Log in

Recent Entries Anti-Small-Talkers History User Info Previous Page Previous Page Next Page Next Page
Summary of Entries on Science - Anti-Small Talk
Multitopical, Fully Tagged and Cross-Referenced, Digital Soapbox
Summary of Entries on Science
Not unexpectedly, seeing as I am a chemist, I have written about science quite a lot. Here are some recurring themes and opinions about science I have covered over 73 entries on this blog:
  • Science is, first and foremost, a method.
    It is a method that requires the ability to observe repeatable occurrences and make testable predictions. If your statements aren't testable, they aren't scientific.* I've mentioned many fields of study that I do not consider very scientific:
    • Intelligent Design Theory....[1]
    • SETI[2]
    • Paleontology[3]
    • Evolutionary Psychology[4]
    To clarify, I'm not saying that there is no science happening in such fields; it is just that a lot of things other than science are occurring, more so in some cases than others.
    Let's take IDT and SETI as examples. Both are claiming to use science to prove that life, in one case, or radio waves, in the other, come from intelligent sources. While observations can be made, one cannot easily make testable, repeatable theories. If I find a watch outside, I can intuit that it was made by a watchmaker, but how can I design an experiment to show this? I would need the watchmaker. It's a good argument that the watch was designed, but I cannot use science to come to that knowledge. It's anecdotal.
    Science is not about knowledge or truth;[5] it's a source of knowledge or truth.

  • Science is not the only valid source of knowledge.
    If something is not testable, this in no way means you can't know anything about it or that it isn't true. This is something I have argued since my second public entry back in summer 2004.[6, 7] There are numerous other valid forms of knowledge-gathering.
    Not all sources of knowledge, however, are equal. Because our perceptions are faulty,[8] we must be careful. As I hinted above, I value science far above anecdote.

  • Science is about predictions and models, not facts.
    In science, we use whichever model is the most practical for whatever it is we are trying to predict, regardless of how close it is to reality. For example, even though we know that energy is quantized, we tend to ignore that when we deal with astronomical sciences; we use Newton and Einstein's models instead. The seeming contradictions between special relativity and quantum mechanics are paradoxes, not true contradictions.[9]
    And many things in this universe, such as light, do not fit neatly into any single model. Is light a particle? or wave? or neither? or both? Science doesn't need to be able to answer that question to still make useful predictions about how light behaves.

  • Science strives to find universals by starting with particulars.[10]
    For example:
    [L]et's take the Law of Gravity. We observe a particular: a particular apple falls out of a tree. We observe another particular: a rock falls off a cliff. We observe yet another: a baby falls out of his crib. After a while, we come to assume that there is a universal truth to be gained from this, namely, that objects fall. Eventually we end up with a universal "Law" of gravity.
    However, this does not logically prove that every rock will fall. It is exceedingly probable that the rock will fall, and I choose to believe that the rock will fall (and will consider you a lunatic if you do not.) But it is not logical proof.
    It is good at predicting probables but not actuals.

  • Scientists are biased humans.
    Or to put it differently, scientists are humans. No single person shares the same experience of reality;[11] no single person observes anything in an un-biased manner.[12] Yes, an ethical scientist will try his or her best to be as unbiased as possible, but anyone who tells you that science is unbiased is full of it.
    Which leads me to how...

  • Scientists are prideful, greedy, power-hungry humans.
    Again, we are just human like the rest of you. We are just as likely to do things unethically[13] or for political reasons.[14]
    Science is a tool; and people will always misuse tools.[15] And because it is only a tool,...

  • Science is not generally a good source of philosophical, moral, or ethical arguments.[15, 16]
    (...nor "Biblical" ones.[17])
    Nor should we idolize it,[18] expecting it to solve the world's problems. People do not expect hammers to pound in all the nails on their own. Tools need craftsmen.

  • Nor should philosophical principles dictate science.[19]
    Likewise, theological principles should not dictate science. (Besides, if one's theology is correct, there shouldn't be any conflict....)

  • Contrary to the opinion of most, science actually requires faith.[20][21]
    (I clarified this in my last public entry.)

  • And because it involves faith, it often takes paradigm shifts to bring us closer to the truth.[22]
    In many cases, it is good that it takes a paradigm shift, because it is not a given that every new discovery actually checks out. Four revolutionary statements of discovery in recent time:
    • H. sapiens and Neanderthals interbred.[3] — confirmed, but interpretation debated
    • Not all phenotypical information is stored in the DNA code.[23][24] — confirmed multiple times
    • Life can survive without phosphorous.[25] — still unrepeated
      And most recently in the media...
    • Neutrinos can travel faster than light. — proven false
    And while we are on the topic of the media....

  • The news media misrepresent science all too often.
    There are multiple ways in which they do this; here are a couple:
    • They misrepresent the importance of discoveries.[26, 27, 28]
    • They put entertainment over good science.[4]
    To be fair, not all of the blame should rest on the media. Some scientists — again, seeking fame, a human desire — take advantage of the the media and public ignorance, knowing they can make things sound more important than they really are by their choice of words. This has been called "Kevorkianization".[29]
    (For some fun demonstrations of the above, click here and here.)

  • People tend to fear science that they do not understand.
    This is understandable — especially in light of the poor job the media does.
    But what bothers me is when people remain willfully ignorant. A cure for this would be better education.[31, 32] Unfortunately, as described above, the news media prefer entertainment to factual reporting, so this makes matters worse.
    In an area that hits close to home for me, this fear of science has particularly ironic results in Christian subculture.[33] A huge percentage of Christians, for example — not understanding the "Big Bang Theory" — fail to see that it actually makes the case for (at least) deism stronger.[34] (And almost as often, they wrongly mix up the theory in thinking that it has anything at all to do with biological evolution.[35])
    Looking at the other end of the spiritual spectrum, "pagan" folk make the same errors out of fear of science. For example, the ridiculous idea that natural must be better than synthetic.[36]

  • Science is awesome![37][38][39]

(Click here for a full list of my entries on science.)

Future Entries
  • On the Urban Legend of the War on Science

*I should note that just because something is in the past does not mean it is not predictable. The Big Bang happened in the past, yet because we still see light from the past, we can make testable observations about the past and predictions about other things we might observe in the future, which, if actually observed, convince us that the Big Bang happened. Evolution happened in the past, yet we can still make testable hypotheses about how it works to support that it happened. For example, see here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Current Location: Maryland Hall, Johns Hopkins University
Current Mood: okay okay
Current Music: silence

read 6 comments or post comment
From: mallon04008 Date: December 9th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC) (link to entry)

Thumbs up!

Excellent post...one of your best!

For more reading on when science becomes more than a tool or the only valid means of knowledge, see Friedrich Hayek & Karl Popper on Scientism
lhynard From: lhynard Date: December 10th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC) (link to entry)

Re: Thumbs up!


I've heard of Popper, but I don't think I've read him yet.

Why haven't you been blogging?
From: mallon04008 Date: December 14th, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC) (link to entry)

Re: Thumbs up!

The overriding reason/excuse is that is has been more difficult that I anticipated pursuing hobbies or developing new habits with an infant. (working on a blog falls into both categories). That said, I am starting to regain some free time as he becomes more regular in his sleeping and I get used to juggling my new resposiblities.

A secondary reason/excuse is I am having trouble finishing off posts, largly because I am a slow and picky writer. I have 4 posts in draft, two of which are farily close to being done. There comes a point where I just need to push something out; it's not school and I am not being graded :-)

I also have migrated the site to a the wordpress mothership. I had been with a hosting service, and while not expensive, it was complete overkill for what I am doing. the wordpress site is tailored to hosting small blogs, and it is free!

bigmister From: bigmister Date: December 13th, 2011 04:31 am (UTC) (link to entry)
Where did you get your ability to be so thorough? I can't imagine developing so many distinct areas of discussion from one topic as you have done here. Maybe this is the outline of some future book?
lhynard From: lhynard Date: January 17th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC) (link to entry)
maybe someday
From: matsuigeneris Date: January 6th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC) (link to entry)


science is silly...
read 6 comments or post comment