to be just a property of matterwithout having to go further)?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on April 18th, 2017, 10:26 am 

Eclogite » Tue Apr 18, 2017 7:11 am wrote:
Here is an analogy I have used successfully with students to give them confidence to admit that there are things the don't know and to view this as a positive thing, not a negative thing. I begin with the sphere analogy.

Consider that what you know is defined by a sphere. The surface of the sphere is where your knowledge contacts your ignorance. It is where you glimpse, for the first time, the knowledge and understanding that are just beyond your reach - at least without effort to extend the sphere.

Your ignorance is defined by the surface area of the sphere. These are the things you know you do not know. As you learn more and extend the sphere, its surface area increases. Consequently your ignorance increases.


I'd argue the analogy also expand three dimensionally up and down which includes the knowledge that we don't know that we don't know. This is the zone that always gets me in my research :D
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on April 18th, 2017, 10:31 am 

So, on the one hand (on your account), scientists normally engage in puzzle solving -- wherein (on Kuhn's account, which you say you endorse) the overarching theoretical framework is simply taken for granted; assumed to be true; no attempt is made at falsification, quite the opposite, falsification is fiercely resisted....
- Nosh

The chat has moved on, but I wanted to comment briefly on the above. I hoped my dinosaur bone example addressed the issue of taking a theoretical framework for granted. I pointed out that the assumptions behind K-Ar dating were all carefully scrutinized and not at all taken for granted. E.g. bones that can't themselves be dated, can be dated by determining the age of igneous rocks in the layer or surrounding layers they are found. Lots of empirical basis for that. Potassium-40 decays at a constant rate, regardless of temperature and pressure. Lots of empirical basis for that. And many honest attempts at falsification are thrown at each assumption. Could a bone gravitate away from its original level of rock somehow? Could a radionuclide decay at a variable rate? Et cetera. Just saying, a lot of what Kuhn talks about is not science per se, but bad science, or maybe I should say, the potential of science to go bad. So maybe the discussion should focus on: How do we recognize a bad scientist, so that we cannot be duped into believing her/him? Or, in some cases, a whole area of science that has been corrupted in some way? Having solid criteria for this would, presumably, enable us to identify good science that we may, provisionally, accept. I would prefer to say "provisional acceptance" rather than "belief," given the pitfalls of belief.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby SciameriKen on April 18th, 2017, 10:45 am 

NoShips » Tue Apr 18, 2017 12:57 pm wrote:The proper function of science, for the empiricist, is simply to systematize our experience for purposes of prediction and intervention. Spare us the behind-the-scenes drama, thank you very much!


No ships I'm going to attempt a new approach to understanding the scientific process that might justify why we should believe scientist.

I think it might be better to think of scientist as lawyers - which I know will probably make you believe scientist even less. Scientific experiments yield facts - but it is important to remember these facts are always conditional. A news article may report something like "Coffee prevents heart disease", which sounds like a scientific fact. However, the reality of this hypothetical study is that the data show coffee was beneficial over the timeline of the study in specific groups of people with each having their unique lifestyle/genetic differences, while most likely reaching a significance level whereby there remains still a slightly less than 5% chance the observed differences were due to pure chance.

This is where the scientist come and and act like lawyers. Just like a lawyer building a case with facts (evidence) to propose a concept (i.e. the man is guilty) beyond a preponderance of doubt (99% likelihood of guilt), the scientist is going to build a case with facts (scientific studies) to propose a concept (i.e. coffee prevents heart disease), beyond a preponderance of doubt (p value arbitrarily decided to be less than 0.05). Both are interpreting facts, while knowing the caveats of the facts, the support a claim.

Can a layman do this? Sure. Can a layman defend themselves in court? Sure. Is that a good idea? probably not. Likewise attempting to grasp scientific concepts without a background in science may also have similar complications to going to court without an attorney.

Furthermore - both can be wrong - innocent men have gone to jail and we all think running marathons is good for your health.

Hope this helps!
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