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How Our Botched Understanding of 'Science' Ruins Everything

ahmo

Senior Member
Messages
4,805
Location
Northcoast NSW, Australia
I found this an interesting discussion on what defines Science. But maybe I'm a newbie to this.
http://theweek.com/article/index/268360/how-our-botched-understanding-of-science-ruins-everything
Here's one certain sign that something is very wrong with our collective mind: Everybody uses a word, but no one is clear on what the word actually means.
One of those words is "science."

Everybody uses it. Science says this, science says that. You must vote for me because science. You must buy this because science. You must hate the folks over there because science.

Look, science is really important. And yet, who among us can easily provide a clear definition of the word "science" that matches the way people employ the term in everyday life?

So let me explain what science actually is. Science is the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation. That's the science that gives us airplanes and flu vaccines and the Internet. But what almost everyone means when he or she says "science" is something different....
 

adreno

PR activist
Messages
4,841
I'm not sure exactly how everything is ruined? Science doesn't have the answers to everything, but it sure beats religion. But I agree that lots of people talking about science (i.e., in the media) really have no idea what it means.
 

eafw

Senior Member
Messages
936
Location
UK
Most people do have a very poor understanding of science, not sure that this article is particularly helpful though.

We do need, as a society, a better basic understanding of science and statistics. As things stand most folk are very easily misled or confused

On these boards for instance conversations which boil down to:

"a new survey shows that the Dutch are the tallest in Europe" .... "my best friend had a cousin who's uncle was from Holland and he was only 5ft 2 so this survey is wrong"

That's before the whole "scientists don't know everything" (so lets stick with superstition instead), the inability to distinguish actual corruption from wild conspiracy theories, failures in fact-checking, failure to recognise when there are certain sound scientific principles at work, and that just because establishments or individuals may be predjudiced or discriminatory (eg the "you're just stressed dear" syndrome) - none of this means that underlying scientific principles or established and evidenced data suddenly becomes invalid.
 

duncan

Senior Member
Messages
2,240
I would suggest it's not so much a matter of our botched understanding of Science as it is its execution by some practitioners; or perhaps more accurately, its representation - and the representation of its results - by some practitioners.
 

alex3619

Senior Member
Messages
13,810
Location
Logan, Queensland, Australia
In general tone I think this article has something useful to say, but in the specifics its way off base.

Science is not just about experimentation either. However to go from possible findings to robust findings requires rigorous testing and opportunity to be challenged. From one perspective scientific papers are not published just so everyone can learn what is what, they are published so any errors, hazy notions, imperfect reasoning etc, can be discovered and exposed.

Science is not however a monolithic beast. It has more like a tree of different perspectives and methods, with current research at the leaf tips. If core science is brought down, then entire branches might be lopped off. Science is dynamic, ever changing, and subject to mistaken interpretation. Cutting edge immunology and cutting edge physics are worlds apart in many respects.

There have been moves to have experiments/pilot studies into domains like administration etc. They are fraught with peril. Social structures, including government and industries, are only in part subject to scientific experiment. We are a very long way from the social or political or economic "sciences" being precise or rigorous enough to be science . That does not mean they cannot be academically rigorous, but such rigor is not science ... it would apply even to things like poetry.

It does remain valid I think, if suitable outcome measures can be identified, that experiments in these domains are useful. Small pilot studies before rolling out large projects can be an example of this, provided such pilot studies are not simply used to sort out initial problems so the full implementation can go more smoothly. Such pilot studies, from a critical perspective, should also be about determining if an approach is even valid or useful. That does not make it science though, but the experimental method applied to other domains.

What alarms me is the increasing bureaucratization of science. When what should be science is more about politics and consensus, then there is a blurring of the lines, and its subject to abuse in part because they can claim something is "scientific" or "evidence based".

What does very much seem to be the case, still, is that something is not science if it cannot in principle be tested rigorously, or at least have good prospects for future rigorous testing. When we cherry pick evidence to support our position that is not reason, its rationalizing, though the line between the two can be very blurred. When this happens in supposed scientific studies it can be either scientific or pseudoscience. Picking out which is which is hard.

The reason it is hard is that in the early stages of development of scientific hypotheses there may be a lack of great data, and certainly would be a lack of heavily tested predictions.

I do think a case can be made though that psychogenic medicine is pseudoscience. It fits the major definitions of pseudoscience, and lacks the rigor of what I consider science. Yet the implication is its "scientific", and even "evidence based'.
 

Snow Leopard

Hibernating
Messages
5,902
Location
South Australia
Science is easy, it's what scientists do!

Oh and for those who don't appreciate the simplicity and beauty of the statement above, I provide this illustrated diagram of the mindset of a scientist (courtesy of xkcd):


the_difference.png
 

alex3619

Senior Member
Messages
13,810
Location
Logan, Queensland, Australia
Thanks to all the responders. Reminder to self: Wait until you actually read the thing through, then wait another 24 hrs before you post. :whistle:

That is pretty good advice, not just to "self". I sometimes post things I think might be really important before I have time to think about it thoroughly. I mean if its important, I would like everyone to know! Later my understanding of the article changes, and so my commentary would change.
 

ahmo

Senior Member
Messages
4,805
Location
Northcoast NSW, Australia
Actually, on reflection, still without having had the time to really read the article and digest the comments, I must aknowledge that even without my diminished brain power, i do not have a science brain, which is why I'd hoped to get something out of the article. More to the point, my comprehension of complex things is not anywhere near excellent. I've always understood the general idea of matters, with far less grasp of the specifics, in part, probably, because my working memory is pretty poor. So I'll be re-reading this thread to get the benefit of you brainiacs:nerd: I'm loving my involvement in MOOCs, including the new Philosophy and Science, but I let the words wash over me and what remains are general ideas. The blessings of test-less, expectation-free learning;)
 

eafw

Senior Member
Messages
936
Location
UK
i do not have a science brain, which is why I'd hoped to get something out of the article.

Bear in mind the article is written by a non-scientist, he describes himself as "an entrepeneur and writer", and a journalist writing about a subject they don't know is very different to a scientist writing about it.