Science proven wrong

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Science proven wrong

Postby xme on July 19th, 2010, 6:37 am 

Hi everybody,

I am looking for examples where any form of theory in any science (that may include but not limited to: physics, medicine, chemistry, bio, geography, astronomy, or even social sciences like economics, psychology etc.) has been proven proven wrong.

Thanks,
xme
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby CanadysPeak on July 19th, 2010, 7:32 am 

xme wrote:Hi everybody,

I am looking for examples where any form of theory in any science (that may include but not limited to: physics, medicine, chemistry, bio, geography, astronomy, or even social sciences like economics, psychology etc.) has been proven proven wrong.

Thanks,
xme


Spontaneous generation of life, supply side economics, phlogiston, and lobotomies should get you started.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby neuro on July 19th, 2010, 7:58 am 

my suggestion:
1. Take any one theory currently held true.
2. Go back one step.
3. There is the theory that has been proven wrong.
4. Then go back one step more.
5. You have another one.
6. When you are finished take the next theory currently held true.
LOOP back to 2.
When you are finished, let us know...
:°)
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Lincoln on July 19th, 2010, 8:28 am 

Good suggestion. Nice technique.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby reconsiderate on July 19th, 2010, 9:41 am 

Science is always unquestionably true. Oh wait, that's just global climate change and evolutionary theory. I should revise: science is only unquestionably true (i.e. immune from skepticism) when there is sufficient political opposition to a theory; in which case scientists will unite against criticism by insisting that such theories are proven beyond a shadow of doubt. Could this be the first universal law in the sociology of science?
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Lincoln on July 19th, 2010, 10:58 am 

Got an axe to grind?

Evolutionary theory is, in its broad strokes, true. Clearly there are some details to work out at the atomic/molecular level (and some of the people on board work on just that,) but the concepts of natural selection are observable.

Climate change is harder to prove, given the large variations in daily, or even yearly, weather. People can continue to argue about it. But the evidence is quite good. Tying the climate change to antropogenic causes is an additional step, but not that big a step.

Scientists welcome criticism and commentary. It's how science advances. The problem is that people...take the evolution critics for instance...don't come at it in the same way. They spit out the same tired, discredited, blather again and again. Scientists don't have time to continually repeat themselves. If a scientist proposes a theory and someone finds a fatal flaw in it, the scientist moves on. It's the nature of science; no harm, no foul. However the evolution critic has an end goal that can't change. No matter the response, the critic gets proven wrong and turns to another thing and the cycle repeats itself.

One must distinguish between doing science and simply filling up the available bandwidth with stupid noise. When you get right down to it, speaking with some of the antiscience critics is like some of the more idiotic fillibusters in the US Senate. The point is to stall, not to make progress.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby reconsiderate on July 19th, 2010, 11:28 am 

I have no axe to grind except with scientists who switch from skepticism to staunch defense depending on the source of the critique. I agree that stalling and other tactics oriented more towards discourse-management and control than argumentation based on reason are annoying. It may also be that the same tired old criticisms get repeatedly voiced, but the question is why there's no systematic discourse to address these questions/criticisms to the point of satisfying critics or at least attacking their reasoning constructively to establish the reason(s) for invalidation.

Going back to what you posted about scientists moving on when they are proven wrong - are evolutionary theory and global climate change falsifiable in the first place? Can climate be modeled sufficiently to make conclusive claims and predictions based on the models? Has anyone bothered to pursue a rigorous falsificationist path of deducing hypotheses that would invalidate these theories?

I probably sound like someone with an interest in eradicating these theories for political reasons, but I'm really just interested in seeing science done rigorously and critically, meaning faithfully to value-neutrality and active falsificationism. Any interests I have personally in discrediting these or other theories, I would just voice openly and explain as explicitly as possible, not take a covert guerilla approach - at least not exclusively. Unfortunately, not only are most interest within and outside of scientific work not controlled for sufficiently, they're not even recognized or known consciously. For this reason it is annoying when people accuse each other of bias, because they themselves are usually staunchly resistant to reflecting on and controlling for their own interests, which of course everyone has. On the other hand, you then have the problem of critics abusing knowledge of admitted bias or interest to undermine the credibility of research beyond the extent to which it is tainted. It's like when one jar of peanut butter is found to contain salmonella so a million jars get recalled and destroyed. Overkill, in other words. Yet, of course in ignorance there's really no better option than destroying everything broadly associated with a threat until the threat appears to have been abated. Hmmm, ignorance as waste?
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Lincoln on July 19th, 2010, 11:47 am 

Taking you two examples, climate change is complex and new. It is unlikely that anyone who hasn't studied it very carefully will have an intelligent and informed opinion. And I don't mean "reads the New York Times" studied it. I mean "digs rather deeply into the data and, at a minimum, the technical secondary literature" studied it.

Evolution is a slam dunk by comparison. And, as someone who has argued issues of evolution, and much more commonly, relativity and quantum mechanics with skeptics, it is totally evident that this is all a total waste of time.

The vast bulk of ideas raised by "creation science" (or the other two topics) relies on the ignorance of the audience. If creation "scientists" were, in fact, acting scientifically, they'd discard arguments that were discredited. Instead they get repeated or brought back again with the words changed a bit. Further, after their ideas had died a bloody death, they might go back and kill their original premises. That's what science does.

In the spirit of the OP, the history of science is littered with the corpses of ideas that proved to be incorrect. Sometimes (say phlogiston) the original idea is totally dead. Occasionally (Newton's Law of Gravity,) the idea is tweaked and expanded. In the case of creation "science," I think it is, in principle, an acceptable intellectual journey. But only if, in the end, an acceptable outcome is to chuck the entire thing and charitably consider alternatives.

I'm sorry...but in the context of evolution, the only possible response for the scientific community is to simply explain how all the crap creation science is crap. If a person comes up with a truly new and innovative idea, science will investigate the idea. But to go over the same tired drivel is useful only to counteract the noise that comes out of the mouth of those who do not do science in good faith.

Consider something easier for an ordinary person to gain intuition with...say ballistics. You could easily imagine someone who doesn't throw a ball or shoot a cannonball could argue with baseball players or artillerymen. This could go on forever. Eventually, the artillery guys are just going to ignore the yapping and get back to doing what they do, which is putting ordinance on target. Meanwhile the ballistics skeptics might try to convince others who don't do that sort of thing that the skeptics have something of merit. But they don't. There's no reason to go back and revisit the whole Aristotilean dynamics thing. Crap, as they say, is crap.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Forest_Dump on July 19th, 2010, 12:14 pm 

I will stick to evolution. That evolution happened and is happening was accepted in the 19th century by everyone with education. (Literal biblical creationism is actually more of a 20th century thing as an anti-science backlash.) That evolution happened was initially based on disparate things like comparative anatomy. Increasingly, however, from the 19th century and since, the fossil record supported this as an independent means of testing if you will. Now we add DNA evidence which could not be suspected even 50 years ago. Again, another independent kind of test that could not have been suspected say in Darwin's time. It could easily have been falsified but was not and has resisted all attempts to do so. Creationists, for example, sometimes express doubt about things like radiometric decay but still get x-rays, worry about nukes, rely on nuclear energy, etc. Evolutionary theory is even key in finding oil, etc.

Now the theory of evolution which is how we explain how it happened and happens is a bit different and there is a lot of debate on this. But that is a separate thing entirely.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Lincoln on July 19th, 2010, 12:42 pm 

But even that is a lot like the "god of the gaps" kinda thing. The biochemists, biologists, molecular biotypes, etc. have gone an awful long way towards explaining it all. The "how did it all start" question has not been definitively answered (and, given the lack of perfect evidence will probably remain that way) but the train of evidence has improved enormously.

I don't think it's unfair to say that the vast, vast, bulk of people who argue against evolution do so from a state of ignorance. And this is true for many critics of various science topics. The "outsider who overturned everything" is mostly a myth. It is becoming even more difficult the outsider to contribute meaningfully. Progress is made most frequently by an insider who pulled at a dangling thread in what appeared to be a finished tapestry.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby CanadysPeak on July 19th, 2010, 12:48 pm 

Reconsiderate,

Creationism has been thoroughly discredited. Thus, evolution need not defend itself against that again. That would be akin to asking Angel Cabrera to have to play that fourth round at Oakmont again every day. If there is a new challenge to evolution, I would think it only fair to ask evolutionists to respond. Till then, they have settled the question.

Climate change has been (and probably still is) challenged repeatedly by Paul Fisher, a former colleague of Michael Mann. He has so far failed to impress many in the scientific community. Climate change, in the guises of sustainability and low carbon footprint, has gained legitimacy in the business community, where everything is always on the table for evaluation in terms of short-term profit.

I don't see any bases for criticizing the scientific community. After all, Sigma Xi had a sponsored speaker two years ago who held (I think still does) the position that we had decades yet to deal with potential climate change problems if we only quit making it so much worse. That is hardly lockstep.

Now multiverses - there's grist for the mill!
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby reconsiderate on July 19th, 2010, 2:54 pm 

None of the responses to my post acknowledged the method of falsification as it was prescribed by Karl Popper. Popper said that the best method of doing science was to construct theories in a way that makes them disprovable, i.e. falsifiable. Popper criticized Marxist theory of class-conflict, for example, because any news item can be interpreted in terms of class-conflict so there was no way to falsify the theory. Popper liked Einstein, on the other hand, because he provided clear tests that would refute his theories. Where are the evolutionists, climatologists, or multiversist, or dark matterists for that matter, who are working rigorously toward deducing tests of their theories that would refute them? They build up support for their theories and defend them against criticism, when according to Popper the scientific strategy would be to concentrate their theoretical expertise on devising/deducing tests that show how the theories are legitimately falsifiable in the first place. If global climate change or evolution turn out to be no more falsifiable than Marxist class-conflict analysis, Popper would not support them as science.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Nick on July 19th, 2010, 4:39 pm 

I'll put in a word for the people who study dark matter. One possible way of killing off dark matter theories is to compare the mass distributions of galaxies/clusters/whatever with the distributions of electromagnetically interacting mass distributions. Without dark matter the two distributions would be expected to be the same, if you assume that dark matter exists then you would expect the distributions to be different.

Cosmologists are in fact looking at these things. Some of the best evidence coming from the Bullet Cluster, where two galaxies collided. There cosmologists see a clear separation of the gravitational mass distribution and the electromagnetically interacting mass distribution.

In another field, particle physics, there are many groups doing searches for hypothetical new particles. People do experiments looking for various final states after particles have collided together at high energy and basically comparing whether the various distributions that we find are consistent with the existence or otherwise of the particles they are looking for. Most of the time it means we exclude the existence of the particle (generally within some mass range). Now, while some theories we'd like to try and exclude are pretty vague about their predictions others make fairly specific predictions of new particles and so we can effectively kill them off. For example, if we still haven't seen a Higgs boson 10 years from now then we'll have very strong evidence that the Standard Model is wrong and maybe the many particle theorists can start doing something more useful by trying to work out what is going on.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby kudayta on July 19th, 2010, 4:58 pm 

From here:

There are many conceivable lines of evidence that could falsify evolution. For example:

* a static fossil record;
* true chimeras, that is, organisms that combined parts from several different and diverse lineages (such as mermaids and centaurs) and which are not explained by lateral gene transfer, which transfers relatively small amounts of DNA between lineages, or symbiosis, where two whole organisms come together;
* a mechanism that would prevent mutations from accumulating;
* observations of organisms being created.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Lincoln on July 19th, 2010, 5:08 pm 

Yes...

Any of the theories in question, dark matter, evolution, climate change, etc., all have things that can falsify them. Some are a little harder than others. But every one of them make predictions that can be compared with data.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby linford86 on July 19th, 2010, 5:21 pm 

reconsiderate -- The idea of falsifiability is rather old hat. Any practicing scientist knows about falsifiability, and all of our best scientific theories are falsifiable. In fact, what makes these theories so strong (and the support for them so large) is that they have survived so many tests. It's simply unreasonable to think that these theories could fail in some trivial way. They are true up to our best abilities to measure them. Given that you know of Popper's work, I'm going to assume that you know some elementary philosophy of science, and therefore know that all scientific theories are only approximately true in the proper domain, and that they fail outside of that domain. For example, on the length scale of a few meters or so, it's a reasonable approximation that the Earth is flat. At length scales of several kilometers or possibly more, that approximation fails and we need to use the approximation that the Earth is round. At still larger scales, we need to take into account the fact that the Earth isn't completely round, but is actually shaped ever so slightly more like an egg. And so on. Likewise, these theories are demonstrably true in the proper domain of inquiry.

Notice that I was careful to call these our "best scientific theories" and to state that they are true only in their proper domain. This leaves open 2 possibilities:

1. We can find better theories. We have yet to do so, but that doesn't make it impossible. Any scientist who does discover such a thing would be widely lauded as an incredible practitioner in their discipline.

2. The theory will fail if we go outside the proper domain of inquiry. For many of our best theories, we do not know where the boundaries would lie. For some of our theories, however, we do know where the boundary is. In quantum theory and in gravitation, we know that there are certain limits where effects from both of these theories become important. At those limits, we do not presently understand how nature behaves and traditional quantum theory along with traditional gravitation break down. This calls for a totally new theory. One possible candidate is string theory, though should be careful to note that this is just a candidate and we do not yet have the final word.

The important point in (2) is that we do not expect our best scientific theories to be the final word. We constantly gathering new data and new evidence and seeing where our investigation takes us. Many of us on this website are actually employed in the business of performing these kinds of scientific investigations. If we knew everything, that is to say, if we had all the final answers, I would be out of a job and so would many of the other posters in this thread.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby neuro on July 19th, 2010, 5:57 pm 

just a bit of cross-reference...
have you seen this thread? viewtopic.php?p=156098#p156098
It looks as if, a part from political relevance, this has quite a lot to do with being deaf if you don't want to hear, sincere Popperism, bad sciencing and stupid anti-evolutionism and anti-many-other-things...
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Forest_Dump on July 19th, 2010, 6:30 pm 

Kudayta provided a partial list of the predictions that were easily generated about evolution that could have been falsified but withstood the tests. And there were many, many others ranging from relationships in the stratigraphic record of geology, predictions about DNA (including fossil DNA), etc. I do agree with the nod to Popper and falsification but the history of evolution has withstood all those tests. There is an important difference between can't be falsified because of the way the arguments were structured (that would be unscientific) and can't be falsified because its not false (i.e. its true). That the earth orbits the sun would be just as unfalsifiable now.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby CanadysPeak on July 19th, 2010, 7:43 pm 

very falsifiable. Find an 8 billion old fossil of homo sapiens, an Arabian stallion, a pachyderm, a right whale, a Scottish terrier, an ear of Iowa Chief corn. End of story. It's over.

The falsifiable argument is a strawman.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Lincoln on July 19th, 2010, 10:10 pm 

CanadysPeak wrote:very falsifiable. Find an 8 billion old fossil of homo sapiens, an Arabian stallion, a pachyderm, a right whale, a Scottish terrier, an ear of Iowa Chief corn. End of story. It's over.

The falsifiable argument is a strawman.

Find anything eight billion years old on Earth would be quite a shake up of modern science.

And it's not just evolution. Dark matter is also rather falsifiable. It's not that it has undergone the same onslaught, but it has survived some deep criticism.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby reconsiderate on July 19th, 2010, 11:46 pm 

CanadysPeak wrote:very falsifiable. Find an 8 billion old fossil of homo sapiens, an Arabian stallion, a pachyderm, a right whale, a Scottish terrier, an ear of Iowa Chief corn. End of story. It's over.
.

What if these specific manifestations were just variations on longer-existing species? Doesn't evolution rely on classificatory distinctions being drawn in one way or another? Couldn't you say that a child who survives its parent it a fitter variant than the parent, despite that the child just outlived the parent due to age (for example)? If you defined the human species into sub-species, you could talk about competition and extinction between them, but if you treat homo sapiens as a unified species, all intraspecies dynamics only amount to whether the species as a whole survived or became extinct. So isn't the analytical veracity of evolutionary theory largely dependent on which classificatory divisions are (artificially) selected and how species boundaries are drawn?
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby kudayta on July 20th, 2010, 12:09 am 

reconsiderate wrote:Doesn't evolution rely on classificatory distinctions being drawn in one way or another?


No, class distinctions are for human convenience

reconsiderate wrote:Couldn't you say that a child who survives its parent it a fitter variant than the parent, despite that the child just outlived the parent due to age (for example)?


No, fitness in evolutionary biology has a very specific definition: the state of possessing traits that make survival more likely. A child outliving his parents due to age doesn't fall under this criteria.

reconsiderate wrote:If you defined the human species into sub-species, you could talk about competition and extinction between them, but if you treat homo sapiens as a unified species, all intraspecies dynamics only amount to whether the species as a whole survived or became extinct. So isn't the analytical veracity of evolutionary theory largely dependent on which classificatory divisions are (artificially) selected and how species boundaries are drawn?


Again, this is an incorrect interpretation of how evolutionary biology works. Selection occurs at the level of the organism (or lower), not the population. Selection is not dependent on what we call a particular organism, nor how we divide a population.

Finally, you completely missed the point of CanadysPeak's point here. He was stating that if we found fossils in strata they don't belong in, then evolutionary biology would be falsified. While I think that would not falsify evolutionary biology (rather, it would falsify our current estimates of the ages of those species), you did not address his example.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby reconsiderate on July 20th, 2010, 12:44 am 

kudayta wrote:No, fitness in evolutionary biology has a very specific definition: the state of possessing traits that make survival more likely. A child outliving his parents due to age doesn't fall under this criteria.

But how can you say if survival of an individual organism was due to a trait or to some other cause or network of contingent causes?

reconsiderate wrote:Again, this is an incorrect interpretation of how evolutionary biology works. Selection occurs at the level of the organism (or lower), not the population. Selection is not dependent on what we call a particular organism, nor how we divide a population.

Let's say, for example, that the most genetically fit bees defend the hive and those least fit hide inside the hive close to the queen. Then, let's assume this fact causes the drones to be more likely to inseminate the queen, while the more fit defenders fail to do so. Would evolutionary theory then be applicable to bees?

Finally, you completely missed the point of CanadysPeak's point here. He was stating that if we found fossils in strata they don't belong in, then evolutionary biology would be falsified. While I think that would not falsify evolutionary biology (rather, it would falsify our current estimates of the ages of those species), you did not address his example.

I think you've lapsed back into defending against falsification instead of pursuing it. The whole point of falsification is that scientists should actively seek tests of theories to falsify them. If the scientists avoid seeking such tests as rigorously as possible, it constitutes a form of verification-bias. In other words, the best way to defend a theory is to criticize it as harshly as possible - because a truly true theory will pass absolutely any test.

Personally, I'm not sure that any theory is 100% bulletproof. I think there may be ways to undermine any theory given the proper criticism. Still, I don't know how I could deduce a sufficient test to falsify Popper's claim itself. If all theories ultimately get falsified, then it may be evidence that falsification is not sufficient to validate any theory. However, as long as falsification fails to undermine some theories, there is a basis for validating falsificationism.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby kudayta on July 20th, 2010, 1:19 am 

reconsiderate wrote:But how can you say if survival of an individual organism was due to a trait or to some other cause or network of contingent causes?


By examining populations with an identical trait and then comparing the fitness to the population that lacks that trait. As in any experiment, you isolate the variables as much as possible. In this case, you'd want to keep the environments identical. Or you could measure the occurrence of all alleles for a particular gene, and then change the environment and see what pans out, as in the famous Peppered Moth observation.

reconsiderate wrote:Let's say, for example, that the most genetically fit bees defend the hive and those least fit hide inside the hive close to the queen. Then, let's assume this fact causes the drones to be more likely to inseminate the queen, while the more fit defenders fail to do so. Would evolutionary theory then be applicable to bees?


Drones don't reproduce, they're not sexual creatures. Your example does not apply to reality. I will state that you're misusing fitness here, as fitness is a relative measure. It's measured by how well an organism's genes get passed on to the next generation. In your thought experiment, those bees that maximized their reproductive success by staying behind would be the most genetically fit, not the wandering defender bees. We've heard these kinds of objections before, usually when someone asks why monkeys aren't as smart as humans. As if that were some kind of hole in evolution rather than the questioner's understanding.

reconsiderate, there is mountains of evidence supporting evolutionary biology. No one here is arguing that it is 100% bulletproof, rather, we've explained to you that it is a well-evidenced scientific theory (including that it is in fact, falsifiable). There are no competing scientific theories that explain the diversity of life. To date, you have not presented any scientific or philosophical criticism of evolutionary biology that has not been addressed. To put it bluntly, it appears that you don't have an adequate grasp of what evolution is.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby BioWizard on July 20th, 2010, 2:00 am 

Increased fitness as the only criterion for survivability in evolution is a false premise and a stawman to begin with. Increased fitness can drive changes in allelic frequencies in populations in certain conditions, yes. But it's not the only drive. Plus, there are ways to analyze changes in a specific allele and assess whether it was under the influence of positive selection, neutral drift, or some other genetic event. It's not the kind of circular logic you're making it to be.

Evolution could've been falsified a hundred thousand times a day, today, but it hasn't been once yet. So, while your point might be valid (who's 100% free from political influence anyway?), you've picked a somewhat weak example in evolution (though I can't blame you), and are making inaccurate arguments which are further diluting your point. And I have to agree there that it does make you sound like you have an axe to grind.

It's unlikely that the main tenets of evolutionary theory are going to be proven wrong anytime soon, although a lot of what falls under it will probably receive a lot of improvement and/or correction, especially when it comes to the mechanisms involved.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Forest_Dump on July 20th, 2010, 6:18 am 

There might be three separate points that, if clarified, might help here.

kudayta wrote:reconsiderate wrote:
Doesn't evolution rely on classificatory distinctions being drawn in one way or another?

No, class distinctions are for human convenience


Our system of classifying animals, etc., as invented by Linnaeus does go back to a time when it was believed that there was a natural order to critters and they were fixed and unchanging. We now know, for example, that some species can interbreed and this may sometimes act as a means of increasing variation, etc. So, when it comes to fossil species, these would not even be as discrete as modern species (except for the reproductive barrier of time) and are really just ways of dividing and identifying variation through time. So, for example there could have been times when there were two similar populations that evolved apart for a while, becoming different from each other and that we have named different fossil species. But then something happened and they got back together and genetically mingled. This process could even created new variations. In short, personally I am far from convinced that all the fossil species identified in our ancestry were really different species in the sense of reproductively isolated populations. I think many are really just labels to identify variations between fossils and some of these variations were very minor. For example, Sivapithecus and Ramapithecus were two different genera of Miocene apes. Now the belief is that they were just male and female. There is a case where you could argue science was wrong and we have learned since.

I will tackle two more, different points separately.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Forest_Dump on July 20th, 2010, 7:04 am 

The second point to think about is what "natural selection" is and means and this may actually be one of the more tricky points. When Darwin proposed the idea, a then natural set of assumptions (based on some observation plus ideology about economics, etc.) was that populations "naturally" increase more than their environments allow, that there was variation within populations and that therefore there must be some reason why some individuals do better than others. The real value to natural selection was that it gradually diverted attention from ideas about a natural universal order to things or universal ideas about progress. In order to understand why some variants within a population do better than others, you have to understand the specifics of each population and their environment. What explains thing in one place or time does not necessarily work in another. While Darwin wrote that the mechanism he proposed (i.e., natural selection) nicely showed how God worked, some critics argued that this implied that the world was a cruel harsh place for those critters who were "culled from the herd" by natural selection even though others believed this was the justification for competitive economics, colonialism, even eugenics. Ideas about "progress" were important at the time so it was difficult to see the world as sometimes moving away from things that were thought to be progressive, which was an idea inherent in the "context" part of Darwin's idea. In the end it might have been WW1 with the massive loss of life in civilised Europe that really convinced people that the world could indeed be that cruel sometimes.

One problem with the "natural selection" idea is that while it works great "in theory" sometimes it may be difficult to "prove" and this is where some sloppy thinking may have led to weaknesses opponents of evolution take advantage of. For example, while Bio has mentioned ways natural selection of alleles may be identified, this isn't always the case. To identify natural selection in past (fossil) populations, it would help if you had lots of fossils in tight time control so you could identify cases where some variants were consistently did more poorly than others in passing on their genes. But we don't have that. So some do use natural selection to try to explain everything but without much evidence in support of this other than potentially circular arguments (i.e., natural selection of type "x" must have been at play because this is the way things turned out). (Some call this the law of the hammer.) However, the reality is that some scientists do not really use or think about natural selection all that much and look at some of the other evolutionary forces more. There is lots of room for debate here.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Forest_Dump on July 20th, 2010, 7:44 am 

You have talked about Popper's ideas about falsification and I agree these were and are important ideas because they are just like Darwin's ideas about natural selection and for the same reasons. I think it is also worth noting that the argument for falsification also came about at the same time that modern evolutionary theory was really developed and natural selection fully accepted. First, big ideas about progress were challenged, as mentioned above, by WW1 in Europe. The world can be cruel and harsh but this may be what is linked to progress. So, "science" may be able to generate a lot of ideas about how things work, etc., but how do we know which ideas are really best. We may not always (often? ever?) be able to identify the direction of "progress" or "prove" anything but we should be able to subject ideas to a kind of "natural selection" to cull from the herd the less fit ideas. But people like to protect their ideas like their children and place these ideas in kinds of protective bubbles. But in order for us to find out if specific ideas are really the best, we need to find ways of putting them out there to be tested and see if they really do survive "natural selection" better than other variants. So, ideas need to be expressed in ways that make them the most subject to natural selection (the most vulnerable to falsification) so that if they survive, they are the strongest variants, for now, in that context. But that can all change of course.

Now I think Popper's ideas are as important as Darwin's ideas about natural selection and for the same reasons. But they also have some of the same flaws. Like Darwin, while Popper gave a great mechanism for culling bad ideas from the herd, it is not clear where new variants (i.e., ideas) come from although popper did try to work on this. (And of course, people still are working on this.) Other problems include ability to really judge exactly what is being "selected" for or against. Ideas may survive or not survive testing because of the ways we can test them, because they work better in some political or economic settings, etc. Sometimes ideas survive testing because they provide more efficient explanations of the data we have now,when seen in this way, etc. Sometimes they survive because they are attached to other ideas (and so the ideas may not be under direct testing/selective pressure). Sometimes the ideas in science survive testing because they just make better guns, toothpaste, economic and political systems, etc. So, if there is no notion of universal progress (see later people like Kuhn) in science anymore than there is in evolution (where everything is dependent on context), then ideas of universal progress can be just as challenged. And here we have to start thinking about the limits of this kind of relativism and a lot of science types do start getting touchy because some of them do like to believe in universal standards of progress, etc. But this definitely gets into areas I don't want to at the moment.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby CanadysPeak on July 20th, 2010, 7:53 am 

Lincoln wrote:
CanadysPeak wrote:very falsifiable. Find an 8 billion old fossil of homo sapiens, an Arabian stallion, a pachyderm, a right whale, a Scottish terrier, an ear of Iowa Chief corn. End of story. It's over.

The falsifiable argument is a strawman.

Find anything eight billion years old on Earth would be quite a shake up of modern science.

And it's not just evolution. Dark matter is also rather falsifiable. It's not that it has undergone the same onslaught, but it has survived some deep criticism.


Ah, but you see, that is the matter.

Falsifiability, if it is to be a valid tool, requires the existence of choices. The only viable (Please don't grimace at that word - I'm trying to be balanced) alternative ever proposed to evolution is creationism. Dogs should be roughly as old as the most distant galaxies.

As soon as we note that dogs, or homo sapiens, or wheat is less than a few million years old (OK, maybe a lot less!), then creationism is falsified, but evolution is not. Next challenger, please.

Sorry, didn't mean to use so much hyperbole, but the different ages of everything is a key obstacle.
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Re: Science proven wrong

Postby Forest_Dump on July 20th, 2010, 8:46 am 

CanadysPeak wrote:The only viable (Please don't grimace at that word - I'm trying to be balanced) alternative ever proposed to evolution is creationism.


Since Biblical literalism was not as much of a (particularly political) factor in the 19th century (and even earlier) that it is now, this may not be as helpful as looking at it in different ways. As I noted above, back then one of the key problems with evolution was in wrestling with the notion of progress and what that meant. One very old idea was that "this is the best of all possible worlds" and this is the way it was meant to be. So, there were problems with the idea of change and this also had to do with the fixity of species. Most creationists now, for example, accept some variation and change but don't think it amounts to much - the variation was always there but has diminished as some variants were removed. But this can come into conflict with the idea that things were perfect once and have devolved as we moved away form creation through time (people lived longer then, were bigger, more godly, etc.) Related to this was early resistance to ideas like extinction because this would have created gaps in the "great chain of being". So one question became how to account for the fossils of critters that no longer exist. Somehow one problem that had to be addressed was the relationship between modern and fossil species.

Of course, tied to this was the notion of "common ancestors". Some of this is obviously not pure science in that some people just didn't like the idea that humans were related to apes. While this should be well known, one variant l like was the 1918 idea by Fredric Wood Jones that humans were descended from tarsiers, not chimps, etc., based on posture and locomotion (another example of an idea proven wrong). The idea of common ancestors is also related to questions about how creation could have been improved on. While there were surprising sides taken about this stuff in the 19th and early 20th century, somehow the fossil record increasingly needed to be taken into account and explained.

What I think might be important is that by the mid 19th century, even very conservative clergy, if they were at all educated and literate, didn't really deny change through time (evolution) but were more concerned with how to explain what they were seeing as change (i.e., read God's work in the fossil record, etc.) and interpret it (does evolution mean there has been progress since creation, however, god did it, or has there been decline?) Denying that evolution happened is a more recent/modern thing and I think has more to do with modern distrust of science for other reasons, some of which may be valid but beyond the topic here.
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