Should we believe what scientists say?
AchillesSinatra: In these forums, we hear a lot of talk about "science deniers", and its adjectival close cousin "anti-science"; terms which are thrown around as carelessly as "anti-semite" by fanatics of another feather.
I personally do not consider myself a "science-denier". Rather, quite the reverse: I regard those who point the accusations around as being blind venerators of science, evincing a religious-like faith in the veracity of scientific claims grossly incommensurate with their track record of reliability (or lack thereof).
I wonder what it is that those who launch the accusations expect of those of us targeted by them: to believe everything any scientist says about any science-related matter?
That, surely, would be as jaw-droppingly stupid as a position of believing NOTHING that scientists say. After all
(i) Disagreement among scientists themselves is commonplace. In such cases, the scientists involved do not consider what their rivals are claiming to be worthy of belief. And vice versa. We see, then, first of all, that it's a matter of some course for scientists not to believe what EACH OTHER say.
(ii) In many cases, scientists make it clear themselves that a particular conjecture is highly speculative, thus, in their opinion, not (yet) worthy of belief.
(iii) The historical record is replete with examples where a consensus, or near consensus, was attained, yet the particular claim or theory -- advanced with the hyper-confidence characteristic of scientists -- turned out to be quite false.
In the following video, Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells us, "... the good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it"
Prof Tyson's comment must rank among the most monumentally stupid and manifestly false remark that this particular poster, at least, has ever heard. Needless to say, it is immediately followed by thunderous applause.
AchillesSinatra: So a question for those who would label others a "science denier": Under what circumstances can we be confident that a scientific claim has attained such a degree of epistemic warrant that to not believe it would be an act of irrationality?
One tack often taken is to point out that the scientists are the experts; they know more about these matters than a layman like myself does.
No doubt this is true, though as an answer to the above question it is clearly inadequate.
Supposing, in my capacity as a layman, my claim on some scientific matter, SM, stands a 5% chance of being true.
And supposing that a scientific expert, with his superior knowledge, makes an alternative claim on the very same SM which stands, say, a 10% chance of being true.
Now, when a certain proposition stands only a 10% chance of being true, the rational response is to disbelieve it and to believe its negation, i.e., a rational person will believe "It is not the case that SM".
I await an answer with bad breath....
AchillesSinatra: Just to get us started, here's what I consider to be a horrible distortion of what science is, thanks to endless mindnumbing Discovery Channel showcases, stultifying Richard Dawkins propaganda idiocy, and Whig histories of science...
What the average man thinks is probably something like this:
"Yes, we all know that science gets it wrong once in a while, but in the vast majority of cases, scientific claims are totally reliable."
Are you the average man?
I would suggest that anyone holding such a view is hopelessly ignorant of the (actual!) history of science.
I would further suggest that precisely the opposite obtains: scientists getting it right is the exception, not the rule.
Philosopher of science (= a dude who actually devotes a career studying this stuff, as opposed to a media-brainwashed Smurf), Arthur Fine puts it this way:
"For in formulating the question as to how to explain why the methods of science lead to instrumental success, the realist has seriously misstated the explanandum. Overwhelmingly, the results of the conscientious pursuit of scientific enquiry are failures: failed theories, failed hypotheses, failed conjectures, inaccurate measurements, inaccurate estimations of parameters, fallacious causal inferences, and so forth. If explanations are appropriate here, then what requires explaining is why the very same methods produce an overwhelming background of failures and, occasionally, also a pattern of successes. The realist literature has not yet begun to address this question, much less to offer even a hint of how to answer it."
Now, certain members have already demonstrated their expertise in insults and toe-the-party-line, follow-the-herd slogans.
I'm afraid, if you disagree with the above characterization, you'll have to bring a little more.
Can you demonstrate that scientific claims to knowledge are, by and large, worthy of belief?
AchillesSinatra: There are serious thinkers out there who DO believe science, given certain and myriad qualifications, can -- at least sometimes -- deliver truth. This is what's known as a "scientific realist" position.
I respect their opinions. At least they have studied the topic and are qualified to offer an opinion worthy of respect.
On the other hand, an unqualified claim that "science is true", as Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells us in the video above, is so jawdroppingly inane as to beggar belief.
So mindblowingly stupid that he's very popular.
Now, I'd argue, to the contrary, that only an instrumental or empiricist understanding of scientific claims to knowledge can be reasonably defended.
That is to say, science, by and large, has an excellent track record of getting observable reality right.
By contrast, when scientists try to "go behind the scenes" and offer causal-explanatory theories of unobservable reality.... the record is fairly abysmal.
The position I am espousing is by no means 'anti-science". It has been defended by some of the greatest scientific minds. Ask for names and I will provide them.
My position, a la the aforementioned as yet unnamed luminaries, is one of "scientific antirealism". Scientific antirealism does not equate to "anti-science"
My main reasons for defending a position of antirealism are the so-called "argument from underdetermination of theories by evidence" and the "argument from pessimistic induction".
What are your arguments for scientific realism? i.e. scientific theories are literally true?
chronology: The dispute over the Great Sphinx of Egypt is a stark example of how science disagrees on subjects.
Personally I would agree with the assertion that the Sphinx is around 12000 years old. However this conclusion about the age of the Sphinx is passionately disputed by many scientists who call it 'tin foil hat science ' . The reason for their hostile reaction is that if true the 12000 year age given the Sphinx would turn history upside down.
It is like evolution, throw out that long discredited idea and you're left with endless questions about the origins of Man.
AchillesSinatra: Ok, now that I'm unmuted, I'd like to respond to my redoubtable contributors.
First, whether I'm a pseudo-intellectual or a halfwit or George Clooney in drag, has no bearing on the validity of my arguments.
You are welcome to attack my logic. Not my pretentious combover.
Next... "I find this topic by a sceptic and non science based type, denigrating the efforts of the men and women who have devoted their lives to science and trying to understand the world and the cosmos as very offensive tbh...
You have misunderstood the topic. What a surprise.
The topic is the epistemology of science.
What do you know about it?
Oh, that's right, nothing.
AchillesSinatra: I'll give you a second chance, Beaver....
What scientific claims are worthy of belief?
All of them?
God save us
AchillesSinatra: a sandwich walks into a bar...
Bartender says "Piss off, loser. We don't serve food here"
bobo1905: Should we believe what's scientists say"?
Science community agrees that any experiment conducted should be able to be replicated and verified so it can be fact.
Therefore any claim should be able to be verified.
If it can't be verified it just remains a theory.
What individual scientists themselves say shouldn't really matter you should be looking at evidence as there is rumours that there is a lot of disagreements about a lot of different topics within the science community.
AchillesSinatra: Ok, then, let's bite.
Will you explain to the boys and girls. Bobo, exactly how a scientific claim is "verified"?
And what do you mean by "verified"? Proven?
Are you familiar with the difficulty of verifying universal claims? Did you fix it?
I have a dreadful feeling of deja vu here.
bobo1905: For example. 2+2=4
It's something that can be replicated a million times and will produce the same result.
It's not my fault it's difficult verifying universal claims. Just because it's difficult doesn't mean wild theories thrown out there should be taken as fact and built on.
AchillesSinatra: 2 + 2 = 4 is not normally regarded as an empirical matter.
I thought we were discussing science?
AchillesSinatra: Er, what happens when the maths run out?
Get out there and do some verifying?
Name a scientific theory, and tell us how it was verified.