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?

Views: 1448

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Circa one billion people believe that Vishnu is a god. Maybe they are worshipping the correct god and you the wrong one? Should you not check it out just in case? Maybe take this advice??

Laughing my ass off!

Talk about covering all your bases. You'd think the gods would be smart enough to sniff out a phony. Silly, stupid gods... 

I think science provides me with an objective, non-biased way of looking at reality. When I look at things in that manner, the world makes more sense to me. Of course, there's a lot of things about the world that leaves me confused, such as: the behavior of politicians. 

To me, science is 1) logic applied to evidence, 2) being satisfied with no explanation when none presents itself, 3) accepting the explanation that best fits the facts while doing the least damage to what you already know (aka, Occam's Razor).

Occam's Razor is often worded confusingly or opaquely to speakers of modern English. I like Isaac Newton's rewording which is quite clear even though by now it is quite old: "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances" (or "KISS, keep it simple, stupid!"). For example, if one were to maintain that their deity Oshbygosh makes everything happen then what does that mean? Well, that the laws of physics are only incidental to his control and could go wrong on us at any time he likes. That pretty much makes all of our physical knowledge null.

Dr. Bob, do you see an alternative to principles such as these? Are we to go to a swami or other religious advocate to find out how gravitons (should the exist) behave? Would a Pope have revealed to us the laws of thermodynamics?

I like this oldie but goodie:

Some Notes on the Nature of Science

Joe Schwarcz, Ph.D.
Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The scientific method offers an objective way to evaluate information to determine what is false. The late astronomer Carl Sagan, Ph.D., has pointed out that "Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of facts." [1]

A 1998 National Academy of Sciences book contains a superb chapter that distinguishes between facts and theories and between scientific beliefs and faith [2]. Although the book focuses on evolution, its reasoning is equally applicable to health-related issues. The book states:

In scientific terms, "theory" does not mean "guess" or "hunch" as it does in everyday usage. Scientific theories are explanations of natural phenomena built up logically from testable observations and hypotheses. . . .

Scientists most often use the word "fact" to describe an observation. But scientists can also use "fact" to mean something that has been tested or observed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing or looking for examples. . . .

Usually "faith" refers to beliefs that are accepted without empirical [observed] evidence. Most religions have tenets of faith. Science differs from religion because it is the nature of science to test and retest explanations against the natural world. Thus, scientific explanations are likely to be built on and modified with new information and new ways of looking at old information. This is quite different from most religious beliefs.

Therefore, "belief" is really not an appropriate term to use in science, because testing is such an important part of this way of knowing. If there is a component of faith to science, it is the assumption that the universe operates according to regularities. . . . This "faith" is very different from religious faith.

The following ideas can help you evaluate information you encounter about science and health.

  1. Science is a truth-seeking process. It is not a collection of unassailable "truths." It is, however, a self -correcting discipline. Such corrections may take a long time—the medical practice of bloodletting went on for centuries before its futility was realized—but as scientific knowledge accumulates, the chance of making substantial errors decreases.
  2. Certainty is elusive in science, and it is often hard to give categorical "Yes" or "No" answers to scientific questions. To determine whether bottled water is preferable to tap water, for example, one would have to design a lifelong study of two large groups of people whose lifestyles were similar in all respects except for the type of water they consumed. This is virtually impossible. We therefore have to rely on less-direct evidence in formulating many of our conclusions.
  3. It may not be possible to predict all consequences of an action, no matter how much advance research has been done. When chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were introduced as refrigerants, no one could have predicted that 30 years later they would have an impact on the ozone layer. If something undesirable happens, it is not necessarily because someone has been negligent.
  4. Any new finding should be examined with skepticism. Healthy skepticism does not mean unwillingness to believe. Skeptics base their beliefs on scientific proof and do not swallow information uncritically.
  5. No major lifestyle change should be based on any one study. Results should be independently confirmed by others. Keep in mind that science does not proceed by "miracle breakthroughs" or "giant leaps." It plods along, taking many small steps, slowly building towards a consensus.
  6. Studies have to be carefully interpreted by experts in the field. An association of two variables does not necessarily imply cause and effect. As an extreme example, consider the strong association between breast cancer and the wearing of skirts. Obviously, wearing skirts does not cause the disease. Scientists, however, sometimes show an amazing aptitude for coming up with inappropriate rationalizations for their pet theories.
  7. Repeating a false notion does not make it true. Many people are convinced that sugar causes hyperactivity in children—not because they have examined studies to this effect but because they have heard that it is so. In fact, a slate of studies has demonstrated that, if anything, sugar has a calming effect on children.
  8. Nonsensical lingo can sound very scientific. An ad for a type of algae states that "the molecular structure of chlorophyll is almost the same as that of hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. Oxygen is the prime nutrient and chlorophyll is the central molecule for increasing oxygen available to your system." This is nonsense. Chlorophyll does not transport oxygen in the blood.
  9. There often are legitimate opposing views on scientific issues. But it is incorrect to conclude that science cannot be trusted because for every study there is all equal and opposite study. It is always important to take into account who carried out a given study, how well it was designed, and whether anyone stands to gain financially from the results. Be mindful of who the "they" is in "they say that . . . ." In many cases, what they say" is only gossip, inaccurately reported.
  10. Animal studies are not necessarily relevant to humans, although they may provide much valuable information. Penicillin, for example, is safe for humans but toxic for guinea pigs. Rats do not require vitamin C as a dietary nutrient but humans do. Feeding high doses of a suspected toxin to test animals for short periods of time may not accurately reflect the effect on humans exposed to tiny doses over long periods of time.
  11. Whether a substance is a poison or a remedy depends on the dosage. It makes no sense to talk about the effects of certain substances on the body without talking about amounts. Licking an aspirin tablet will do nothing for a headache, but swallowing two tablets will make the headache go away. Swallowing a whole bottle of pills will make the patient go away.
  12. "Chemical" is not a dirty word. Chemicals are the building blocks of our world. They are neither good nor bad. Nitroglycerin can alleviate the pain of angina or blow up a building. The choice is ours. Furthermore, there is no relation between the risk posed by a substance and the complexity of its name. "Dihydrogen monoxide" is just water.
  13. Nature is not benign. The deadliest toxins known, such as ricin from castor beans or botulin from the Clostridium botulinum bacterium, are perfectly natural. "Natural" does not equal "safe," and "synthetic" does not equal "dangerous." The properties of any substance are determined by its molecular structure, not by whether it was synthesized by a chemist in a lab or by nature in a plant.
  14. Perceived risks are often different from real risks. Food poisoning from microbial contamination is a far greater health risk than trace pesticide residues oil fruits and vegetables.
  15. The human body is incredibly complex. Our health is determined by many variables, which include genetics, our diet, our mother's diet during pregnancy, stress, level of exercise, exposure to microbes, exposure to occupational hazards, and pure luck.
  16. While diet clearly plays a role in the promotion of good health, the effectiveness of specific foods or nutrients in the treatment of diseases is usually overstated. Individual foods are not good or bad, although overall diet may be described as such. The wider the variety of foods consumed, the smaller the chance that important nutrients will be lacking. There is universal agreement among scientists that a high consumption of fruits and vegetables is beneficial.
  17. About 80% of illnesses are self-limiting and will resolve in response to almost any kind of treatment. Often, a remedy will receive undeserved credit. Anecdotal evidence is unreliable, because positive results are much more likely to be reported than negative ones.
  18. There is no goose that lays golden eggs. In other words, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As H.L. Mencken once said, "Every complex problem has a solution that is simple, direct, plausible, and wrong."

References

  1. Sagan C. The fine art of baloney detection. Parade Magazine, p 12­13, Feb 1, 1987.
  2. National Academy of Sciences Working Group on Teaching Evolution. Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1998.
_______________________

Dr. Schwarcz is director of McGill University's Office for Chemistry and Society. In addition to teaching chemistry at McGill, he hosts a weekly "phone-in" show about chemistry on Montreal radio station CJAD, writes a weekly column called "The Right Chemistry" in the Montreal Gazette, and has a regular TV feature entitled "Joe's Chemistry Set" on the Canadian Discovery Channel. The above list of 18 tips was adapted from a section of his book Radar, Hula Hoops and Playful Pigs, a collection of commentaries on the fascinating chemistry of everyday life.

This article was revised on June 22, 2001.

I don't like complicated, unless it has to be.  I won't even attempt to answer these questions in the way that they are presented, because it is too much like a school exam and anyway, full answers would take many books!

1) Of course an outcome can change - that's the whole point!
2) Textbooks are simply ways of communicating ideas - they aren't perfect.
3) Really, there is no law, only that which has been accepted - it can change.
4) Art is perception, science is an attempt at demonstration.
5) "Use creativity & imagination?"[sic] Of course they do!
6) People interpret data differently.

Above is what I think about the questions. "What, for you, is Science?"  For me, science is simply asking questions of nature and then passing on what is found to others, to see if they see the same thing.

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.

In a way, the brilliance of science is in its ability to change once the paradigm starts to fail and a new paradigm is more successful. One good reason for teaching science is to teach that science is based on interpreting the evidence as we know it. When it needs to change, sometimes it's by force of the evidence and sometimes it's by the force of logic.

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?

I'm more of a science appreciator than a scientist. I'm sure one of the other members will do a better job here than I ever could. One thing I've learned from documentaries and think I know is that the pictures of atoms used in textbooks and elsewhere are wildly wrong in terms of scale. The nucleus is tiny. To true scale, the nucleus would be the size of a marble or grape being orbited by equally small particles many hundreds of feet away. For example, the typical depiction of an atom in textbooks and other literature is something like this.

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

A theory is a proposed explanation of a phenomenon. The law is the formulation of said theory. They are just two ways of looking at the same thing. Want an example: E=MC2.

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

Not much similarity. Art is about emotion and expression and while art may express truth, it is not at heart an attempt to discover and codify truth.

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.

I suppose imagination and creativity are present more in the design and in the interpretation of research and experimentation than in the execution of research and experiments. I'll let someone else provide 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?

There simply wasn't enough data for one explanation to rule out the other. Even today, some respectable physicists don't think The Big Bang has been conclusively proven, for example. String theory, explains a lot, and brings in numerous unseen dimensions, and is so far totally unprovable. So, it may have to be accepted only on its explanatory power with no other evidence for it beside its ability to explain.

We put a lot of faith in science, but it's faith=trust not faith=blind acceptance. Why do we do it? BECAUSE science has this wonderful ability to self-revise.

Another characteristic of science is that it has what I call "intellectual inertia." It resists change until it's clear it has to change. This is actually good or scientific truth, which is always based on "what we know now," would be changing willy-nilly. We don't want that.

Re: point 2., I had intended to include a typical depiction of an atom like you might see in a textbook or article, and of course such depictions are almost unimaginably wrong in terms of the real relative scale of the components of an atom. 

See what I wrote in response to Reg, below...scale isn't the only issue.

(OK, I see you have responded to Pope, who responded to me.)

They even got the colors wrong in this diagram.  (Kidding!  but I do notice that when I was a kid protons were red and neutrons a sort of neutral gray (appropriate); now I see a lot of blue protons and red neutrons.)

And then God said "Let there be quarks and gluons inside my supposedly elementary particles!". (I believe that document is still buried somewhere near the Dead Sea.)

RE point 2 above. Yes, the size of an atom is impossible to imagine. The width of the period at the end of this sentence is about 10 million atoms. Each of those atoms is 99.9999999999999 % (13 of them) empty space. So the nucleus of the atom is “tiny”. I think it was Tom Stoppard that used the analogy of the electron orbiting the nucleus of an atom to that of a moth flying around the inside of St. Paul’s cathedral to try to give an idea of the scale.

Just to be clear Dr. Bob. I am still unsure why you see my language as anthropomorphic. By saying that “Science does not care for the truth” I thought I was doing exactly the opposite. I was trying to give the impression, as I explained in earlier discussions, that Science, as a tool of discovery is unbiased and uncaring about what it discovers. You are the one who insisted that your God cannot be defined or described yet continued to give “Him” human traits on a regular basis.

Also re 2) not only are those drawings not to scale but unless you happen to be looking at a college chemistry textbook, they're probably just fucking wrong, showing a sort of mini solar system (it's a convenient mental shorthand, though, as long as you remember it's a shorthand).  Electrons actually exist in a cloud of probable locations, not having a specific edge to it.  Even the college textbook will fudge a bit, drawing these "orbitals" as if they were shapes with hard edges on them.  But there's really no way to draw it properly; our visualizations fail at that scale.

RSS

© 2018   Created by Rebel.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service