Wednesday, 16 November 2016

"The" Science.

This is a bit of a reaction to reading Tim Ball's book. I'm none too happy with the philosophy of science implied therein. What is Science? From whence did it come? I'm also a bit obsessed with philosophy of science and meta-theory in general. Why do we meta-theorise so much and is any of it, apart from science, of any use. No not really, but some is.


Science, as I understand it, began about 2,600 years ago on the East coast of Turkey, in what was called Ionia, near the island of Samos, in a trading port settled by Greeks called Miletus. Here two philosophers Thales, followed by Anaximander sought to create a new world view. Their new world view attempted to explain all worldly events and phenomena using naturalistic explanations. They tried to replace explanations based on the supernatural: myth (e.g. The Dreamtime), whim, will, or law of the Gods, luck, nature spirits, and fate, ... Over the years, science stumbled on, adding maths quite early on. So consistent were Anaximander's naturalistic explanations, one is led to believe he was attempting to found an entirely new way of looking at the world. The Ur of science is not experimental method. It is naturalism. Eventually this led to the European scientific revolution: Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. To a degree these early European scientists stressed the importance of scientific method. That they were merely trying to explain the natural world. Not seeking to overthrow the Church with its supernaturalism. In truth, in order to do science at all they had to compromise like that. Many were, in fact, perfectly happy to believe the compromise legitimate too.

Taking an overview I come to some conclusions:

What characterises science?

How is science different to other ways of talking about the world? E.g. Apart from it's naturalism. As already stated: science overthrows all supernatural explanations.

  1. Scientific explanations are naturalistic, and only so. There is no creation science. It would be orthogonal to the project of science from the earliest times.
  2. Scientific explanations begin with observation of the world. Precisely recording what happens.
  3. Precision and fidelity to the record are of great importance.
  4. Maths is big in science. Maths allow prediction but mathed science theory has often been approximate (to nature) in the past. Either slightly or very.
  5. Once data has been collected, scientists try to find patterns. Such patterns are often called "Scientific Laws". So in a sense: data is sacred. Messing with the data is fundamentally anti-scientific. Because how can you tease out the laws if you are cherry-picking or faking it?
  6. There are many ways to detect patterns or laws. Statistics has been one of them. Statistics is misused; so careful before you accept any statistical inference. Stats has not only been misused but rampantly so. Much pseudoscience was promoted with weak stats.
  7. The discovery and promotion of the experimental method was a great step forward and this really launched Western Science, to bring us where we are today. A fundamental pattern in experiment is to hold many variables constant while varying only one or a few.
  8. Observation is still important, but not so useful because the effect of variation can't be examined independently.
  9. Scientists seek to systematize and unify established patterns ("Scientific Laws") with theories. A theory will both explain a Law, and, usually, be able to derive it from fundamental explanations. For a theory to be generally accepted it must be able to explain everything important. Theories can not contradict Laws. Remember: laws are derived from patterns in the data.
  10. A hypothesis is a candidate, or proposed, theory. A theory is generally accepted by nearly all scientists.
  11. Validation. A theory is the simplest explanation compatible with the data. (sacred data again!)
  12. All the theories of science gel together to form a holistic world view. Which is naturalistic. The scientific world view. Theories must unify patterns (or Laws) yet the best theories unify with each other to form a totality.
  13. There is, of course, "the scientific method", but this is really a caricature. Scientists don't hang about dreaming up hypotheses, then try to prove them with experiment. That would lead to bad science, or string theory. Better to experiment. Carefully record the results, and tease out a law, or hypotheses from the facts. Knowing full well: any law or hypothesis teased out must be compatible with the totality of science as it currently is. Otherwise big paradox: like dark energy / dark matter, or dose-response. In a nutshell: The scientific method, as it's often presented, is wrong. I.e. The explanation is wrong. Students are misled. The scientific method, as it is really practiced to give us better science, must be right. Otherwise there wouldn't be better science. Perhaps this is, in part, due to the influence of Popper (on the one hand), and philosophers of science (like Kuhn) on the other. The link I gave here gives a classic misrepresentation of the scientific method. In reality: scientific explanations are all naturalistic, faithful to the data, and consistently form a coherrent body, or world-view.
  14. The Popperian view is: "science is what works". Clichéd, as his fans love to. In other words: if the hypothesis leads to predictions which fail, then it's wrong. A good theory is testable. Unfortunately this elides the fact that science has been a collective endeavor for 2,600 years. I'm not refuting Popper. He is right. I just think he's too simplistic. A 'good' theory relying on a nature spirit explanation, which was perfectly compatible with the data is: not naturalistic, nor the simplest possible, and it does not gel with the rest of science. It may be OK for a Popperian. It's rubbish for me; anti-science if you like.
  15. Then there's the Kuhnian point of view. For Kuhn scientific theory is paramount. Current accepted theory establishes a world view (scientific paradigm) of a society and/or the scientific elite (a bit like an Hegel's, Spirit of the Age, like a Zeitgeist, except something we all accept without question). People love to tell us how primitive humanity once was: how Columbus (or was it Magellan) first found the world was round by sailing it. Except they did not. The Greeks, 2,300 years ago already knew the earth floated as a sphere in space. Kuhn's caricature is just that. Kuhn considers theories as some kind of pick and mix. Yet points: 1), 2), 5), 9), 12) above show there is no pick and mix. Any new theory attempting to displace an existing one must fit the totality of what science means and what it is to do science. Philosophers love Kuhn. They love relativising science, and Kuhn is their big artillery argument.

'The Science': AKA man-made global warming

  • CAGW : Catastrophic, anthropic, global warming. A hypothesis that greenhouse gas (like Carbon dioxide, water and methane) released into the atmosphere by human activity will cause runaway global warming and catastrophe. In some extreme variants: destroying humanity.
  • CAGW promoters nearly always call their idea climate change. Whenever they talk about climate change they mean CAGW, but refuse to use the term that describes their beliefs. Extraordinary really!
  • Consider how CAGW came about. Did they carefully observe, tease out climate laws, then find a hypothesis which was the simplest possible explanation? All the while, remaining faithful to the data? 'Listening to' the data? It does not seem so.
  • CAGW is not a theory. It can't even be considered a hypothesis really. It is not consistent enough. They have not even found a model they all agree on!. It ignores too much due to it's 1-dimensional obsession with GHG.
  • Tim Ball, "The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science", 2014

Reference

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