The Ills of Science

#2
Some intereting points. I'm not sure whether scientific revolutions are "harder" these days or not, but it certainly appears more difficult for individuals (rather than teams) to take the credit on bigger projects. Additionally, I guess some of those (pre 1970s) scientists were the celebrities of their day (others may fulfil that role now). I'm doubtful of his inference that science was "better" in the old days, when unfunded...

The tree analogy may have some merit. The idea that scientific discovery is operating at the twigs/new growth level without examining whether the major limb is rotten may apply to some areas of science. Parapsychology springs immediately to mind ;)
 
Last edited:
#3
The idea that scientific discovery is operating at the twigs/new growth level without examining whether the major limb is rotten may apply to some areas of science. Parapsychology springs immediately to mind ;)
I disagree. Philosophers who have taken seriously the psychic research have come to the conclusion that with the data are only two rational possibilities: psi and an afterlife or super psi (and the latter is not reasonable for various reasons), so the deniers of psychic phenomena are irrational.
 
#4
I think Gerald Pollack diagnoses the ills of science very accurately. Never mind its approach to ψ, I think modern institutional science is in a real mess. Pollack was not talking about ψ, but just think how the problems he describes, have echoes in our experience. If science were working properly, we would have had a number of researchers desperate to reproduce or refute Rupert Sheldrake's work with dogs. In an ideal world, either outcome would be equally exciting.

David
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#5
I think Gerald Pollack diagnoses the ills of science very accurately. Never mind its approach to ψ, I think modern institutional science is in a real mess. Pollack was not talking about ψ, but just think how the problems he describes, have echoes in our experience. If science were working properly, we would have had a number of researchers desperate to reproduce or refute Rupert Sheldrake's work with dogs. In an ideal world, either outcome would be equally exciting.

David
Apparently there have been results suggestive of morphic resonance?
 
#7
I think Gerald Pollack diagnoses the ills of science very accurately. Never mind its approach to ψ, I think modern institutional science is in a real mess. Pollack was not talking about ψ, but just think how the problems he describes, have echoes in our experience. If science were working properly, we would have had a number of researchers desperate to reproduce or refute Rupert Sheldrake's work with dogs. In an ideal world, either outcome would be equally exciting.

David
"Science was "better" in the late 19th/early 20th century when it was largely unfunded..... btw, I need... (little finger to corner of mouth)... One billion dollars!"

Seriously though, how was science "better" in the old days? Pollack's yardstick is that it produced more revolutions (in his opinion, using his definition of a revolution). Is that really the case?
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#9
Pardon me, Sciborg. I didn't realize you were specifically referring to the 'dogs that know' thing.
Not a problem at all.

I think one of the reasons people dislike alternative explanations, even when they are not immaterial, is because it means we might know very little about reality and continual resets on certainty make people less confident about science in general.

For myself, I think I could use my math knowledge to learn enough physics to get a glimpse of what the contention is but I don't believe I'd be able to really grasp the heart of the debate between EthanT and LoneShaman.

Similar concern goes for a variety of subjects ranging from design-in-evolution to advanced semiotics to altered states brought on by years of meditative practices.

I accept that I have to be a creative agnostic about reality, but this seems to not sit well with many -> which in turn stifles the possibility of revolutions. It's like the Tolstoy quote Radin mentioned on his blog:

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

-- Leo Tolstoy
 
#10
The tree analogy may have some merit. The idea that scientific discovery is operating at the twigs/new growth level without examining whether the major limb is rotten may apply to some areas of science. Parapsychology springs immediately to mind ;)
Under your analogy, parapsychology is a new growth attached to a rotting branch that could be cut off and re-planted.
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#11
"Science was "better" in the late 19th/early 20th century when it was largely unfunded..... btw, I need... (little finger to corner of mouth)... One billion dollars!"

Seriously though, how was science "better" in the old days? Pollack's yardstick is that it produced more revolutions (in his opinion, using his definition of a revolution). Is that really the case?
I didn't get the sense he was saying science being underfunded made it better.

Seems like he was noting that one might expect greater revolutions given the greater amount of funding in modern times, and then explained why this was not the case.

I'm not sure about the revolution thing - IF we're closer than before to the correct paradigms it would make sense there are less revolutions - but I sort of see what Pollack is saying. As David notes it's odd that any evidence suggestive of something like morphic resonance doesn't lead to further attempts to see if the idea could be true. [Just an example, I don't know if there's been substantial evidence against Sheldrake's ideas.]

It seems bizarre to me that we can dismiss such things a priori by appeal to extant assumptions.
 
#12
"Science was "better" in the late 19th/early 20th century when it was largely unfunded..... btw, I need... (little finger to corner of mouth)... One billion dollars!"

Seriously though, how was science "better" in the old days? Pollack's yardstick is that it produced more revolutions (in his opinion, using his definition of a revolution). Is that really the case?

One interpretation of this is that science in the old days naturally plucked all the "low hanging fruit". That is, many of the fundamental discoveries concerning the nature of matter and energy and living organisms were (relatively) penetrable by brilliant individual scientists using (relatively) simple instrumentation. As knowledge increased, fewer and fewer fundamental phenomena and principles remained to be discovered, and new discoveries are naturally getting harder to come by because of ever increasing complexity and the difficulty of instrumentation. This complexity requires ever increasing specialization and sophistication and use of big teams of investigators.

So, the fundamental problem is the nature of nature, and this, in addition to the many institutional problems of modern science (especially that much of its funding is by corporations looking for immediate profitable applications) is why science as an enterprise seems to be stalling.
 
#13
Does anyone in this discussion deny that modern science is in trouble?

I think not, most of us realise it has somehow gone off the rails.

I recently came across the term "Eminence Based Medicine", used to describe areas of medicine where the facts don't really matter, and the 'experts' can continue to pass down their ideas regardless of evidence - sometimes simply claiming that lives will be lost if anything else is tried!

Short term profit may be part of the problem, but another seems to be that science has pretended to know a lot of things that it did not, and since it is funded by the public, it can't easily back down. It is rather as though the alchemists had been heavily funded by the populace. A man who came along with the idea of immutable elements (iron, hydrogen, carbon, lead, gold, etc) could only be seen as a threat by most alchemical researchers. You can almost hear the abuse, "Anti-Alchemists", "Deniers of Alchemy", "Recent progress has brought us close to converting lead into gold and we just need a little more research".

Thus if someone comes along with evidence that saturated fat isn't so bad after all (probably true, but consider it as an abstract example), it is almost impossible for science to process this sensibly, because, if true, it would discredit so many people.

Science has claimed to know beyond any doubt that evolution happened using mechanisms based on the idea of natural selection. This claim was obviously always nonsense, because we weren't there to observe evolution, and can, at best try to fit what is preserved into some sort of conceptual scheme. Because we only have one such scheme (NS) (except for those that take ID seriously), we really can't make any such claim!

Likewise, it has made fantastic claims to know the origin of the universe, right back to some minute fraction of a second after its origin. Again, all it could ever do, was to take such evidence as there is, and build fantastic mathematical models. Can people who have spent their working lives (and other people's money) creating General Relativistic models for galaxies and the entire universe, really evaluate the idea that the solution to the dark matter problem might simply be that gravitation does not operate via the inverse square law at large distances?

Can cosmologists possibly countenance the idea that light can be red-shifted by other ways than Doppler shifting, or that Hubble's law might not always apply, and can't therefore be used to turn the red shift into a distance measure? Some people think there is evidence that some red shifted objects are associated with much nearer objects - which is nonsense if red shift is proportional to distance - but one explanation for red shifted light, is simply that it has passed through very large molecular clouds (such as molecular hydrogen) and lost energy by Raman scattering! A cosmologist who accepts such a concept, is almost destroying his subject!

Faced with scenarios of those kinds, repeated mutates-mutandis in one discipline after another, I think science is in a hole!

David
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#14
Interesting post David. Of note:

Because we only have one such scheme (NS) (except for those that take ID seriously), we really can't make any such claim!
I don't really get the wagon circling involved with this issue, or promotion of multiverse mythology to avoid the possibility of observer-participancy & fine tuning.

Mainstream science's issues with all three is kind of amusing, since Josephson offered a way to use observer-participancy to explain fine-tuning without recourse to the dreaded deity.
 
#15
Does anyone in this discussion deny that modern science is in trouble?

I think not, most of us realise it has somehow gone off the rails.

I recently came across the term "Eminence Based Medicine", used to describe areas of medicine where the facts don't really matter, and the 'experts' can continue to pass down their ideas regardless of evidence - sometimes simply claiming that lives will be lost if anything else is tried!

Short term profit may be part of the problem, but another seems to be that science has pretended to know a lot of things that it did not, and since it is funded by the public, it can't easily back down. It is rather as though the alchemists had been heavily funded by the populace. A man who came along with the idea of immutable elements (iron, hydrogen, carbon, lead, gold, etc) could only be seen as a threat by most alchemical researchers. You can almost hear the abuse, "Anti-Alchemists", "Deniers of Alchemy", "Recent progress has brought us close to converting lead into gold and we just need a little more research".

Thus if someone comes along with evidence that saturated fat isn't so bad after all (probably true, but consider it as an abstract example), it is almost impossible for science to process this sensibly, because, if true, it would discredit so many people.

Science has claimed to know beyond any doubt that evolution happened using mechanisms based on the idea of natural selection. This claim was obviously always nonsense, because we weren't there to observe evolution, and can, at best try to fit what is preserved into some sort of conceptual scheme. Because we only have one such scheme (NS) (except for those that take ID seriously), we really can't make any such claim!

Likewise, it has made fantastic claims to know the origin of the universe, right back to some minute fraction of a second after its origin. Again, all it could ever do, was to take such evidence as there is, and build fantastic mathematical models. Can people who have spent their working lives (and other people's money) creating General Relativistic models for galaxies and the entire universe, really evaluate the idea that the solution to the dark matter problem might simply be that gravitation does not operate via the inverse square law at large distances?

Can cosmologists possibly countenance the idea that light can be red-shifted by other ways than Doppler shifting, or that Hubble's law might not always apply, and can't therefore be used to turn the red shift into a distance measure? Some people think there is evidence that some red shifted objects are associated with much nearer objects - which is nonsense if red shift is proportional to distance - but one explanation for red shifted light, is simply that it has passed through very large molecular clouds (such as molecular hydrogen) and lost energy by Raman scattering! A cosmologist who accepts such a concept, is almost destroying his subject!

Faced with scenarios of those kinds, repeated mutates-mutandis in one discipline after another, I think science is in a hole!

David
I think perhaps you misunderstand what "evidence based medicine" is. Why you would want to see a doctor who isn't focused on best patient outcomes is beyond me.

The rest of your rant can be summed up thus: "why don't we know everything NOW?"

Given that science is a process that works things out, phrases like "science has pretended to know a lot of things that it did not" are laughably meaningless.

And the idea that evolution hasn't been "observed" is equally risible. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experimental_evolution
 
#16
I think perhaps you misunderstand what "evidence based medicine" is. Why you would want to see a doctor who isn't focused on best patient outcomes is beyond me.
Actually I referred to "Eminence based medicine". The originator of that expression was making a pun on "Evidence based medicine".

Are you happy with the state of science today?

David
 
#17
Interesting post David. Of note:



I don't really get the wagon circling involved with this issue, or promotion of multiverse mythology to avoid the possibility of observer-participancy & fine tuning.

Mainstream science's issues with all three is kind of amusing, since Josephson offered a way to use observer-participancy to explain fine-tuning without recourse to the dreaded deity.
My hunch (for what it is worth) is that science has undergone a sort of conceptual inflation in cosmology. It really hasn't got a hope in hell of looking that far back, and its mathematical models are almost certainly not unique, and may be quite wrong, because contradictions like the fact that galaxies rotate all of a piece (the same angular velocity at all distances) are explained away in a quite ad-hoc way. I mean, even if there is some dark matter, why should it accumulate in just such a way to produce this effect? One of the main criticisms of string theory is that there are a huge number of such theories.

My guess is that a lot of 'established' physics and cosmology will end up in the dustbin. I think science is at its best when it can produce a gadget of some sort. Gadgets have to work, and they keep science grounded.

David
 
#18
Actually I referred to "Eminence based medicine". The originator of that expression was making a pun on "Evidence based medicine".

Are you happy with the state of science today?

David
Gosh. I need my reading glasses more than I like to admit :)

Science is a sound model for finding stuff out. It most certainly isn't perfect, is carried out by imperfect apes ;), but it consistently outperforms other methods of discovering nature.

Your criticisms of science apply to the field of parapsychology too I take it?
 
#19
BTW, David, is anyone actually promoting "Eminence Based Medicine"? I would argue against it because it can be "anti-evidence" and "anti-scientific". I can't think for the life of me why you would be against it.
 
#20
Gosh. I need my reading glasses more than I like to admit :)

Science is a sound model for finding stuff out. It most certainly isn't perfect, is carried out by imperfect apes ;), but it consistently outperforms other methods of discovering nature.

Your criticisms of science apply to the field of parapsychology too I take it?
Boy o boy, you do like stepping on toes.
 
Top