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Author Topic:   Science is based on a logical fallacy - II (re: Appeal to Authority)
subbie
Member (Idle past 88 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 1 of 30 (448253)
01-12-2008 6:32 PM


In a previous thread, I demonstrated how science is based on the logical fallacy of Affirming the Consequent. In this thread, I shall show that a second fallacy, Appeal to Authority, is not only frequently applied in science, but is central to its very operation.

Generally speaking, Appeal to Authority is simply saying that something is true based on the fact of someone else saying so. For example, "The world can't be millions of years old, because the bible says it's only a few thousand years old."

Science itself, however, would grind to a halt without the ability to rely on what others say. If every scientist had to prove every proposition based on his own work, progress would be impossible.

Now, surely the objection to this position is that science doesn't rely on what another person says. Science relies on repeatability, the fact that no proposition is accepted as accurate unless and until others can do the same work that the initial proponent of the proposition did and come to the same conclusion.

However, repeatability doesn't eliminate the problem of appeal to authority. It simply means that we are relying on the authority of not just one person, but many.

In the final analysis, science is really nothing more than a popularity contest. When the number of people who claim to have confirmed a given proposition reaches a certain critical mass, the proposition is generally accepted.

This is in fact the true basis for nearly every cdesign proponentist objection to science. "Sure, all you guys claim to have shown that this evilushun stuff is true, but I've never seen it. And my authority says it ain't so." And, while the cdesign proponentist's claim for support for his position is certainly vulnerable to attack based on it being an Appeal to Authority, the interesting thing is that so is the science position.

Is It Science, if you would be so kind.

Edited by Adminnemooseus, : Added the "(re: Appeal to Authority)" part to the topic title.


Those who would sacrifice an essential liberty for a temporary security will lose both, and deserve neither. -- Benjamin Franklin

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat


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AdminNWR
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Message 2 of 30 (448261)
01-12-2008 7:06 PM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.

  
nwr
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Posts: 5587
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 3 of 30 (448280)
01-12-2008 8:32 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
01-12-2008 6:32 PM


I am inclined to disagree.

It only looks as if science relies on authority because of the way Philosophy of Science and the conventional wisdom describe (really misdescribe) science.

I was not actively participating here during most of the discussion of your earlier thread. But my comment above applies also to that alleged fallacy.

Galileo, and later Newton, rejected the authority of the Ptolemaics.

Einstein rejected the authority of the Newtonians.

It seems to me that challenging authority is important to science.


Let's end the political smears

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Chiroptera
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Posts: 6841
From: Oklahoma
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Member Rating: 6.1


Message 4 of 30 (448285)
01-12-2008 9:00 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
01-12-2008 6:32 PM


And yet science undoubtably works. Computers, the elimination of smallpox, people walking on the moon, CAT scans.... To me, this suggests more the limitations of logic than it does the problems of science.


He fought for the South for no reason that he could now recall, other than the same one all men fought for: because he'd been a damn fool. -- Garth Ennis

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Taz
Member (Idle past 1635 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 5 of 30 (448287)
01-12-2008 9:11 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
01-12-2008 6:32 PM


I can't stand it anymore.
Subbie, seriously...

Informal fallacies are only fallacies when they are. Appeal to authority ain't always a fallacy. Neither is any other fallacy. Let me give you an example.

Horses are pretty fast animal.

Unicorns are pretty fast animal.

The first statement is perfectly fine. The second has a problem. Can anyone spell out the existencial fallacy? Here is another, and my favorite.

A: The most powerful bomb in the world must exist.
B: The hydrogen bomb is the most powerful bomb in the world.
Conclusion: The hydrogen bomb must exist.

Let's look at another version of this line of thought... sort of.

A: The most powerful bomb in the universe must exist.
B: The cobalt bomb is the most powerful bomb in the universe.
Conclusion: The cobalt bomb must exist.

Here is my favorite variation of this.

A: The most powerful and awesome being in the universe must exist.
B: God is the most powerful and awesome being in the universe.
Conclusion: God must exist.

Logic is a funny thing. Especially informal logic, you can't just look at a statement, determine if it's valid or not, and pass a judgement on it. Every individual statement has to be analysed statement by statement. Now, let's look at the specific fallacy that you claim science violates. Or better, let's look at other statements that use appeal to authority.

My mother has heart disease so she takes like 20 different heart medication each day. What does each one do? I don't know and neither does she.

A few months ago my aunt had spinal surgery. What exactly did the surgeons do that made her better? I don't think anyone in the family could actually spell it out.

Now, does my mother have to go to med school before she can take her heart medication? Should my aunt have gone to med school before she could have her surgery? Instead of going through all of that, they just did what the rest of us should do, trust our doctors.

Evolutionary scientists are specialists just like surgeons and cardiologists. All these people have gone through at least a decade of school and several decades more of experiences and experimentations, not to mention the thousands and thousands of man-hours they spent thinking about their fields of expertise.

Appeal to authority is not always a fallacy. You have to look at each individual case to see if it's a fallacy or not.

Edited by Taz, : Less paragraphs.


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nwr
Member
Posts: 5587
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 6 of 30 (448292)
01-12-2008 9:28 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by Taz
01-12-2008 9:11 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
Informal fallacies are only fallacies when they are. Appeal to authority ain't always a fallacy. Neither is any other fallacy. Let me give you an example.

I think you are making a poor argument there.

Your argument should be that a conclusion can be true, even though the argument given was fallacious.

Appeal to authority is not always a fallacy. You have to look at each individual case to see if it's a fallacy or not.

Again, I disagree. Appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. The result of an appeal to authority might well be correct. But you did not reach that result using logic. You might have good reason th accept authority in this particular case. But your decision to accept authority is outside of logic.

To say that it is a fallacy is only to say that it falls outside of logic. It does not say that the conclusion is wrong.


Let's end the political smears

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Taz
Member (Idle past 1635 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 7 of 30 (448293)
01-12-2008 9:48 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by nwr
01-12-2008 9:28 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
nwr writes:

I think you are making a poor argument there.


I beg to differ.

Your argument should be that a conclusion can be true, even though the argument given was fallacious.

I beg to differ.

Appeal to authority is a logical fallacy.

It's only a fallacy when it is.

The result of an appeal to authority might well be correct. But you did not reach that result using logic. You might have good reason th accept authority in this particular case. But your decision to accept authority is outside of logic.

I beg to differ.

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RAZD
Member
Posts: 20332
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 3.7


Message 8 of 30 (448298)
01-12-2008 10:10 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by Taz
01-12-2008 9:48 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
I agree with nwr. Logical fallacies don't mean that the conclusion is false, just that it is invalid - it doesn't follow from the facts. It may be true but you don't know the way you do when the logical structure is valid and the argument is sound.

Thus we have the appeal to authority, and it can be a valid appeal IF the person is a bona fide authority ... and ...


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Taz
Member (Idle past 1635 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 9 of 30 (448312)
01-12-2008 11:00 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by RAZD
01-12-2008 10:10 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
Either I was taught differently or that I got the wrong impression from my logic professors. A quick google search showed results from both camps.

For now, I'm going to hold out on making a decision on this until I'm convinced either way, although I'm more than willing to concede to your point.

Perhaps they should reevaluate those A's they gave me in my philosophy and logic classes back in college :p


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subbie
Member (Idle past 88 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 10 of 30 (448320)
01-12-2008 11:23 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Taz
01-12-2008 11:00 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
I have found some of the same conflicting statements. I suspect that the conflict comes from a desire on the part of some to somehow save the fact that we all have to rely on authority all the time, and make that seem to be a logical position. It may also be due to a confusion between inductive and deductive logic.

There really can be no question that Appeal to Authority is a fallacy from a deductive point of view. No matter what authority one appeals to, the fact that someone says something does not make an argument sound as a matter of deductive logic.

On the other hand, whether we accept as true a statement that someone else makes depends on whether the statement is in their area of expertise, whether the statement is generally accepted by others in the area, and other considerations. These factors are important because they affect our estimation of the odds that the authority is correct in their statement. This is a consideration in inductive logic, not deductive.


Those who would sacrifice an essential liberty for a temporary security will lose both, and deserve neither. -- Benjamin Franklin

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat


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Rrhain
Member (Idle past 216 days)
Posts: 6349
From: San Diego, CA, USA
Joined: 05-03-2003


Message 11 of 30 (448325)
01-12-2008 11:33 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
01-12-2008 6:32 PM


subbie writes:

quote:
Science itself, however, would grind to a halt without the ability to rely on what others say.

But that's not an appeal to authority. That is simply realizing that having to reinvent the wheel every time you wish to make an automobile isn't a very practical thing to do.

The reason why scientists insist upon repeatability is not so that there can be a popularity contest. It is specifically to deny the appeal to authority. "Oh, sure...YOU managed to get cold fusion to work, but who on earth are you? In order for me to agree that cold fusion works, I have to get it to work." The reason science works is because anybody can do it. It isn't dependent upon who you are, where you came from, or what you believe. In science, you make a detailed record of what you did and what you saw and you present it for everybody to see. If they don't believe you (and there's no reason why anybody ever should), then they are free to try it for themselves and see if they get the same thing.

The only reason why we shortcut the process and accept the work of others is because to have to start from sand every single time means a single person will spend all of his life repeating the work of others.

Now, a decent science education is based upon that very principle. You aren't merely told that F = Gm1m2/r2: You are made to calculate it for yourself. You are made to go into the lab and do the work. They make you stand on a chair in order to attach a string to the ceiling, suspend a weight from it, and make very detailed measurements of the swing of the weight so that you can calculate G directly.

If you don't trust the value in the CRC, you are free to calculate it for yourself (and your science education has shown you how).

You are perfectly free to go look at the fossil record, run your own DNA experiments, and spend your life inside a dig looking for more evidence. That's what scientists do, after all.

Be sure to publish your results when you're done. We'd love to hear what you found.


Rrhain

Thank you for your submission to Science. Your paper was reviewed by a jury of seventh graders so that they could look for balance and to allow them to make up their own minds. We are sorry to say that they found your paper "bogus," specifically describing the section on the laboratory work "boring." We regret that we will be unable to publish your work at this time.

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subbie
Member (Idle past 88 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 12 of 30 (448329)
01-12-2008 11:59 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by Rrhain
01-12-2008 11:33 PM


All of your points are true, and irrelevant to my point.

Science relies on the Appeal to Authority because it must. As I said in the OP, and as you argue yourself, nothing would ever get done if everyone had to start from scratch. However, the fact that it's necessary as a practical matter has nothing to do with whether it's a logical fallacy or not.

The reason why scientists insist upon repeatability is not so that there can be a popularity contest. It is specifically to deny the appeal to authority. "Oh, sure...YOU managed to get cold fusion to work, but who on earth are you? In order for me to agree that cold fusion works, I have to get it to work."

Yes, and I discussed this in the OP. Repeatability doesn't get around the Appeal to Authority. It just makes it Appeal to Authorities. But the fact of the matter is, no matter how many authorities you appeal it, it's the same fallacy.

Be sure to publish your results when you're done. We'd love to hear what you found.

Don't hold your breath.

Please note carefully, I never said that the results of science are suspect because of reliance on this fallacy. And, if you read most of what I write, you'll see that I have a great deal of faith in the scientific method, but in theory and as it's put into practice in the real world.

However, it's interesting to note the conflicts between science, which is often regarded as the epitome of logic, and basic principles of logic.


Those who would sacrifice an essential liberty for a temporary security will lose both, and deserve neither. -- Benjamin Franklin

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat


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Rrhain
Member (Idle past 216 days)
Posts: 6349
From: San Diego, CA, USA
Joined: 05-03-2003


Message 13 of 30 (448343)
01-13-2008 12:52 AM
Reply to: Message 12 by subbie
01-12-2008 11:59 PM


subbie responds to me:

quote:
Science relies on the Appeal to Authority because it must.

Except it doesn't. Again, you are free to distrust everybody's statement about everything and try it for yourself. In fact, science specifically encourages that. It's why you do lab work.

quote:
As I said in the OP, and as you argue yourself, nothing would ever get done if everyone had to start from scratch.

But that isn't the argument from authority. We accept the work of others not because they are authorities that should not be questioned. We accept the work of others because we are too busy doing our own work.

And here's the proof: If our findings tell us that our reliance upon the statements of others was misplaced, then we toss those statements aside. It's why we were able to displace Aristotelian mechanics with Newtonian...and then Newtonian with Einsteinian. We found things that didn't seem right which made is look again at what we thought we knew and throw it all away.

And that's the cloud that science continually functions under: Everything we think we know about everything just might be absolutely wrong. It's an observational process and nobody can observe everything. Thus, nothing anybody says is ever trusted completely.

quote:
However, the fact that it's necessary as a practical matter has nothing to do with whether it's a logical fallacy or not.

Yes, it does, because nothing in science declares something to be absolutely true. Nobody ever says, "Because Darwin said it, it must be true." Instead, everything in science is tentative and provisional, based solely upon the observations that we happen to have right here and now. There is never an appeal to authority. There is simply an act of practicality.

I hope you can understand the difference between practicality and logic, yes?

quote:
Repeatability doesn't get around the Appeal to Authority.

Yes, it does because you have the arrow of implication reversed. You are saying that people repeat experiments so that they can become authoritative. Instead, I say that people repeat experiments do deny authoritativeness. I don't calculate G on my own in order to strengthen Newton. I calculate G on my own in an attempt to prove him false.

quote:
But the fact of the matter is, no matter how many authorities you appeal it, it's the same fallacy.

But that's just it. No authority is ever appealed to. You are free to try it for yourself and see if you get something different. In fact, science specifically encourages that. It's why you do lab work.

Suppose you're doing an experiment that requires you to take a temperature. What's one of the first things you do? That's right: You calibrate the thermometers. Even if you've been using them all the time. You recalibrate your equipment because who knows what happened between yesterday and today. You do a quick reverification of the zeroth law of thermodynamics and go from there.

quote:
quote:
Be sure to publish your results when you're done. We'd love to hear what you found.

Don't hold your breath.


Look, just because you are unwilling to do the work required doesn't mean nobody else is. Science is hard. People spend their lives trying to find the most miniscule piece of new data. And they do it by questioning everything. You have to because that's part of how you find new things.

quote:
Please note carefully, I never said that the results of science are suspect because of reliance on this fallacy.

I never said you did. What I said was that there was no fallacy because there is no appeal. Everything is questioned. Nothing is accepted simply because somebody said so. Everything is tentative and provisional. You are free to distrust everybody's statement about everything and try it for yourself. In fact, science specifically encourages that. It's why you do lab work.

There can be no logical error of appeal to authority when there is no authority to appeal to and no attempt to appeal to anything.


Rrhain

Thank you for your submission to Science. Your paper was reviewed by a jury of seventh graders so that they could look for balance and to allow them to make up their own minds. We are sorry to say that they found your paper "bogus," specifically describing the section on the laboratory work "boring." We regret that we will be unable to publish your work at this time.

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nwr
Member
Posts: 5587
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 14 of 30 (448352)
01-13-2008 2:39 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
01-12-2008 6:32 PM


It's all about method
In Message 3, I wrote: "It only looks as if science relies on authority because of the way Philosophy of Science and the conventional wisdom describe (really misdescribe) science." I want to expand on that here.

subbie writes:

Science itself, however, would grind to a halt without the ability to rely on what others say. If every scientist had to prove every proposition based on his own work, progress would be impossible.


This assumes that the point of science is to produce true propositions. It isn't. Philosophers of science describe science as if it is. That's a philosopher's disease, as philosophers just love propositions.

To the scientists, it is method that is all important. Scientific laws, as language statements, are simply descriptions of key methods for the particular science. The scientist does not take the propositions on authority. He doesn't even much care about them as propositions. Rather, he looks at the methods which will be useful for his own science.

What is important about the methods, is that they work. They are accepted on pragmatic grounds, not because they are alleged to state some truths about the world. But the working scientist need not rely on authority to know that the methods work. The scientist can see that for himself in his own scientific work. He is using those methods regularly, and they are working for him. The voice of authority is not needed for him to recognize that they work.

For a simple example, consider Ohm's law. This law is built into the multimeter that I use if I am measuring part of an electrical circuit. Every time I use that multimeter, and get good results, I am getting support for Ohm's law. And the operations of the meter don't rely on authority, though they do implement widely accepted conventions.

Edited by nwr, : fix typo


Let's end the political smears

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RAZD
Member
Posts: 20332
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 3.7


Message 15 of 30 (448383)
01-13-2008 8:50 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by subbie
01-12-2008 11:23 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
There are several points involved here

(1) the issue of invalid vs false

I have found some of the same conflicting statements. I suspect that the conflict comes from a desire on the part of some to somehow save the fact that we all have to rely on authority all the time, and make that seem to be a logical position. It may also be due to a confusion between inductive and deductive logic.

The issue of a logical conclusion being invalid but true holds for all logical fallacies -- the conclusion may be true, it is just that it does not follow from the logic. In this sense the conclusion is like a an opinion, and that opinion could be based on some information outside the logical construction.

Or it could be a lucky guess: we don't know, and can't know, because the logical structure does not support the conclusion.

(This should also not be confused with conclusions that have been falsified and thus are known to be false.)

(2) external validation of the logic

The scientific method, again as pointed out by nwr (and rrhain), does not rest solely on the logical conclusions, but on testing of them by many independent scientists against external evidence, facts.

In this case, referring to the authority of the body of science is referring to the state of knowledge that we have on tested and validated concepts, as opposed to the the authority of just the opinions of a group of scientists.

Percy talks about science being a consensus of concepts that have been tested and as yet are not falsified. In areas where there are concepts with no alternative theories there would be virtually universal consensus. Consensus without dissent between experts within the field based on tested and validated conclusions is not trivial opinion.

(3) ethical consequences and trust

The ethical consequences of using invalid or falsified data in science is the quick end of the career and the publication of the facts. This, along with the principal of falsification, removes false information from the field/s, and this intentional universal removal of known false information makes the body of knowledge just a bit more trustworthy than, say, the compilation of everything ever done.

Compare this to the compilation of opinions used by creationists, where every falsified concept, misrepresentation, and outright falsehood is maintained as part of the reference for future creationists to use. Once you know there are intentionally perpetuated falsehoods in the information, the only valid conclusion is that none of it can be trusted.

(4) building on the past, with references

Science builds on past knowledge, and doesn't "reinvent the wheel" once the wheel is invented. It just needs to reference the wheel invention so that it can be validated if necessary.

This is really no different that a philosopher referring to the work of a predecessor and saying "{A} in book {X} showed that {Y} was a valid conclusion, and building on that conclusion I develop conclusion {Z}," as one can pull out book {X} and check {A}'s conclusion of {Y} for validity. One can also check to see if {A}'s work has been invalidated by anyone else.

This is why all those lists of all those references is so necessary for all those scientific articles.

Enjoy.

Edited by RAZD, : clarity

Edited by RAZD, : added (4)


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