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Talk:Scientific method

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Slr, lots of deconstructionists make bizarre claims about the reality of science, history, etc. There is an enormous amount of jealously, or hatred, towards science, logic, and mathematics from the anti-intellectual radical left. This, obviously, is not true of most people who happen to use some sort of deconstructionist thinking; nor is it true of most feminists. But many radical feminists and radical deconstructionists do claim that logic and mathematics themselves are social constructions. This issue isn't yet covered on Wikipedia, although I was planning to start an article on this topic. Left-wing deconstructionism has led to some very bizarre claims, that have only gained in popularity in recent years. I am thinking of the works of Sandra Harding, Helen Longino, and Stanley Aronowitz, among others. They write that science is only a set of male, Western cultural conventions, and not a body of knowledge about the real world. they claim that science teaches us nothing about the world, but only exposes the belief systems of male capitalists. Obviously, these positions false, and harmful...but they exist, and they are popular in certain populations. I urge you to read Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science by Gross, P. R. and N. Levitt. 1994, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. To make myself clear, I am not claiming that these radical deconstructionist views are representative of all social studies professors; note that they are usually only held by certain English majors, radical feminist, and Derrida-influences philosophy students. However, since they have become so influential, their criticism merit mention, and science deserves its own POV in rebutting their claims. RK 00:49 20 Jun 2003 (UTC)

A Review of Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (http://reason.com/9501/dept.bkSTOREY.text.shtml)

Another Review of Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (http://www.sydneyline.com/Gross%20and%20Levitt%20review.htm)

Professor Sokol's library of essays on radical deconstructionist views of science, and the famous Sokol hoax (http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/)

Why I wrote it - about the Sokol hoax which debunked the deconstructionists (http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/afterword_v1a/afterword_v1a_singlefile)

A Plea for Reason, Evidence and Logic (http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/nyu_forum)

Science, Scientism, and Anti-Science in the Age of Preposterism (http://www.csicop.org/si/9711/preposterism)

Well Harding is a feminist philosopher but not a deconstructionist, to my knowledge. Aronowitz is a marxist, and certainly not a deconstructionist and although he may personally be a feminist, he does not write as a feminist theorist. I don't know about Longino. But you cite a book that is critical of these people, and I do not think that is an appropriate source. All we can tell from this book is how critics of deconstruction characterize deconstructionism -- which may belong in an article on deconstructionism, but does not belong here. Here, if you want to describe a deconstructionist critique of science, fine -- but do so based on deconstructionist sources. I have read a lot of Sandra Harding and just do not see her making the claims you suggest. Yes, she is critical of epistemological claims to objectivity, but that does not mean she rejects "science" and logic. I mean, Hume was critical of some claims of objectivity too (and he is still very highly thought of even by scientists!) -- some of this stuff is not at all new! In any event, my main point is this: books and essays that are critical of feminism or deconstruction may be used as sources for an account of who criticizes feminism and deconstruction, and what those critics think. But they are not appropriate sources for an account of what feminists and deconstructionists think. Look, Republicans have some valid criticisms of the Democratic party platform. But if I want to know what Democrats think, I am not going to ask a Republican (and this is not even the best analogy, since Republicans and Democrats talk to each other all the time, where as most scientists never read any books or articles by deconstructionists) Slrubenstein

Actually, the paragraph I wrote was not intended to be about deconstructionism in general. I should rewrite it to make that point clearer. Rather, it was about all' of the modern groups that have found common ground to criticise empirical ways of learning; that is why I also mentioned three groups: radical philosophers, radical feminists and radical deconstructionists. Also, it was not about all members of these groups! I consider myself a strong believer in the usefulness and beauty of philosophy, and have studied it myself! That's one of the reasons I have contributed to a few philosophy articles here. I also am feminist. Finally, I have learned from some writers who consider themselves deconstructionists. The paragraph in question deals with critics of the scientific method, and there are many strong opponents of science among radical feminisist, deconstructionists, and philosphers influenced by these two latter movements. Their criticism of the scientific method is found in many books, articles, and college courses, and deserves a place here...as well as the criticism of these views. Basically, I am in agreement with pretty much everything you said above; my topic was intended to be more restricted. RK 19:40 20 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Hmmm. Well, it certainly would help if there were more specificity. But honestly, I do not think I was interpreting what you wrote to be a too-broad attack against deconstructionists or feminists. My main problem is, however specific the discussion is, it was still representing the views of specific people (specific deconstructionsis, specific feminists) from the point of view of people who reject what they say (e.g. the authors of Higher Superstition), and, moreover, I believe their characterization of those specific deconstructionists and feminists is a misrepresentation of them, which takes their comments so out of context, and so over-simplifies them, that the result bears virtually no relation to the actual position.

I do believe that you could fairly say this: that many deconstructionist and feminist scholars firmly reject the claim that the scientific method is the only, or even the best, means to arrive at the truth. But I do believe that all deconstructionists and feminists do believe that the scientific method may be the best method for arriving at certain truths for certain purposes. Slrubenstein

It is not just Gross and Levitt who read the academic left in this way; they are not making strawman opponents to knock down. Pretty much most scientists who have read these anti-science tractates have come away with precisely the same impression. A number of books have been written and edited by scientists across the field, from physics to chemistry to biology to mathematics, from the political left to the political right. Many of us are distressed by the radical anti-science view of the new academic left. We are talking about radical feminists who want to replace "masculinist algebra" with "feminist algebra" (which operates by using lesbians living together as examples to use in math problems. I wish I were joking.) We are talking about people who believe that the number Pi may be a social construct! We are talkin about morons who believe that "woman intuition" is superior to "imperialist measurement systems" such as science. (Frankly, I find these radical positions to be sexist and anti-feminists in of themselves; they imply that woman are too stupid to be scientists.) RK 01:50 21 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Many moderate feminists and moderate philosophy majors are similarly distressed at the way that the academic left is systematically attempting to attack science and history. The book by Gross and Levitt is only one of many books on the "science wars"; I reccomend looking into a few of these books. RK 01:50 21 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Slr writes "But I do believe that all deconstructionists and feminists do believe that the scientific method may be the best method for arriving at certain truths for certain purposes."

Unfortunately, you are absolutely wrong and misinformed on this point. The good news is that this means the deconstructionists and feminist scholars you know are rational, intelligent people. That's great. But they don't speak for everyone. I really think you should look into this. You will be distressed at what you find. Just take a look at the many radically anti-science remarks on the science and philosophy Talk pages right here on Wikipedia. Many quasi-leftist intellectuals constantly slander people with charges of "Colonialism", "Imperialism" and "Scientism" when we speak about scientific issues or philosophy and logic. Many people really do hate these studies. RK 01:50 21 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Has feminism changed science? http://www.salon.com/books/feature/1999/06/22/feminismscience/index1

Discussion about feminist science as a reaction against science: Feminism against science http://www.cycad.com/cgi-bin/Upstream/People/Goldberg/science

Philosophy 486/Women's Studies 486 - University of Michigan Fall 1997 Topics in Feminist Philosophy: Feminist Epistemology http://www.mit.edu/~shaslang/486syl+

Bibliography of feminism and science and feminist science: Feminism and Science http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/sci

The following is a discussion of the importance of feminist science The Furore over Feminist Science Scientific American Jan 97 http://www.scitec.auckland.ac.nz/~king/Preprints/book/renewal/voices2/femsci.htm

March/April 1995 issue of Skeptical Inquirer "Knocking Science for Fun and Profit" (Gross and Levitt) "How Feminism Is Now Alienating Women from Science" (Noretta Koertge)

The dangers of quasi-feminist attacks on science: Postmodernist, feminist critique of science is damaging http://www.carnell.com/feminism/postmodern/pmodern001

An Introduction to the Problems with Women's Studies http://www.carnell.com/feminism/sheila_ruth/ruth_001

Feminist view that knowledge is relative: The Problem of Historical Idealism http://www.carnell.com/feminism/joan_scott/scott_001

RK, I do not want to get into a tedious debate over this. The fact is, most scientists are as poorly trained in the humanities, as literary critics are in the sciences. I do not claim that I could read an article on physics in Science and understand it; I do not believe many phsyicists can read scholarly articles on deconstruction or feminist epistemology and get it either. -- Slr

But that is precisely my point. Why do so many English majors trained in deconstructionist literary theory think they can away with writing tractates on Quantum Mechanincs, Chaos theory, Relativity and constants of nature? Every time they do this, the vast majority of them end up showing no comprehension of the topics they discuss. They make harsh criticisms of science itself, claiming that it is no more of a way to learn about the world than literary analysis, and that one's own literay analysis of a science paper is literally just as valid as a scientific experiment which gains actual data! Wikipedia is already full of deconstructionist claims about science; many were in previous versions of this particular entry. I simply am adding NPOV, explaining why scientists reject the more radical claims as uninformed, if not silly. RK 01:26 22 Jun 2003 (UTC)

This is in some ways lamentable, but also understandable, given our complex division of labor. My point, though, is that I think I have good reason to mistrust most -- I am sure not all -- scientists' accounts of deconstruction or feminist epistemology. My main point is that any Wikipedia account of deconstructionist or feminist epistemologist views of science should be based on works by deconstructionists and feminist epistemologists, not based on accounts written by their critics.

I don't know why you don't trust the scientists on this one. Again, I am making a very specific claim: Radical deconstructionists and radical feminists are making a set of claims; scientists point out that these very claims show no comprehension at all of what they are even writing about. We don't trust English majors to "prove" that science is irrelevant, especially when their own papers shown that they don't even understand the terminology of science itself.

Also, I want to recommend to you a book I think you will find useful: The Social Construction of What by the philosopher (I don't think he is either a feminist theorist or a deconstructionist!) Ian Hacking. I am not sure you (or the people you cite) fully understand what we mean when we say something is a social construction (that said, who exactly has claimed that Pi is a social construction?) Slrubenstein

Check out the web links for specific names. Many radical deconstructionists and radical feminists believe that many results of math and science are only social constructions. You seem not to have been exposed to egregiously stupid people making bizarre claims. That's great. Unfortunately, this means that you may be trying to defend people who we are not criticising in the first place. Most scientists, most philosophers, and most other academics are criticising a select part of the academic left, for specific reasons. Your own writings indicate that you and your intellectual peers are not the target of these criticisms. Note that I am not disagreeing with any of your statements! RK

I really do not know what to say. I checked out all of the links -- three of them went no where, and I do not know if that is a problem with your link or my server. But of the others I could follow, none provided an example of a deconstructionist or feminist scholar claiming that pi is a social construct. But even if one of them did, I reiterate my earlier point: these articles systematically misconstrue what social scientists mean by social construct. Why do I mistrust scientists? Well, for one thing, I don't trust anyone absolutely, and I didn't think the scientific attitude was based on "trust." In any event, if a physicist says "trust me, when I tell you that charmed particles ..." of course I will "trust" her to the extent that a physicist has years of trainingl, and has conducted research, on particles. But while she was studying particle physics, she was probably not reading a lot of continental philosophy, critical theory, and so on. So if she tells me "trust me, when I tell you that deconstruction ..." I certainly am going to be more skeptical. Given that I have not studied a lot of physics, but have studied a lot of social theory, you should understand why I will hold her to higher standard concerning deconstruction and be willing to trust her more when it comes to physics.

I have read a good deal of Joan Scott, Evelen Fox Keller, Emily Martin, and Sandra Harding -- these are names mentioned in the links you provide. And I am certain that most of the articles you link misunderstand and misrepresent these scholars. Joan Scott for example is one of the most highly respected scholars of French social history (although she now rejects the title "social historian") in the world -- not because she uses words like "deconstruction" but because of her mastery of primary historical sources. So yes, when she says something about historiography or French history, I will "trust" her more than someone who clearly does not understand what she is talking about. One of the articles you link asserts that she is ultimately an "idealist" (I think in the Berkeleyan tradition) -- this is just poor scholarship. One important part of critical historical scholarship is to see things in their context. From things you have written about Jewish history, I know you know this. To call Joan Scott an idealist is kinda like calling Hillel a "Conservative Jew" -- it is just anachronistic. It seems to me that the person who wrote that essay simply does not understand philosophy following Kant, let alone 20th century philosophy -- and thus reads any 20th century philosophy in terms of 18th century categories. This really is poor scholarship.

What I have learned from the world of academia is that different problems require different models and methods, and that expertise is based not on some abstract notion of authority but on a demonstrated record of competent research. I have seen no evidence -- none at all -- that the critics of deconstruction or feminist epistemology that you cite have any record of competent research in the humanities or social sciences. Therefore, I do not trust them -- ipso facto -- to be authorities on the humanities and the social sciences. Just because a scientist knows a lot about particle physics or molecular chemistry does not give them the authority to speak confidently about other matters; indeed, they may be ill-equipped to understand other scholarly fields. I can't believe you do not agree with me in principle. Let me give an analogy. I have known some great Bible scholars. They knew not only Hebrew and Aramaic, they knew Akkadian and Sumerian and so on. They had spent years reading the Bible closely as well as related ancient Near Eastern Literature. I will take very seriously their interpretations of a particular Biblical text. But I do not care of a physicist has won two Nobel prizes and has an endowed chair at MIT -- if they tell me that some Bible scholar (I don't know, I am out of the loop, but say Speiser or someone of that level) is full of crap, I am more likely to give Speiser the benefit of the doubt. Likewise, when a hard scientist starts to tell me what is wrong with deconstructionism or feminist epistemology, my initial suspicion is, "have you really put as much time into studying philosophy and literary criticism as you have spent studying physics or chemistry? I doubt it, and I doubt you understand what you are talking about." And having read the links you provide, it is clear to me that most of these critics really do not understand what they read.

I want to be clear -- I do understand your point, that formally scientists are making a very similar argument about feminist epistemology that I am making about scientists -- that deconstructionist critics just do not understand science. I just have yet to see evidence of this. One link you provide concerns Joan Scott -- an accomplished historian who makes claims about history, not science. Keller is a trained physicist and certainly understands science. And none of these people (e.g. Harding, Keller, Martin) is saying that Archimedes constant is not a useful constant, or that women do not really menstruate or that traits are not inherited. As some of the links you provide make clear, they are not making claims about the world, they are concerned with how we talk about the world. It is my sense that most scientists simply do not get a fundamental point of 20th century philosophy, that there is a difference between the world and the ways we represent it. To recognize this difference is not, for philosophers, to say that the world does not exist. yet time and time again -- especially in the links you provide, scientists assume that to recognize this difference is to say that the world does not exist. But deconstructionists and feminsit epistemologists are simply not claiming this; scientists just do not know enough about literary theory or philosophy to understand what deconstructionists and feminist epistemologists are saying.

If you want to represent Scientist's rebuttals against their critics, youare absolutely right that NPOV requires that these rebuttals be included. My problem is not with your representing the rebuttals, it is with how you (and really, the scientists themselves) have represented the critique. If you want to represent the rebuttal, quote the scientsits. But if you want to represent the critique, then for goodness sake, quote Emily Martin, Sandra Harding, and Evelyn Fox Keller, and not some inept misrepresentation of them. That's all I am trying to say!

I am always happy to engage you but I really think we are beginning to go in circles. I really recommend Hackings book if you honestly think that to say that "pi is socially constructed" is to say that it is not real and not important and not meaningful and not useful and not a constant. That is just a misunderstanding of "socially constructed" (but I still haven't seen any evidence of anyone saying pi is socially constructed) Slrubenstein

I agree with almost all of these points. (The difference is that I still feel that scientists are better quipped to read English papers than English writers are equipped to read physics papers, one or two misunderstandings aside.) In any case, I have refrained from making any actual changes in the main article, and have confined all my thoughts on this issue to the "Talk" pages for now. When I do get around to making additions to the main article pages, I will do so in the sensible way you describe. See my recent note on your user page. RK 14:29 22 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I tend to slr's views on the above discussion, but more significantly I do have concerns about how worthwhile it is to go very far here into deconstructionism (which is more obscure to most people than scientific method) or feminism (where many people have preconceived notions that go beyond the scope of this article). The article already exceeds 30K in length, and it might be convenient to spin off the criticisms and public policy segments into two new articles. Eclecticology 16:59 22 Jun 2003 (UTC)


Regarding the Feyerabend paragraph reversions going on, I think both sides have a point that the other isn't owning up to (not that there's much space to do so in summary line that goes with each post). I haven't read the whole article nor the whole recent discussion, but it seems obvious to me that this paragraph bears on the contested culture-war content. I imagine those in favor of this recent deletion were emboldened and/or motivated by the discussion about how the views of the "social constructionist" faction should be presented or represented. As I read the discussion, there seems to be a "time out" in effect until some direct quotes or other neutral representation of this faction can be provided. The Feyerabend paragraph veers into this territroy. While not naming names of people or factions, it does assert the existence of people and views that will certainly be associated with one of the two sides of the culture war. This makes it provocative in light of the discussion that had been going on. As a temporary fix until the controversy is resolved, or just to illustrate that the paragraphy implicitly characterizes one side of the war, I'll suggest a more neutral version of the paragraph in question:

"Feyerabend's criticisms have been used by some to argue that science does not tend toward the truth, that it has no advantage over other ways of examining the world, and that its intellectual output largely is a socio-historical accident of the culture and values of scientists. Feyerabend himself strongly opposed this conclusion: "How can an enterprise {science} depend on culture in so many ways, and yet produce such solid results? ....Movements that view quantum mechanics as a turning-point in thought - and that include fly-by-night mystics, prophets of a New Age, and relativists of all sorts - get aroused by the cultural component and forget predictions and technology." (Source: Paul Feyerabend. Atoms and Consciousness', in Common Knowledge Vol. 1, No. 1 1992: 28-32)" 168... 21:45 24 Jun 2003 (UTC)

This would be an improvement since it avoids getting into suppositions about what deconstructionists and feminists believe. That would be better treated on the pages for those topics. I still think though that this whole matter of philosophy could be spun off into another article. I'm not sure what to call it or I would go ahead and do it. Eclecticology 00:14 25 Jun 2003 (UTC)

168, those are valid points. And Ec, I agree with you in many ways. It is just that at the present, this section ("criticisms of the scientific method") is brief, and so seems easier and more logical to keep as a part of this article. But if it continues to grow (as is likely!), then certainly we should spin it off into its own article, and just link to it from here. RK 00:33 25 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Keeping in mind the caveat that I haven't read the whole thing, it strikes me that this article about "the scientific method" is inherently philosophical in bent (only a purely descriptive approach ala Kuhn could fail to be). Consequently, the best sources that this article can appeal to regarding what the scientific method is are philosophers; and Feyerabend's ideas on method ranks very high in influence. So to me it seems totally apt to cite what Feyerabend thought, as well as an interpretation by others of what he thought, in particular when that interpretation itself has been or continues to be influential. That said, it may be giving too much time to Feyerabend to let him rebut in this article others' interpretation or extension of his work (especially presuming his rebuttal wasn't as influential as his original idea). It might be sufficient simply to cite his disapproval of this extension of his work. i.e. The paragraph might be reduced to:

"Feyerabend's criticisms have been used by some to argue that science does not tend toward the truth, that it has no advantage over other ways of examining the world, and that its intellectual output largely is a socio-historical accident of the culture and values of scientists. Feyerabend himself strongly opposed this conclusion, however." 168... 00:57 25 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Here's the problem. Although Feyerabend may not have held the view that "science does not tend toward the truth", neither would he accept that science does tend towards the truth. He really did argue that science has no inherent advantage over other ways of examining the world. At the same time he held that science has played a positive role in liberating us from the dogmas of the past and continues to excel at solving a certain class of problem. He found no discomfort in giving science credit for its wonderful results while at the same time denying it a privileged position. Therefore, if the paragraph under discussion is to become representative of Feyerabend it must be shortened even further:

"Feyerabend's criticisms have been used by some to help promote anti-scientific world views or to argue that the output of science is purely a socio-historical accident of the culture and values of scientists. Feyerabend himself strongly opposed this conclusion, however."

--Chris

No, you misunderstand. You are conflating his earlier view with his later clarification. Your perception of Feyerabend is based on his earlier statement, and you are reading his later clafication in that light. But it works the other way around. He wants us to read his earlier statements in light of his later clarification. Feyerabend holds that people misunderstood his earlier position, and thus he needed to clarify that science really does have an inherent, observable, physical advantage. He stated quite explicitly that science does tend towards truth, and this is actually provable by the fact that it actually works in the realm of the physical, natural word, while all other systems (which claim to compete with science) have failed to produce any similar results. That is why the latest quote from him is needed! Of course, some of us question whether his last statements on the subject are really clarifications of what he meant all along (as he claims); it seems to some of us that he simply realized how incorrect his earlier position was, and is now claiming "Of course I never held that view...!" RK 12:25 25 Jun 2003 (UTC)

This is all I have of the article:

"How can an enterprise depend on culture in so many ways, and yet produce such solid results? Most answers to this question are either incomplete or incoherent. Physicists take the fact for granted. Movements that view quantum mechanics as a turning-point in thought - and that include fly-by-night mystics, prophets of a New Age, and relativists of all sorts - get aroused by the cultural component and forget predictions and technology."

Such a drastic change in Feyerabend's views can't be inferred from just this much. Does anyone have some more of the article to share with us? --Chris

Well, Feyerabend is claiming that his views haven't changed at all. But I nonetheless agree with you that it would be good to get the whole article. Still, his view in this paragraph is clear. Science actually works, and new-age mystics who deny this point are overlooking indisuputable facts. RK

For the record, I don't have a view on what Feyerabend thought, so the sentence I concocted shouldn't be taken as my vote in favor of a view. I was attempting to clarify points that I thought the paragraph was trying to make already. I drew a bit on my distant recollection of the kind of strong criticisms of method I saw or heard bandied about long ago. I think I've read perhaps two Feyerabend essays in my life, and I hardly remember a thing. 168... 17:14 25 Jun 2003 (UTC)

This is interesting I found an essay by F. in his last book Conquest of Abundance. The essay, Has the Scientific View of the World a Special Status Compared With Other Views?, takes us pretty close to the subject under discussion. This passage is taken from the summary:

"...there is no 'scientific worldview' just as there is no uniform enterprise 'science'--except in the minds of metaphysicians, school-masters, and scientists blinded by the achievements of their own niche. [...] There is no objective principle that could direct us away from the supermarket 'religion' or the supermarket 'art' towards the more modern, and much more expensive, supermarket 'science'. Besides, the search for such guidance would be in conflict with the idea of individual responsibility which allegedly is an important ingredient of a 'rational' or scientific age."

The essay was first published in 1994 and contains references to other material published in 1994. I know that Feyerabend was rather famous for changing his mind, but I do wonder if even he could have been so fickle. --Chris

I wonder if more emphasis should be placed on Occam's razor in this article, as most of the scientific method is derived from this. There is also a nice information-theoretic formulation of Occam's razor called Minimum Message Length[?] (see [1] (http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~lloyd/tildeMML/)). With MML you can define concepts like "elegance" precisely -- an elegant theory is one that can be written down very concisely. It also shows how peculiar prior beliefs can distort the scientific method. --PFH

I am sorry, but I cannot adequately express how strongly I disagree. Although Occam's razor subtly perverts many scientists work and thought methods, I do allow that it may be mentioned in an article of "The Scientific Method". But to say that it should be specifically emphasized... I know I am being pov here, and I feel so strongly about this that I probably should stay out the whole matter, but I couldn't let that go without being challenged. Respectfully -- Cimon Avaro on a pogo stick 08:15 26 Jun 2003 (UTC)

What this comes down to is the P(theory|data) = (P(theory) . P(data|theory))/P(data), so that in order to infer the most likely theory from some data you have to have some prior beliefs about how likely each theory is. This is inescapable, so all we can do is make our prior beliefs as general as possible while still being able to make progress. Occam's razor says simple theories are more likely to be true than complex theories. Without this, we could always come up with a theory that "this rule holds today, but next time it will be different" and have no preference to the simpler theory that "this rule holds in general". --PFH

I agree with the bouncy dude. Occam's Razor isn't that important to the scientific method. In fact I would go so far as to say that an overreliance on Occam's Razor can be a bad thing. Occam's Razor can be used to justify clinging on to a simple theory in the face of data which suggests reality may be more complex. There is an interesting discussion of the role of Occam's Razor in science at, believe it or not, Occam's Razor. -- Tim Starling 08:08 27 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I too would hesitate to attach too much weight to Ockham's razor. I see it as more an aesthetic principle that anything else. The phrase "more likely to be true" seems very unscientific. I doubt that there has ever been any statistical analysis of that statement. Then too, The Razor does not allow for the often paradoxical situation where both explanations are true. Considering alternate explanations that have been rejected by the opplication of Ockham could result in a review of the theory that underlies many topics that have been dismissed as pseudoscience. Eclecticology 20:10 27 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Woah there! The best thing about science is that is doesn't deal in certainties, so we have to talk about more likely and less likely. When something is much much more likely, it tends to get called a law, but there's always this doubt lurking -- did we miss something? Clinging to a simple theory in the face of evidence is a misapplication of Occam's razor, there's that critical 'all other things being equal' phrase in there (in the version in wikipedia). I don't doubt that misapplication has lead to problems. But correctly applied Occam's razor is fundamental. I'm not quite sure what people are objecting to here, is it:

  • P(model) (prior belief in the likelyhood of different models, in the absence of data) is needed for inference
  • P(model) should be higher for simpler models
  • Occam's razor is based on conditional probability, with priors defined as in point 2.
--PFH

Engineers have to actively think in terms of more likely and less likely, and they do thus based on scientific knowledge, that is how far I agree with you. (AOL ;) Scientists do so to their detriment; that is think actively in terms of one hypothesis being more likely or less likely. The "critical 'all other things being equal' phrase" is a glaring example of an overwhelming exception. Ceteris paribus almost never obtains. I am tempted to say never; going with Conan Doyle's "If you eliminate... what remains is the truth."

In the fallen tree example of the article, a layman might think as described. A scientist should think in terms of: hmm, the wind was from the direction of that long open field, and the tree stood lonely, that points toward a windfell. or in different circumstances: hmm, during the night I woke up to a sound like an A-bomb explosion; likely it was a lightning strike that felled my tree.

A Scientist of the Highest Calibre would even plump for the space aliens hypothesis, if his own eyes gave evidence of the flying saucer whizzing by and zapping his neighbours houses with death-rays. I am not joking. That is how a Scientist should accept evidence.Occam's razor is a poor last resort, if even that. Definitely not fundamental -- Cimon Avaro

. With respect I find 168's latest revision of the introduction to be verbose and confusing. Mention of the judicial system seems completely out of place in an introduction. Eclecticology 21:20 27 Jun 2003 (UTC)

My reference to the judicial system is an attempt to allude to who judges and in what context they judge research to be "pseudoscience" on the basis of whether or not it adheres to "the scientific method." It comes up with regard to what expert testimony or evidence should be admissibile in a court of law (e.g. data showing that smoking is good for you) and what evidence is good enough to base regulations on (e.g. regarding the impact of a species extinction or greenhouse-gas emissions). I can't think of any more important context in which it comes up, not to say that philosophical discussions have no importance at all. If no context is mentioned, I worry readers will think that scientists themselves have such conversations, which I think they never do, unless they're talking to lawyers or senators or commenting on the news. Scientists do talk about each others' methods of arriving at particular results, I just think they rarely about "the scientific method." 168... 22:22 27 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I have no comment on the language, but I do think 168 makes a valid and in fact important point and however it may be re-written the point should be kept. As I understand it -- speaking sociologically -- "scientific method" can refer to one of three things: first, a model developed by some outside observer (e.g. a sociologist or historian of science, or a philosopher) of how scientists work; a model scientists themselves use to guide their work; a model other institutions -- 168 refers to courts but of course granting agencies and the institutions that govern them (for example, the US Senate) -- use to police scientific work. I guess in an ideal world all three models would be identical, and I am sure that in some cases they are. But I also know that in many cases they are not. I take 168's points to be:
  1. we need to distinugish between how scientists really work, and how they are "supposed" to work, and
  2. we need to be attentive to the institutional context in which scientists work
If I understand 168 correctly, I agree completely. 168, let me know! Slrubenstein

Yes, that's more or less where I'm coming from, and I like how you have broken down the various entangled issues, which I didn't try to express myself, but probably should have. You seem to suggest that I didn't address granting agencies, but I meant to do so with reference to "policy" and "agencies." I think "granting agencies" might have to be regarded as spanning several spheres, because one of the places where the rubber meets the road in grant decisions, at the NIH, for example, is in the "study sections." There you have working scientists summoned to Washington to award points to various proposals, on which basis the petitioners either get money or they don't. My earlier comments about what scientists talk about I believe would apply especially to these scientists engaged in ranking proposals. On the other hand, you have scientists-turned-administrators on the agency staff, who at the NSF, for example, may get involved in penning pamphlets on "How to be a Scientist" for scientists in training, and you have the higher-ups who schmooze with the White House, Justice, Congress, etc.

 
I suspect Eclecticology is not really complaining about verbosity (the use of more words than are necessary to convey a point) but about whether all the points I made need or deserve making. If somebody can make a point more succinctly, I'd be as happy as anybody to see it done.168... 03:23 28 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Actually, with respect to the three types of models you describe, SLR, maybe I should clarify that I don't think scientists carry around a _single_ procedural model, which they compare against what they do and what other scientists do. Instead I think they carry around lots of models of how different particular things should be done. Now it may be that some logician someday will show that all of these models that the scientists are using reduce to the same single string of Boolean operators (personally, I'm dubious), but I think most scientists themselves regard themselves as having various opinions about how various things should be done. This is not to say that scientists aren't taught "the scientific method" in highschool like everyone else. I've met scientists who have never have bothered to question that lesson. So despite what they and their graduate students are doing in the lab, nevertheless they hold the view that, as scientists, they must be following "the scientific method" (in fact, there's a convention in writing scientific papers to fabricate a narrative that conforms to the scientific method, rather than describing one's actual motives for an experiment and the actual sequence in which observations were made--me, I call it lying). So maybe we need a fourth category for situations where it is necessary to distinguish a model scientists have in one part of their head from the model or models they actually use to guide their work and to judge others'. 168... 19:31 28 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Of course I agree with you here -- the three types of models I mentioned above are just types, and I should have been clearer that there need not be consensus. This is not just true for scientists themselves -- sociologicsts and historicans of science may have competing models of how (they think) scientists work, just as different institutions (such as granting agencies) may have different criteria. I do suspect that for any one of the three types I mentioned there may be a dominant or hegemonic model, and competing models. As for your final point, I agree but I don't think it calls for a fourth category -- I think you are making a generally valid point that should be considered for any section of the article. Slrubenstein

I'm not talking about consensus, but rather self-consistency on the part of individual scientists. I just thought it worth mentioning that a scientist, when asked, might with all sincerity describe to you a model, which it turns out disagrees with how he or she actually operates. On the one hand, I thought you more or less captured this point when you wrote "we need to distinguish between how scientists really work, and how they are "supposed" to work" (i.e. where the scientists themselves are among those doing the supposing). But when you defined the category of "a model scientists themselves use to guide their work," that articulation seemed in danger of creating the impression that scientists are conscious of or have access to the model they are using, so that by just asking any one of them we could know what that model is. I think that would be a bad assumption. Actually I'm not sure the contents of that fourth category I was arguing for--"what scientists _think_ they're doing--would be so interesting. I think historians and sociologists and others have done a lot more thinking about it than scientists have. If you want to know the secret to a perfect golf swing, you're probably better off asking a coach or a sports kinesiologist than asking Tiger Woods.168... 20:17 28 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Okay, I don't think we are really disagreeing, just elaborating on various points which I think we both agree all belong in the article -- somewhere. I take your main point now to be,
that scientists are conscious of or have access to the model they are using, so that by just asking any one of them we could know what that model is. I think that would be a bad assumption.
And I think this is a fine point -- most anthropologists take it as a virtual axiom that most people do not and cannot articulate the reasons for their behaviors, or the models that guide them, and I am sure this is true for many scientists. Still, although I think it is a valid and important point to make, I think it needs to be positioned very carefully in the article and also fleshed out with some examples (evidence). This is because although as I said I am sure your point is often valid, it isn't universally so -- for one thing, one part of many scientists' education (the whole PhD process) is being "disciplined," taught both how to do things and also taught a particular story or set of explanations for why they do things the way they do. Now, I do not think that the story (or explanations) scientists tell to account for their actions is the whole story (which is why I think there is an important role for historians and sociologists of science) -- but I do think that many scientists are taught to have a very strong opinion about how things should (emphasis on should) and should not be done. Also, some -- perhaps few, but notable nonetheless -- scientists have reflected on the methods they use (in some cases, explicitly invoking principles not covered in this article, and perhaps not sufficiently recognized by philosophers -- principles such as the imagination and chance). Finally, as you yourself pointed out, scientists often times do have to give an account of their methods to others (e.g. courts, granting agencies). For me, the larger point is still that no one account of how scientists work is sufficient, and that many of the accounts reflect interests or conditions beyond that of some quest for knowledge of the world, narrowly conceived. That said, I want to reiterate that I think your point is valid. Obviously, this article needs more contextualization and discussion not only of "what the 'scientific method' is," but also "how people determine what the 'scientific method' is," and also what kin dof "work" -- not just strictly "scientific" but political, economic, and social as well -- does some notion of or investment in the notion of a "scientific method" do for people? And I think it is points such as the ones you have been making that make it clear why these topics should be explored in the article. But at this point, I wish other contributers (such as Eclecticology, RK, and the rest) would weigh in. Slrubenstein
My point in referring to 168's verbosity not about whether he was making valid points, but about whether the introduction was the right place for doing that. We all easily recognize that thare are many controversies surrounding the scientific method; that this discussion is taking place at all is proof of that. The introductory paragraphs and the section summarizing the steps in the scientific method should be written with the reader in mind, particularly a reader who simply wants to know what the scientific method is without being thrust immediately into all the controversies that surround it. For the introduction it would be sufficient to simply say that controversies exist. If he wants to know about the controversies he's welcome to read on beyond that. Wandering into judicial proceedings in this part of the article is going to chase people away more confused than when they started. Maybe I'm just trying to focus things back on the simple fact that this is an encyclopedia article.

I'm sorry that I won't be able to comment again for another month while I travel east to visit in-laws. My wife's application of the scientific method starts from the hypothesis that I spend too much time in front of a computer screen. :-) Eclecticology 18:37 29 Jun 2003 (UTC)

This disagreement it seems is really about NPOV. I wonder if Eclecticology realizes that a lot of people(perhaps the majority of scholars?) don't _believe_ there is a single method that all science follows. So an encyclopedia article that sets about to address a single method that all science follows should be like an article on Catholocism: You don't start "While there is some controversy, on the first day God created the heaven and the earth..." i.e. You have to pay more than lip service to the perspective of non-believers. 168... 16:32 30 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I think this subject is fascinating. It really needs a few more words though. First we should make it clear that it is the US judicial system and government under discussion. Next, and here I've done a little research, the supreme court has there own version of "the scientific method" known as the Daubert Criteria (see http://www.daubertexpert.com ). Here's an outline of the criteria:

"The four Daubert criteria for evaluating the admissibility of expert testimony are: (1) whether the methods upon which the testimony is based are centered upon a testable hypothesis; (2) the known or potential rate of error associated with the method; (3) whether the method has been subject to peer review; and (4) whether the method is generally accepted in the relevant scientific community. "

These criteria are explicitly an attempt to meld different philosophies of science (most notably Popper's and Kuhn's). My suggestion is that this topic be moved to the 'Public Policy' section near the bottom of the article and we say something more general in the introduction about the role of scientific method in society. --Chris

I agree Daubert and that stuff are really interesting, including the way the courts have solicited input from philosophers and historians of science. I noticed that link you offered doesn't seem to work though. 168... 20:22 2 Jul 2003 (UTC)



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