Science denialism

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 25th, 2020, 7:43 am 

More on the enemies of science . . .
----------------------------------------


What kinds of things does one have to say in order to be labelled a "science denier" or "anti-science"? Historian of science Steven Shapin begins his essay "How to be Antiscientific" with the following claims that are liable to do the trick:

1. There is no such thing as "The Scientific Method".

2. Modern science lives only in the day and for the day; it resembles much more a stock-market speculation than a search for truth about nature.

3. New knowledge is not science until it is made social.

4. An independent reality in the ordinary physical sense can neither be ascribed to the phenomena nor to the agencies of observation.

5. The conceptual basis of physics is a free invention of the human mind (cf. the oft heard criticism "religion is man-made" - Reg)

6. Scientists do not find order in nature, they put it there.

7. Science does not deserve the reputation it has so widely gained . . . of being wholly objective.

8. The picture of the scientist as a man with an open mind, someone who weighs the evidence for and against, is a lot of baloney.

9. Modern physics is based on some intrinsic acts of faith.

10. The scientific community is tolerant of unsubstantiated just-so stories.

11. At any historical moment, what pass as acceptable scientific explanations have both social determinants and social functions.




Good grief! Why, these sound like the kinds of depraved ravings only a rabid, sadistic, let's-return-to-the-Dark-Ages, science-hater would say!

Why, they sound like the kinds of things *I* might say, and have said, in these and other forums, only to be publicly lynched.




Shapin now spills the beans...

"None of these claims about the nature of science that I have just quoted, or minimally paraphrased, does in fact come from a sociologist, or a cultural studies academic, or a feminist or Marxist theoretician. Each is taken from the metascientific pronouncements of distinguished twentieth-century scientists, some Nobel Prize winners."

(Exact sources available upon request)



Now, no one presumably is about to call Albert Einstein or Niels Bohr -- who are among the list above -- "anti-science". It would appear, then, that the problem is not so much what is said as who says it.

Or else, of course, those who brand people such as myself "anti-science" are simply unaware that distinguished scientists -- particularly those knowledgeable on "metascientific" issues -- routinely advance claims not unlike those I make myself.

Shapin again:

"Accordingly, we can be clear about one thing: it cannot be the claims themselves that are at issue, or the claims themselves that must proceed from ignorance or hostility. Rather, it is WHO HAS MADE such claims, and what motives can be attributed--plausibly, if often inaccurately and unfairly--to the KINDS OF PEOPLE making the claims. So one of the very few, and very minor, modifications I have made in several of the quotations above is the substitution of the third-person "they" or "scientists" or "physicists" for the original "we". We are now, it seems, on the familiar terrain of everyday life: members of a family are permitted to say things about family affairs that outsiders are not allowed to say. It is not just a matter of truth or accuracy; it is a matter of decorum. Certain kinds of description will be heard as unwarranted criticism if they come from those thought to lack the moral or intellectual rights to make them".
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on May 25th, 2020, 9:14 am 

Well, since most science deniers are nutjobs, and recognised as such, does it matter very much? Why give them oxygen?

Science is neither perfect nor complete so criticism and intelligent questioning is acceptable. But to deny what is universally accepted - as, for example, the flat-earthers do - is irrational if not nuts.

I'm all for scepticism but it has to make sense. Scepticism is not denial.
charon
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2507
Joined: 02 Mar 2011


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 25th, 2020, 9:22 am 

charon » May 25th, 2020, 10:14 pm wrote:
Science is neither perfect nor complete so criticism and intelligent questioning is acceptable. But to deny what is universally accepted - as, for example, flat-earthers do - is irrational if not nuts.



Would you consider -- the undeniable -- scientific consensus on issues such as the flat earth to be typical?

Or did you pick an extreme example?

Seems to me, more typical of science, is that for every scientist who claims X, another can be found who claims ~X.

(just look at court trials)

This might charitably be described as "healthy disagreement".

Less charitably as "who the hell really knows".
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on May 25th, 2020, 9:29 am 

Flat-earth thinking, creationist thinking (the earth is only 6,000 years old), etc etc, exists. I wouldn't even bother debating such claims. They are, by their nature, 'extreme' if you want to put it that way.

But I'm not sure what your point is. If there's divergence of opinion amongst educated people about a subject - providing it makes sense - what's wrong with that?

And I agree, if no concrete answer can be found to an issue, then 'we don't know' is excellent.
charon
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2507
Joined: 02 Mar 2011


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 25th, 2020, 9:38 am 

charon » May 25th, 2020, 10:29 pm wrote:
But I'm not sure what your point is. If there's divergence of opinion amongst educated people about a subject - providing it makes sense - what's wrong with that?




Well, yeah.

And no.

If they disagree on almost everything, who am I supposed to believe?
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on May 25th, 2020, 9:39 am 

Don't believe anything. No belief is factual.
Last edited by charon on May 25th, 2020, 9:47 am, edited 2 times in total.
charon
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2507
Joined: 02 Mar 2011


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 25th, 2020, 9:42 am 

charon » May 25th, 2020, 10:39 pm wrote:Don't believe anything. No belief is factual.


No belief is factual?

Er, do you believe Donald Trump is president?

Or not?
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on May 25th, 2020, 9:47 am 

Donald Trump IS president. Unless you're deluded, that is. Belief doesn't come into it.
charon
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2507
Joined: 02 Mar 2011


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 25th, 2020, 9:50 am 

charon » May 25th, 2020, 10:47 pm wrote:Donald Trump IS president. Unless you're deluded, that is. Belief doesn't come into it.



Well, seems to me either you believe Trump is president or not.

Which is your position?

If you believe it, by definition, it's a belief.
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby TheVat on May 25th, 2020, 9:52 am 

Reg_Prescott wrote:
charon » May 25th, 2020, 10:29 pm wrote:
But I'm not sure what your point is. If there's divergence of opinion amongst educated people about a subject - providing it makes sense - what's wrong with that?




Well, yeah.

And no.

If they disagree on almost everything, who am I supposed to believe?


The one with the best evidence and most willingness to modify theory in accord with new data? The one most welcoming of peer review that tries to poke holes in any and all data, procedure and conclusions?

Just as there are few atheists in foxholes, there are few science denialists undergoing life-saving medical procedures or flying on jetliners. Most denial is very pick-and-choose stuff. Mostly stuff that challenges traditional capitalism or someone's favorite flavor of God.
User avatar
TheVat
Forum Administrator
 
Posts: 7812
Joined: 21 Jan 2014
Location: Black Hills


Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on May 25th, 2020, 9:58 am 

Reg_Prescott » May 25th, 2020, 2:50 pm wrote:
charon » May 25th, 2020, 10:47 pm wrote:Donald Trump IS president. Unless you're deluded, that is. Belief doesn't come into it.



Well, seems to me either you believe Trump is president or not.

Which is your position?

If you believe it, by definition, it's a belief.


You don't understand what I'm saying, Reg. Belief is a personal stance and has nothing to do with reality. Belief isn't fact.

You don't believe there is crime or war, do you? There is, and everybody knows it. You can have a belief about a fact but that belief isn't the fact; the fact is independent of any belief about it.
charon
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2507
Joined: 02 Mar 2011


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 25th, 2020, 10:01 am 

charon » May 25th, 2020, 10:58 pm wrote:
Reg_Prescott » May 25th, 2020, 2:50 pm wrote:
charon » May 25th, 2020, 10:47 pm wrote:
You don't see what I'm saying, Reg. Belief is a personal stance and has nothing to do with reality. Belief isn't fact.



I do see what you're saying, and it's nonsense.

Are you suggesting no beliefs have any relevance to reality?

What a relief!!! Trump isn't president after all.
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on May 25th, 2020, 10:07 am 

I do see what you're saying, and it's nonsense.

Are you suggesting no beliefs have any relevance to reality?

What a relief!!! Trump isn't president after all.


I'm sure Donald Trump would be most amused to hear his being president was only a belief in someone's mind!

Either you've lost touch with reality yourself or you're just being troublesome for amusement, Reg. Don't waste time, it's your life.
charon
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2507
Joined: 02 Mar 2011


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 25th, 2020, 7:30 pm 

charon » May 25th, 2020, 11:07 pm wrote:

Either you've lost touch with reality yourself or you're just being troublesome for amusement, Reg. Don't waste time, it's your life.



Says the fella who tells us "Belief is a personal stance and has nothing to do with reality. Belief isn't fact." - you

I coulda swore beliefs were either true or false.

The false ones indeed do not correspond to reality; the true ones do.

But hey, the false ones are a lot more fun.

Are you, in all Ernest, telling us one cannot believe a fact?

Think I'll have another drink. Slainte!
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 25th, 2020, 7:41 pm 

TheVat » May 25th, 2020, 10:52 pm wrote:[

The one with the best evidence and most willingness to modify theory in accord with new data? The one most welcoming of peer review that tries to poke holes in any and all data, procedure and conclusions?

Just as there are few atheists in foxholes, there are few science denialists undergoing life-saving medical procedures or flying on jetliners. Most denial is very pick-and-choose stuff. Mostly stuff that challenges traditional capitalism or someone's favorite flavor of God.




Ah, Mr Vat, it seems the fatuous drivel of a Richard Dawkins evades no one, even your brilliant self.

Something I wrote in another place (to piss off Lomax LOL). Feel free to substitute "airplane" for "gravity".





Well, folks, since I've nothing better to do right now, let's make fun of Richard Dawkins again...



Prof Dawkins tells us (and it's often repeated by his epigones):

Gravity is not a version of the truth. It is the truth. Anyone who doubts it is invited to jump out a tenth-storey window.”



Now, the obvious implication here is that to distrust the findings of science, one would have to be pretty stupid. And it's kinda amazing that so many people take Dawkins' rubbish seriously.

(And Dawkins usually follows this by analogy with the theory of evolution: you'd have to be pretty stupid not to believe what scientists tell us about evolution -- even though they can barely agree with each other on anything except God didn't do it)



Well, except for the suicidal maniacs among us, we tend not to jump out tenth-storey windows. Why not? Because of cutting-edge scientific findings? Or because we all know we'd make a horrible splat on the pavement. Even the suicidal maniacs know this; precisely why they do it.

Is this knowledge something we owe a debt of gratitude to science for, as Dawkins implies?

I'd say not.

Isn't this kinda just...er, common sense? Ever seen a pre-literate, pre-scientific, non-suicidal New Guinean tribal warrior throw himself out his tree house?

Neither have I.



Needless to say, though, scientists have had, and do have, a great deal to say about gravity.

Aristotle, for example, told us, or implied, that by throwing yourself out the window you'd be led, like all massive terrestrial objects, towards your "natural place" (i.e., the centre of the Earth).

No one now believes Aristotle's theory of gravity to be true.



Later, Rene Descartes told us, or implied, that by throwing yourself from a high place, you'd be subject to the consequences of his vortex theory of gravity.

No one now believes Descartes's theory of gravity to be true.



(I will now, for brevity, skip a few dozen scientific theories of gravity)



Isaac Newton told us that the splat on the pavement below is due to an attractive force inherent within all all massive objects which acts instantaneously over any distance against a backdrop of absolute space and absolute time.

No one now believes Newton's theory of gravity to be true.



Most recently, Albert Einstein explains that by defenestrating yourself you will be subject to, not an attractive Newtonian force, but to the caprice of spacetime geometrical curvature.



So, in conclusion, Professor Dawkins, would it be silly to throw oneself off the roof not expecting a thud?

Of course, it would.

Would it be silly to believe the literal truth of scientific theories of gravity?

Of course, it would.



Your insight, Prof Dawkins, is a bit like saying to Bangladeshi fish farmers:

"That Royal Bengal tigers eat people is not a version of the truth. It is the truth. Anyone who doubts it is invited to stroll around the Sundarbans naked. And you have science to thank for this knowledge."

And why do they do this?

My best guess is they're hungry and a juicy human just happened to be there.






Me again, Mr Vat. Well, a couple of things to say about airplanes:

1. They scare the crap out of me (hear about the latest crash in Pakistan?)

2. I suppose we do have to thank science -- a wee bit -- for our faith in not plummeting to a horrible death. Then again, I suppose some credit is also due to the pilots, the air traffic controllers, the mechanics, the Beach Boys...


Personally, I hope to die peacefully in my sleep, just like my Dad. Not like his passengers who died screaming in terror.
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on May 26th, 2020, 3:26 am 

Science is not a religion. It's constantly correcting and updating itself. No one disputes that jumping out of a window results in a splat. It's the theories as to why that happens that cause the disputation.

Since, as you point out, there have been any number of differing explanations over the ages it's fairly obvious that it would be silly to put one's faith in any one of them.

But that is as it should be.
charon
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2507
Joined: 02 Mar 2011


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 3:53 am 

charon » May 26th, 2020, 4:26 pm wrote:Science is not a religion. It's constantly correcting and updating itself.


Again, "self-correcting" sounds a little overly sanguine to me. To "correct" implies that which was wrong was made right.

Another way of looking at things (pardon me) would be to say they get it wrong time and time again.

Not saying I endorse the position; I just think you're overplaying your hand.

Take the aforementioned theories of gravity. It doesn't seem like Descartes corrected Aristotle; rather, seems more like he butchered it too. And same goes for all the other several dozen theories of gravity.

Take estimates of the age of the Earth. First we were told it was a few thousand years old. Then a few hundred thousand. Then a few million. I don't mean to be a spoilsport, but to describe this as a process of "self-correction" sounds a little... er, religious to me.

Pardon my French.
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on May 26th, 2020, 10:12 am 

You're quibbling over a word. I just mean their findings aren't set in stone, they can be updated, changed, any word you like.

I'm neither for or against science, it is what it is. It's not perfect and there things it can't do, probably quite a lot of them. But in its own area the technological advances we've made are staggering. No question about it.

I'm well aware that not all science is good. They make arms, nerve gas, use animals for experimentation, and so on. Probably government scientists are on very sticky ground morally but that's up to them. But there are also plenty of people in the scientific field who are dedicated to things beneficial to humanity.

One's also well aware of the egotism and competitiveness amongst scientists. As well as working in science they're just ordinary human beings like the rest of us. There are many scientists who hold traditional religious beliefs and see no contradiction in it. They can be ambitious, and all the rest of it. Being a scientist does not necessarily mean one has an extraordinary or unique intelligence.

Apparently it's only a few who recognise the limitations of the status quo in the scientific world and have broken away from it or have sought to go beyond those limitations. They've realised that science is never going to save man from himself, quite the contrary. Einstein himself was firm on that point.

So science is not godly or miraculous. It's an activity like any other and has its uses as well as its faults. It's fallacious to generalise about 'science' as good or bad; it depends. Scientism, the idea that science is the only answer to practically everything, is equally fallacious.

It's also not the only means by which to understand our existence. As I think I said elsewhere, if we all needed a PhD in physics before we could behave wisely or understand life, that would be absurd.

Science and its methods are unquestionably reasonable. They deal with facts and the verification of facts in the material, physical world. But, as I said, scientists are also human beings and human beings are not always rational. We should be clear about the difference between science as an activity and what we may use it for. It's basically a tool like any other and without compassion any tool is dangerous.
charon
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2507
Joined: 02 Mar 2011


Re: Science denialism

Postby TheVat on May 26th, 2020, 11:13 am 

At this point, I'd settle for an education system that teaches the difference between facts and opinions.

I agree with Charon that there are many things science can't answer, many areas of life where it's not useful.

It's kind of handy during a global pandemic.

As for self-correction, many intellectual disciplines have some form of that. It's gotten better in science, thanks to the peer review gauntlet. I'd offer the classic saying: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. "
User avatar
TheVat
Forum Administrator
 
Posts: 7812
Joined: 21 Jan 2014
Location: Black Hills
Lomax liked this post


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 11:17 am 

charon » May 26th, 2020, 11:12 pm wrote:
Science and its methods are unquestionably reasonable. .


Er, have you read Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man"?


The finest scientific minds of the 19th and early 20th century decided to rate human intelligence. Of course, it was a foregone conclusion, even with scientific proof. White males came out tops. Followed by the Asiatics, the Hottentots, Eskimos, women, and no prizes for guessing who was bottom of the list: blacks, if they count as human at all.

The final page is a real tear-jerker. I'm gonna have to paraphrase cos I returned the book to the library.

"My husband and I always dreamed of having children, but it just wouldn't happen. We saw many specialists. Finally one told me my fallopian tubes had been severed.No one ever told me. Apparently the finest scientific minds of the day deemed me an 'imbecile' and not worthy of producing children"

By modern lights. this lovely lady who never hurt anyone is no longer deemed an "imbecile".

But it's a bit late now.

Unquestionably reasonable, you say?

I'd say dogmatic adherence to a theory is a very dangerous thing.
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 11:30 am 

Charon, everything you wrote above is like listening to ... well..


"Hi, Science isn't perfect, but it gets a lot of stuff right. Thanks to the self-correcting nature of the Scientific Method. Hey, if it wasn't for science we'd all be in the Dark Ages. But of course, I have no proof of this."

- Mary Lou, aged 14, Alabama
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 4:21 pm 

TheVat » May 27th, 2020, 12:13 am wrote:
As for self-correction, many intellectual disciplines have some form of that. It's gotten better in science, thanks to the peer review gauntlet. I'd offer the classic saying: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. "



Well, Mr Vat, I'm honestly not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but all this talk of "self-correction" just sounds like needless glorification to me, as if science is privy to some unique magic that the rest of the world isn't.

Self-correction: "If we find something that we believe to be wrong then we amend it to that which we believe is correct"

Er, who doesn't?


Same applies to peer review. If, say, those Intelligent Design nutjobs (from your perspective) were to install a system of peer review, would it somehow be the better for it?
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 4:36 pm 

charon » May 26th, 2020, 11:12 pm wrote:
Science and its methods are unquestionably reasonable. They deal with facts and the verification of facts in the material, physical world. But, as I said, scientists are also human beings and human beings are not always rational. We should be clear about the difference between science as an activity and what we may use it for. It's basically a tool like any other and without compassion any tool is dangerous.



I'd say this is a tad simplistic, sir, with no disrespect intended.

Facts, you say? It's something of a commonplace these days, to such an extent that it's almost embarrassing to be a bore, to point out that "facts" are not simply sitting there waiting to be read by any neutral observer. What is a "fact" is determined by the conceptual apparatus (cf. theory) brought to bear upon it.

Just to rehash a well worn example from Hanson (I believe), Ptolemy and Copernicus are having a picnic at the beach around 6:00pm. For one it is a fact that the Sun sets; for the other the Sun does no such thing.

As for verification, well, the Logical Positivists had the same idea: science is demarcated from that which is not by a criterion of verification.

It didn't work, for well known reasons.
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby TheVat on May 26th, 2020, 5:22 pm 

Reg_Prescott » May 26th, 2020, 1:21 pm wrote:
TheVat » May 27th, 2020, 12:13 am wrote:
As for self-correction, many intellectual disciplines have some form of that. It's gotten better in science, thanks to the peer review gauntlet. I'd offer the classic saying: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. "



Well, Mr Vat, I'm honestly not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but all this talk of "self-correction" just sounds like needless glorification to me, as if science is privy to some unique magic that the rest of the world isn't.

Self-correction: "If we find something that we believe to be wrong then we amend it to that which we believe is correct"

Er, who doesn't?


Science is privy to a method that changes theoretic models in response to fresh data or in response to exposure of corrupt old data. I don't see religion or ideology or several other areas of human belief doing this. I'd say that's a point for science. It's not "glorification," just a nice feature that paved the way to, say, better pharmaceuticals and rockets and weather prediction and tripled rice harvest.

Same applies to peer review. If, say, those Intelligent Design nutjobs (from your perspective) were to install a system of peer review, would it somehow be the better for it?


This is a bit like saying, what if dogs had propellers growing from their heads that allowed levitation.

IOW, it's an absurd hypothetical. ID, by its very nature, is not going to have a system of peer review worthy of the name. When did an ID apostle ever remove an unsupported metaphysical assumption in his paper, in response to having it pointed out? Well, trick question, yes, since the paper would cease to be an ID paper were that to ever happen.
User avatar
TheVat
Forum Administrator
 
Posts: 7812
Joined: 21 Jan 2014
Location: Black Hills


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 6:25 pm 

TheVat » May 27th, 2020, 6:22 am wrote:
Science is privy to a method that changes theoretic models in response to fresh data or in response to exposure of corrupt old data.



Well, how come Nobel Prize winning scientists such as Steven Weinberg, Peter Medawar, and Percy Bridgman keep telling me there is no such thing as "The Method"?

What's their problem, guvnor?
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 6:29 pm 

My old pal David Belinski puts it this way . . .

"The scientific method has aquired a certain hold on the popular imagination. Every adult remembers something about the scientific method from high school classes; it figures prominently in textbooks with such titles as Reasoning Together, and it is a polemical bruiser in its weight class, useful under circumstances when members of the scientific community are persuaded they are under attack. It is then that the determination is made that members of the public have failed to understand the scientific method or properly to revere it. No effort need be made actually to exhibit the method or tie it to an argument."
[...]
"I will draw down the curtain of charity over this scene. Golf has no method beyond the trivial. Neither does science
."

-- David Berlinski, The Devil's Delusion, p55



No one likes him much. Nor me.

Of course, he's exactly right. Hence the unpopularity.
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 6:37 pm 

If science is not a religion, how come I keep hearing fairy tales?

When will they ever learn? Sigh!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bI3QVsW30j0

Ya know, I'm not knocking it, Mr Vat, I just think we have enough fairy tales already.

Let's keep our feet on terra firma, please.
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on May 26th, 2020, 7:49 pm 

Reg Prescott -

I have no idea what your point is. Neither have you probably. You like science? You don't like science? Science is good? Science is bad?

What are you saying? Just so we know :-)
charon
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2507
Joined: 02 Mar 2011


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 10:03 pm 

charon » May 27th, 2020, 8:49 am wrote:
What are you saying? Just so we know :-)



What I'm saying is, you make one demonstrably false claim after another.

Then ride off into the sunset with a hot chick while I get crucified.

You gotta look on the bright side of life.....
Reg_Prescott
 


Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on May 26th, 2020, 10:09 pm 

Ok, to be serious, Charon, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the studio...

I mean, I feel people like yourself tend to go to the other extreme from science denialism: blind scientistic veneration.

Fine, I'll take that flu shot too. And thanks.

But let's not go up in a balloon about it.
Reg_Prescott
 


Next

Return to Philosophy of Science

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 7 guests

cron