Argument against the scientific method

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by w1z4rd, Aug 29, 2011.

  1. w1z4rd Cry the beloved country Valued Senior Member

    On another forum I was debating with climate change denialists. Someone made the follow comment (I know a red herring, but I bit):

    I asked the poster to please tell me what shortcomings the scientific method has, and how those short comings effect the results on climate change science.

    This is the response I got. Unfortunely it uses too much philosophical jargon which I am unfamiliar with. What do you think of the following response. Is it accurate?:

    Discussions of methodology in science are clouded by a dreadful confusion because the phrase "the scientific method" is used in two very different ways, one appropriate and one highly misleading. The appropriate one speaks in a very general way of science as a powerful process for improving understanding. People who use the phrase in this general way may be criticizing dogmatic clinging to beliefs and prejudices, or appreciating careful and systematic reasoning about empirical evidence. Although vague, this general use of the phrase can be more or less appropriate.

    On the other hand, the phrase is also commonly used in a much more specific sense -- an entirely misleading sense -- which implies that there is a unique standard method which is central to scientific progress. There is no such unique standard method -- scientific progress requires many methods -- but students in introductory science courses are taught that "The Scientific Method" is a straightforward procedure, involving testing hypotheses derived from theories in order to test those theories.

    The "hypothetico-deductive" schema taught to students was not developed as a method at all: It was intended a logical analysis of how scientific theories derive support from evidence, and it was developed in a process that intentionally excluded consideration of the process of discovery in science. Few people learn that this notion came by a tangled route from an unreliable source (philosophical speculation), or that actual research on how science proceeds is still in its infancy. The question of how science is so successful at improving understanding is hardly ever presented as a question at all.

    The current situation is harmful in many ways: People in some immature scientific disciplines are actually trying to use this "method" as a guide to research practice; Others are required to pretend to have followed it when they report their results; and everyone is denied the benefit of useful, insightful analysis of how science works."

    Inductive reasoning is also known as hypothesis construction because any conclusions made are based on educated predictions. There are three biases that could distort the proper application of induction, thereby preventing the reasoner from forming the best, most logical conclusion based on the clues. These biases include the availability bias, the confirmation bias, and the predictable-world bias.

    I guess the obvious philosophical critique of the argument that "the only legitimate way to prove a statement correct/true/false is by using the scientific method", itself has yet to be proven using the scientific method.

    In any case, epistomology is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. So in order for him to argue it, he has to abandon it.
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  3. wellwisher Banned Banned

    If you look at the history of science, science progresses over time, but there are bloopers along the way. What that means is the application of the scientific method will not only create some bloopers, but it can also result in short terms perceptions of truth that become obsolete quickly. In other words, if the scientific method always led to 100% progression, with no bloopers and/or no advantageous short term thinking, the method would be much better.

    Another problem I foundwith the scientific method has to do with empirical. Since empirical is not fully subject to reason, but requires good quality experimental empiricism for proof, the scientific method can become more and more resource dependent.

    The resouce allocation is not always under the control of the scientific method, since government and industry are the two largest supplying of resources, with science only contributing a small fraction of direct resources.

    This means politics and free market obligations ultimeatelty control the resources needed to successfully do the empirical scientific method. This creates the potential for mercenary science, where the providers of resources can shift the resources to what they want, while using the scientific method to make this look legitimate.

    For example, global warming is an important application of the scientific method because of the many possible implications. But before you jump blindly into altering culture, it is also a good idea to consider all the alternate explanations. In the ideal world we would not stack one empirical deck with 90% resources, since this will stack the preponderance of the data to create the illusion of truth.

    A more honest application of the scientific method would go 50/50 fwith resources so we can turn over all rocks and come to the truth. The current truth appears to be buy the preponderance of the data, via resource allocation, to make solar energy become more competitive and/or allow political special interest to make money with imaginary carbon credits and added regulations.

    The scientific method should have an A-team and B-team, with the A-team based on logic and reason. The B-team is empirical and resource intensive. The A-teams method makes it much harder to create mercenary science led by special interests, since logic is free. Only the resources of the B-team will have a price to pay.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2011
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  5. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I can't see any problem with the response you quoted. I don't know what he or she meant by the last sentence.
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  7. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Thats the crux of it. You cannot use the scientific method to test the scientific method - hence the scientific method cannot be argued as the best method.

    see: Science as Falsification

    see also: The Problem of Induction
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2011
  8. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    It means something that many scientists would agree with.
    That all knowledge is not scientific knowledge.
    There are things other than scientific experiment and mathematics that we can hold to be true.
    Not sure why someone would post it on a climate change site though.
    It would be an argument more suitable to oppose Dawkinites.

    Best method for doing what?
    For doing science, it is the only method.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2011
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Balderdash! The scientific method is, in fact, recursive.

    The fundamental premise that underlies the scientific method and all of science is that the natural universe is a closed system, whose behavior can be predicted by theories derived logically from empirical evidence of its past and present behavior.

    We have been testing that premise intensively for centuries and have never come close to falsifying it or even casting it in doubt. Many have even been testing it aggressively, since being on the cover of Time over the caption, "The man/woman who disproved science," has a certain appeal to ego.

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  10. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    The argument is
    How would you test the scientific method using the scientific method?

    Popper's The Problem of Induction is a very succint description of this problem.

    Basically what the OP is saying that the only way to prove the efficacy of the scientific method is by abandoning it, since it is not a scientific argument, but a philosophical one of epistemology - the scope and limitations of knowledge which cannot be tested by the scientific method.

    Thats not the question being asked. We're arguing the limitations of the SM
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2011
  11. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Using the scientific method, we can become increasingly confident of the truth of any scientific theory. To the point where it is almost redundant to call it a theory at all.

    A theory is still called a theory, no matter how often it has been tested and proved, because it only takes one failure of a theory, in one instance, to make it fail. That's why creationists are always hunting for an example of irreducible complexity. Once one is dealt with, they look for another.

    It must have been tempting for physicists in the 18th and 19th centuries to hold Newton's theory of Gravity as a truth not a theory. For 200 years it solved every instance of gravity that had been seen.
    Then came Einstein, and the wisdom of calling theories theories rather than truths became evident.
    For everyday life, Newton's theory was still fine, but it had exceptions.

    The scientific method as a theory can be held to be as valid as any other theory. Up to now it has always been found to be useful in validating or invalidating scientific theories. It cannot say whether something is certainly true, but that is not its function.
    As a theory, it is open to being invalidated, and if it does it will fail.

    Saying that you cannot use a theory to validate a theory, is like saying that you cannot use a 1ft ruler to verify that a line is 1ft long.

    (Dwyddr is going to spot this thread, and torment me now.

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    Last edited: Aug 30, 2011
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Uh excuse me, but this is exactly what you argued:
    My point is that we have, indeed, been using the scientific method to test the scientific method for several centuries, and that it has consistently passed the test:
    • 1. There is no evidence of a supernatural universe.
    • 2. The theories we have derived logically from empirical observation of the natural universe's present and past behavior have been found to be the perfect tools for predicting its future behavior.
    • 3. Therefore the scientific method has been proven true beyond a reasonable doubt.
  13. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You can only use the scientific method to test theories that are falsifiable. Is the scientific method falsifiable?

    see also:

    Note that you are debating a philosophical question philosophically.

    see also: Fooled by Randomness
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2011
  14. scheherazade Northern Horse Whisperer Valued Senior Member

    We most often link 'discovery' with logical deduction, and testing by the 'scientific method.'

    The point being made above, in my understanding, is that while we may use observation, measurement and extrapolation to arrive at testable hypotheses which utilize the scientific method as affirmation, the process of 'discovery' itself is not addressed.

    From the definition of 'discovery':

    There is also the consideration that the scientific method cannot determine whether a hypothesis is indeed a true fact, as the method itself never 'signs off' on itself.

    In order for the scientific method to maintain credibility, the ledger must ever remain open to new evidence.

    In other words, there can never be final certainty, even by utilizing the scientific method.....especially if using the scientific method. :bugeye:

    An interesting thread start w1z3rd
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Sure. We only need one respectable piece of evidence for the existence of an invisible, illogical supernatural universe, from which fantastic creatures and unimaginable forces perturb the operation of the natural universe.

    That won't necessarily falsify it on the spot, but at least it will raise the question.

    In the half millennium since science as we know it began to come together, no such evidence has been presented. Despite the fact that there are millions of people, including scientists themselves, who would love to be on the cover of Time magazine over the headline, "The Man/Woman Who Disproved Science."

    All we get are tortillas with scorch marks that we are told are the exact likeness of people who lived two thousand years ago... and of whom no portraits exist against which to compare it.

    As I said in my first post, the scientific method is recursive.
  16. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    As is typical for circular, self-referential reasoning ...
  17. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    There's a huge difference between "circular" and "recursive," which you apparently missed.

    The scientific method is a sequence of quite ordinary actions whose application is hardly controversial. Gathering evidence, reasoning logically, testing the simplest solution first, peer-reviewing the work of others, proving positive assertions rather than negative ones, requiring people who walk in off the street with extraordinary claims to provide some evidence before we dissipate the finite resources of science in testing them...

    What part of that sequence is so remarkable that it can be reasonably doubted? This is pretty much the way any human endeavor should proceed!
  19. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    My layman opinion is, they don't have a very good way of large scale consensus research. Seems like they depend on that nowadays, but don't know how to get it done most of the time.

    In the old days one brilliant mind seemed to be able to do so much.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Unfortunately scientists are notoriously poor at communicating with laymen. "Theory" is, in fact, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a scientific hypothesis. It means that the hypothesis has been proven true beyond a reasonable doubt.

    We can never prove it true beyond all possible doubt because the theories of science are based on empirical evidence gathered from the natural universe. We can never be 100% certain that the universe won't surprise us some day in the future. More commonly we can never be 100% certain that our own advanced observational tools of the future won't reveal new evidence that we cannot observe. This is what happened to Newton's laws of motion when the technology of Einstein's era allowed us to see both smaller things and more distant things. But it's important to note that scientific theories are almost never overturned, but rather enhanced. There's nothing wrong with Newton's laws for those of us who can't leave this solar system and who never travel faster than a few millionths of the speed of light. On this scale, the errors are too small to detect with the finest instruments.

    Scientific theories contrast with mathematical theories, which are based entirely on abstractions. One plus one will always equal two, and the Pythagorean Theorem will never be falsified.

    They also contrast with the "theories" of police detectives, which are just well-crafted hunches. And of course they contrast most with the "theories" of the ordinary citizen, which are usually nothing more than a clever idea that hasn't been tested.

    It's a shame that the vocabulary of science is so ambiguous. And of course scientists just make it worse by coining a name like "String Theory" for an unproven hypthesis. That guy should be in Science Jail!
  21. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Did you choose your wife by applying the scientific method?
  22. wellwisher Banned Banned

    The scientific method is the best way we have, even if there are some shortcomings.

    My main argument is science is not self sufficient in terms of resources. It needs seconary sources like government and business to provide funding. This means others forces, that are higher in the pecking order than science, are also at work in terms of results. If you work for anyone, besides yourself, there are compromies that need to be made to keep your job and/or to get promotions. The best company man will do better, which means politics. This will not effect the actual science, but will impact the choice of science allowing publication stacking.

    Reseach that is empirical always needs resources. The same idea without access may not go anywhere. The beholden nature of science, especially resource intensive science can make the choice of science a function of politics.

    I mean nothing by this example, other than as a dramatic example. When social engineeering was altering cuture and defining new behavior, science research needed to provide fluff pieces for homosexuality. If you took a counter position, you would be black balled. All you need to do is take away resources or threaten to take away resources and there is no alternate science to compete. But if you play ball with the social engineers, you can help build the one sided perponderance and be compensated very well.

    The science is still good, based on the premises and angles investigated, but the overall science is skewed in the image of the holders of the purse. If you argue, against manmade global warming, will that get you easy access to resouces? The final science can follow the rules, but will not get off the ground unless you play ball. The individial who is cut off, may not be able to afford to do it alone.

    Say I had a $1B to give to science. I think apples are better than oranges. I can spend that money anyway I wish and everyone knows I like apples better. The good smoozer will find a way to do apple research. It can still be be excellent science. The watchdogs, whose jobs is to control the purse, knowing I don't like oranges, will try to stay in favor and not insult me. They will consciously or unconsciously make it happen.

    Again, the science that gets the resources, may do the science to perfection. Just there are many opinions, ideas, hypothesis and theories looking for resources, all of which can do good science. The controllers of the purse have input as to what they hope will appear in the journals.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2011
  23. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Oh my.
    Nonsense again...

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