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Epistemologicaly speaking…what is science?
Posted: 24 December 2007 10:39 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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In her book, Defending Science - Within Reason, Susana Haack makes the point that there is no “scientific method” per se.  She claims that a thorough and empirical investigative methodology is not unique to science.  And her point is well made.  To inadequately sum up her book, she points out that good research and investigation is good research and investigation whether it was done by a historian (any other profession) or scientist.

If science is not distinguished from other studies simply by its methodology, what distinguishes it?  I submit that the primary difference between science and the other fields of study is the SUBJECT being examined not the METHODOLOGY being used.  Science is the study of a subject which is readily available, in an active state, for observation and experimentation.

[ Edited: 24 December 2007 10:53 AM by ender!krum]
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Posted: 24 December 2007 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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ender!krum - 24 December 2007 03:39 PM

In her book, Defending Science - Within Reason, Susana Haack makes the point

ender!krum, why the FUCK do you let Susana Haack make the point for you instead of making it yourself? Is it that you are incapable of the effort, and think that it is sufficient to cite a commentary on scientific methodology obviously written in prejudice (or you would not be citing it)?

Come off it, asshole! Aren’t you sore yet?

ender!krum - 24 December 2007 03:39 PM

Susana Haack makes the point that there is no “scientific method” per se.  She claims

Obviously, if one author “claims” something, well, then it must be so. Right?

ender!krum - 24 December 2007 03:39 PM

I submit that the primary difference between science and the other fields of study is the SUBJECT being examined not the METHODOLOGY being used.

Well, that’s your problem, ender!krum. You are basically prejudiced that the difference is not the methodology being used, and you are citing only one author (so far) in support of this ridiculous notion. It is not true because Susana Haack says so. Nor is something else true because the Bible says so. But I see the parallels.

[ Edited: 24 December 2007 11:10 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 24 December 2007 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Salt Creek - 24 December 2007 04:01 PM

ender!krum, why the FUCK do you let Susana Haack make the point for you instead of making it yourself? Is it that you are incapable of the effort, and think that it is sufficient to cite a commentary on scientific methodology obviously written in prejudice (or you would not be citing it)?

I reference the book to give credit where it is due and to let the community read it to judge 1) her proposition and 2) if I accurately represented it.

I don’t think it is fair to judge Dr. Haack as prejudiced without reading her book.  I am not sure she would agree with where I have taken her premise.

Salt Creek - 24 December 2007 04:01 PM

Well, that’s your problem, ender!krum. You are basically prejudiced that the difference is not the methodology being used

Quite the opposite in fact.  I strongly held the opinion that it was the “scientific method” which distinguished science from other fields of study until I read her book.

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Theories should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
-Albert Einstein

I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity;
I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.
-Albert Einstein

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Posted: 24 December 2007 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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ender!krum - 24 December 2007 04:30 PM

Quite the opposite in fact.  I strongly held the opinion that it was the “scientific method” which distinguished science from other fields of study until I read her book.

Well, it is obvious that you are talking nonsense, ender!krum, because you don’t give any evidence that your “opinion” of the nature of the scientific method is or was ever correct. Since you are not a scientist, it is not entirely up to you to decide this. You simply state that Haack convinced you that you were wrong. Being able to change one’s opinion is not the only thing that distinguishes the scientific method from belief in nonsense. Scientists change their opinions when evidence appears that compels it. Haack’s opinion is not “evidence” of anything except Haack’s opinion. I’ll bet Haack doesn’t have any evidence for you, either, unless it is the nonsense that ID and creationist nutcases try to convince people with. Here’s something for you to follow up on: Dover PA.

Here is your error: The scientific method is not the same as the courtroom of public opinion. One may change one’s opinion about nonsense in an entirely arbitrary fashion, because it has no impact on one’s day to day existence. The judge in the Dover PA case actually looked at the evidence. He had to: It was there on the table.

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Posted: 24 December 2007 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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ender!krum - 24 December 2007 03:39 PM

In her book, Defending Science - Within Reason, Susana Haack makes the point that there is no “scientific method” per se.  She claims that a thorough and empirical investigative methodology is not unique to science.  And her point is well made.  To inadequately sum up her book, she points out that good research and investigation is good research and investigation whether it was done by a historian (any other profession) or scientist.

If science is not distinguished from other studies simply by its methodology, what distinguishes it?  I submit that the primary difference between science and the other fields of study is the SUBJECT being examined not the METHODOLOGY being used.  Science is the study of a subject which is readily available, in an active state, for observation and experimentation.

That is actually a worthwhile book.  I think you trivialize the authors point, however.  She makes the point that science does not have a fixed method, but instead involves the development of means to use the human mind in the study of nature in a way that avoids, to the extent possible, falling into error and illusion.

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Posted: 25 December 2007 08:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Darwin’s dictum: “A false theory is an inconvenience, a false fact a disaster” sums up the scientific mindset pretty neatly.

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Posted: 26 December 2007 07:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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burt - 24 December 2007 08:12 PM

I think you trivialize the authors point, however.  She makes the point that science does not have a fixed method, but instead involves the development of means to use the human mind in the study of nature in a way that avoids, to the extent possible, falling into error and illusion.

You have summed her overall argument well.  But in the process of making this argument, she makes the point that these methods are also used by other fields of study.  My conclusion is thus that there is something other than methodology which distinguishes science from other fields of study.

In an attempt to find what this might be, I am suggesting that it is the subject being studied which distinguishes science from the other fields of study.  Furthermore, I am suggesting that a scientific subject is one which is readily available, in an active state, for observation and experimentation.

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Theories should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
-Albert Einstein

I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity;
I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.
-Albert Einstein

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Posted: 26 December 2007 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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ender!krum - 26 December 2007 12:33 PM

... that these methods are also used by other fields of study.  My conclusion is thus that there is something other than methodology which distinguishes science from other fields of study.

You speak as if there is some wall between ‘science’ and all ‘other’ fields of study.

Please explain how you are using “Scientific Method” (ie: what your understanding of what that is) and what field of study uses that same method, but where it would not be considered ‘scientific’ when used.

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Posted: 26 December 2007 08:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Sib - 26 December 2007 12:55 PM

You speak as if there is some wall between ‘science’ and all ‘other’ fields of study.

If you went to a science class and they started teaching you about King Henry the VIII you wouldn’t object?

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Theories should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
-Albert Einstein

I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity;
I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.
-Albert Einstein

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Posted: 26 December 2007 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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ender!krum - 26 December 2007 01:01 PM
Sib - 26 December 2007 12:55 PM

You speak as if there is some wall between ‘science’ and all ‘other’ fields of study.

If you went to a science class and they started teaching you about King Henry the VIII you wouldn’t object?

Actually, no.. I would not if they were using that to explain how the scientific method could be applied to the study of history. 

But you did not answer the question… are you going to?

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Posted: 26 December 2007 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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ender!krum - 26 December 2007 12:33 PM

In an attempt to find what this might be, I am suggesting that it is the subject being studied which distinguishes science from the other fields of study.  Furthermore, I am suggesting that a scientific subject is one which is readily available, in an active state, for observation and experimentation.

You fail to recognize that in 1900, the subject matter of quantum mechanics was “readily available, in an active state, for observation and experimentation”, because no one had yet made observations about what happens when you shine certain kinds of light onto the surface of metals with electrical measurements set up. Yet metal, lights and electricity were all established subjects for study at that time.

So, your concept of what “an active state” is needs some adjustment. You will have to start using more precise language in your quest to set a priori limits on what science can investigate. You also forgot to mention the “materialist bias” inherent in selecting a subject for scientific study.

Your assertion that it is something besides methodology that distinguishes science should incorporate such considerations. Whatever subject matter you select for scientific study, you will be operating under a model based on the interactions of entities that exist outside your own skull, and outside the skulls of other people who are also investigating those interactions. Another name for this is “inter-laboratory comparison”.

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Posted: 26 December 2007 08:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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ender!krum - 26 December 2007 12:33 PM
burt - 24 December 2007 08:12 PM

I think you trivialize the authors point, however.  She makes the point that science does not have a fixed method, but instead involves the development of means to use the human mind in the study of nature in a way that avoids, to the extent possible, falling into error and illusion.

You have summed her overall argument well.  But in the process of making this argument, she makes the point that these methods are also used by other fields of study.  My conclusion is thus that there is something other than methodology which distinguishes science from other fields of study.

In an attempt to find what this might be, I am suggesting that it is the subject being studied which distinguishes science from the other fields of study.  Furthermore, I am suggesting that a scientific subject is one which is readily available, in an active state, for observation and experimentation.

Well, in one sense that is correct I think: science is the application of human reason to the study of the natural world.  That doesn’t say what the natural world consists of though. Perhaps the distinction is involves the expectations as to what sort of results will be obtained.

I’ve come across something on occasion that I call the disciplinary fallacy (maybe anchored fallacy would be a better term).  I first encountered this in a history of science book where one chapter was devoted to the question of whether heavy objects fell faster than lighter objects.  It gave a very good description of the debate that had gone on in the early seventeenth century on this, and described how large numbers of people had been dropping things off of high buildings to test this, some getting one result, some another.  What I found interesting was that after reading the chapter I was left with a slight after-taste of a thought that if only the people who said the heavy objects fell faster had been more persuasive in their arguments, everybody would have concluded that was the case.  I’m sure that if I went and asked the books author he would have denied having that belief, but it seemed to be there just in the way he wrote, framed his discussions, and presented data.  What I realized was that in the humanities (including history) people do not think that any debate will have a definite conclusion.  Nobody believes that there is a single “best” interpretation of Hamlet, and so on.  The purpose of debates in the humanities is different, it is to gain deeper understanding and appreciation.  In the sciences, on the other hand, we assume that there is a way that nature is, and so the goal of debates is to come up with a consensus agreement—this is our best description at the moment of how nature operates.  So, a humanist writing about science, unless very astute and able to adopt a scientific point of view, is going to have a skewed perspective simply because of writing from a different background, and this is going to show up in the way that they write.  Likewise, some science writers when writing about the humanities seem to intimate that “these guys are hopelessly confused, why can’t they come to agreement.”

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Posted: 26 December 2007 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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burt - 26 December 2007 01:37 PM

What I realized was that in the humanities (including history) people do not think that any debate will have a definite conclusion.  Nobody believes that there is a single “best” interpretation of Hamlet, and so on.  The purpose of debates in the humanities is different, it is to gain deeper understanding and appreciation.  In the sciences, on the other hand, we assume that there is a way that nature is, and so the goal of debates is to come up with a consensus agreement—this is our best description at the moment of how nature operates.

The statement I emphasized here is intended to twist someone else’s opinion about how science operates, and it exposes your bias in the matter. You are addressing an interesting aspect of what happens when it is necessary to revise theory, and what happens when people attempt to interpret the implications of a theory far beyond what the theory is intended to explain. No one pretends that the interpretation of theory actually has any goal. Interpretation of theory is not science, but philosophy, and since you are good at that (and are self-confessed to be all thumbs in the laboratory), you hope to achieve some fame with interpretation. You will have company, lots and lots of it, consisting of people who vary a lot in their laboratory skills.

Inter-laboratory comparison does not have a “goal”. What is discovered in inter-laboratory comparison is that the methodology of experimental procedures is capable of resulting in inter-laboratory agreement. When it is not, methodology inevitably improves. Methodology without the possibility of inter-laboratory comparison is not considered scientific methodology. You don’t much like this, but there it is.

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Posted: 26 December 2007 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Salt Creek - 26 December 2007 01:33 PM

You fail to recognize that in 1900, the subject matter of quantum mechanics was “readily available, in an active state, for observation and experimentation”, because no one had yet made observations about what happens when you shine certain kinds of light onto the surface of metals with electrical measurements set up. Yet metal, lights and electricity were all established subjects for study at that time.

You appear to be suggesting to add to this definition that “study” of the subject is occurring?  “Science is the study of a subject which is readily available, in an active state, for observation and experimentation.”

Salt Creek - 26 December 2007 01:33 PM

You also forgot to mention the “materialist bias” inherent in selecting a subject for scientific study.

Your assertion that it is something besides methodology that distinguishes science should incorporate such considerations. Whatever subject matter you select for scientific study, you will be operating under a model based on the interactions of entities that exist outside your own skull, and outside the skulls of other people who are also investigating those interactions. Another name for this is “inter-laboratory comparison”.

If something is readily available for observation and experimentation it is by definition material (unless we develop tools that can interact with a non-material dimension, which seems unlikely).  To address your point about interlaboratory comparison, would adding “repeated” to the definition suffice?

“Science is the study of a subject which is readily available, in an active state, for repeated observation and experimentation.”

burt - 26 December 2007 01:37 PM

What I found interesting was that after reading the chapter I was left with a slight after-taste of a thought that if only the people who said the heavy objects fell faster had been more persuasive in their arguments, everybody would have concluded that was the case.

They, however, could not make more persuasive arguments.  Since the thing they claimed to be true could be shown time and again to be false (it was readily available, in an active state, for repeated observation and experimentation) they were unable to make a persuasive argument.

As you point out, this is what distinguishes science from the study of Hamlet (or any of the humanities).

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Theories should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
-Albert Einstein

I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity;
I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.
-Albert Einstein

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Posted: 26 December 2007 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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ender!krum - 26 December 2007 02:30 PM

“Science is the study of a subject which is readily available, in an active state, for repeated observation and experimentation.”

Well, there’s the methodology, as a required part of your definition. Do not try to separate the methodology from the subject matter, because neither one would be possible without the other.

Note that the problems inherent in a subject studying itself are not inconsiderable, mainly due to problems with defining what constitutes ‘repetition’.

[ Edited: 26 December 2007 10:47 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 26 December 2007 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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I am still trying to figure out what field of study one can apply the scientific method to where it would not be considered the scientific method.

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