vetenskapsteori.se

      Contents

Start
What is Philosophy
What is Philosophy
of Science
What is Verification
and Falsification
Opinions
about Science
Science according to
vetenskapsteori.se
Scientific method
Paradigm and
paradigm shift
Karl Popper -
Logic and status
Consequences of Popper's theses
Alternative Science
Chalmers: What is this
thing called Science?
Epistemology -
induction deduction
About
vetenskapsteori.se

Science according to vetenskapsteori.se

Communication between people often deals with observations. What we have done, heard about or observed ourselves. Unfortunately, we could have been mistaken during the observation or during its interpretation. Or we may even have been lying.

 

 

This is Science (short version)

The term science may be defined as "the content of all scientific reports".

Scientific reports consist of attempts to describe what we call reality.

Every statement in a scientific report should be verified, either by described observations or by other named scientific reports. Therefore the information in a report becomes controllable and possible to criticize. As a result the probability for that the information in a scientific report corresponds to reality is higher than within most other descriptions.

Using terms from philosophy, Science is NOT a collection of "proven" "knowledge" and is not representing "absolutely certain knowledge".

 

 

Background - Mitigated Skepticism

During the 16th century the opposition towards religious and older philosophical dogmas grew. In addition did printing technology permit distribution of information that were not controlled by religious authorities. In order to reduce the risk of criticism and punishment, scientists and philosophers began to give detailed descriptions of why they claimed matters that were not in accordance with that of the authority. The result was the creation of a "scientific method" and the result from this: Science.

The basic philosophy of "scientific method" is a "mitigated Skepticism" that can be summarized with:

Although no conclusion about our perceived reality can be shown represent
"absolutely certain knowledge", some conclusions are more probable than other

 

The "scientific method" aims at differentiating more probable statements from those that are less probable. See the part Induction under Epistemology for additional details.

Science is non-dogmatic

One of the foundations of scientific methodology is that a statement should be verified by carefully described observations. This important rule results in that science is basically non-dogmatic and non-authoritarian.

Bertrand Russell expressed this in the final words of the book "History of Western Philosophy" 1945:

"In the welter of conflicting fanaticisms, one of the few unifying forces is
scientific truthfulness, by which I mean the habit of basing our beliefs
upon observations and inferences as impersonal, and as much divested
of local and temperamental bias, as is possible for human beings.
"

 

 

Science is the result of an activity

When we perform any activity, we acquire experiences and draw conclusions.

In relation to the concept "knowledge", there is no difference between acquiring experience within a scientific area like chemistry or within any other activity like sewing or sports.

During all activities we learn from observations and from hypotheses that we create from the observations.

The activity that creates scientific results distinguished from many other activities by stressing that experiences should be reported in a manner that enables validation and criticism.

Science is not equal to "knowledge"

Science is the sum of all scientific results.

Scientific results are created by activities that follow certain rules. They are called the scientific method.

The results are not the same as the content of the term "absolutely certain knowledge".

 
 
   
Example - Scientific activity compared with sport

Both scientific activities and sports are rather vague terms containing several types of activities. Within both activities, observations and theories are used as foundation for development.

Of course there exist differences in what we actually perform in the two activities. In one activity the experiences are used to create a medicine, in the other a football goal.

But from an epistemological view there are no differences in producing scientific results or sports. In both activities we enhance our results as we systematically learn from our experiences.

 
   

More about the analogy scientific activity - sport

 
   

Open communication

The agreement within science that a statement should be motivated from observations results in an open communication. It becomes difficult to claim something that is not similar to what people may observe.

It is not unknown that deceiving behavior has been motivated using "secret material" or with "deeper insights" that are not accounted for. Such behavior represents the antithesis of scientific activities with respect to openness.

Within science, a statement must be motivated
from observations in order to be accepted

 

 

Why are the different parts of science important?

Documented
observations

The main part of all natural scientific literature (maybe 90%) contains a background to the publication, how observations were obtained, descriptions of the results from observations, and often also includes a more speculative part, a discussion of the results.

The description of how observation results were obtained is very important. Natural science students are taught that it should be so detailed that the observations can be reproduced.

The description makes it possible to estimate the probability for that the observation was correctly performed, or if errors could have influenced the observation result.

The image shows beard from an electric
razor, as seen in a microscope. The colors
are caused by use of polarized light.

   

It also makes it possible to use the result from the observation in the future, even it a later scientist does not agree with the implementation made of the first observer.

A third advantage with the descriptions is the pedagogic value. Later scientists may use the same methods as the initial report, and do not need to learn them from the basis

 

 

Reproducible
observations

A criterion demonstrating that an observation is well documented is that it is possible to be reproduced.

Reproducing the observation should also give the same result as in the original description. This requirement increases the probability that the first observer makes efforts to eliminate random factors in the report.

 

 

Verified
results

An additional factor, that has added to the reputation of science in society, is that scientists review their colleagues results. A scientist verifies or falsifies other's observations regularly. New and important results even  r e q u i r e s   verification by independent scientists to be regarded as reliable.

In case a reproduction of the observation does not give the same result as in the original report, the new result may be published. This may imply that the original author is criticized in public, which of course is a negative experience. Openness hence leads to a personal motivation to deliver results of high quality.

 

 

Controlled
reports

A scientific article may of course contain obvious errors. To decrease the risk of such errors, the article is reviewed prior to publishing by one or two referees, persons skilled within the area in question. The procedure is called "peer review".

The system with "peer reviews", may unfortunately give rise to possibilities of abuse in areas where a few people dominate their research area and often are chosen as referees.

My own experience of referees is that their suggestions for completions have been well motivated. In one case, the referee was maybe more seeking to demonstrate his own excellence than to provide an objective review. In that case, it was enough to defend the original results for the magazine editor, to get the article published.

 

 

Building further

The high requirements for documentation and verification have led to an incredible development within scientific disciplines. Instead of "starting from the beginning", the documents provide a possibility to "build further" on previous results. Hypotheses based on the results may rapidly be judged as plausible or be rejected.

A similar type of building on previous experience can be found within almost any human activity. Experience is transferred e.g. through journals, handbooks or through personal contacts.

What is significantly separating science from other activities are the higher requirements of reproducibility. High standards of documentation are also found within e.g. house building. Within this area, however, it appears that the normative information (regulations) is dominating over the describing.

 

The importance of "building further" has been mentioned within philosophic circles:

 

Both philosophy and science seek not mere opinion but knowledge. The sciences, however, have by now won a vast body of knowledge, and daily make positive additions to it, not-withstanding their theoretical controversies.

In philosophy, on the contrary, the same great problems are discussed by generation after generation with rather meager results other than a multiplication of theories and schools of opinion.

   [Ducasse, C.J., Philosophy of Science 2 (1935) 121]

 
 

Interpretation
of results

Results from observations are interpreted, meaning they are placed in a context. Interpretation may i.e. mean that visual observations are claimed to be reliable.

Interpretation is, according to my opinion, a part of scientific work, in cases when the process is so well documented that it can be reproduced by an independent colleague.

 

 

Hypotheses,
theories
and laws

A hypothesis is a statement, an idea, a fantasy or just some simple though of no specific type. It may, or may not, show a connection to what we call reality.

In scientifically documented publications, a hypothesis is often an attempt to explain or generalize observations. Hypotheses are interesting and important components within scientific publications.

Inductive - deductive method

Already Aristotle discussed the inductive-deductive method that still often is applied within scientific work:

One or several observations or previous hypotheses results in a belief of something, i.e. we have created a hypothesis. If we want to investigate if the hypothesis is in accordance with our perceived reality, we reproduce or control the observation. Was it only possible to make our observation together with other factors that we did not consider? Is it possible to verify the hypothesis further? Is it falsified by some observation? Are the consequences of the hypothesis verified or falsified by observations? In case additional observations are in accordance with our hypothesis, it is verified.

When a hypothesis is verified enough, as indicated by that is it commonly accepted, it may be used as a starting point during investigations of our perceived reality. Is it possible to use it, together with other verified hypotheses be used to create hypotheses with still higher degree of generalization? Or can it be used to interpret phenomena within other areas than from where it was created?

This procedure is sometimes called the hypothetico -deductive method, and then somebody have forgotten that the hypothesis was originally created from observations.

  Aristotle supposes that once we have gained scientific understanding, we are in a position to package our results in tidy demonstrations. He does not think, as he is sometimes parodied as maintaining, that science proceeds by manufacturing demonstrations out of thin air, or without observation or investigation. Rather, the demonstrations he puts forwards as canonical science are the polished results of investigation, made perspicuous by conforming to simple patterns of logical inference.
  Christopher Shields - Aristotle, Routhledge (2007) p.116-117

Verification, falsification, theory, law

As observations results in that a hypothesis is verified, or that its consequences are verified, the belief in the hypothesis increases. A falsification, i.e. a verification of a negation to the hypothesis or to its consequences, is of course disturbing; it decreases the belief in the hypothesis and may result in that the hypothesis must be discarded or modified.

When observations that verify a hypothesis are generally accepted, the belief in the hypothesis is increase and it may become termed as a theory. The border between hypothesis and theory is very diffuse. Hypotheses that have been widely discussed and are generally believed to be in accordance with our perceived reality may be called "laws".

Verified hypotheses, theories and laws are, together with observations, important parts of science. But scientists normally do not express the opinion that something within science should be "true" or should represent "absolutely certain knowledge". Every scientist is, sometimes painfully, aware of that an article may be published that will claim other hypotheses than therr own belief.

An example of this skepticism about hypotheses is that "energy cannot be created", a fully tested and accepted law, is called for "postulate" or "law".

Theoretical publications

An additional and common method to create hypotheses that gain confidence, is to connect previously accepted hypotheses. Often mathematical relations are used for connection, which imply that the result may be quantified and be compared to observations.

When such a connection has been verified by observations, or by traceable logic like mathematics, a very strong belief in the starting hypotheses and in the result hypothesis is created. If we believed strongly in the starting hypotheses, an emotion that we call understanding may be experienced.

Science is largely structured using such connections and this may contribute to that philosophers, that are unaware of that the original hypotheses described results from observations, claim that theories are the basis for what we believe about our world.

"Scientific" and "non scientific" hypotheses

A hypothesis is hence a more of less credible statement. The credibility is based on observations and how these are reported. In cases they are reported according to scientific methodology the hypothesis may be accepted in a scientific magazine..

A discussion about a hypothesis being "scientific" or "non-scientific" is hence basically illogical and unnecessary - a hypothesis is not in itself neither of these two. The question is whether the observations, forming the basis for the hypothesis, are reported using something being in the neighborhood of scientific methodology.

The interesting feature of a hypothesis is if it is entertaining, stimulating or if it, through its origin or consequences, can be shown to conform to what we call our reality.

Hypotheses that are not based on observations

Very often, hypotheses are expressed that are neither based on carefully described observations nor can be verified through it's consequences. The source may as examples be observations that are not possible to reproduce during testing, analogies to other areas, assumptions that are not generally accepted, or a wish of the hypothesis' creator to receive a favor of some kind, without having to care too much about our perceived reality.

Such hypotheses may later be found to be verified by scientifically described observations, or may be shown not to be in accordance with such observations.

In order to avoid mistakes, the community of (natural) scientists views hypotheses that are not supported by observations, as unreliable. This skeptic view is sometimes criticized, e.g. by people advocating alternative reality.

A vast majority of not verified hypotheses have been forgotten or have been shown to be erroneous. But there also exist examples of hypotheses that have not been accepted by the scientific community, but later have been shown to be in accordance with observations and have been accepted.

Examples of creators of hypotheses, that unfortunately only after their death were acknowledged, include Ludwig Boltzmann (thermodynamics), Alfred Wegener (tectonics) and Milutin Milanković (climate).

 

 

Logic and mathematics

Logic and mathematics are tools that help us to organize observation results. As tools they contribute to what we call understanding. We may for instance understand that different observations have the same cause, that experiences are possible to transfer from one area to another, or that a certain result always follows from a cause.

Use and development of logical tools, e.g. mathematics, are very important within scientific work.

Is mathematics science?

It is sometimes discussed if mathematics is a part of science, as mathematics is not considered with empiric methodology. In my opinion it is similar to a discussion if letters are a part of science. Both are tools used in description of what we call reality.

My opinion is that a well documented development or discovery of a mathematical relationship is a scientific result, similar to e.g. the discovery of a new species of fish. The observation consists of the relationship and the documentation determines if the development or discovery should be considered as scientific.

Use of mathematics and logic to connect different observations, and by this to create increased acceptance and feeling of understanding, is according to my view also a scientific contribution.

Free parameters

But use of known mathematical relations does not necessarily imply that a publication becomes "scientific". It is unfortunately common that "models", or mathematical constructions that contain, are used in order to increase the belief in reasoning. When the values of the adjustable parameters are not coupled to observations this type of reasoning becomes as scientifically uninteresting as the phrase "I guess that..." it may possibly appear to be more scientific.

 

With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and
with five I can make him witggle his trunk.

  John von Neuman (according to Enrico Fermi)
 

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