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Science, pseudo-science & junk science - recognizing the difference  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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I don't think Faith conflicts with Reason; after all, I believe that the earth is round. My senses tell me it is flat. I've never gone all the way around. I've never worked out mathematical equations that could prove it is round. But I believe the word of my teachers and parents, who believe the word of explorers, astronauts, etc. My reason tells me they have little to gain by lying, and thus my faith in them is reasonable; but it is not science or reason as such. Similarly, I believe there are atoms, and that the earth goes around the sun, and that there were once giant lizards roaming what is now my back yard. Reason and Science, working solely on my own experience, unaided by faith in the word of others, could never have led me to these conclusions, and would in fact contradict them.

Every scientist has faith in those before him, or the textbooks that inform him of previous experiments. Each scientists can't set out to replicate every experiment for himself; he may replicate some, but he can't replicate all.

In any case, this is a thread about science as opposed to opinion or personal experience, not about science as opposed to faith.
 
pollinator
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:I don't think Faith conflicts with Reason; after all, I believe that the earth is round. My senses tell me it is flat. I've never gone all the way around. I've never worked out mathematical equations that could prove it is round. But I believe the word of my teachers and parents, who believe the word of explorers, astronauts, etc. My reason tells me they have little to gain by lying, and thus my faith in them is reasonable; but it is not science or reason as such. Similarly, I believe there are atoms, and that the earth goes around the sun, and that there were once giant lizards roaming what is now my back yard. Reason and Science, working solely on my own experience, unaided by faith in the word of others, could never have led me to these conclusions, and would in fact contradict them.

Every scientist has faith in those before him, or the textbooks that inform him of previous experiments. Each scientists can't set out to replicate every experiment for himself; he may replicate some, but he can't replicate all.

In any case, this is a thread about science as opposed to opinion or personal experience, not about science as opposed to faith.



Gilbert, I personally wouldn't call that "faith".  By definition, "faith" is believing in something without evidence.  If 20,000 Geologists tell me the age of the earth is measured in millions of years, rather than thousands, you could say I have faith that they are telling me the truth, or you could say from all the evidence I have seen, read, or heard about, the earth is millions of years old.  I don't think it's faith that makes me "believe in" gravity, it is the fact that I have seen more evidence that gravity exists than it doesn't.  My own opinion is that, yes, faith very much contradicts reason.  I would say they are opposites.  Faith is believing in something without reason.  
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Somebody's word is not proof  . . . unless you trust/ believe in/ have faith in that person. People say all sorts of things, after all.

And there is no proof the entire world is not a hallucination of my fevered brain. I believe that it is not. But nobody could prove this to me.
 
Todd Parr
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Somebody's word is not proof  . . . unless you trust/ believe in/ have faith in that person. People say all sorts of things, after all.

And there is no proof the entire world is not a hallucination of my fevered brain. I believe that it is not. But nobody could prove this to me.



Proof isn't required of the person saying something isn't so.  Proof is required of the person making the claim.  You can't prove that I can't fly around my bedroom shitting pink unicorns at will.  You shouldn't have to.  If I claim that I can do it, I have to prove it, you don't have to disprove it.  You're absolutely correct that someone's word isn't proof.  However, a scientist doesn't expect anyone to take their word for something.  They present the work they did.  You can look at it and see if it makes sense.  If you have the equipment, you can replicate the experiment.  The work will be reviewed by peers.  All these things are evidence.  Faith is belief in something without evidence.
 
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Todd Parr wrote: You can't prove that I can't fly around my bedroom shitting pink unicorns at will.



I haven't belly laughed at something I read on the computer screen in a long time.
 
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I think the semantics of faith versus evidence have been gone over adequately, so I won't address that.

We all come to things with our own biases. When I hear a new claim, I'm always interested in who is making that claim, and what they may stand to gain. I often see things presented as a dichotomy, by those who wish to disprove something. We have determined that this doesn't work, or doesn't make sense, therefore this thing that I have faith in, must be true. The problem is presented in a way that leads to the elimination of a very small field of competing viewpoints, when there may be many possibilities.

Back to my mother. When a scientist, or any authority on a subject, claims to not know something, that is her cue to chime in with a ridiculous assertion, based on zero knowledge of the subject. There's good and there's bad and every question, has an answer, no matter how simplistic and contrived that answer may sound. The answers provided by faith or other followers of her faith, conveniently serve to back it up with something that the rabble are willing to call evidence.
 
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Gilbert, I find a person's senses rarely lie; we can fail to properly observe, however.

Ancient seafaring peoples were well aware that the earth was spherical. All they had to do is watch as ships sailed away. The first thing to disappear was the hull, and the last was the top of the mast. The curvature of the horizon is also an obvious clue.

Except for an anomalous few centuries in Europe, and today in the States, the flat earth thing was mostly a non-starter. The pre-Renaissance flat earth thing was based largely on a badly literal interpretation of the Bible, as I understand it, from a passage that cited the earth as having four corners.

It's mainly just paying attention, and in terms of smell-checking studies, following the money trail is usually revealing, in terms of uncovering conflicts of interest or bias.

-CK
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Gilbert, I find a person's senses rarely lie; we can fail to properly observe, however.



Yes, but that is (one of) my points above. We each take a great leap of faith; we choose to believe that there is a world that exists outside of ourselves, and that it corresponds fairly well to the world of sense perception, and that it is intelligible. There is no way to prove by pure reason that the world exists; anything that happens, any logical sequence one constructs, might occur in a dream or an illusion. We have faith in reality; we swear allegiance to the flag of the world.

In the end, if we question everything, we will not know anything; we must, at the most basic level, have faith in something; believe in something we can not prove.

Ancient seafaring peoples were well aware that the earth was spherical. All they had to do is watch as ships sailed away. The first thing to disappear was the hull, and the last was the top of the mast. The curvature of the horizon is also an obvious clue.



Correct; but I've not been on one; I trust other people who have. And the horizon where I grew up is not very uniform. My reason would have never led me to the conclusion that the earth was sphere. Certainly it would not have led me to think that the earth goes around the sun, rather the reverse.
 
Todd Parr
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For communication to exist on a relevant level between people, certain things have to be agreed upon.  Word definitions are one of those things.  Faith, by definition, means believing in something without evidence.  You can choose to use that word differently, but then communication breaks down.  Every bit of evidence we have or can gather would tell us that there is indeed a world that exists outside ourselves.  All of our senses tell us the same.  A "great leap of faith" would be to believe that the world around us does not exist, in spite of all evidence telling us that it does.

 
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James Freyr wrote:Here's two articles about awareness of scientists and respected journals publishing garbage.

https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/paging-dr-fraud-the-fake-publishers-that-are-ruining-science

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5487745/



An interesting discusion - i have some remarks.

There is a lot of garbage being put out there. Some of it has interesting sounding titles. You click, get spammed and the garbagemaker gets money. That's one problem.

Then there are people who make money by making boogus scientific claims. Think how long big tabaco could (and still can) spoil real science results and real health care with dubious science.
Scientists are not holy men. They need to pay bills to and tenureships at big universities are rare. So well paying, real science jobs are difficult to find. The unscrupulous ones have an advantage. Every lawyer should know the legal process and the law. Not every lawyer abides by process and law. Priests, lawyers, scientists, .... are just like everybody else - big reputations should attract big scrutiny.




Speaking as a scientist. I have only rarely been able to work in a purely scientific setting. In consulting, i was forced to go with the most plausible answer out of a range of possibilities. That was ussually good enough or should i say plausible enough.
I used scientific materials, i used scientific journals etc.... to find possible answers BUT what i was doing was only rarely done in a reproducible, scientific fashion. Soil pollution is hapening in a very complex medium that is poorly understood. The most plausible answer is statistically speaking good enough in most cases. You can imagine that 'language and writing skills' become very important in arguing that something is plausible.
BTW this 'method' is generally followed by most GP's.
Beware if science is translated in regulation. Regulators think often in black and white - Science has a lot of colour between black and white. Edit Help if lawyers get in on the writing of reports. I read quite a few reports originating with the local branch of an international consultancy firm. Their writings were vetted to eliminate any liabilities. For anybody looking for an (cost-)effective solution such reports have no use. They only serve to show the regulator that legal requirements have been fullfiled by their customer. For the consultancy they have the added benefit that more reports are necessary. Very expensive to work with these folks.


As a scientist you try to find answers to one or more questions. When confronted with complex issues, the scientific method only makes small progress and that slowly. Usually a scientist tries to break up what he/she is interested in in smaller questions that are easier to observe/manipulate/quantify/model/....
Complex issues such as the soil building process, the interaction between biological and non biological, soil remediation, ecological questions, .... are difficult to approach scientificly.
Geology, natural earth sciences are difficult to do in a lab.
Edit Science works often best by falsification of a possible answer to a question. In plain english you prove the answer to be wrong. From that perspective it becomes really important to find the correct way to ask the question. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability


People are often in awe of scientific progress but that is often not justified because FEW people actually understand how science works. If you don't know how to get some answers learn about finding them.
Of course sometimes science is just on the wrong track. Check https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift
That should not be used (but of course will be) to muddy the results and reputations of honourable folks. Science changes tack when the results warrant that, unlike a lot of other human endeavours.

Another point, i often see here is 'that science has no answer yet'. Science will not have answers if somebody does not pay for answers. You want independant results, you write to congress for funds or you fund it yourself. A website like permies could do this. F.e. crowdfunding to do a materials study on rocket mass heaters or wooden supports in contact with soil.

One way to search for answers is trough 'metastudies' and trough scientific webbrowsers (NOT GOOGLE MOST OF THE TIME).
There are a lot of papers out there that don't measure up to the ideal scientific standard. F.e. the number of test persons in a medical study is often low (finances) so the effect of an statistical outlier are heavier in that single studie. A metastudy takes a lot of different studies with similar methodology and puts together a larger database from which one can extract more reliable answers.
My wifes nephew is doing his finals this year (concerning caretaking tools for parkinson patients). He is not allowed to use google or google scolar because of the lack of editorial scrutiny.


The way i go about to find answers to my questions is stated in the permies principles - it is called contingency planning and stacking.

F.e. Let's say that i might have soil pollution in my yard. I do not know this fur sure - i have no lab results to confirm this.
I know from my study and numerous articles since that organic material, claycontent and soil acidity determine how 'dangerous' that pollution may be(come). I therefore check in the available scientific literature what i might do to make the most likely pollutants harmless. Turns out that most things i can do, are already well established practice in permies. I keep a eye on my soil acidity, where possible i add clay and organic material to the soil. I work wood into the soil because white fungi seem to have a knack to break down PAH. If this does not work well at least i helps to keep moisture in the soil.

If i had a minor oil pollution thing i would perhaps dig and keep an eye on micronutrients, groundwaterflow and keep the soil as oxygenated as possible and draw dawn the water table as much as i could to enhance natural breakdown of oil. I would use plants that help that process etc....


Edit

I want to come back to the metascience angle and combine this with the citizen science angle.

As you can guess, i have number of years in consultancy. While i and most of my colleagues could not operate under strict scientific principles we were/are operating under strict and reasonably consistent guidelines from the regulator. That allows for an metascientific approach to the results collected in the 22 years the law we operate under came into effect. Some real science results can be taken from the research.
For starters it allows for a much more refined monitoring of groundwater levels, groundwater chemistry, quaternary geology, ...... You are also likely to come up with better questions.


Now, coming from this background, i think permies can mean something as a citizen science project. Every individual or group can only do so much in his or her bailiwick and may or may not come up with decent questions and some decent results/answers. Most likely not though. For one who of us combines knowledge of fungi, minerals, soil chemistry, ecology, agronomy, etc.... to actually determine scientifically what happens in our own backyard? Who has the equipment? Even if a few such folks may exist - their work would limited to at most a few locations which limits the validity automatically.

However if trustworthy reports are consistently produced over many years, many locations, many operators, etc.... then we open the possibility that all our anecdotal results - i hesitate 'evidence' - will be a good database to do permies science.


In Europe we have several citizen science projects to track insects (bees, butterflies, (harmfull) introduced species, ....). You make an observation, you report a result, you fill it in an IT-app and you send the data. "Real" scientists can do "real" science with that database and it would be really totally impossible if not for the citizen scientists. That would amount to a log of what we do. Many of us do that anyway, so....

So, i propose to do something along these lines. Set up a citizen science project that allows us to have our own working ideas rigorously tested on a large scale under different, shifting climates, different soil management techniques, you name it.





Edit 2

Totally unrelated to permies. I just spotted this article. It represents a paradigm shift in archeology in North America.

https://phys.org/news/2017-12-ancient-mastodon-ignited-debate-humans.html#nRlv




 
Gilbert Fritz
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For communication to exist on a relevant level between people, certain things have to be agreed upon.  Word definitions are one of those things.  Faith, by definition, means believing in something without evidence.  You can choose to use that word differently, but then communication breaks down.  Every bit of evidence we have or can gather would tell us that there is indeed a world that exists outside ourselves.  All of our senses tell us the same.  A "great leap of faith" would be to believe that the world around us does not exist, in spite of all evidence telling us that it does.



I think we share the same definition of Faith; but we may be using different definitions of proof or evidence. I'm using it in the sense of scientific or logical proof.

There is no scientific experiment or logical process that can prove the existence of the world or its intelligibility. Of course, common sense tells us that it does exist, and those who think otherwise we (rightly) call insane. But what if the insane were correct? We can't prove it scientifically. (If I'm wrong about this, please tell me which experiments could do this.)

Logic is a funny thing. One can be as logical about unicorns and about horses. The results are only as good as the starting premises. One can only find truth with it if one has found truth without it.

Science (the repetition of controlled experiments) is very useful, but it also has its limitations. I can't think of an experiment that would prove that the world is not a dream; any result could occur a dream, and reoccur in a dream. Nor can I think of an experiment that would allow me to predict what my next door neighbor will do tomorrow with 100% certainty.

To use reason and science, we must first have something else; call it common sense, or faith, or whatever you want.

Finally, I think most people, even most scientists, take such things as quarks on faith. I've never reviewed all the experiments and theories that underpin the theory of quarks, and even if I did, I might not be able to understand it all without years of study. It is not irrational faith, but it still is faith in the intelligence and truthfulness of others; we have not hard, scientific proof, though we trust the word of others that such proof exists. After all, thousands of intelligent people saying something doesn't make is so.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Erwin, good additions to the conversation!
 
James Freyr
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Erwin, thank you for your post! I've been hoping for someone with a science background to chime in on this thread. I'm looking forward to your further input!

Edit: I just realized in my sentence above, that I just excluded every other person who has commented in this thread as a scientist. My apologies to anyone who is, as I am unaware if they are.
 
Todd Parr
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:

For communication to exist on a relevant level between people, certain things have to be agreed upon.  Word definitions are one of those things.  Faith, by definition, means believing in something without evidence.  You can choose to use that word differently, but then communication breaks down.  Every bit of evidence we have or can gather would tell us that there is indeed a world that exists outside ourselves.  All of our senses tell us the same.  A "great leap of faith" would be to believe that the world around us does not exist, in spite of all evidence telling us that it does.



I think we share the same definition of Faith; but we may be using different definitions of proof or evidence. I'm using it in the sense of scientific or logical proof.

There is no scientific experiment or logical process that can prove the existence of the world or its intelligibility. Of course, common sense tells us that it does exist, and those who think otherwise we (rightly) call insane. But what if the insane were correct? We can't prove it scientifically. (If I'm wrong about this, please tell me which experiments could do this.)

Logic is a funny thing. One can be as logical about unicorns and about horses. The results are only as good as the starting premises. One can only find truth with it if one has found truth without it.

Science (the repetition of controlled experiments) is very useful, but it also has its limitations. I can't think of an experiment that would prove that the world is not a dream; any result could occur a dream, and reoccur in a dream. Nor can I think of an experiment that would allow me to predict what my next door neighbor will do tomorrow with 100% certainty.

To use reason and science, we must first have something else; call it common sense, or faith, or whatever you want.

Finally, I think most people, even most scientists, take such things as quarks on faith. I've never reviewed all the experiments and theories that underpin the theory of quarks, and even if I did, I might not be able to understand it all without years of study. It is not irrational faith, but it still is faith in the intelligence and truthfulness of others; we have not hard, scientific proof, though we trust the word of others that such proof exists. After all, thousands of intelligent people saying something doesn't make is so.



We are beginning to get caught in what seems to be an endless loop, so I'll let this be my last post on the thread.  You keep pointing out that there is no way to be absolutely certain of some things, so then, it is faith to believe those things are true.  I think the opposite.  If all the evidence points to a thing being true, while that may not be "proof", it is the opposite of faith.  If all evidence points to the existence of a world outside myself, then I believe it based on that evidence.  If I believed anything else, that would be faith.  I can't think of an experiment that would prove the world is not a dream either, but all evidence I can gather tells me the world is not a dream.  NO evidence tells me that it is a dream.  Therefore, if I were to believe the world was a dream, it would be faith.  
 
Chris Kott
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Hey Todd. Thank you for advocating on the side of reason. I too think this has been beaten to death with the fanciful imaginings of French philosophers.

I think this thread has suffered from a few too many tangents. The OP specifically edited the thread title to indicate that it was about distinguishing between good and bad science, between reason and scientistic nonsense, between evidence and wishful storytelling.

The key, in my opinion, is evidence. I will reevaluate my position given sufficient evidence. I want to put my fingers in the wounds.

If you have no evidence, you are still entitled to believe whatever it is you wish to believe. I, however, am not required to give your opinion any more weight than its evidence lends it. No evidence equals no credibility.

In the context of this reality, our senses provide all the evidence we require. We can falsify that evidence, and we often do for entertainment, and in cases of making artificial flavourants.

The only test I can think of in terms of testing reality would involve leaving it, and that would likely prove lethal.

I suggest passing on that one.

-CK
 
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Erwin Decoene wrote:
As a scientist you try to find answers to one or more questions. When confronted with complex issues, the scientific method only makes small progress and that slowly. Usually a scientist tries to break up what he/she is interested in in smaller questions that are easier to observe/manipulate/quantify/model/....
Complex issues such as the soil building process, the interaction between biological and non biological, soil remediation, ecological questions, .... are difficult to approach scientificly.



Amen.
 
Chris Kott
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Lifting a car is also difficult, as is birthing a child, engineering bridges, calculating pi, achieving escape velocity, getting safely back to earth from orbit, flying...

All of these things are very doable. Some are ongoing pursuits, and others are ubiquitous parts of life.

Difficult doesn't equate to impossible. If anything, it indicates things that are worth doing.

Of course there are people that avoid strenuous activity of any kind, including thought that contradicts preconceived notions about what is and what isn't possible.

-CK
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I think this thread has suffered from a few too many tangents. The OP specifically edited the thread title to indicate that it was about distinguishing between good and bad science, between reason and scientistic nonsense, between evidence and wishful storytelling.



I'll agree with Chris on that; the sideline discussion I've been participating in about the necessity for some other kind of knowing to proceed science and reason had probably better go somewhere else. If anyone is interested in continuing it, PM me.

More importantly, I don't want to see the main discussion on this thread die out, since I think the topic is very important. While I don't think science can answer every question, I do think it is critical that it be done correctly in its proper field.
 
Erwin Decoene
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Some other way of 'knowing'
What do you think of the following ?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisdom_of_the_crowd

https://phys.org/news/2017-02-crowd-wisdom-surprisingly-popular-trump.html#nRlv

https://phys.org/news/2018-01-crowds-crowd-outperform-wisdom.html#nRlv

Wisdom of the crowds is fascinating to me - I guess it might work better most of the time with an educated crowd, but i'm sure that's not always the case. I have had enough cases where my initial hypothesis was crushed after a while by measurable facts. I guess in the absence of real data ...... The problem is then when is a 'wisdom of the crowd' answer likely correct?
 
James Freyr
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I find "wisdom of the crowd" interesting, but who's in the crowd? Is the crowd always wise? An educated crowd will certainly help, but I'm skeptical. What happens when crowd psychology is weighed and when crowd manipulation comes into play?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowd_psychology
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowd_manipulation

Heh...I think this could go down a rabbits hole of discussion :)
 
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