PDA

View Full Version : Good Science versus Bad Science



samsara15
2002-Aug-06, 07:56 PM
The Global Warming debate, a political debate, is rife with claims and counter-claims that one side or the other is using Bad Science and that the majority of scientists are on one side or the other. The Anti-Evolutionists claim that there is a real 'debate' in scientific circles over Evolution. Some people claim that the Alvarez theory on the Extinction of the dinosaurs having been caused by the comet that zapped the Yucatan pennisula 65 Mil years ago is bad science. A lot of this, of course, is based upon a politically or religiously motivated view of science. Some people question the main line of historians and their dating of Ancient events, would have them drop 200 years out of the time line.

So what exactly is good science and what is bad science? Is yours bad and mine good, or vice versa? Obviously, no one can poll all the practioners in any given scientific or scholarly field minute by minute to find out what their opinion is, and even if they could do so, opinions change over time (or at least the percentages change as the old ones die out). In truth, of course, each of us must make up our own minds based on the evidence as we see it and the strrength of the arguments we can muster in support of our opinions.

Or do we abide by the ideas of Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, and so forth, to define good science?

GrapesOfWrath
2002-Aug-06, 07:59 PM
On 2002-08-06 15:56, samsara15 wrote:
So what exactly is good science and what is bad science? Is yours bad and mine good, or vice versa?

Vice versa. Uh, unless you agree with me, then yours is good too!

I don't think that the main contention is that Alvarez practiced bad science--they just disagree with his conclusions. People can get hot about it though, so maybe some rash statements were made.

Yul
2002-Aug-06, 08:57 PM
Rather than talk about right & wrong science, better to talk about majority and minority views. Kuhn, Popper and Polanyi have
repeatedly demonstrated that it is philosophical and religious convictions
which now guide scientists more than experiment and observation. For science to return to a healthy foundation, and return to a position where it can attract the best of our talented youth, it is essential that a reexamination be made of our fundamental assumptionss and the philosophical and religious basis on which they stand. The humanist world-view in science has not proved itself superior to that held by Newton, Faraday, Euler, Kelvin and their peers. The acceptance of mathematics as the master of physics instead of its most valuable servant (to a large extent a result of this same change in world-view) has not proved a success either.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Yul on 2002-08-06 17:02 ]</font>

Silas
2002-Aug-06, 11:46 PM
In general, the worst sin of "bad science" is having a pre-conceived notion of what you are trying to prove.

The sovereign remedy is the "double blind" technique, where the raw measurements are taken by people who don't have any such notions and are, thus, immune from wishful thinking (or worse.)

Silas

Espritch
2002-Aug-07, 01:03 AM
Science begins with observation. Hypothesis are devised to explain observations. The usefulness of a hypothesis is directly related to it's ability to make testible predictions. If a hypothesis is consistent with existing observations and makes useful predictions that are confirmed by additional observation, it may be considered conditionally correct. If it does not match observations, then it must be either modified or abandoned. If it makes no useful predictions, then it must be abandoned as well because it is useless and has no explanatory power.

This is of course a description of science in an idea world. In the real world, science is done by human beings. Humans often have ulterior motives, be it a theological agenda, a political agenda, or just plain old fashion egotism. These agendas can often skew scientific observations and hypothesis. Observations may also be faulty due to simple incompetence. This is why science requires a second basic foundation, in addition to observation. This foundation is called peer review. Any scientific observation or hypothesis that has not been subjected to peer review should be considered as incomplete.

Of course, even with peer review, there is often a lot of room for debate on many questions. This is particularly true when the subject is complex and the available observational evidence limited. In the case of global warming for instance, the fact that the trend in Earth's climate has been upward for the last century or so is pretty much beyond dispute. The question of why is still open to a lot of legitimate debate. Climate is a very complicated subject and distinquishing between a significant trend and normal cycles it not easy given that climate cycles may extend considerably farther in time than reliable observations.

Such debates can leave those of us not directly involved in science (or even those involved in science when the question relates to a field outside their area of expertise) scatching our heads with no clue as to who is correct.

There is no certain cure for this problem but there are some things you can do to amiliorate the situation. First, educate yourself as much as possible on those subjects that interest you. The more you know, the better you will be able to sort the wheat for the chaf.

Second, carefully examine the motives of proponents of any non mainstream hypothesis.
Are they trying to explain observations not adaquately explained by existing theories, or are they pushing an unrelated agenda? As a simple practice, please read Yul's post above.

Next, apply the "evidence" test. Do they have evidence to support their theory, or is their evidence primarily just an attack on evidence used to support another theory. Remember, disproof of an alternative theory is not equivalent to proof of your own theory. As an exercise, visit any young earth creationist web site. How much is evidence for a young earth and how much is just attacks of evolution and other branches of mainstream theory? Be sure to check for unverifiable assertions (Darwin renounced evolution on his death bed) and logical fallacies: ad homenims (evolutionists are godless atheists), slippery slope arguements (evolution theory leads to Marxism and Naxism), arguements from authority (Issac Newton believed in Creation), etc.

If it passes the "motive" test and the "evidence" test, then it is time to apply the "usefulness" test. Does it make testible predictions? Can it be falsified? As an exercise, ask Dunash what testible predictions Geocentrism makes and what possible observations would convince him that Geocentrism is wrong.

Finally, when the "new" or "alternative" theory challenges the mainstream theory, remember that the burden of proof always lies with the upstart. Mainstream theories become mainstream because they survive years or even centuries of close scrutiny and testing. They have proven their worth. In science, all theories are provisional, but some are more provisional than others.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Espritch on 2002-08-06 21:38 ]</font>

beskeptical
2002-Aug-07, 09:25 AM
Ditto on everything Espritch said above, it's an excellent description with very good examples. The only tiny thing I would add to peer review is an additional step of repeating the research. The more times you get the same outcome, you confirm that the initial research was valid. And, the research should be done in different ways because that tends to check for alternative variables that also explain the results. It may turn out that what you thought was the cause of your effect was really something that was associated with the cause of your effect.

Espritch explained very well the scientific process. Probably what I've added falls more into the specifics of good research. Peer review looks at research methods and whether the data supports the conclusion.

I said in an earlier post that you cannot elevate pseudoscience to the level of real science by saying it is a difference of opinion. It isn't. It is a difference of evidence.

A difference of opinion between good science and good science is not as big a problem as it seems if you understand what is happening.

Evidence supporting an hypothesis often falls into a continuum. Sometimes the evidence is weak, sometimes it's irrefutable or somewhere inbetween. One person may feel there is enough evidence where another may think there isn't. They could both be using good science.

Another difference can occur when one person gives more weight to certain evidence and another person gives more to different evidence. A recent example is a geologist who feels the weathering pattern on the Sphinx indicates it is 10,000 years old while the archeologists feel it is 5,000 because they haven't found evidence for a society capable of building the Sphinx 10,000 years ago. Both are using good science. The issue will remain unsettled until more evidence is obtained.

The global warming argument depends heavily on which data you choose to evaluate and which data you give the most weight to. I'm on the side that says we have clear evidence the Earth's climate has been unstable in the past. We know how much pollution we've added to the atmosphere in the last century. It makes sense CO<sub>2</sub> emissions are going to have an effect. It will be harder to deal with if we wait until major changes occur than if we deal with it now.

A large percentage of the general public does not understand the science of global warming, so it's unlikely discussions that occur on the news media and in political circles are going to be scientific much of the time. I recommend not putting much credence in public discussions, rather, find a source of scientific information instead.

David Hall
2002-Aug-07, 11:29 AM
Great posts Espiritch and Besceptigal. Very clear and to the point.

I'd like to add be wary of any approach that doesn't go through the scientific review process. It's a sure sign of the weakness in a theory if they refuse to undergo review, aren't open about their ideas, or if they spend a lot of time trying to gain popular support.

Good science doesn't try to sway the masses. It doesn't attack the system or claim suppression by it. It stands or falls on it's own merit.

John Kierein
2002-Aug-07, 01:24 PM
Is Lou Frank's "Big Splash" bad science or just controversial conclusions. I think the latter.

GrapesOfWrath
2002-Aug-07, 01:36 PM
Ask Phil (http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/badminicomet.html)

Jim
2002-Aug-07, 02:14 PM
A Quick Rule of Thumb is Asimov's Corollary:

If a scientific heresy is ignored or denounced by the general public, there is a chance it may be right. If a scientific heresy is emotionally supported by the general public, it is almost certainly wrong.

He explains, "It is not so much that I have confidence in scientists being right, but that I have so much in nonscientists being wrong... It is those who support ideas for emotional reasons only who can't change."

David Hall
2002-Aug-07, 05:00 PM
On 2002-08-07 09:24, John Kierein wrote:
Is Lou Frank's "Big Splash" bad science or just controversial conclusions. I think the latter.


I would say that one is borderline. It started out as a reasonable scientific debate, but it seems to have degenerated a bit.

The contriversy mostly seems to swing on whether or not the data is real or just an artifact. That's a reasonable point of debate. But it also has a smell of bad science in that the proposers don't seem to be looking at it dispassionately. They seem too "in love" with their own idea and blind to it's weak points. They're pushing too hard.

I personally don't believe that there are that many "mini-comets" out there. There just doesn't seem to be enough outside supporting evidence. But I don't know for sure, so I would say just sit back and wait for clearer data before making a decision.

DoctorDon
2002-Aug-07, 05:42 PM
On 2002-08-06 16:57, Yul wrote:
Rather than talk about right & wrong science, better to talk about majority and minority views. Kuhn, Popper and Polanyi have
repeatedly demonstrated that it is philosophical and religious convictions
which now guide scientists more than experiment and observation.


That's a gross misstatement of what Kuhn and Popper were saying (don't know the other name, sorry). Kuhn's point was that the paradigm under which you work affects both the questions you ask of the data and the way you weight the data you get. Something might look like noise in a classical paradigm, but with a Quantum Mechanical paradigm, you can see it's evidence for the quantized states of the hydrogen atom. A Newtonian paradigm simply does not have the tools or the language to understand the data of the atom. That's why people invented QM. This is absolutely not the same as what you are saying, because data can and do demand paradigm shifts, and real scientists, when confronted with that data, usually can recognize it. Now, of course, scientists are human, and have all the limitations that come with that. Ignoring data we don't want to recognize is a talent hardly limited to scientists. But we can look at the scientists who rejected relativity and QM because they were "Jewish science" and say that they were being bad scientists. We can look at the Soviet-dictated support of Lysenko genetics and say that was bad science. Philosophy and religion do, of course, play a role in how questions are posed and how research topics are chosen, but to suggest that the results that come out of them are subjective and biased is, I think, to miss the point dramatically. Experiment and observations are, have been, and will continue to be the ultimate arbiter between various theories, regardless of the philosophy or religion held by those who propose them.



For science to return to a healthy foundation, and return to a position where it can attract the best of our talented youth, it is essential that a reexamination be made of our fundamental assumptionss and the philosophical and religious basis on which they stand.


No philosophical or religious motivation here. Nope. None at all. [For the tonally challenged, this is sarcasm.]



The acceptance of mathematics as the master of physics instead of its most valuable servant (to a large extent a result of this same change in world-view) has not proved a success either.


A sentence which you wrote on a computer only made possible by math, and an internet only made possible by math. Odd thing to say here in such a forum. I guess GPS is not a success, nor rocketry. I wonder what you would consider a success, if all that physics has achieved in the twentieth century is a failure?

Yours,

Don

Yul
2002-Aug-07, 08:05 PM
It has been shown at least 6 different ways that the equations used by NASA in the GPS, rocketry and satellites are the equations derived from a geocentric universe. If the space program is "proof" of anything, it proves geocentricity and disproves heliocentricity!

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Yul on 2002-08-07 16:07 ]</font>

David Hall
2002-Aug-07, 08:17 PM
On 2002-08-07 16:05, Yul wrote:
It has been shown at least 6 different ways that the equations used by NASA in the GPS, rocketry and satellites are the equations derived from a geocentric universe. If the space program is "proof" of anything, it proves geocentricity and disproves heliocentricity!


They do not derive from a geocentric universe. They derive from a geocentric reference point. There's a big difference between the two.

Jim
2002-Aug-07, 08:39 PM
On 2002-08-07 16:05, Yul wrote:
It has been shown at least 6 different ways that the equations used by NASA in the GPS, rocketry and satellites are the equations derived from a geocentric universe. If the space program is "proof" of anything, it proves geocentricity and disproves heliocentricity!


No, it doesn't. See what David Hall says above.

Also, what's this "proved six different ways" bit? NASA readily admits that it uses a geocentric (not Geocentric) coordinate system; it's easier that way.

That proves nothing except that relativity is right on coordinate systems. Which means that geocentric is as good as, and no better or worse than, heliocentric.

GrapesOfWrath
2002-Aug-07, 08:54 PM
On 2002-08-07 16:05, Yul wrote:
It has been shown at least 6 different ways that the equations used by NASA in the GPS, rocketry and satellites are the equations derived from a geocentric universe. If the space program is "proof" of anything, it proves geocentricity and disproves heliocentricity!

Of course, it proves neither. It is not the "proof" of anything.