What qualifies as science?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Jozen-Bo, Apr 25, 2017.

  1. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    SM can be interpreted as either prescriptive procedure "supposedly" regulating / guiding scientific practice or (in the case of philosophers studying science) a general descriptive account of what science "supposedly" does.

    "Supposedly" is applicable from the standpoint of contrarian scientists of the past like Percy Bridgman (physicist) or Peter Medawar (biologist) contending that there either was no opinion to declare about "scientific method" or that such was not in effect (in the sense of a universal template as opposed to specific, contingent instances of work). This particular statement of Bridgman, if taken literally, would essentially be declaring that SM is ineffable, that there can be no verbal account of the "doing": "Scientific method is what working scientists do, not what other people or even they themselves may say about it." (Also undermines itself, since Bridgman is a scientist saying something about SM.)

    An evaluation of accuracy can pertain to the perception of SM as a descriptive account. But again, "true / false" values usually aren't applicable to invented schemes of rules like basketball or chess (there is not anything existing / active before their introduction which they are representing, explaining, predicting, etc). Thus such assessments do not follow with respect to SM as a prescriptive procedure, set of techniques, etc.

    One might revise or alter whatever a particular generation, region, scholar or authority has established SM to be on the grounds that the change or outright replacement would improve science. But that simply emphasizes the "duh" in regard to products of intellectual activity which prescribe / regulate a domain or practice (as in being the preconditions for operation or the a priori setup / framework which makes _X_ possible). They're vulnerable to the same territory of processes, reasoning, arguments, criticisms, customs, disagreements, motives, rhetoric, fallacies, controversies, rivalries, approaches to organizing, creativity, etc which generated them in the first place.

    That's not to say that sometimes there are abstract human artifacts or principles which can be deemed immutable or absolute with regard to a greater system that they reside in, because they are key or vital to the very functioning or survival of the system. But outside of the latter they may be incompatible, less relevant / sacred, or be completely foreign or functionless in the context of those other devised constructs, practices, domains. There may also be concepts which are judged necessary or fundamental in all of the latter (outright universals).
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
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  3. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    Ummm you can't pick up pieces of the DISCOVERY of a moon of Saturn

    You can observe the moon as it changes

    Not a thing at all

    It is a process

    A DISCOVERED process

    You can observe the process in the changes

    No philosophical question here and biology does not think

    Care to name a few others?

    Of what?

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  5. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    This post really drops the ideas of Popper, including demarcation and falsification and the theory of evolution as a model of how SM works, like it was something too hot to handle. I have seen this behavior before from members of Young Earth Creationists, who are really NOT scientists at all.

    Induction has been brought back, which is what many of Popper's most vocal critics have claimed is a better demarcation. The problem with that idea is of course that pseudoscience sometimes uses, or rather abuses the same instrumentation science uses, which would otherwise make induction a stronger idea for distinguishing science from pseudoscience.

    The use of a skin resistance galanometer by the cult of scientology as some kind of half arsed "stress test", is just one example of making use of the instrumentation of science in order to further the ends of pseudoscience. So this is an example of an induction demarcation counterexample.

    "One might revise or alter whatever a particular generation, region, scholar or authority has established SM to be on the grounds that the change or outright replacement would improve science."

    There is no appeal to scholarship or authority in the scientific method. I have no particular objections to the persons you have selected to comment on SM, but these (a high pressure physicst, and a Nobel biologist) are not ones I would have chosen as authoritative. The biologist's testimony carries a bit more weight than the high pressure physicist.

    You just gave up on Popper and falsification way too easy. Is there a reason for that? Do you object to the theory of evolution as a model for the SM? On what grounds?

    Altering the SM in any material way is worse than falsifying it. Why would you alter something that works if you have not falsified it in any material way? This is not science you are talking about, whatever you may call it.
     
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  7. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    No. Who says that discoveries are limited to PLACES? You do. Anyone else agree? Whereever did you get an idea as wrong as this?

    The chemical process that supports photosynthesis was DISCOVERED, NOT INVENTED, JUST LIKE THE DISCOVERY OF ANY CHEMICAL ELEMENT ON THE PERIODIC TABLE. That's actually a "place", too, isn't it? A "place" on a table with an entry missing. How is the discovery of a missing piece of a puzzle not related to a "place"?

    Nuclear fusion reactions in stars existed long before anyone DISCOVERED how they produce energy. A discovery is not restricted to places. What a silly idea. Will you argue that a star is not a place? The way stars work is just as valid a discovery as "where it is".

    Sexual reproduction and the human brain existed before any of us DISCOVERED the scientific basis of sex in different species, how neurons work, or any other part of our anatomy. Those actually ARE "places" in a certain sense, but something science discovers hardly needs to be a place to be a creditable discovery.

    Any other strange objections to the idea that, with the possible exceptions of electricity and computers, there are no real "discoveries" that existed a very long time before our rather dull species claims to have discovered it? The arch, the wheel, heavier than air flight; it's a very long list. Evolution is also a "discovery", as far as we are concerned. Many of those other discoveries would never have happened if evolution did not work exactly as advertised.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  8. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    Nobody, as far as I know.

    You wrote: "Evolution is exactly the same kind of discovery as a moon of Saturn".

    I disagreed with that and noted that discovery of huge physical objects like moons, places that can be visited and sampled, is a very different kind of discovery than discovery/creation of a plausible unifying explanation for a whole host of observations, in biological-evolution-by-natural-selection's case ranging from fossils, through biogeography and comparative anatomy, to molecular genetics. You can't send a vehicle to visit evolution, you can't sample it, weigh it or subject it to chemical analysis.

    Science's explanatory conceptual models exist in a very different and far more abstract way than moons of Saturn and have very different histories and origins. They are investigated and evaluated in different ways.

    I think that we can agree that reality exists and that it has been doing whatever it's doing since long before there were human beings to know about it. Astrophysical processes for example. The history of life on Earth.

    Discovery refers to sentient beings (and ideally science) learning about whatever it is and hopefully coming to better understand it.

    It just seems elementary to note that there are different kinds of facts to know and that these different kinds of facts are known in different ways. Desert ecologists discover what kind of organisms are sheltering in the moist soil under rocks during the hot dry afternoon by turning rocks over and looking. Mathematicians discover the often arcane properties of their mathematical structures by concocting mathematical proofs. Darwin discovered his idea of biological evolution by natural selection by a long and complex process that still hasn't been fully described by the historians of science. And space-probes discover what lies beneath the clouds of Saturn's moon Titan in yet other ways, such as employing radar imagers and landers.

    The objects of discovery range from physical objects to abstract relationships. The ways that they are discovered range from naked eye observation, through use of all kinds of instruments (and the theories that want into their design) to pure cognition. All of it exists in a particular historical context in which scientists make use of the ideas of earlier thinkers.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  9. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    Agreed *that sciences explanatory conceptual models are more abstract than moons of Saturn). But nature's working models are quite as concrete as those moons of Saturn, are they not? We would not be here if evolution did not function as it does.

    But you have also changed what we were discussing so that it bears no resemblance to the original.. A DISCOVERY is not the same thing as "an explanatory conceptual model of science", any more than the discovery of a new moon of Saturn would be. A discovery is not a theory.

    Besides which,

    A base pair sequence on an evolved genome is every bit as substantial and physical as a moon of Saturn, and not only worthy of calling a discovery, but patentable as something novel, the rights to which can be owned or VISITED OR SAMPLED. Just like a moon of Saturn.

    Why do you think this has a bearing on "What qualifies as science?"
     
  10. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Evolution seems to be one of those things that people seem to classify at two levels: as observation and as theory. The development of drug resistance in bacteria or chemotherapy resistance in cancer is regarded by some as an observation, i.e. in principle a matter of fact, whereas the longer term processes of speciation etc are in the realm of theory.

    I admit I have never quite bought into the idea of evolution as fact. It seems to me that we observe a response in a population to a challenge in the environment of that population. That is the observed fact. We may attribute it to evolution via natural selection, but that seems to me to be an inference we make, rather than a directly observed fact.
     
  11. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Wow. These are such wildly swinging romps of emotion, mangled reading comprehensions or misinterpretations and disconnects projected into other people's posts... That I guess it can be safely said that you're just replying to them as an opportunistic soapbox. To arbitrarily inject rants against whatever demons you're chasing after and expound upon your agenda. (Granting that there's enough coherence in those initial-seeming briars nests to qualify as such.)

    - - -
     
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  12. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    What is a briar's nest?
     
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  13. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    I have no particular problem with this statement. It's honest. exchemist doesn't try to cover it with a smoke screen to obscure the fact that he is still a skeptic about evolution.

    He understands science intimately and non belief in evolution most likely never interfered with that.

    I asked someone else here to falsify the scientific method if they could. How did I manage to write this in a way that seemed like a hostile witness? I have no clue.
     
  14. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    No apostrophe indicating possession. Briars nest has a smoother feel than "briar patch nest". Briar(s) making it plural, or indicative of a similar function which "patch" serves.

    Nest can refer to some four-footed animal or bird structure being amidst the different varieties. Or "nest" can be colloquially figurative for a patch having a tangled, messy appearance.
     
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  15. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Dan, you are missing the point completely. I am totally convinced by the theory of evolution and have been for over 40 years. Totally.

    But that does not make it a fact. No theory is a fact. Only an adequately reproduced observation is a fact.

    I am trying to draw the distinction between a scientific theory, which is an explanatory and predictive model, open to falsification, revisions and refinement, and a fact, i.e something that is indisputably true.
     
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  16. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Ah. Briar patch I know - from Br'er Rabbit, of course.
     
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  17. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    Congratulations on your timely escape from that thorny thicket. It helps to be a hedgehog or an armadillo (my preferred strategy, and one that requires no level of deception to get thrown in there with the briars). I would think a rabbit would get scratched.

    I suppose I deserved that. There certainly are enough problems with science to falsify most scientific theories if that is your wish. I've certainly done enough of that myself.

    I think that falsifying SM because it is modeled after evolution would be rash, but it is entirely your choice.

    Superbugs resistant to antibiotics evolved by means of natural selection to survive more and more varieties of them. Falsify that observation without evolution, if you have a better explanation of the effect.

    The scientific method tests new adaptations (hypotheses) to scientific theory to explain as much as possible about the natural world. Older theories that don't explain as much go away like any failed or suboptimal adaptation in nature.

    That to me is science at its best. It gets improved over time. What more could be asked about what qualifies a method or a theory as science? What is there that works better than that?

    No briars here. Just some questions to think about. Feel free not to answer any or all of them.
     
  18. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    I agree, though I think that I'd identify four aspects: as a fact (a particular bit of reality) and as a discovery when humans become become aware of that fact. The facts about something are typically discovered through observation. And then there's a final aspect, one that's more or less definitive of science, the production of an abstract general explanation (intended to make sense of and explain that observation of that fact and others like it).

    Bacteria do seem to become more drug resistant over time. If that's really happening, then it's a fact. (Technically speaking, a 'fact' is what makes propositions true or false. The linguistic proposition 'bacteria become more drug resistant over time' is T iff bacteria really do become more drug resistant over time, out there in the real world.) Human physicians observe it and in so doing discover it, if nobody was previously aware of it.

    Bacteria becoming more drug resistant over time is certainly change over time, so it is 'evolution' in the older and broader sense. So in that regard, we might say that evolution can be directly observed. But there's more. Science's job is not only to observe things, but also to provide explanations for them, and to fit the observed phenomena into the larger picture of other things that science believes that it already understands. That's where natural selection fits into the picture.

    The idea of natural selection isn't something that's directly observed, it's a different kind of thing, more of an imaginative conceptual construct. Darwin made observations of all kinds of facts regarding his Galapagos finches and lots more. Then he spent many years concocting and perfecting an idea that he hoped would make sense of it.

    I think that it's a fact that biological populations change over time. By that I mean that I think that really happens out there, regardless of what humans think about it. It was happening long before we appeared. That belief isn't infallible certainly, since it's based on all kinds of fragmentary evidence such as observing the growth of bacterial drug resistance that we've been discussing, along with the fossil record, biogeography, comparative anatomy and the new molecular genetic stuff.

    And I believe that natural selection explains it (pretty much). But I'd give that idea a slightly lower credibility weight, since like all explanations, it's a product of the human scientific imagination. That imaginative aspect increases the possibility of error. It certainly makes the idea dependent on our present intellectual context, on our current supply of observations and on the kind of concepts that we have available.

    And like everything else in life, it gets more complicated the closer we look at it. The new molecular genetic evidence or the fossil record only become evidence that's relevant to the history of life on earth when they are interpreted. So different kinds of evidence for biological evolution in the narrower speciation sense would seem to have different weights, depending on how much interpretive stuff is being included and what kind of interpretive stuff it is. Observing that bacteria grow more drug resistant over time seems to be a pretty straightforward observation that isn't dependent on a lot of pre-existing theory. But interpreting what conserved blocks of genetic code in widely different taxa (hox genes or whatever) tell us regarding the evolutionary histories of those taxa isn't quite as obvious.
     
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  19. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peppered_moth_evolution

    I mentioned this before somewhere in the forum

    The moth in question becomes darker as the tree bark darkens due to pollution and reverts to a lighter colour when the polution clears up

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  20. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    So what conclusions would you draw from your peppered moths? What do you think that this phenomenon is telling us?
     
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  21. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I completely agree: I expressed myself badly in the previous post. What I meant to say is that the observation that drug resistance develops is - I would say - an uncontrovertible fact, but that the explanation of it in terms of mechanism, viz. natural selection operating on the population, is an inference and consequently a theory rather than an actual fact.
     
  22. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    If you stand out from your environment you are going to get picked on

    Live longer by blending in

    What did you get out of it?

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  23. danshawen Valued Senior Member

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    The peppered moth is a classic evolutionary tale. The octopus can do the same thing so well on demand, it's like a magician's vanishing act. But change the surroundings a little and such adaptations begin to resemble a bad joke of an adaptation. What Darwin observed in bird populations was similar.

    All of this sort of physical adaptation, however nuanced or intricate, implemented by whatever conserved hox gene sequence, doesn't get you any higher on the food chain.

    What gets you to the top is the modeling power of the neocortex. Reptiles, even color changing ones, don't make anything that resembles a cooperative society. They don't model each other's behavior. Birds, which are more evolved, do socialize and also are gifted at mimicking behaviors, especially auditorily, in a limited sense. But this is not enough to give them dominion of this planet or the ability to model more abstract ideas, like science. Some birds do possess impressive abstract math ability.

    This adaptation (modeling behaviors), unlike camouflage, works first time, EVERY time. This allows you to love other people and for them to love you. This adaptation allows you to bond to a subject matter that is your life's work.

    Hox genes, by means of comparison, was an evolutionary tool that resembled the retractable and extendable blades of a Swiss Army knife.

    Our own adaptation is the miracle. Believe it. Only people who have decided that reptiles make the best pets (as opposed to cats and dogs), or members of Slytherin would disagree.

    Only because the bacteria are closer to the chemical basis of the first life on this planet could it be claimed that they, not us, are still the dominant form of life on this planet. In a sense, the bacteria have a strong argument for that conclusion. So do mosquitos, which co-opts the bacteria and pathogen claims to dominance with the requisite air support.

    Compare the models you have of science and evolution. You will understand that they are the same model, just as nature herself always intended them to be. You and everyone and everything alive on this planet and elsewhere is part of this grand pattern.

    Evolution is to science what Gödel's incompleteness theorem is to mathematics. They both represent the single most perfect example of a theory or a theorem that is both internally self-consistent AND as complete a description of nature all by itself that it needs to be. Add to that the scientific method to enforce these ideals of logical completeness and consistency, and you have a recipe for what all science aspires to be, even if it may be impractical ever to achieve it.

    And THAT is, or what should be, the standard of what qualifies an idea or a theory as science.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2017

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