The scientific method defined and described


Science works rigorously to produce useful results



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Science works rigorously to produce useful results


Rigorous skepticism, part of the mechanism of science, produces reliable knowledge

Paul Kurtz (prof. emeritus of philosophy at the State Univ. of New York at Buffalo; founding chairman, Center for Inquiry), “Skeptical Inquiry and Religion,” Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 2004, p. 34

“Science itself incorporates the methodology of skeptical inquiry into the very process of discovery. Namely, scientists must be prepared to doubt hypotheses or theories unless or until they are verified or tested by predictions and/or are consistent with other well-tested theories. Objective peer review is an essential ingredient in the process of questioning any aspects of the prevailing paradigm and seeking to overturn it by more parsimonious and/or elegant-tested theories. Science is thus fallible, and doubting is intrinsic to its inquiries. However, the goal is not to debunk, but to achieve reliable knowledge. This is constructive and positive, not negative or destructive; and it has moral significance. The quest for truth is ongoing and should apply to every area of human interest.”
Scientific inquiry is an intergenerational system of inquiry

Susan Haack (senior scholar in Arts and Sciences, prof. of philosophy, and prof. of law at the Univ. of Miami at Coral Gables), “Point of Honor: On Science and Religion,” Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 2004, p. 57

“Science is not primarily a body of belief, but a federation of kinds of inquiry. Scientific inquiry relies on experience and reasoning: the sciences have developed many ways to extend the senses and enhance our powers of reasoning, but they require no additional kinds of evidential resource beyond these, which are also the resources on which everyday empirical inquiry depends. Among other things, while in even the most ordinary of everyday inquiry we often depend on what others tell us, scientific inquiry has become the joint, ongoing effort of a vast inter-generational community.”
Science does reveal truth

Simon Blackburn (prof. of philosophy, Cambridge Univ.), “Truth’s Caper,” The New Republic, August 13, 2008, p. 42-43

“Consider any instance of scientific success. A GPS receiver tells you where you are with astonishing accuracy, based on its distance from four or more satellites orbiting the earth. How does it know those distances? It uses a time differential and the speed of light. For simplicity’s sake, let us consider only the speed of light. What, then, explains the instrument’s accuracy? Science says that the speed of light is so many meters per second, and that is the correct, or the true, value. It is the truth of the estimate that is vital to the working. If we had gotten it wrong, and not by much, the instrument would be useless. Here truth is in the shop window, as it were.”
Science surprises us by going beyond pattern-recognition to discovering profound truths

Friedrich A. von Hayek (1899-1992, political philosopher and economist), The Pretence of Knowledge: Nobel Laureate Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, December 11, 1974. Online: http://www.mises.org/story/3229, retrieved February 1, 2009

“This corresponds to what I have called earlier the mere pattern predictions to which we are increasingly confined as we penetrate from the realm in which relatively simple laws prevail into the range of phenomena where organized complexity rules. As we advance, we find more and more frequently that we can in fact ascertain only some but not all the particular circumstances which determine the outcome of a given process; and in consequence we are able to predict only some but not all the properties of the result we have to expect. Often all that we shall be able to predict will be some abstract characteristic of the pattern that will appear — relations between kinds of elements about which individually we know very little. Yet, as I am anxious to repeat, we will still achieve predictions which can be falsified and which therefore are of empirical significance.”

Science has narrow effectiveness


GENERALLY

Science fails to live up to its promise to extend human understanding and control

Ralph Waldo Emerson (American transcendentalist philosopher, essayist, and poet, 1803-1882), “Beauty” in Essays: The Conduct of Life, 1860, reprinted in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Black’s Readers Service: 1928, p. 407

“The motive of science was the extension of man, on all sides, into Nature, till his hands should touch the stars, his eyes see through the earth, his ears understand the language of beast and bird, and the sense of the wind; and, through his sympathy, heaven and earth should talk with him. But that is not our science. These geologies, chemistries, astronomies, seem to make wise, but they leave us where they found us. The invention is of use to the inventor, of questionable help to any other. The formulas of science are like the papers in your pocket-book, of no value to any but the owner.”
Social and cultural conventions give meaning to the raw data science produces

Kenneth R. Foster (prof. of bioengineering, Univ. of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia), “The Faustian Bargain,” Skeptic, Vol. 7 No. 4 (1999), p. 90

“The authors make much of the fact that experimental evidence can invariably be interpreted in different ways. Because of this ambiguity, scientists can find ways to explain (or explain away) almost any experimental data, at least in the short term. Some critics argue, therefore, that scientific consensus bears no simple relation to truth, but reflects cultural factors as well. (That view, not explicitly developed in the present book, is a central dividing issue in the ‘science wars,’ the ongoing controversy about the objective basis of science.)”
Science has become politicized

David Baltimore (prof. of biology, Rockefeller Univ.; Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1975), “On Doing Science in the Modern World,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Cambridge University, March 9 and 10, 1992, p. 264; Online: www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/Baltimore93.pdf, accessed April 30, 2008

“Science done under government auspices must be seen as part of the political process because anything done by governments is by definition political. Science as it is done today, however, really dates back only to the end of World War II, when the U.S. government committed itself to the massive funding of basic scientific investigation.”
Political influence has distorted the process of science

David Baltimore (prof. of biology, Rockefeller Univ.; Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1975), “On Doing Science in the Modern World,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Cambridge University, March 9 and 10, 1992, p. 267; Online: www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/Baltimore93.pdf, accessed April 30, 2008

“On the one hand, politicization is a tribute to the important role that science plays in the modern world. But basic research flourishes best in the absence of political interference so that politicization can be self-defeating. From the point of view of the public, there should be strong support for leaving scientists to make their own decisions, but the political process dictates that politicians make the decisions and they find it hard, even if they believe the arguments, to allow any entity that they fund — particularly one that absorbs as many resources as are poured into science — to handle its own affairs.”

SOCIAL SCIENCES

The social sciences overestimate what science can accomplish

Friedrich A. von Hayek (1899-1992, political philosopher and economist), The Pretence of Knowledge: Nobel Laureate Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, December 11, 1974. Online: http://www.mises.org/story/3229, retrieved February 1, 2009

“But it is by no means only in the field of economics that far-reaching claims are made on behalf of a more scientific direction of all human activities and the desirability of replacing spontaneous processes by ‘conscious human control.’ If I am not mistaken, psychology, psychiatry, and some branches of sociology, not to speak about the so-called philosophy of history, are even more affected by what I have called the scientistic prejudice, and by specious claims of what science can achieve.”
The social sciences may demand data that cannot be measured in the scientific sense

Friedrich A. von Hayek (1899-1992, political philosopher and economist), The Pretence of Knowledge: Nobel Laureate Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, December 11, 1974. Online: http://www.mises.org/story/3229, retrieved February 1, 2009

“Unlike the position that exists in the physical sciences, in economics and other disciplines that deal with essentially complex phenomena, the aspects of the events to be accounted for about which we can get quantitative data are necessarily limited and may not include the important ones. While in the physical sciences it is generally assumed, probably with good reason, that any important factor which determines the observed events will itself be directly observable and measurable, in the study of such complex phenomena as the market, which depend on the actions of many individuals, all the circumstances which will determine the outcome of a process, for reasons which I shall explain later, will hardly ever be fully known or measurable. And while in the physical sciences the investigator will be able to measure what, on the basis of a prima facie theory, he thinks important, in the social sciences often that is treated as important which happens to be accessible to measurement. This is sometimes carried to the point where it is demanded that our theories must be formulated in such terms that they refer only to measurable magnitudes.”
The social sciences are forced to ignore factors which may be a crucial

Friedrich A. von Hayek (1899-1992, political philosopher and economist), The Pretence of Knowledge: Nobel Laureate Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, December 11, 1974. Online: http://www.mises.org/story/3229, retrieved February 1, 2009

“We know, of course, with regard to the market and similar social structures, a great many facts which we cannot measure and on which indeed we have only some very imprecise and general information. And because the effects of these facts in any particular instance cannot be confirmed by quantitative evidence, they are simply disregarded by those sworn to admit only what they regard as scientific evidence: they thereupon happily proceed on the fiction that the factors which they can measure are the only ones that are relevant.”
There are sharp limits to the power of the social sciences

Friedrich A. von Hayek (1899-1992, political philosopher and economist), The Pretence of Knowledge: Nobel Laureate Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, December 11, 1974. Online: http://www.mises.org/story/3229, retrieved February 1, 2009

“What I mainly wanted to bring out by the topical illustration is that certainly in my field, but I believe also generally in the sciences of man, what looks superficially like the most scientific procedure is often the most unscientific, and, beyond this, that in these fields there are definite limits to what we can expect science to achieve. This means that to entrust to science — or to deliberate control according to scientific principles — more than scientific method can achieve may have deplorable effects. The progress of the natural sciences in modern times has of course so much exceeded all expectations that any suggestion that there may be some limits to it is bound to arouse suspicion. Especially all those will resist such an insight who have hoped that our increasing power of prediction and control, generally regarded as the characteristic result of scientific advance, applied to the processes of society, would soon enable us to mould society entirely to our liking. It is indeed true that, in contrast to the exhilaration which the discoveries of the physical sciences tend to produce, the insights which we gain from the study of society more often have a dampening effect on our aspirations; and it is perhaps not surprising that the more impetuous younger members of our profession are not always prepared to accept this.”
Exaggerating the power of social science can be damaging to culture itself

Friedrich A. von Hayek (1899-1992, political philosopher and economist), The Pretence of Knowledge: Nobel Laureate Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, December 11, 1974. Online: http://www.mises.org/story/3229, retrieved February 1, 2009

“Yet the danger of which I want to warn is precisely the belief that in order to have a claim to be accepted as scientific it is necessary to achieve more. This way lies charlatanism and worse. To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm. In the physical sciences there may be little objection to trying to do the impossible; one might even feel that one ought not to discourage the overconfident because their experiments may after all produce some new insights. But in the social field, the erroneous belief that the exercise of some power would have beneficial consequences is likely to lead to a new power to coerce other men being conferred on some authority. Even if such power is not in itself bad, its exercise is likely to impede the functioning of those spontaneous-ordering forces by which, without understanding them, man is in fact so largely assisted in the pursuit of his aims. We are only beginning to understand on how subtle a communication system the functioning of an advanced industrial society is based — a communications system which we call the market and which turns out to be a more efficient mechanism for digesting dispersed information than any that man has deliberately designed.”



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