Science denialism

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

Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 8:04 am 

And I would like to add, relevant or not, is that the main reason I still drop in here once in a while is to share discussions with people as absurdly clever as yourself (Lomax) and BraininVat.

Agree or disagree, right or wrong, doesn't seem that important to me.

All that matters is that we're thinking.

:)
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Lomax on July 18th, 2020, 9:02 am 

I think there may be some misunderstandings here. I'm not suggesting that trust in the parachute is a triumph of the scientific method (I expect scientists have been called upon to improve the exact aerodynamics, but without the scientific method we can still see that they work. On this point we seem to be on absolute agreement). What I'm saying is that many other things do require science; the parachute is not to be compared to the genome.

You ask me how we verify that the number of scientists for and against a proposition is not equal for every proposition. This is in fact done all the time: criminologists are polled on whether the death penalty works; climatologists on whether climate change is human-driven; and so on. It's easier when dealing with scientific questions which are in their infancy: just pick a little-studied question and count the outcomes of papers on each hand. There are plenty of examples in which the balance is not even. Often as an issue becomes better-understood, the balance becomes more uneven (anthropic climate change appears to be a case in point: the near-consensus wasn't always 97%).

You follow up your question with this:

Reg_Prescott » July 18th, 2020, 12:45 pm wrote:Unanimity across the entire scientific board strikes me as a very rare thing indeed.

But is this not a false dilemma? Are we stuck with "exact balance" or "complete consensus"? I mentioned the "preponderance of evidence" before - what comes of that?

Next you ask:

Reg_Prescott » July 18th, 2020, 12:45 pm wrote:Given that you concede (I think) that natural selection on individual organisms is a non-explanatory tautology, how is the tautology evaded by moving up or down a level?

I am not sure I understand this question. I say that "which level does natural selection operate on" is not an empirically vacuous question. The formulation of "survival of the fittest" may be circular but "survival of the fittest what?" remains to be answered, and scientists do draw on empirical examples to help answer it.

You'll have to remind me what I said yesterday about you being a dishonest troll or whatever; I can't seem to recall. Unfortunately I have five articles to finish, I'm working long hours in my day job (to compensate for goofing off all summer) and the Free Church of Scotland wants me to help them draft a petition. We will duel again as wordsmen, but I'm not sure when. If they haven't booted you to give the others a chance.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 9:19 am 

Lomax » July 18th, 2020, 10:02 pm wrote:
You'll have to remind me what I said yesterday about you being a dishonest troll or whatever; I can't seem to recall.



Oh, that was another esteemed member, far less clever than you (see a few posts above).

Surely you know me better than that?

Dylan again :)

Yes, I have no articles to work on, but I'll reply tomorrow too.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 9:38 am 

Lomax » July 18th, 2020, 10:02 pm wrote:
You ask me how we verify that the number of scientists for and against a proposition is not equal for every proposition.



But, but, old chap, that's not what I said.

You're beginning to sound a bit like Davidm, and you're far too clever and nice for that.

What I did say is that, typically of science (with a few exceptions, of course), for every scientist that claims X, another can be found who claims ~X.

And I'm not just talking fringe elements and Scots.

If all scientists were equally agreed, that would be . . . . well, statistically unlikely; supernatural even.

My original unadulterated proposition seems to me very hard to deny. If not, meet me in court.

Name your proposition. You bring Xers. I'll bring my ~Xers.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 9:48 am 

Oops, ignore my last post.

I misread you, Lomax. Duh.

Er, see ya tomorrow.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby TheVat on July 18th, 2020, 9:56 am 

I would only add that I've never disputed that one can drill down to a tautology in NS. As Lomax and others argue, that doesn't matter once you've left the armchair. All theories rise or fall on excursions into the empirical. The use of a NS theory is not merely to assert that, say, insular dwarfism is adaptive on islands. It's to say why it is -- why would becoming tiny folk confer such a reproductive advantage when becoming bigger (like Norwegians, say) makes it so easy to beat others up and steal their lunch and drag off the womenfolk? Evolutionary theory is more than a lazy insistence that adapters adapt, it's a dynamic and empirically driven web of ideas as to how organisms interact with their environments and each other. Yes, of course it's tautological to say the successful organisms reproduce, but it's not tautological to say why certain changes are successful. The mechanism is what ET seeks to uncover.

No one would buy a billionaire biography that said "he got rich because he made a lot of money and invested it well. " Many such books are purchased owing to an interest in the method, in the "secret" of success.

I suppose one could say a lot of science is about curiosity as to mechanisms, as to how things happen. We know people fall downward, and science is not needed for this common sense understanding (or the folly of standing under, when they drop). Science is for the curious minded - what sort of thing is tugging at me that I should plummet from a balcony? Why does Wile E. Coyote get to float for a couple seconds but I don't have that option? Why are the most painful falls on massive planets?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby TheVat on July 18th, 2020, 9:59 am 

"This circularity in no way impugns the heuristic value of natural selection as a generation-by-generation description of evolutionary change"

-- from your Stanley quote, a few posts up. I liked that bit. Heuristic, yes.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 10:06 am 

TheVat » July 18th, 2020, 10:59 pm wrote:"This circularity in no way impugns the heuristic value of natural selection as a generation-by-generation description of evolutionary change"

-- from your Stanley quote, a few posts up. I liked that bit. Heuristic, yes.



That bit, I must disagree, with Prof Stanley with.

What heuristic value does "the nicest lemurs are the nicest" enjoy?

None at all that I can see, Mr Vat.

What say you?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 10:19 am 

Some tautologies are more explanatory than others?

*raises an eyebrow*
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 10:31 am 

What Prof Stanley appears to be saying, and with all due respect, I can make no sense of it, seems to be something like this:

"Knowing that those better able to survive tend to survive better than those not, albeit a tautology, is of great value."


Great value for what, I retort?

Like knowing that obnoxious members of SPF (i.e. those more likely to be banned) are more likely to get a 24 hour ban than those not?

Doesn't this have precisely zero heuristic value?

Unless, of course, you can draw a distinction between "the more obnoxious" and "those more likely to get banned".


Does anyone understand this?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 10:39 am 

If you are more likely to get banned on the grounds that being obnoxious is just another way of saying "more likely to get banned", then we have a vacuous tautology that explains nothing.

"Why was Reg banned?" - a freedom fighter from Glasgow

"Because he was obnoxious" - SPF mod

"What do you mean by obnoxious?" - freedom fighter

"Worthy of a ban" - SPF mod


Are we clear?

ARE WE CLEAR!!!!!!


If we are, now think about Irish elks going extinct to due to maladaptation.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby TheVat on July 18th, 2020, 1:53 pm 

Those are all strawman renditions of what I, and I presume Stanley, was saying. Not one evolutionary theorist has progressed in his field (as far as I know, correct me if I'm wrong) by suggesting "the nicest lemurs are the nicest." Someone might, after observing lemurs, posit that a specific behavioral pattern ("less afraid of humans") is associated with a heritable group of alleles for a smaller amygdala (this is actually true of foxes, so I'm borrowing that). Then go study lemurs who live near human communities and notice that those bands of lemurs have smaller amygdalas, have an easier time begging for table scraps from humans, and are generally thriving and plumped out more than bands deep in the jungle. My point is that we are learning something here about the nature of lemur success in adapting to a change in their world. I.e. they aren't just "nice," they've actually had a particular anatomical variation in the amygdala that was previously neutral, or even slightly harmful (being more afraid might be adaptive deep in the jungle), now serve to make them more charming to food providers in hairless ape warrens. The charmers get more to eat, their fertility rate rises, and more and more charmers are born. Isn't this heuristic? The rise in "nice" lemurs has grown and now we have a plausible mechanism for that, that goes well beyond "that's just the latest fad among lemurs." Give them another few hundred thousand years of human interaction, and they will be able to juggle and do stirring recitations of Wordsworth in exchange for dinner.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 7:37 pm 

@ Braininvat (post above)

To be frank sinatra, I don't see much to object to in what you just said, except one thing; the whole crux of the issue.


In every individual case, what does the explanatory work are the details of the particular causal relationships, whether it be polar bears' fur, peacocks' tails, or whatever -- not some vacuous truism about those being better able to survive and reproduce successfully outperforming those less able (i.e., natural selection).

Is there a causal story to be told about evolutionary change in lemurs? I don't doubt it.

Is there a causal story to be told about evolutionary change in Komodo dragons? I don't doubt it.

[ad infinitum]

In each case, the causal factors will be different, particular to the individual circumstances, perhaps with some vague generalities to be made (exactly analogous to the principle of death selection. See below).

Whatever these particular factors happen to be, appeal to some overarching, general principle such as "survivors survive" or "winners win" or "dogs are dogs" explains absolutely nothing. The "heuristic value" of an empty tautology, with all due respect to yourself and Prof Stanley, amounts to the same as the heuristic value of any other tautology: none whatsoever.

It seems to me that those who labor under the illusion (in my opinion) of the heuristic value of natural selection are in precisely the same position as a deluded Mark Spitz, say, thinking he can only swim with water wings on. Remove the water wings and you'll find nothing changes.



I've made the analogy with a principle of "death selection" (obviously nonsense) before, and feel it is entirely felicitous.

Have we learned a lot about cancer, cirrhosis, and AIDS? No doubt.

In any of these cases, is anything gained by appeal to the "heuristic value" of the principle "Those with conditions liable to cause death are more likely to die than those without" (i.e. death selection).

Of course not. The very idea is liable to elicit giggles.

And that's pretty much how I see the situation with natural selection.

With all due respect, good sir.

I may, of course, be quite wrong.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Sisyphus on July 18th, 2020, 7:55 pm 

Reg_Prescott » Fri Jul 17, 2020 7:27 pm wrote:But anyway, do I have a better alternative? Yes! Stop believing in rubbish.

Wow!!! How revolutionary! I mistakenly believed you to be suffering from the Dunning–Kruger effect. But now I can see I was quite wrong!
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 8:03 pm 

Sisyphus » July 19th, 2020, 8:55 am wrote:
Reg_Prescott » Fri Jul 17, 2020 7:27 pm wrote:But anyway, do I have a better alternative? Yes! Stop believing in rubbish.

Wow!!! How revolutionary! I mistakenly believed you to be suffering from the Dunning–Kruger effect. But now I can see I was quite wrong!



You hear this a lot in chat forums.

Seems to me just another way of saying "You're an idiot" cloaked in a veneer of scientific respectability.

And it doesn't really help much, dude. On pain of running afoul of the genetic fallacy, why not leave my psychological impairments out of this?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby TheVat on July 18th, 2020, 8:04 pm 

Reginald,

Lomax is right, you're very skilled at word games. Yet I find neither your Olympic swimmer analogy, nor your death selection analogy, too compelling. Let me go and kill a lemur for supper, digest, and see if anything can be done. I am starting to wonder why you quoted Stanley in the first place, but never mind, it's a provocative snippet. Many theoretic structures can become circular if you remove all the juicy details.

Hi, Sisyphus. SPCF is pretty much a giant case file of Dunning-Kruger, but we do our best.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Sisyphus on July 18th, 2020, 8:09 pm 

Reg_Prescott » Sat Jul 18, 2020 8:03 pm wrote:On pain of running afoul of the genetic fallacy, why not leave my psychological impairments out of this?

I think being honest with yourself and recognizing it as an impairment is a good start on the road to recovery.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 8:11 pm 

TheVat » July 19th, 2020, 9:04 am wrote: I am starting to wonder why you quoted Stanley in the first place, but never mind, it's a provocative snippet.



The reason I quoted Stanley, good sir, is that certain members (who shall remain undnmaned) have implied that only dishonest, idiotic trolls would suggest that natural selection is a tautology.

It's not just me, ya know.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 8:12 pm 

Sisyphus » July 19th, 2020, 9:09 am wrote:I think being honest with yourself and recognizing it as an impairment is a good start on the road to recovery.



Oh, I tried that but it got me nowhere.

I'm Sean Connery now.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 8:21 pm 

Did you just call me delusional?

Or did I imagine it?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 8:34 pm 

Lomax » July 18th, 2020, 10:02 pm wrote:I am not sure I understand this question. I say that "which level does natural selection operate on" is not an empirically vacuous question.



Interesting point, Lomax.

According to my own reading on the matter, opinions differ. Some claim this is something to be discovered through empirical investigation; others claim it's a matter of convenience.

I do believe, if memory serves me, that Dawkins changed his own stance on this (from empirical to convention), but don't make me get the books out again.

Elliott Sober's "The Nature of Selection" is a terrific source on these things. Have you read any of his stuff?



Sidenote: Boy, I'd hate to be called "Sober". You how cruel children can be. :)
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 18th, 2020, 9:09 pm 

Lomax » July 18th, 2020, 10:02 pm wrote:The formulation of "survival of the fittest" may be circular but "survival of the fittest what?" remains to be answered, and scientists do draw on empirical examples to help answer it.



To say a little more (sowwee) . . .

Survival of the fittest what, you ask?

Well, given that we're agreed "survival of the fittest" is circular, i.e., the more fit cannot but outdo the less fit, then any "what" fits, doesn't it?

The fitter organisms MUST outsurvive the less fit. Given the definitions, it cannot be otherwise, as a matter of logic.

Same goes for the fitter genes, fitter groups, fitter species, fitter daleks, and fitter Klingons.

Right?


Now there is such a thing as the "propensity interpretation of fitness" under which it is not a case of the more fit, by definition, outdoing the less fit.

Under the propensity interpretation, rather, those who have what it takes to outperform the less fit will tend to do so.

This allows for Adonis-like lemurs to succumb to their 90-lb weakling conspecifics. After all, shit happens, eh? Not even Bobby Fischer won every match.

The propensity interpretation is an attempt to escape the vicious circularity of the survivors surviving. But given that fitness is still defined in terms of survival and reproductive success, I don't see it helps much.

Instead of "the winners win", what we have now is "those more likely to win will tend to win".

By exact analogy, "the casino will tend to make more dosh than the punters".

Given the conditions: (i) the odds are stacked in the casino's favor, (ii) lots of punters, and (iii) lots of time (etc), the casino cannot NOT outdo the punters.

This requires no empirical investigation.

But yes, good news for the purple-haired grannies at the slot machines: Under the propensity interpretation you're allowed to go home with a few quid once in a while, even though the casino is fitter than you are.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 19th, 2020, 1:21 am 

Talking of idle rhetoric. . .

Our topic as of now is the allegedly tautological nature of natural selection.

Some of our members have the intelligence and integrity to concede the fact (more or less).

The rest say things like "excruciating detail", wave their arms around a lot, make a lot of noise, and thump the lectern.

And we all know what strategy tends to win a debate. It helps to wear a suit and look like George Clooney, too.

(with the exception of a VERY small minority who actually study the facts and the arguments without prejudice -- you know who you are)

Now, before you impugn my contributions to the site, do you have anything to contribute besides insults and arm waving?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on July 19th, 2020, 2:02 am 

Mr. Reg -

science cannot escape the cultural and social context in which it is embedded


Oh, but it should and, what's more, I don't think that's difficult. Look in the microscope and see what's there. Jot it down.

Objective, clear, observation is surely independent of all cultural bias. It's only the ideas and opinions which follow it that are not... but they're irrelevant anyway. Only the facts matter.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 19th, 2020, 2:07 am 

charon » July 19th, 2020, 3:02 pm wrote:Mr. Reg -

science cannot escape the cultural and social context in which it is embedded


Oh, but it should and, what's more, I don't think that's difficult. Look in the microscope and see what's there. Jot it down.

Objective, clear, observation is surely independent of all cultural bias. It's only the ideas and opinions which follow it that are not... but they're irrelevant anyway. Only the facts matter.





Of course not.

Van Wozzizname examined sperm through the microscope and saw little humans swimming around there.

So did all his friends, apparently.

It's described in the final page of van Fraassen's "The Scientific Image". (a different van)

I'll pull it off the shelf if you like and quote directly.

So much for raw facts.
Last edited by Reg_Prescott on July 19th, 2020, 2:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 19th, 2020, 2:09 am 

Dude, the notion that facts are kinda "sitting there" waiting to be read off by any neutral observer died about 60 years ago.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 19th, 2020, 2:11 am 

Ever seen that duck/rabbit pic?

What are the facts?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 19th, 2020, 2:18 am 

This is what can be a little annoying.

Being "corrected", mocked even, by experts who clearly have not kept abreast of developments in the philosophy of science.

It's regrettable that so many scientists are either ignorant of, or contemptuous of, findings in other disciplines.

Can't we try to learn from each other?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 19th, 2020, 2:25 am 

It's absurd on the face of it. "Only the facts matter".

Would you like a list of things that were once considered facts but no longer are?

Might shut me up for a while.

It's a VERY long list, pal.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Positor on July 19th, 2020, 2:36 am 

OK, here are three logical possibilities:

1. Species were created by God, and do not evolve into other species. Sometimes he intervenes to extinguish certain species, for reasons known only to himself. The extinguished species are 'less fit' because they fail to gain God's favour.

2. As (1), except that God makes some species evolve into other species, for reasons known only to himself. In any environment, the unsuccessful genes, individuals or populations are 'less fit' because they fail to gain God's favour. There is no discernible correlation between their physical characteristics, environment and lack of success. (God may be pleased or displeased by a particular species, and therefore intervene specially to put its individuals in less, or more, danger than they would meet otherwise.)

3. Species evolve into other species and/or become extinct for purely natural reasons, i..e. without intervention by God (if he exists). There is a correlation between (a) physical characteristics and environment, and (b) success. The unsuccessful genes, individuals or populations are 'less fit' because their physical characteristics make them less able to survive in their particular environment.

Now, the tautology "the fittest survive" is compatible with any of the above possibilities. The theory of evolution by natural selection, however, is compatible only with (3). So the theory of evolution by natural selection is not identical to the tautology – it has an empirical content which rules out (1) and (2). Indeed, it was highly controversial because Christians traditionally believed (1).
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