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After 'Climate Change Scientists' have been blaming the long Californian drought on 'Climate Change', Scientific American does the inevitable:
Breitbart: ‘Scientific American’ Blames Climate Change for Oroville Dam Crisis

Feb 23, 2017 at 3:48 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Supertroll, In my opinion (and I’m not trying to say I’m certainly right) science can and usually does provide reasonable confidence that something is not so. That leads to more confidence that something is so. Just by excluding other options.

But just as science can prove that x does not do y (because x but not y) it cannot prove with certainty that x does do y. Even if every x in the past had led to a y that does not mean the future will be the same. Or that the y was not caused by something else. Ice cream sales and deaths by drowning are correlated - that's because people swim more in the hot weather - There is no causation; ice cream is not served in mourning for drowning.

It may seem strange that I claim proving a negative is easier than finding knowledge. That’s because I’m proving a lack of knowledge, not a nothing. Stating that two things are related gives us knowledge that we didn’t have. Because knowledge of one thing gives us knowledge of the other, if they are related. If we test that transferred knowledge and it doesn’t hold then we have proven that the two things are not related in that way. We avoid magical thinking.

So what is truth?
Observations are fallible. But science restricts the errors as work improves. Your example of Millikan was a good one (if he didn’t commit fraud, which I was once told he did). So do observations provide a closer approximation of reality as they improve? Or do observations only provide a stronger justification for your belief in an approximation of reality?

As Heliocentrism, Netwonianism and even Euclid’s first postulates were not all complete it seems unlikely that any measurement ever made will have the same meaning eternally. In the case of the charge of an electron we do not really know what “charge” is or caused by or why Maxwell’s Laws are right (though they seem to work).

Truth is a value judgement. Unless you are omniscient and that is a question for theology.
But reality exists whether anyone accept it or not (with the theological exception, of course). That’s pretty much the definition of reality.

Feb 23, 2017 at 2:33 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Published research is just that.
Proven science is a whole different level.

Problem is when politicians base policies/spending based on results such research.

Feb 23, 2017 at 1:10 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Drax PR people haven't kept up their newsvert payments to the Times
Hence today's headline
Covered by Tallbloke
And GWPF

Feb 23, 2017 at 1:06 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

we should stop calling the process "science"

Hmmm... you missed out the media....

Gell-Mann Amnesia has had a huge role in perverting the public perception of science.

Remember folks - Wet streets cause rain.

Feb 23, 2017 at 12:56 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Science was indeed the search for truth back in the days when many experimenters were "gentlemen scientists" funding their laboratory with their own money. I believe that universities then allocated funds in good faith but all of that changed years ago.

Commercial and political pressures now determine the required conclusions of the research to a degree. It seems that in climate science, this requirement is absolute. A casualty of this trend is "truth", since the purpose of the funding is to "prove" or give an impression of validity to a political proposition. Science is used to create a perceived truth.

Normally this would be seen as fraud. However, when a small clique of climate scientists claimed catastrophic global warming a few decades ago, many well meaning people flocked to sign up as climatologists, motivated by their environmental concerns. Saving the planet is a powerful motivator. Today we have a mixture of belief, highly charged emotions and dispair about the future of the planet influencing a whole generation who learned their trade from the leading alarmists.

I am generalising of course, but I'm trying to illustrate that scientific truth is not necessarily the absolute truth but it is the extent of current understanding arrived at objectively. Once all sorts of external and subjective factors enter the mix, truth becomes whatever you want it to be. Arguably, when that happens, we should stop calling the process "science".

Feb 23, 2017 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

@Schrodinger's Cat 9:31am

+1

Feb 23, 2017 at 12:10 PM | Registered Commentertomo

M.Courtney. an interesting repost. Not totally sure I fully understand your definition of truth, and will have to think about it some more. My first thought was that there are some observations (ie my truths) that are half-way houses, dependent as they are on accepting other people's interpretations (ie your truths). I was thinking specifically of the oil drop experiments of Millikan (sp?) where his determination of the electrical charge of an electron was erroneous because an incorrect value for air viscosity was used. However, because now we can use a more accurate viscosity value, we can recalculate oil drop experimental values to obtain a more "truthful" values for an electron's charge. Or do you think I am deluding myself?

Feb 23, 2017 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSupertroll

If I were to be asked if I believed the statement that 90% (or some other high number) of published science was suspect or even garbage, I now think this is likely to be true. I didn't always believe this and was appalled when the chief geologist of Amoco said essentially this to me back in the 1980s. But I now am much more able to accept this (sign of old age and decrepitude?) In my subject, commonly there is an attempt to reconstruct the past. All too commonly I recognize that the reconstructions are just too good, too perfect with all loose end tied up. Geological information is never that good. In the last three of my scientific papers that I was sole author I have had to admit that more questions remained to be answered than I had solved. Each time I submitted a manuscript I did not expect it to be accepted because it did not include a tidy solution to the problems I was trying to explain. Now looking at papers with tidy solutions, I am very suspicious of them. Either some data has been excluded or insufficiently rigorous questioning of the available data has been conducted.

Feb 23, 2017 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterSupertroll

Supertroll, I think you are right when you say,

I suspect we are playing around with the word "truth".

•You seem to use the word “truth” as ‘being reality’. That’s an objective actuality. Hence you give well-defined observations as “truth”.
Forgive me if I misunderstand your meaning. If so, it is an honest mistake.

•I use the word “truth” as ‘being in accordance with reality’. That’s a value judgement. Therefore “truth” is subjective and provisional. At least until confirmed by divine writ.

The two terms are different but neither is incompatible with doing real science. And, so long as we are careful about our meanings, they can work together.
Indeed, it may be that your seeming use of the word is more suitable for observations and my use of the word is more suitable for interpretations. But I’m not convinced it’s that clear cut.

Going back to my first comment at Feb 22, 2017 at 10:40 PM, I said

That's why science is good. It destroys the false. But it doesn't create the true.
When I used the word “true” I was meaning, “That's why science is good. It destroys the false. But it doesn't create a description in accordance with reality”. Because science only creates one of two things:
A) Descriptions that can be reasonably judged to be in accordance with reality.
Or
B) Descriptions that can not be reasonably judged to be in accordance with reality.

Eliminating error is useful. Eliminating falsehood is good. Science is good. But is it true?

Feb 23, 2017 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterM Courtney

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