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Author Topic:   The Scientific Method For Beginners
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 58 of 138 (521104)
08-25-2009 10:15 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Dr Adequate
07-03-2009 9:45 PM


quote:
The scientific method is this:
(1) Formulate a hypothesis.
(2) Using logic, derive predictions from that hypothesis.
(3) Compare the predictions against observation.
(4) If reality corresponds with the predictions of the hypothesis, then we are obliged to regard it a proven theory until and unless we find contrary evidence, at which point we would go back to step (1). Otherwise, we must accept it as a solid theory and can then use it to help us understand and interact with the world.
A clear, concise description, except for one word of point 4. I assume you are trying to explain this to a non-scientist, but I think you have oversimplified it so much that it has become misleading. Here is how I would re-word point 4:
"(4) If reality corresponds with the predictions of the hypothesis, then we are obliged to regard it as verified until and unless we find contrary evidence, at which point we would go back to step (1). Otherwise, we must accept it as a solid theory and can then use it to help us understand and interact with the world."
We can build evidence to verify or validate a theory, but this only means that the theory has not been falsified. It has not (and never can be) proven. This is a crucial foundational concept in the philosophy of science. As wikipedia says about the scientific method, "Note that this method can never absolutely verify (prove the truth of) [a conjecture]. It can only falsify [a conjecture]."

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Dr Adequate, posted 07-03-2009 9:45 PM Dr Adequate has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 67 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-26-2009 10:49 AM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 68 of 138 (521179)
08-26-2009 11:08 AM
Reply to: Message 67 by Dr Adequate
08-26-2009 10:49 AM


quote:
In the second place, you speak of "the philosophy of science", as though there was only one. Now, according to the terminology used by the philosopher of science Karl Popper, we cannot say that we have proved that the Earth is not flat. However, according to the philosophy of science that I adhere to, we can say that we have proved that the Earth is not flat.
I compromised between these two views by using the precise wording that I chose --- that we are obliged to regard this proposition as proven.
This terminology is not restricted to Karl Popper. Every explanation of the scientific method that I've seen, except yours, is careful not to claim theories as proven.
To most people, the word proven implies certain, absolute, unshakeable. But in science, every theory that we hold must be held somewhat tentatively. There is always the possibility that it may be disproved in the future. It is important for people to understand this, but your use of the word proven confuses it.
Can you point to any well-known philosophers of science who use your terminology? Or any subfields of science where your terminology is standard?
We certainly do not use the word proven this way in physics. I refer you to an excellent recent article in Physics Today, "What is Science?" by Helen Quinn. As Helen writes,
Scientific theories, even when generally accepted after much testing and refinement, are still never complete. Each can be safely applied in some limited domain, some range of situations or conditions for which it has been well tested. Each might also apply in some extended regime where it has yet to be tested, and has little or nothing to offer in still more distant domains. That is the sense in which no theory can be proven to be true; truth is too complete a notion.
Edited by kbertsche, : No reason given.
Edited by kbertsche, : added Helen Quinn reference and quote

This message is a reply to:
 Message 67 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-26-2009 10:49 AM Dr Adequate has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 70 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-26-2009 1:33 PM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 74 of 138 (521257)
08-26-2009 4:36 PM
Reply to: Message 70 by Dr Adequate
08-26-2009 1:33 PM


You still have not answered my questions from Message 68:
Can you point to any well-known philosophers of science who use your terminology? Or any subfields of science where your terminology is standard?
I'm looking for some solid external support for your use of terminology. (What field of science are you active in or trained in, BTW?)
quote:
According to the Popperian use of the word "proven", I cannot prove that I have two legs. For I might in principle be a ten-legged lobster-like creature trapped in a Matrix-style virtual reality designed to convince me that I have only two legs.
...
In the first place, I would point out that in the English language, my terminology is indeed "standard". Is there anyone in the world --- apart from philosophers --- who would deny that I can prove that I have two legs?
Count 'em. Philosophers may say what they choose, but I shall still regard it as "proven" that I have two legs according to the meaning of that word in standard English rather then in philosophical jargon.
We can never prove a scientific theory. This language is not restricted to Popperian philosophy; it is the standard terminology and a foundational principle in the physical sciences. Most physicists are careful not to use proof the way that you do in their writing, whether writing for the general public or for specialized journals.
quote:
In the second place, I should like you to read my post more carefully. I am well aware of the stuff that philosophers say, and so I was very careful to write: "we are obliged to regard it as proven until and unless we find contrary evidence". I made a very careful compromise between Popperian philosophical jargon and the English language as it is spoken.
I did read your post very carefully. What you propose is disingenuous. We would not "regard something as true" when it is really false. Likewise, we should not "regard something as proven" when it cannot, in fact, be proven.
I again recommend Helen's article in Physics Today. She uses terminology correctly, yet explains it clearly enough for a layman to understand:
Scientific theories, even when generally accepted after much testing and refinement, are still never complete. Each can be safely applied in some limited domain, some range of situations or conditions for which it has been well tested. Each might also apply in some extended regime where it has yet to be tested, and has little or nothing to offer in still more distant domains. That is the sense in which no theory can be proven to be true; truth is too complete a notion.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 70 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-26-2009 1:33 PM Dr Adequate has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 75 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-26-2009 5:26 PM kbertsche has replied
 Message 82 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-27-2009 6:40 AM kbertsche has seen this message but not replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 79 of 138 (521304)
08-26-2009 10:07 PM
Reply to: Message 75 by Dr Adequate
08-26-2009 5:26 PM


This is the third time I have asked:
Can you point to any well-known philosophers of science who use your terminology? Or any subfields of science where your terminology is standard?
If you can't, that's OK; simply admit it.
And this is the second time I've asked:
What field of science are you active in or trained in, BTW?
By this question, I'm trying to understand your background to provide a context for your wording. (BTW, I am trained and working as a physicist.)
quote:
And will any of them [physicists] really claim that I cannot prove that I have two legs? Except in the special philosophical sense in which this is true?
Your are confusing categories. That you have two legs is an observational fact not a scientific theory. Most physicists would simply call this an observation or a fact, it would be unusual for them to use the word proven in this context.
Getting back to scientific theories such as gravity, electromagnetism, standard model, Big Bang--I know of no physicist who would call these theories "proven," not even in colloquial speech. They would use words like "verified" or "validated."
quote:
And your mother is a whore.
What, did you find that insulting?
You are being intentionally and unnecessarily offensive. Am I to infer that you have run out of data or logic to support your claims, and are left to ad hominem?
quote:
Well, I am equally insulted by you telling me that I'm "disingenous".
I did not intend to offend or insult you personally, and I apologize that it came across that way. But perhaps you need to re-read my post. I labeled your proposal not you, as disingenuous. And I explained why: the proposal is tantamount to regarding something as true which is really false.
Perhaps "disingenuous" was not the best choice of words. Maybe "deceptive" or "delusive" or "wrong" would be better, or some other adjective which captures the sense of "a proposal to regard something as true which is really false."

This message is a reply to:
 Message 75 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-26-2009 5:26 PM Dr Adequate has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 81 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-27-2009 2:38 AM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 92 of 138 (521668)
08-28-2009 12:36 PM
Reply to: Message 81 by Dr Adequate
08-27-2009 2:38 AM


quote:
I've read Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend and Nagel. I will wager that that's four more writers on the philosophy of science than you've ever read. Oh, would you count Wittgenstein and Hume? How about Kant? None of them contradicts what I actually wrote, which is that we are obliged to regard certain propositions as proven.
Now, I too have asked you a question, namely whether there's anyone in the world who, philosophical quibbling aside, would deny that I can prove that I have two legs.
Why such an antagonistic and derisive tone? I'm here to discuss and learn, not to argue. If you are here for the same reason and really are interested in answers to questions, please ask them respectfully. If you only want to argue and to insult, I have no interest in responding.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 81 by Dr Adequate, posted 08-27-2009 2:38 AM Dr Adequate has not replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 93 of 138 (521671)
08-28-2009 12:44 PM
Reply to: Message 91 by Modulous
08-28-2009 12:26 PM


Re: Tentativity
quote:
I regard the existence of gravity is a fact. One might even say that it is a fact that has been proven by means of the scientific method. If 'proven' is to have any meaning at all, 'demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt' or 'a fact that has been confirmed to be true with such confidence that it would be perverse' seem like perfectly valid meanings. I think the legal system would be very surprised to learn that proof is limited to mathematics, that's for sure.
I don't know of any physicist who would say that the theory of gravity is a fact. We often refer to data and observations as fact, e.g. the fact that an apple falls due to gravity. But not the theory itself. We believe the theory and stake our lives on it, but we do not call it a fact.
quote:
I think the issue is, that creationists have constantly asked for proof of evolution, and when evidence is presented have retorted that it 'isn't proof', just evidence - that they have the same evidence and come to a different conclusion etc.
It is currently popular to say that evolution is "both a fact and a theory," apparently in response to YECs. Such language is not used in physics (e.g. of gravity) and I believe it confuses the issues.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 91 by Modulous, posted 08-28-2009 12:26 PM Modulous has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 94 by Modulous, posted 08-28-2009 1:13 PM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 95 of 138 (521685)
08-28-2009 1:50 PM
Reply to: Message 94 by Modulous
08-28-2009 1:13 PM


Re: Tentativity
quote:
No, but there is a fact of gravity that the theory of relativity explains, right?
I understand what you mean, but no, we do not use language this way. (And we don't do so precisely because it confuses the concepts of fact and theory.) It is a fact that things fall, and there is a theory that explains this.
quote:
We didn't need the theory of gravity to get to the moon. We just needed the fact of gravity and the law of gravity. We needed no explanatory framework to explain how gravity works to get us there.
But the law of gravity is essentially synonymous with the theory of gravity. (Physics explains everything by mathematics, so theory and law become essentially the same. This may not be the case in other subfields of science.) We needed the 1/r^2 force law to get to the moon; i.e. we needed the theory of gravity.
Though well-established and very accurate, we have no proof that this 1/r^2 force law is fully correct. A "fifth force" was suggested a few years ago to modify gravity, and I expect that this sort of speculation will come back (if it hasn't already) as a possible way to explain dark energy.

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 Message 94 by Modulous, posted 08-28-2009 1:13 PM Modulous has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 96 by Modulous, posted 08-28-2009 2:45 PM kbertsche has replied
 Message 97 by NosyNed, posted 08-28-2009 3:30 PM kbertsche has replied
 Message 98 by cavediver, posted 08-28-2009 5:04 PM kbertsche has seen this message but not replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 100 of 138 (521724)
08-28-2009 5:50 PM
Reply to: Message 96 by Modulous
08-28-2009 2:45 PM


Re: theories and facts
quote:
How does differentiating between a fact and the thing that explains the fact confuse the concepts?
Who are 'we'? In most scientific disciplines, its practitioners don't go hand-wringing over the differences between facts and theories so very few biologists use language this way, either.
If by 'we' you mean physicists, then I'm going to have to say again that I think you are mistaken. Have you done a poll? I'm almost certain it will be possible to find one physicist who uses language like this. For example, John Pratt teaches astronomy at UVSC and here is a page about facts and theories.
We (physicists) do not call gravity a fact, but a theory or law. I believe this is true of most physicists, especially those who write on what science is and how it is done. I'm sure you can find some who use terms differently, but they are not the norm.
quote:
Erm so how is this different than me saying there is a fact of gravity that the theory of relativity explains? How is this not somebody in the 'we' category using language in this exact same way you said they don't?
We generally would not use the phrase "facts of gravity" because it implies that gravity is a "fact."
quote:
Newton's inverse law is not a theory in the sense referred to since it doesn't explain anything - it simply describes something. You could call it a theory, but then how is that avoiding confusing things?
In a sense, all of science is descriptive. It attempts to describe things at lower, more fundamental levels, which we call "explaining", but this is still fundamentally descriptive.
We (physicists) do call the inverse square law a theory; it is Newton's theory or law of gravity. (Note the use of both "law" and "theory" in this wiki article.)
quote:
Still there is a fact of gravity, which it would be perverse to deny (that objects with mass experience an attractive force).
Again, I think I understand what you mean, but "fact of gravity" is non-standard language in physics. It is more normal to say that "there are facts which are described or explained by gravity."
quote:
I'm not sure what your objection is here.
Good question. We (physicists) generally view gravity as the theory or law itself, not as the results of or support for the theory or law. It would be like saying "there is a fact of the standard model" or "there is a fact of the Big Bang." No--this is bad terminology. It implies that the theory or law is itself a fact, which is wrong.
quote:
Still, semantic issues aside - the pragmatics is more important. Which was the point I was making.
Yes, I believe we agree on the main concepts. The major disagreement is terminology.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 96 by Modulous, posted 08-28-2009 2:45 PM Modulous has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 101 by cavediver, posted 08-28-2009 6:00 PM kbertsche has replied
 Message 111 by Modulous, posted 08-28-2009 6:59 PM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 102 of 138 (521726)
08-28-2009 6:01 PM
Reply to: Message 97 by NosyNed
08-28-2009 3:30 PM


Re: Theory of Gravity
quote:
I disagree with this pretty strongly. The law of gravity is simply that massive objects exert a force on each other witch can be calculated using the law given as a formula. The inverse square law the G in it.
However, a theory has to explain why that is the case. Newton had, at best a pretty tentative theory and I'm not sure it was really articulated as such. If it was it would be one of uniform space and time with instantaneous forces acting between bodies. What produced the force, beyond the 'mass', isn't explained.
General realitivity is much more robust as a theory even if still not completely explaining the "why". It is also rather different in it's description of space and time yet it gives a law of gravity that, in many circumstances, gives the same answer ans Newton's laws.
It seems that the word "theory" is used in at least two ways in science:
1) The word "theory" is sometimes used interchangeably with "law", as in Newton's law or Newton's theory. In this sense, a law is essentially a theory which has been extremely well established. I was using the term in this way earlier in the thread, and it is easy to find examples of this usage in physics. (Maybe it's less common in other fields of science?)
2) The word "theory" is sometimes used in a more over-arching sense, as you suggest. (The wiki article on "scientific theory" claims that this is the only usage, and that my usage is wrong. But I believe they overstate their case.)

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 Message 103 by cavediver, posted 08-28-2009 6:07 PM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 104 of 138 (521732)
08-28-2009 6:11 PM
Reply to: Message 101 by cavediver
08-28-2009 6:00 PM


Re: theories and facts
quote:
I am very confused by this. The vast difference between a theory and a law should be second nature to you if you are a practising scientist, and your conflation is very strange. I appreciate that gravitation and relativity may not be your field, but I would stress the same were we talking about the relationship between thermodynamic "laws" and statistical mechanics.
Maybe you're right; perhaps my usage of "law" was/is too sloppy. Maybe it's better to view a "law" as a subset or a consequence of a theory?

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 Message 105 by Perdition, posted 08-28-2009 6:19 PM kbertsche has seen this message but not replied
 Message 106 by Theodoric, posted 08-28-2009 6:20 PM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 107 of 138 (521736)
08-28-2009 6:21 PM
Reply to: Message 103 by cavediver
08-28-2009 6:07 PM


Re: Theory of Gravity
quote:
No, no, no - couldn't be further from the truth! A law is an embodiment of observation, not of theory.
But laws (e.g. Newton's and Kepler's laws) are not simply embodiments of observation. Their development required generalization beyond the actual observations; they required theory at some level, and are in some sense consequences of theory.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 103 by cavediver, posted 08-28-2009 6:07 PM cavediver has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 109 by cavediver, posted 08-28-2009 6:35 PM kbertsche has seen this message but not replied
 Message 110 by cavediver, posted 08-28-2009 6:48 PM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 108 of 138 (521737)
08-28-2009 6:27 PM
Reply to: Message 106 by Theodoric
08-28-2009 6:20 PM


Re: theories and facts
quote:
Please read very carefully the comparison and contrast between the Law of Gravity and the Theory of Gravity.
Yes, it seems like a good explanation. I agree with it.
But note that it also validates the way I have been using the terms:
quote:
In fact, some laws, such as the law of gravity, can also be theories when taken more generally.

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Replies to this message:
 Message 112 by Modulous, posted 08-28-2009 7:04 PM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 113 of 138 (521765)
08-28-2009 11:40 PM
Reply to: Message 110 by cavediver
08-28-2009 6:48 PM


Re: Theory of Gravity
quote:
Not usually - loosely, they are cases of building mathematical relationships to explain the observations. If there is generalisation that leads to predictions at the time unobserved, then you could argue that you are moving into the territory of a theory. But this is now outside the auspices of a law. But that doesn't stop a law forming the theory behind some previous law, e.g. you can view Newton LoG as forming the theory behind Kepler I, II, and III. Crudely, laws tell you how it is, and theories tell you why it is. And a law, by its nature, is always exceptionally tenta
In normal scientific usage, there seems to be a broad range of things labeled "theory" and things labeled "law", with some overlap between them. A theory can be very narrow, such as the theory that a meteorite killed the dinosaurs. Or it can be very broad, such as electromagnetic theory. Likewise, a law can be narrow, such as Ohm's Law. Or it can be very broad, such as Maxwell's Equations , a set of laws which govern all of electromagnetism.
Interestingly, we don't usually call the full set of Maxwell's Equations either a "theory" or a "law." Maxwell originally presented them as a part of his "theory" of electromagnetism, but the individual equations can be reduced to "laws" of electromagnetism such as Gauss' Law, Faraday's Law, and Ampere's Law.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 110 by cavediver, posted 08-28-2009 6:48 PM cavediver has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 118 by cavediver, posted 08-29-2009 5:54 AM kbertsche has replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 114 of 138 (521766)
08-28-2009 11:51 PM
Reply to: Message 111 by Modulous
08-28-2009 6:59 PM


Re: theories and facts
quote:
Sounds like an empirical claim. Maybe in your personal experience - but in my personal experience practising scientists rarely discuss things like this, anyway.
In my experience, there is a fairly uniform, well-accepted understanding of distinctions between "fact" and "theory", and this sort of thing is frequently mentioned in casual conversation, colloquia, and popular-level writing by leading scientists. (E.g. see the article by Helen Quinn referenced earlier in this thread.)
quote:
I'd be interested if you had any data to support what is and what is not the 'norm' here.
I don't have any numeric data, such as polls or surveys. We could find examples of usage by leading scientists, many of whom have written books to explain science to the general public (e.g. Richard Feynmann, Victor Weisskopf, Freeman Dyson, and many, many others).

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 Message 111 by Modulous, posted 08-28-2009 6:59 PM Modulous has seen this message but not replied

  
kbertsche
Member (Idle past 2245 days)
Posts: 1427
From: San Jose, CA, USA
Joined: 05-10-2007


Message 115 of 138 (521767)
08-29-2009 12:03 AM
Reply to: Message 112 by Modulous
08-28-2009 7:04 PM


Re: theories and facts
quote:
Still, the fact that there is such a thing as gravity still doesn't strike me as a theory since it doesn't explain anything - just gives a name to something we observe. I suppose saying that gravity is a universal, far-reaching force that acts upon bodies could be seen as a theory.
Yes, and I think this far-reaching force is what people generally mean when they speak of the "theory of gravity."
The "theory of gravity" does explain some things, such as celestial and orbital dynamics, Kepler's Laws, etc. True, it doesn't explain why gravity happens. But suppose we can find and measure the graviton--does this really explain gravity? It fills in our understanding, and gives us a more fundamental, unified understanding. But does it really explain why gravity happens? Is invoking an exchange of virtual gravitons really any better of a why than invoking a gravitational field described by an inverse square law?
Perhaps gravity is a misleading example for us to use, since it is common in physics to speak of both the "theory" and "law" of gravity. Maybe an example like the Big Bang theory would be less confusing, since we don't speak of a big Bang "law".

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