In another thread, @ Reg posts:

What is the best tool we have to get answers? Science is. Science does not care for the truth. It does not seek to assert that an idea is right. It first tries to destroy it. If it cannot be destroyed then it can be considered to be worthy of further consideration...

One of my struggles with much of what gets written here is that there are so many mythological views of science, many of which like @Reg's are anthropomorphic in their language.

Not only is Science the way of knowing, Science is a bearded, lab-coated deity of sorts.

Now I've probably spoiled things by that introduction, but I am really curious...   What do folks really think of science here?  What is it, how does it work in your point of view?

If you like, consider the following questions:

1. After scientists have developed a theory (e.g., atomic theory, kinetic molecular theory, cell theory), does the theory ever change? If you believe that scientific theories do not change, explain why and defend your answer with examples. If you believe that theories do change: (a) Explain why. (b) Explain why we bother to teach and learn scientific theories. Defend your answer with examples.

2. Science textbooks often represent the atom as a central nucleus composed of positively charged particles (protons) and neutral particles (neutrons) with negatively charged particles (electrons) orbiting the nucleus. How certain are scientists about the structure of the atom? What specific evidence do you think scientists used to determine the structure of the atom?

3. Is there a difference between a scientific theory and a scientific law? Give an example to illustrate your answer.

4. How are science and art similar? How are they different?

5. Scientists perform experiments/investigations when trying to solve problems. Other than in the stage of planning and design, do scientists use their creativity and imagination in the process of performing these experiments/investigations? Please explain your answer and provide appropriate examples.

6. In the recent past, astronomers differed greatly in their predictions of the ultimate fate of the universe. Some astronomers believed that the universe is expanding while others believed that it is shrinking, still others believed that the universe is in a static state without any expansion or shrinkage. How were these different conclusions possible if the astronomers were all looking at the same experiments and data?

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Doctor Bob - "Not only is Science the way of knowing, Science is a bearded, lab-coated deity of sorts."

I certainly agree with the first part of that sentence but your anthropomorphic/supernatural metaphor has me a little confused. Please, explain what you meant by that description.

Hi @Ed.  I was reflecting on @Reg's quote about Science.  In his quote, Science (capital-S) both exists ("Science is.") and is an anthropomorphic actor ("Science does not care... [Science] tries to destroy").

So I was trying to come up with what Science as an existing, anthropomorphic actor would be portrayed as. 

I call nitpicking!

"The earth wants to spin."

That statement makes sense and requires not qualification, unless one is not understanding the statement just for the sake of trying not to understand it.


Nature does not care.....does She?

Science is a process. It attempts to fit a narrative (now mostly a narrative told through mathematics) to a set of facts and to use those narratives to make predictions. The more sparse the number of facts and the more generalist the predictions, the easier it is to fit multiple narratives. Some things that we have no facts about - such as the fate of the universe, life on other planets - we can speculate and there will be many more narratives possible.

But as the number of facts grows and the predictions become more tightly defined, for instance for heavily studied areas, the number of possible narratives reduces. Unlike art, science is constrained by the need to fit the facts and to produce predictably replicable outcomes. The skill of the scientist is in finding experiments and tests that reduce the number of possible narratives, and then using this to build or refine new narratives - the discovery of DNA is a good story of the hunt for a scientific narrative.

The structure of the atom is a good example of how narratives become tighter in definition and predictability (eg moving from the world of Rutherford to the world of Quantum Mechanics and then debates about String Theory). The more facts we have the bigger the challenge to find a narrative that ties everything together in a universal framework. 'Law' is just shorthand for a theory that seems to beat every test to break it and so something that all narratives need to fit to.

Since a key test of these science narratives are predictably replicable outcomes, we can use it to change the world - to heal ourselves, to feed ourselves and explore. Good science protects us from false heuristics.

Well said.

Indeed! Thanks for pointing it out, as I missed it somehow.

Saul, excellent! I'm saving it.

Reminds me a lot of Mario Bunge...especially the final comment

Good science protects us from false heuristics.

Is that your own quote? If it's a nice one.

Tyson knows what Science is...:-)

In almost a year, an earthquake didn't move the building enough to increase the ball's swing and knock Tyson's head off? Not in New York.

I always like the pretty picture of an atom with the electrons flying around it because it serves to remind you that it is simply a model of observed data and not reality itself. My science teacher at school was good at pointing this out to us. In our book I think the electrons were coloured red and he used to say "Do you imagine in real life electrons are red?" Although this is simplistic (we were young) his point was that you shouldn't try and imagine an atom as a super-miniaturised version of the picture we saw in this book. The picture is just our own way of representing the model which in turn only represents a bunch of recorded data. 

For me, this is why scientific theories move on even though the data stays the same. Maybe someone managed to record more data (or a greater fidelity of data) that enables a more accurate model to be proposed. Or maybe someone just thought of a different way of constructing the model that was a more accurate fit. Why do we bother teaching them? Because this is our current best-fit model which is better than nothing. It is useful, just not 100% useful.

How can two different conclusions be drawn from the same experimental data? Because it is perfectly possible for two models of the same data to exist. They could even both be as good a fit to the data as each other. Each model may account for 90% of the variance of the data but which 90% is different.

I think another interesting question is when should a theory or idea be considered entirely non-scientific? I think it is when the idea fits no observed data. For example, the idea that unicorns cry tears that allow four-leaf clovers to grow is non-scientific to me because that model of reality does not fit any data (that I know of - I would love to be proved wrong). 


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