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Author Topic:   What is Science?
JustinC
Member (Idle past 3474 days)
Posts: 624
From: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Joined: 07-21-2003


Message 1 of 14 (178420)
01-19-2005 12:46 AM


The definition I've always liked for science is:

a system of acquiring knowledge based on empiricism, experimentation, and methodological naturalism. The unit of knowledge is the theory, which is a hypothesis that is supported by a sufficient standard of evidence.

The only vague concept in there would be "sufficient evidence," but just saying the main unit of knowledge is the hypothesis that is supported by evidence would be fine as well.

Science is based on the philosophy that nothing can be proven, only supported by evidence. It is also centered around falsification, i.e., only hypothesises that are falsifiable are considered scientific. Some may also include Occam's Razor in the philosophy of science.

Ok, so far so good. The question I have is this: Are only theories considered science? This question is directed at the data/model idea of science. Theories are the models which explain phenomena (data). But, is the data itself considered science?

For instance, tonight of the O'Reilly Factor, Bill said that not all of science is incomplete. He gave his example, "There are 24 hours in the day" (please no nitpicking about the precise length of the day). Is that science, or simply data? And is the data science?

Is it science when I say, "The amoeba Naegleria gruberi loses motility when it is in an environment with the drug ML-7."

A related question would be: Where is the data/model dichotomy? An example would be in astronomy. It was hypothesized that the moon revolves around the earth. This was slowly supported by more and more evidence until it became a theory. Nowadays, though, we have satellites that can actually see the earth/moon pair, and monitor their movements. So, is this just a very well supported theory, or is it a fact (data).

This message has been edited by JustinCy, 01-19-2005 00:49 AM


Replies to this message:
 Message 3 by robinrohan, posted 01-19-2005 3:19 PM JustinC has responded

  
AdminNosy
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Message 2 of 14 (178437)
01-19-2005 2:13 AM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.

  
robinrohan
Inactive Member


Message 3 of 14 (178618)
01-19-2005 3:19 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by JustinC
01-19-2005 12:46 AM


JustinCy writes:

But, is the data itself considered science?

If science is the study of this and that, then "data" would be that which is studied. One might obtain the data through scientific method (the attempt to be very objective), but no the data is not science. Data itself is not a "system of acquiring knowledge."

JustinCy writes:

Nowadays, though, we have satellites that can actually see the earth/moon pair, and monitor their movements. So, is this just a very well supported theory, or is it a fact (data).

I thought that a "theory" was an explanation of groups of data. If the data is not misleading and if the theory explains it beyond a reasonable doubt, then the theory is a "fact." TOE is a fact. It's also a theory. That's the way I understand it.

Oh, I think I see what you are saying. That which is a theory in one field of study might be data in another field (a theory which supports another theory).

This message has been edited by robinrohan, 01-19-2005 15:20 AM

This message has been edited by robinrohan, 01-19-2005 15:22 AM

This message has been edited by robinrohan, 01-19-2005 15:33 AM


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by JustinC, posted 01-19-2005 12:46 AM JustinC has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 4 by JustinC, posted 01-19-2005 5:03 PM robinrohan has not yet responded

  
JustinC
Member (Idle past 3474 days)
Posts: 624
From: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Joined: 07-21-2003


Message 4 of 14 (178659)
01-19-2005 5:03 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by robinrohan
01-19-2005 3:19 PM


quote:
If science is the study of this and that, then "data" would be that which is studied. One might obtain the data through scientific method (the attempt to be very objective), but no the data is not science. Data itself is not a "system of acquiring knowledge."


Maybe I should of been more clear about my conception of science. It is the system which I spoke of, but it is also the knowledge (theory) which the system produces. More precisely, I would call it "scientific knowledge," but in modern vernacular it would be considered just "science."

And remember, this is just my definition. I'm not sure it is all encompassing.

The question is, then, "is making an observation or taking a measurement "science" or "scientific knowledge""? Is saying, "there are 24 hours in a day" or "there are four seasons at a certain latitude" science? Or is the science the broader explanatory framework which explains the 24 hours as due to the spin of the earth and the seasons as the result of the tilt of the axis?

What should the Biology Professor of said when Bill O'Reilly stated, "Not all science is incomplete. For instance, there are 24 hours in a day and four seasons in the year." It would sound absurd to say, "those are only scientific theories, which are incomplete." But would it be equally absurd to say, "That is not science."

quote:
I thought that a "theory" was an explanation of groups of data. If the data is not misleading and if the theory explains it beyond a reasonable doubt, then the theory is a "fact." TOE is a fact. It's also a theory. That's the way I understand it.


I look at it in a slightly different fashion. I don't see "fact" and "theory" as rungs on a latter, with fact being at the top. I don't think anybody sees it that way in the scientific community. A theory is an explanatory framework for the facts. A fact is, if I may borrow from Stephen Jay Gould, a statement confirmed to such a high degree that it would be perverse to withhold transient approval.

But this even falls short, because a theory can be used as a model to explain other theories, not just facts.

The reason evolution is called "fact" and "theory" is because many people, including myself, believe that it's been confirmed to a very high degree that evolution has occured throughout history. The theory comes in the mechanism through which this evolutionary change has occured, i.e., natural selection.

I think my main point of confusion is the fact/theory dichotomy. Are they on the same ladder, with fact on top? I never thought so. But what about the earth/moon example. Has the theory turned into a fact?

Is data itself science? Is all of science incomplete?

I know there are several scientists on this site, so hopefully you guys can clarify my misconceptions.

This message has been edited by JustinCy, 01-19-2005 17:06 AM


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 Message 3 by robinrohan, posted 01-19-2005 3:19 PM robinrohan has not yet responded

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 Message 5 by Loudmouth, posted 01-19-2005 5:18 PM JustinC has responded

  
Loudmouth
Inactive Member


Message 5 of 14 (178671)
01-19-2005 5:18 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by JustinC
01-19-2005 5:03 PM


quote:
Maybe I should of been more clear about my conception of science. It is the system which I spoke of, but it is also the knowledge (theory) which the system produces. More precisely, I would call it "scientific knowledge," but in modern vernacular it would be considered just "science."

I look at science as "the knowledge gained through investigating the natural world by way of the scientific method".

quote:
What should the Biology Professor of said when Bill O'Reilly stated, "Not all science is incomplete. For instance, there are 24 hours in a day and four seasons in the year." It would sound absurd to say, "those are only scientific theories, which are incomplete." But would it be equally absurd to say, "That is not science."

The Bio Prof should have said "24 hours in a day" is an observation, a data point. The theory of gravity explains why there are 24 hours in a day. The theory of gravity is the product of science and will change through time. In fact, Einstein has already changed our theories on why the day is 24 hours just this century.

quote:
A theory is an explanatory framework for the facts. A fact is, if I may borrow from Stephen Jay Gould, a statement confirmed to such a high degree that it would be perverse to withhold transient approval.

Actually, Gould was referring to theory, not fact. Fact is a confirmed, objective truth about reality. For instance, the length of a day, the height of a mountain, etc. are all facts. Facts are statements that are true no matter who observes it. Theories are explanatory frameworks that explain the facts, as you said above.

quote:
I think my main point of confusion is the fact/theory dichotomy. Are they on the same ladder, with fact on top?

I love analogies, so I'll use one here. If you go to a crimescene there are facts all around. Someone's finger print is in one place, DNA in another, etc. The guilt or innocence of the suspect is theory based on the facts found at the crime scene. Does this help?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 4 by JustinC, posted 01-19-2005 5:03 PM JustinC has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 6 by JustinC, posted 01-19-2005 8:36 PM Loudmouth has responded

  
JustinC
Member (Idle past 3474 days)
Posts: 624
From: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Joined: 07-21-2003


Message 6 of 14 (178745)
01-19-2005 8:36 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by Loudmouth
01-19-2005 5:18 PM


quote:
I look at science as "the knowledge gained through investigating the natural world by way of the scientific method".


Hmmm...I do like this a lot better than my definition.
quote:
The Bio Prof should have said "24 hours in a day" is an observation, a data point. The theory of gravity explains why there are 24 hours in a day. The theory of gravity is the product of science and will change through time. In fact, Einstein has already changed our theories on why the day is 24 hours just this century.


So the observation in and of itself is not scientific, in the sense that it is knowledge not derived from the scientific method. Couldn't the observation flow from the scientific method though? The hypothesis being, "There are 24 hours in a day." It's falsifiable, and can therefore be tested.

This is related to the astronomy question. Is the earth/moon system a fact or a supported hypothesis?

quote:
Actually, Gould was referring to theory, not fact. Fact is a confirmed, objective truth about reality. For instance, the length of a day, the height of a mountain, etc. are all facts. Facts are statements that are true no matter who observes it. Theories are explanatory frameworks that explain the facts, as you said above.


According to Gould in his essay, "Evolution as Fact and Theory"

Moreover, "fact" does not mean "absolute certainty." The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

I suppose this doesn't take anything away from your point though. Facts are statements that can be objectively verified. Seems reasonable to me. But, the scientific method is used to support hypothesises. According to standard conceptions of science, a hypothesis cannot turn into a fact. From your definition of a fact, it seems it can. Did that observation that the moon orbits around the earth (actually the earth/moon center of mass) start off as a theory and turn into a fact when it was observed by satellites?

quote:
I love analogies, so I'll use one here. If you go to a crimescene there are facts all around. Someone's finger print is in one place, DNA in another, etc. The guilt or innocence of the suspect is theory based on the facts found at the crime scene. Does this help?


This does help, and is usually how I explain science, but I always fall into murky waters when I begin asking myself, "Is there objective truth in science, or should everything be seen in terms of hypothesis/theory? Is fact only used when a hypothesis is supported by a extremely convincing evidence?" I never liked to think of fact and theory as rungs on the "truth ladder," but I keep coming back to that.

For instance, in your example about the crime scene, what if we found a security camera that caught the accused in the act. Does that merely support the hypothesis that he did it, or is that objective fact that he did it?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 5 by Loudmouth, posted 01-19-2005 5:18 PM Loudmouth has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 7 by Loudmouth, posted 01-20-2005 12:56 PM JustinC has not yet responded

  
Loudmouth
Inactive Member


Message 7 of 14 (178943)
01-20-2005 12:56 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by JustinC
01-19-2005 8:36 PM


quote:
I begin asking myself, "Is there objective truth in science, or should everything be seen in terms of hypothesis/theory? Is fact only used when a hypothesis is supported by a extremely convincing evidence?" I never liked to think of fact and theory as rungs on the "truth ladder," but I keep coming back to that.

To be precise, within human experience there is no such thing as "objective". The closest thing we have is "intersubjective". That is, all of our subjective experiences arrive at the same observation. Science does away with "intersubjective" by claiming that reality is real. A way of removing Descartian doubt (ie we do not live in a Matrix like simulation). Therefore, in science intersubjective is simply called objective. Personal revelations that can not be verified by others is then called intrasubjective, and in science it is simply called subjective.

What it comes down to is the metaphysics of science. The axiom of science is that reality is real, and when everyone observes the same thing about a phenomena or object it is then considered to be an objective fact. Yes, we could all be fooled by an invisible, undetected, evil demon that makes us think that the sky is blue when it is really purple, but how does that help science in the end? It can't, so science starts with the statement "reality is real", which is unquestioned (hence it is termed an axiom).

quote:
For instance, in your example about the crime scene, what if we found a security camera that caught the accused in the act. Does that merely support the hypothesis that he did it, or is that objective fact that he did it?

Remember the added phrase behind "guilty" in the legal system? "We find the defenedant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt". In science the same holds true. In science a theory is thought of as true beyond a reasonable doubt. All theories are held tenatively. In the case of the security camera it is very possible that someone used Hollywood makeup to make themselves look like the accused. This is possible, but how reasonable is it? The same for the age of the earth. God could have made the earth to look old in every way imaginable, but how reasonable is this? So, a security camera is not absolute proof, but it does remove a lot of doubt in the veracity of the conclusion.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 6 by JustinC, posted 01-19-2005 8:36 PM JustinC has not yet responded

  
JustinC
Member (Idle past 3474 days)
Posts: 624
From: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Joined: 07-21-2003


Message 8 of 14 (179002)
01-20-2005 5:12 PM


That does clarify things a lot. Would it be accurate to say that "facts" in science are intersubjective statements, and theories are the frameworks which tie these facts together beyond a reasonable doubt?

So just to rap things up, do you think it's possible for a theory to become a fact if the evidence is so concrete it can be considered intersubjective?


Replies to this message:
 Message 9 by NosyNed, posted 01-20-2005 5:38 PM JustinC has responded

  
NosyNed
Member
Posts: 8948
From: Canada
Joined: 04-04-2003
Member Rating: 7.3


Message 9 of 14 (179017)
01-20-2005 5:38 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by JustinC
01-20-2005 5:12 PM


Theories and Facts
So just to rap things up, do you think it's possible for a theory to become a fact if the evidence is so concrete it can be considered intersubjective?

I think this is missing a point. Facts and theories may not be things on different sides of some sort of wall. There is a continuum of certainty about something. By now most would accept the heliocentric theory as a "fact". Pretty much up there with the sun being expected to appear in the east tomorrow.

There is a smooth gradiation. What label you might choose to put on something isn't really worth getting in a knot about. The question is "How sure can I be of this? "

In addtion, there is some semantic convenience in making the definition of a theory to be an over arching explanation of a set of facts. If the explanation is very, very, very sure to be correct does that make it a fact in one way and, because it is an explanation rather than an observation, a theory at the same time.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 8 by JustinC, posted 01-20-2005 5:12 PM JustinC has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 10 by JustinC, posted 01-20-2005 6:31 PM NosyNed has responded

  
JustinC
Member (Idle past 3474 days)
Posts: 624
From: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Joined: 07-21-2003


Message 10 of 14 (179047)
01-20-2005 6:31 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by NosyNed
01-20-2005 5:38 PM


Re: Theories and Facts
quote:
I think this is missing a point. Facts and theories may not be things on different sides of some sort of wall. There is a continuum of certainty about something. By now most would accept the heliocentric theory as a "fact". Pretty much up there with the sun being expected to appear in the east tomorrow.


Well, I think I see it the same way. I don't necessarily think a fact and theory are on different parts of a wall, but that is often how it is presented. For instance, if you read Gould's article "Evolution as Fact and Theory" at http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html
he does draw a dichotomy between the two.

A matter of fact, that is almost the exclusive defense against the creationist statement, "Evolution is just a theory." That is, evolutionists say that a theory is all it (natural selection and/or evolution) ever could be since a theory is the pinnacle of scientific knowledge. But if they truly are on the same continuum of certainty, then that statement would be wrong, correct? And that would be a criticism, since it is not a fact.

The way I see it now is that a theory is a framework for explaining facts, but a theory could potentially become a fact if the evidence is extremely convincing that it could be considered intersubjective. But not all theories have this luxury, and for them a theory is the pinnacle of that idea. But how much evidence before it is considered intersubjective? Direct observation of the phenomena in question perhaps?

quote:
There is a smooth gradiation. What label you might choose to put on something isn't really worth getting in a knot about. The question is "How sure can I be of this? "


This is semantics of course, but I think it is important when discussing what should be considered science or not. Of course, ID isn't science, but is an observation science? I remember having a discussion with a fellow student in a History and Philosophy of Science course about whether some Native American's used science. He pointed out that they recognized that some roots helped mitigate physical pain. I said that was merely an observation, and an observation itself is not science. I'm not actually sure how the conversation ended, but no conclusions were made. So I'm trying to see what others think about his subject.

Was Bill O'Reilly correct in his rebuttal against the Biology Professor when he said, "That's not true. Not all science is incomplete. For instance, there are 24 hours in a day and 4 seasons in a year [at a certain latitude]." Of course, they were talking about ID and this was all irrelevant, but I still find it interesting.

quote:
In addtion, there is some semantic convenience in making the definition of a theory to be an over arching explanation of a set of facts. If the explanation is very, very, very sure to be correct does that make it a fact in one way and, because it is an explanation rather than an observation, a theory at the same time.


Which is the root of the problem. Is the Germ Theory of Disease a theory or a fact? According the definitions I was using, I would say it is both. According to you, though, I'd assume you would call it simply a fact.

Just to clarify, do you think an observation is science? And do you think theory and fact are on the same continuum of certainty?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 9 by NosyNed, posted 01-20-2005 5:38 PM NosyNed has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 11 by NosyNed, posted 01-20-2005 7:27 PM JustinC has responded
 Message 14 by DominionSeraph, posted 01-28-2005 3:19 AM JustinC has not yet responded

  
NosyNed
Member
Posts: 8948
From: Canada
Joined: 04-04-2003
Member Rating: 7.3


Message 11 of 14 (179077)
01-20-2005 7:27 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by JustinC
01-20-2005 6:31 PM


Re: Theories and Facts
Which is the root of the problem. Is the Germ Theory of Disease a theory or a fact? According the definitions I was using, I would say it is both. According to you, though, I'd assume you would call it simply a fact.

No, both. I meant to say that with this rhetorical question (that I left the ? of the end of.)

If the explanation is very, very, very sure to be correct does that make it a fact in one way and, because it is an explanation rather than an observation, a theory at the same time.

Just to clarify, do you think an observation is science? And do you think theory and fact are on the same continuum of certainty?

Mmmmmm haven't thought about this before. No, if I take science to be a process.

However, are all observations equal? Are some "scientific" in some way and others not so much?

It may be that we can classify observations too. Some are "intersubjective" and might be a better class of observation than others.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by JustinC, posted 01-20-2005 6:31 PM JustinC has responded

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 Message 12 by JustinC, posted 01-20-2005 11:54 PM NosyNed has not yet responded

  
JustinC
Member (Idle past 3474 days)
Posts: 624
From: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Joined: 07-21-2003


Message 12 of 14 (179183)
01-20-2005 11:54 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by NosyNed
01-20-2005 7:27 PM


Re: Theories and Facts
quote:
No, both. I meant to say that with this rhetorical question (that I left the ? of the end of.)


Yeah, I should of realized that was a rhetorical question, and I obviously read it wrong.
quote:
Mmmmmm haven't thought about this before. No, if I take science to be a process.


How about if we use LM's definition, which I think I prefer. Science is the knowledge gained from the Scientific Method. Of course, and observation isn't the scientific method, but could it flow from it, although it might not in practice?

For instance, if I want to know how long my desk is, I measure it. But in principal, couldn't I hypothesize it's length and then measure it? Then it can be supported or rejected. If it is supported, it would be a theory, but it is also intersubjective in the sense that everybody would get the same answer (hopefully). I would then call it a fact.

Would this make sense. Every well supported hypothesis starts off as a theory and a theory could potentially also be considered a fact, but in some instances a theory is the pinnacle of scientific knowledge. A fact would be an intersubjective observation. The Germ Theory of Disease started off as a theory. We now have the technology to actually observe microbes in our bodies, and can monitor their effects of our biochemical pathways. It's a theory and a fact, since it can be observed intersubjectively.

quote:

However, are all observations equal? Are some "scientific" in some way and others not so much?

It may be that we can classify observations too. Some are "intersubjective" and might be a better class of observation than others.



Good question. I'd have to think about that some more.

Has anybody here ever read Kuhn or Poppers books about the philosophy of science? If so, do they discuss anything relevant to this conversation.

This message has been edited by JustinC, 01-20-2005 23:56 AM


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 Message 11 by NosyNed, posted 01-20-2005 7:27 PM NosyNed has not yet responded

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 Message 13 by TrueCreation, posted 01-28-2005 1:39 AM JustinC has not yet responded

  
TrueCreation
Inactive Member


Message 13 of 14 (181232)
01-28-2005 1:39 AM
Reply to: Message 12 by JustinC
01-20-2005 11:54 PM


Re: Theories and Facts
quote:
Has anybody here ever read Kuhn or Poppers books about the philosophy of science? If so, do they discuss anything relevant to this conversation.

--I am currently reading "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Kuhn. I am not near finished, however I can say that it is certainly relevant to your discussion. I also would recommend 'Introductory readings in the Philosophy of Science' [Klemke, Hollinger, Rudge, et al., 1998]. There are several chapters by Kuhn and I believe Poppers work is in there as well.

-Chris


This message is a reply to:
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DominionSeraph
Member (Idle past 3385 days)
Posts: 365
From: on High
Joined: 01-26-2005


Message 14 of 14 (181259)
01-28-2005 3:19 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by JustinC
01-20-2005 6:31 PM


Re: Theories and Facts
quote:
This is semantics of course, but I think it is important when discussing what should be considered science or not. Of course, ID isn't science, but is an observation science? I remember having a discussion with a fellow student in a History and Philosophy of Science course about whether some Native American's used science. He pointed out that they recognized that some roots helped mitigate physical pain. I said that was merely an observation, and an observation itself is not science. I'm not actually sure how the conversation ended, but no conclusions were made. So I'm trying to see what others think about his subject.

"I ate root X," is an observation.
"I am in less pain," is an observation.
"Eating root X caused my pain to lessen," is a hypothesis.
Eating root X again would be testing the hypothesis.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by JustinC, posted 01-20-2005 6:31 PM JustinC has not yet responded

  
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