Is STS trivial?

In a recent Making Science Public post, Chris Toumey asked is STS trivial? Since I’ve written about Science and Technology Studies (STS) on a number of occasions, I found it an interesting post and posed a question in the comments.

Chris has very kindly written a new post in response to my question. It describes various qualitative methods used in STS. There are historical perspectives, comparative case studies, ethnographic approaches, and thick descriptions. These can also be combined with quantitative methods to make testable hypotheses.

I found this all very interesting, but it wasn’t quite what my question was getting at. I was trying to ask something subtler than simply “how is research conducted in STS”? I’ll try to clarify using the astronomy example that Chris uses at the end of his post.

Chris suggests that sometimes what is done in astronomy can be more like the historical sciences than the experimental sciences. It’s true that astronomy is an observational science and that there are situations where an observation might imply something that we can’t directly test. However, when we do infer something from such observations, this is typically because we’ve either tested the hypothesis with other observations, or we’re relying on very well-established physics.

Essentially, we’re still relying on an understanding that has been developed by following a pretty standard, quantitative, scientific method, even if there are situations when we infer something from observations that we can’t use to specifically test some hypothesis. So, the question I had posed was essentially that if research in STS does not typically involve something equivalent to hypothesis testing, then how can one infer anything general from the qualitative research that takes place?

In other words, if there is nothing comparable to the standard scientific process, then surely all you can do is use the qualitative methods to describe various specific situations, such as a specific history, or a comparison between different cases, or ethnographic studies of specific groups. If one is going to draw broader conclusions from these qualitative studies, then this presumably has to be based on an understanding that has been tested in some way.

So, my question was essentially how can STS draw any broad conclusions from its studies if there isn’t something akin to the standard scientific process? Although I found Chris’ description of research practices within STS very interesting and it did clarify some things, it didn’t quite address what I was actually getting at with my question.

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188 Responses to Is STS trivial?

  1. Willard says:

  2. I’m still trying to work out what Hackingian means 🙂

    However, I wasn’t suggesting that they have to be universal. I was suggesting that any claims to the effect that they are universal (or can be generalised in some way) must surely be based on some understanding of the system that has developed through some kind of process/testing that might reasonably be described as a form of the scientific method.

  3. Willard says:

    Perhaps this would help, AT, as Eric alluded to it in his exchange with you:

    Naturalist interpretations of constructionism have also taken up the distinct, open-ended, empirical project of defending substantive claims regarding the development and distribution of human traits via the suggestions that human socio-linguistic behaviors shape human traits (including behavior) via different avenues, both developmental and situational.

    One “social role” family of theories emphasizes the way that our socio-linguistic practices produce social roles that structure and shape human life and behavior. Perhaps the most influential philosophical project in this area has been Ian Hacking’s work on “making up people” (1986, 1992, 1995a, 1995b, 1998). In a series of papers and books, Hacking argues that the creation and promulgation of bureaucratic, technical, and medical classifications like “child abuse,” “multiple personality disorder,” and “fugue” create “new ways to be a person” (1995b, p. 239). The idea is that the conception of a certain kind of person shapes both a widespread social response (e.g. one that exculpates and perhaps encourages kind-typical behaviors), while at the same time, the conception shapes individual “performances” of the behavior in question (by suggesting highly specific avenues of behavior). On Hacking’s model, one he calls “the looping effect of human kinds,” the conception of the behavior may be part of an epistemic project of understanding a human kind that in turn gives rise to the clusters of traits that the theory represents (thereby providing epistemic support for the conception). Much of Hacking’s own recent work has been aimed at providing detailed historical and cultural evidence that suggests that looping effects really are a feature of (at least modern) human social life, e.g. for the American epidemic of multiple personality disorder that started in the 1980s (Hacking 1995) or the European epidemic of fugue in the late nineteenth century (Hacking 1998). Hacking makes further claims about the “looping effect,” for example, that looping effects mark “a cardinal difference between the traditional natural and social sciences” because “the targets of the natural sciences are stationary” while “the targets of the social sciences are on the move” (1999, 108) ),claims that themselves have spurred lively discussions over the nature of looping effects (e.g. Cooper 2004, Laimann forthcoming) and of their mechanisms in human groups (e.g. Mallon 2016, Kuorikoski and Pöyhönen 2012).

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/social-construction-naturalistic/

    Those who are in the STS business look at some episodes from the history of science with methods that are more or less open-ended, i.e. they range from conceptual to social-network-analysis. Their objects of study involve humans, at least until we build scientific AI. Their deliverables should not be looked the same way physicists may do.

    OTOH, I see no reason to abide by the suggestion that we ought to pay attention to STS. Nobody does. At least I don’t, for the most part.

  4. Willard,
    Thanks, I’ll have to read that a few times to understand what it’s getting at. However, I get the sense that some think I’m suggesting that research is only valid if it follows some kind of process. This is not what I’m getting at. I think there are many ways to investigate (or, collect information about) whatever is being studied. However, I don’t really see how one can develop a broader understanding of a system if one doesn’t follow some kind of process that involves testing ideas, or rejecting ideas that don’t fit the information that is being collected. (I may have to try and think of some other way to present this argument, as it may not be as clear as I would hope that it is)

  5. Willard says:

    AT,

    As you already know, my idea for this process is that it’s a disciplined extension of common sense. I recognize the quasi-circularity of it. After all, common sense might change according to our scientific development.

    Perhaps an illustration would be best. Take Chris’ triviality claim:

    [O]ur work is nontrivial if our insights are helpful to others, whether scientists, engineers, or laypersons, as they hope to better understand science and technology. But we consign ourselves to trivial work if we are a community of scholars in the humanities and social sciences who communicate only with each other.

    http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2019/02/15/is-sts-trivial-chris-toumey-reflects-on-writing-a-book-about-nanotech-and-the-humanities/

    According to Chris’ criteria, arcane minutiae within a field would be trivial. That’s not how I conceive triviality. In fact, I’d say the opposite applies – sound bites for public consumption are mostly trivial. Whether these talking points generate controversy or not is irrelevant. What matters is that they have no empirical impact.

    Did I just do science? I think I did something like it. I produced an argument using evidence. There are ways to improve upon my results, but these won’t change the nature of what I did.

  6. To be fair, I think Chris is suggesting that it becomes trivial if we can’t explain the relevance beyond those in your own field. I guess this isn’t strictly true, but I do tend to agree that it’s important to be able to communicate beyond your own field.

  7. Willard says:

    > it’s important to be able to communicate beyond your own field.

    Perhaps Chris had sterility in mind. STS descriptions or interpretations need to be useful to scientists, technologists or the public in general. STS cannot improve our lives otherwise, with a consumer product.

    This could change. STS could develop auditing tools, e.g.:

    Sooner or later, the auditing sciences will need to have a home.

  8. Everett F Sargent says:

    From teh Wiki …

    “Science and technology studies, or science, technology and society studies (both abbreviated STS) is the study of how society, politics, and culture affect scientific research and technological innovation, and how these, in turn, affect society, politics and culture.”

    Could also be written as …

    Science and technology studies, or science, technology and society studies (both abbreviated STS) is the study of how scientific research and technological innovation affect society, politics, and culture, and how these, in turn, affect scientific research and technological innovation.

    Kind of reminds me of a circular firing squad or a circle [time derivative of acceleration].

    Technology is certainly changing on annual to decadal timescales (e. g. moving target), society is changing on a next meme basis and science usually uses the latest technologies.

    If STS can only reconcile past events, after the fact as it were, then I think we have a problem. An inability to generalize to some models useful for future projection purposes.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    After reading the Wikipedia entry on STS, I chose to next read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on the Philosophy of Cosmology. The latter was far more edifying. I hazard the opinion that the same applies to philosophical studies of whatever happens to be of interest.

  10. brigittenerlich says:

    Chris is a cultural anthropologist interested in science and technology. He studies science and technology. I personally wouldn’t call what he does ‘science and technology studies’ though. But Chris and I might disagree here. Have a look at some of his regular articles for Nature Nanotechnology for example (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41565-018-0343-4). He provides interesting, clear and well-researched insights into history and development of nano in an accessible way – science communication at its best. That’s quite different to some STS stuff I think.

  11. “[O]ur work is nontrivial if our insights are helpful to others, whether scientists, engineers, or laypersons, as they hope to better understand science and technology.”

    It isn’t clear to me how STS can be helpful to others without having some degree of moderately reliable generality.

    It isn’t at all straightforward to define what science is, and I would view that as a distinct from the question of how science is done from a sociological perspective (a bit like you can’t really understand a religion by looking at the behaviour of its [nominal] followers).

  12. Brigitte,
    Thanks, I’ll try to have a look at that. I think that kind of work is very interesting. I’m certainly not suggesting that research only has value if it follows some kind of scientific-like process. However, I can’t see how one can draw broad conclusions from a study if that isn’t based on some kind of understanding that has developed through a process that might reasonably be called the scientific process.

  13. brigittenerlich says:

    I once tried to get my head round the whole methods issue here http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2014/04/30/doing-science-some-reflections-on-methods/ I am not sure that helps, but I tried… However, what you are trying to get at, I think, is the issue of rigour, validity and reliability in qualitative research, I think. There has been quite a lot of discussion about that… here is one article amongst many, trying to deal with these issues: https://journals.lww.com/dccnjournal/Fulltext/2017/07000/Rigor_or_Reliability_and_Validity_in_Qualitative.6.aspx
    There is also a book chapter by Karen Henwood here in a book on Mixing Methods: https://tinyurl.com/y5ake34p

  14. verytallguy says:

    It struck me reading this that there are similarities to information hierarchy,
    1. Data
    2. Information
    3. Knowledge
    4. Wisdom

    The argument seems somewhat along the lines that STS lacks fundamental models so struggles to be able to extrapolate beyond the data directly generated in a particular study. It’s still informative however, beyond the data itself.

    Physical sciences have more general models so can generate knowledge which is more widely applicable beyond the data in a particular study.

    Wisdom may be beyond either discipline.

    Of course, this is way outside my expertise so it’s likely I’ve missed the point entirely!

  15. verytallguy says:

    Teh wiki has an entry on this.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIKW_pyramid

  16. Brigitte,

    However, what you are trying to get at, I think, is the issue of rigour, validity and reliability in qualitative research, I think.

    In a sense, but it’s not that I think it needs to be there for qualitative work to have value, but it does if one is going to make strong claims based on qualitative work. When I see scholars talking about the replication crisis, or providing examples of situations where scientists make mistakes, and then drawing strong conclusions based on this, I tend to think that they’re doing the same thing that they’re criticising. That you can find examples where research was flawed, doesn’t mean that research (in general) is flawed. That you can find examples where someone bias clearly influence some research, doesn’t mean research is biased in general. That there is a replication crisis in one field, doesn’t mean that there is a replication crisis in science.

    I think there is nothing wrong with looking at these situations and trying to learn from them. However, if one is going to draw strong, general conclusions from these situations then that would seem to need to be based on something more rigorous than just a sense that these examples illustrate something more pervasive.

    I wrote a post about an article that, in my view, did some of what I’m discussing above, but can’t seem to find it. If I do, I will post a link.

  17. brigittenerlich says:

    Very Tall Guy, “It’s still informative however, beyond the data itself.” That’s a good way of capturing some of the qualities of good quality qualitative research, I believe. It’s perhaps not generalisable but it should still be informative. We are looking for regularities not laws. (But then, one could have a whole discussion about law and regularities…) It’s not just “excess of opinion relative to data” (see Max Davie, here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-47825826, different context, but I just love that quote)

  18. Willard says:

    Data is a picture of a tomato. Information is a sauce recipe. Knowledge makes you realize tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is what prevents from using it in a fruit salad. The joke isn’t very precise, but I don’t have time to revisit skeptic paradoxes.

    How to extrapolate from research is a problem in general. Writing conclusions is so hard I suspect scientists invented the discussion section to sidestep it. I have not checked this hypothesis. A less provocative one is that many research papers’ conclusions simply repeat bits from the abstract and the intro.

    I’ve seen people arguing that we should drop the conclusion section. This may not solve the inference gap we observe between research and press releases. Come to think of it, one might argue that soft research contains its own press release.

  19. Willard says:

    Not that I want to go a bridge too far with one data point:

  20. izen says:

    @-W
    I am not sure I quite grasp the points being made about the STS being scientific, scientism or cargo cult with regards to research methods. Perhaps there is something along the lines of descriptive versus explanatory, although the border may be a grey area…

  21. Willard says:

    > Perhaps there is something along the lines of descriptive versus explanatory, although the border may be a grey area…

    Exactly. Take Tourney 2019. The editors’ lead:

    Through an overview of James Watson’s recounting of the discovery of the structure of DNA, Chris Toumey illustrates the value to be found in the stories of the interaction among scientists behind great scientifc discoveries.

    So there’s some description going on in the piece. Every character has a bit: Watson, Wilkins, Pauling, Rosalind Randall, Frank, Crick, Chargaff. There’s some commentary too, e.g. nobody should be as angry as Chargaff and be ranting or venting in a major scientific journal. It ends with a prescription:

    I have written about the pleasure and excitement that enlivened the discovery of the C60 molecule. The Double Helix, especially the annotated and illustrated edition, makes a fine companion piece to the C60 literature. Both stories have good quantities of curiosity, competition, conflict and other features that make it worthwhile to tell these two tales. I have a suggestion for professors of the history of science: it would be a sweet exercise to read and discuss the two stories alongside each other. That could be an entire course in itself.

    How do we generalize from this story? Not the same way we do statistical testing, that’s for sure. There are lessons in stories. Mine would be that we are science. How to extrapolate from historical data is the general problem of historical explanation.

    What matters more to me is that there’s work being done. Chris invested resources to study a field, so that I don’t have to. He gets from it what he can. I would do the same with his work.

  22. BBD says:

    What matters more to me is that there’s work being done.

    Frank Zappa also once said: “Shut up and play your guitar!”

  23. Mitch says:

    I keep coming back to a simple observation that what is generally presented about how science is done is typically not what actually happens. Part of this is for clarity–when someone writes a scientific paper it is not useful to go through all the dead ends and backtracks. Part of this is because scientists want to be seen as rational and divorced from the emotions.

    STS is one way to understand how humans do science.

  24. izen says:

    @-W
    I am finding narrative increasingly unsatisfactory since the Rosenberg, ‘Why history gets things wrong’.

    STS starts to look like an episode of Game of Thrones, and all should be preceded by a large text warning;-
    The following is for entertainment only. Any similarity to real characters or events is entirely serendipitous.

  25. Willard says:

    > I am finding narrative increasingly unsatisfactory since the Rosenberg, ‘Why history gets things wrong’.

    Why of course izen. My note was tailored-made for you. I have an old-skool view of modeling: any structure with any interpretation counts as one. With loose enough conceptions of structure and interpretation, we can account for conceptual analysis, functional analysis, rational reconstruction, historical ontology, and whatnot. I favor a plurality of methods and tolerate most of them.

    Building scientific explanations with these framework is no trivial task. One difficulty is to account for inferences from partial data to general laws, i.e. abduction. Here’s a good thread on the difficulty:

    You might prefer this kind of discussion to storification, no doubt.

    This thread illustrates how cool teh tweeter can be as a teaching tool. Conferences could be turned into twitter threads. Less words, less flying, more eyeballs, more constructive tweeting.

  26. Everett F Sargent says:

    Deep Analogical Inference as the Origin of Hypotheses
    https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1197&context=jps

    5. CONCLUSIONS

    “The human capacity for generating hypotheses is a phenomenon that is difficult to characterize, mainly because any such characterization will have to be isotropic, open-ended, novel, grounded, sensible, psychologically realistic, and computationally tractable.”

    That statement appears to be just a itsy bitsy teenie weenie circular! Is that a hypothesis or a universally asserted law (like the laws of conservation)? It is left to reason that if something “is difficult to characterize” then maybe, just maybe, one would call into question those seven things that would appear to be the only unique set of property requirements themselves.

    I say off with their heads. :/

    At some point you need brand newest gatekeepers for the brand newer gatekeepers for the brand new gatekeepers for the … infinite regression. I’m going to get me a PhD from the Department of Gibberish in the year 2525. No further comment necessary or needed.

  27. Willard says:

    > That statement appears to be just a itsy bitsy teenie weenie circular!

    Those are fighting words, dear Everett, the kind one does not follow up with a question that shows you have not read the paper.

    At some point you might need to stop pulling my leg.

  28. Everett F Sargent says:

    [Chill or sit this one out. – W]

  29. jacksmith4tx says:

    Wish I could have come up with this idea but I must give credit to Nick Bostrom.
    “Which questions should we not ask and not try to answer?”

  30. David B. Benson says:

    Two New Books Dramatically Capture the Climate Change Crisis
    John Lanchester
    2019 Apr 12
    The New York Times

    reviews “The Uninhabitable Earth” by Wallace-Wells and “Losing Earth” by Rich. Since both have prophetic elements the books are not histories despite the subtitle of the Rich volume. Both are informed by science. Neither offers attempts at generalizations.

    Are these classified as STS studies? Irrespective of the answer, worthy of your attention.

  31. Everett F Sargent says:

    “Those are fighting words, dear Everett, the kind one does not follow up with a question that shows you have not read the paper.”

    I have now read the paper and my question still stands as it was originally intended.

    See their own discussion for heaven’s sake. It is essentially their own ‘so called’ theory without a flippin’ hypothesis to begin with in the first place. Therefore, their own premise is flawed. Their theory is not falsifiable. The paper is self referential and thus circular in its own reasoning. Stuff like “paradox” and “intractable” is like what?

    “In this paper we have proposed that the origin of hypotheses (otherwise known as abduction proper) may lie in deep analogical inference.”

    “We think that the approach is far from defeated and that the apparent intractability is no reason to reject analogical abduction proper, including its unification of six necessary properties.”

    “Hence, although our theory is not (yet) computationally tractable, it opens up the possibility for future exploration of ways in which its search-space can be constrained to render it tractable.”

    One example: “Novelty: A set of candidate hypotheses is novel if it can contain hypotheses that an individual has never generated before.” Which actually applies to their own paper’s theory. Thus circular logic and infinitely regressive (recursion, whatever, how prescient to know that BEFORE reading the paper).

    Bye. 😦

  32. izen says:

    @-W
    “My note was tailored-made for you. ”

    That manages to be both flattering and slightly creepy.

    @-“Building scientific explanations with these framework is no trivial task. One difficulty is to account for inferences from partial data to general laws, i.e. abduction. Here’s a good thread on the difficulty: [link] You might prefer this kind of discussion to storification, no doubt.”

    I will reserve judgement on the paper until I have more than skimmed it.

    I have been following a series that might fit the STS definition in that it follows individuals in a social network working on a scientific and technical problem within a specific historical context. Not sue it matches with anything discussed here.
    It is the development of the first computer, Colossus, at Bletchley park to decode the German high command Lorentz text.

  33. David B. Benson says:

    izen, thank you for the video. A long time ago I had a brief conversation with Jack Good and also on another occasion with Don Michie.

  34. Steven Mosher says:

    Willard thank you for the paper on abduction. Pierce fans rejoice. I think it might go underappreciated by some, but it is going into my treasured stack of recommended by willard.

  35. How about a post about what Crowther said in the Yahoo article. From the piece:

    It is “feedback loops” like that one that make climate change unpredictable and represent a threat of global warming spiraling out of control.

    “It’s already begun,” Thomas Crowther, professor in the Department of Environmental Systems Science of ETH Zurich, told Yahoo News. “The feedback is in process.”

    Crowther estimates that carbon dioxide and methane emissions from thawing soils are “accelerating climate change about 12 to 15 percent at the moment,” and said past IPCC reports that left out the feedback “were way more optimistic than they should have been.”

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/its-already-begun-feedback-loops-will-make-climate-change-even-worse-scientists-say-090000011.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cDovL3d3dy5yZWFsY2xpbWF0ZS5vcmcvaW5kZXgucGhwL2FyY2hpdmVzLzIwMTkvMDQvdW5mb3JjZWQtdmFyaWF0aW9ucy1hcHJpbC0yMDE5L2NvbW1lbnQtcGFnZS0yLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAC3ZdEn5acTcH7dpHsXVLtpWfxXt-2TTldWiJLH9ObeGh2O8Ab0ROWDcKZiBFNuTuEDOItVQpD4Ynl63UiBt3Geodpl9EFHTLRhzDFDrF9ogYa5mhmHyozbEcsi1Jqajj1Wm0LOfX5YZuKbDi2IWh3tI9RZvlKJ9S3Rh3ipauV32

    Cheers,

    Mike

  36. Snape says:

    A similar discussion could be around the question “is climate science trivial?” Would the conclusions drawn hold up to the same level of scrutiny that is applied to medicine, for example?

    Imagine a drug manufacturer making the following claim to the FDA, hoping their product will be approved:
    “Based on our understanding of biochemistry, and tested extensively by computer simulations, we declare this drug to be safe and effective.”

  37. Snape says:

    A proper test of AGW:
    Take 1000 planet Earths, circa 1850. Double CO2 levels to 500, the other 500 will be the control group.

    ******
    Does the lack of such rigorous testing mean climate science is flakey?

  38. Willard says:

    > I have now read the paper and my question still stands as it was originally intended.

    That’s better. Here’s the paragraph that answers your question and all the others you may have regarding what the authors are doing in that paper:

    In this paper we present a computational-level theory (Bechtel & Shagrir, 2015; Blokpoel, 2017; Marr, 1982) that aims to unify these seven properties. We propose this unification can be achieved by viewing the origin of hypotheses as a process of deep analogical inference. Whereas a single analogical inference finds one structural relation between two representations, deep analogical inference allows many consecutive and branching analogical inferences that lead to sets of candidate hypotheses. In the main paper, we focus on our theoretical contributions. We present a formal characterization of abductive inference and the origin of hypotheses. Throughout the paper, we will highlight how the computational-level theory incorporates these properties. For an illustrative case study on how the theory can explain abduction proper in communication, we refer the reader to the Appendix where we show how deep analogical inference can explain the interpretation of a communicative signal in a director-matcher-type communication game (de Ruiter, Noordzij, Newman-Norlund, Hagoort, & Toni, 2007).

    As you can see, the authors are trying to offer a computation theory of abductive inference. It should cover any abductive task. There is no constraint on the kind of hypothesis, in principle it includes any regularity, thus universal laws.

    This paragraph also counters the charge of circularity as far as I can understand it. The gist of their argument goes like this:

    (P1) Abduction should follow these seven properties
    (P2) Here’s a computational theory to tackle them.
    (C) There’s some deep analogical reasoning going on.

    A note on circularity. When applied to reasoning, it usually refers to an argument, not a single claim. Claims that are said to be circular are usually definitions. I see no circularity either way in the authors’ argument. The gap between the premises and the conclusion clearly indicates that reflexivity is satisfied too – the argument isn’t closed under deduction, i.e. there’s more information in the conclusion than in the premises.

    The authors don’t claim that the properties in P1 are novel – they present them as criterias for their theory. The novelty is the production of a computational theory and the suggestion of some kind of deep analogical inference for abduction. The two first authors are computer scientists. The other two are cognitive scientists. No philosopher has been harmed in the making of that paper.

  39. Snape: Note I for “Impossible Expectations”

    If drug companies didn’t have the possibility of e.g. randomised trials, then yes, we would have to make do with that kind of evidence, or go without medicines.

    Of course, I don’t think that is what was meant by “trivial” anyway.

  40. Snape says:

    “If drug companies didn’t have the possibility of e.g. randomised trials, then yes, we would have to make do with that kind of evidence, or go without medicines.”

    And you would call someone skeptical of claims made by the drug company a science denier?

  41. Willard says:

    Don’t play Socrates, Snape. Make your point.

    This is not a #ButDenier thread, btw.

  42. russellseitz says:

    “we consign ourselves to trivial work if we are a community of scholars in the humanities and social sciences who communicate only with each other.”
    Each time you find yourself at an STS seminar touching on science policy, ask the chair for a show of hands to see if the political diversity of the panel and audience equals that of the electorate at large.

    Don’t be surprised if if you discover unanimity to be the norm.

  43. Snape says:

    Willard
    I was hoping to broaden the conversation.
    The host wrote, “So, my question was essentially how can STS draw any broad conclusions from its studies if there isn’t something akin to the standard scientific process?”

    I’ve seen a similar question posited elsewhere, except referring to climate science instead of STS. Their argument being that if standard testing methods (see my comment upthread) can’t be used to verify the conclusions of climate scientists, why should they be taken seriously?

  44. Willard says:

    > I was hoping to broaden the conversation.

    Just asking questions for the sake of a tu quoque does not sound very conversational to me. If you find that line of argument interesting, go ahead. Be nice. Show your hand up front.

    Besides, I’m not sure what you mean by “their argument.” Are you referring to someone who would say to why are you a contrarian:

    Because I’m not totally gullible

    Also because all the arguments by warmists fall apart when rationally scrutinized. It doesn’t take a lot of smarts to see that their whole case is bogus

    ADD. I don’t want to have to search for that argument myself.

  45. Willard says:

    Perhaps we’re just adding footnotes to Eli’s:

    Eli suggested something else [at Sabine’s] and the Bunny would like to discuss it here, especially as his responses appear to have issues getting through there besides which he could use the hits and values the occasional intelligent comment.

    It ties back to discussions ongoing where science is under attack, the existence of a consensus and why such a consensus exists. The sorely missed Andy Skuce had a nice post and Michael Tobis has always skillfully parsed that problem. Eli has also played in the sandbox, most recently pointing out that the consensus is created by a coherent and consilient set of models or three Cs

    By this is meant that the theory does not contradict itself, that it explains a great deal, both of the observations as well as extending beyond the immediate issue under consideration. To this Eli wants to add another C, concise.

    Especially for physics, concise takes the place of beauty.

    http://rabett.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-4-cs-of-physics.html

    One way to meet the contrarian’s challenge (i.e. what if I told you AGW would not pass double blind tests) would be to appeal to consilience. Not only AGW is the best explanation we have, but it’s backed up by many lines of evidence.

    The problem underlined in the paper about abduction cited above is that inference to the best explanation is a hard problem from a computational point of view. Trying to mechanicize it would exhaust the resources of the universe. We still need scientists’ judgments for a while.

    This might not be the case for ClimateBall:

  46. Snape says:

    Willard
    Tu quoquo: “if you think STS is a flaky branch of science, then why don’t you think climate science is flaky? After all, both are lacking in scientific methods available to other branches.”

    That was NOT my intent. For one, I don’t know enough about STS to form an opinion. Second, I have great respect for climate science, but think the questions I asked are worth discussing. With that in mind, I very much liked your response,

    “One way to meet the contrarian’s challenge (i.e. what if I told you AGW would not pass double blind tests) would be to appeal to consilience. Not only AGW is the best explanation we have, but it’s backed up by many lines of evidence.”
    ********

    “Because I’m not totally gullible
    Also because all the arguments by warmists fall apart when rationally scrutinized. It doesn’t take a lot of smarts to see that their whole case is bogus”

    Written by someone (not terribly bright) who goes by “Joel-Snape”. Not me.

    ******
    As for computer models and AI? As an avid chess player it’s impossible not to be in awe:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaZero

  47. izen says:

    @-Snape
    “Does the lack of such rigorous testing mean climate science is flakey?”

    No, it is significant that you are using the same objections that are made to evolution by creationists.
    The accusation that a historical science that has only one instance of a process that has to be observed in its contingent effects disqualifies it as a ‘science’ is a nonsense.

    It just ends up making you look like you are both egregiously ignorant about how science works and maliciously exploiting that ignorance in others to promote your own biases.

  48. snape “And you would call someone skeptical of claims made by the drug company a science denier?”

    I tend not to call people “deniers”, but am happy to talk about [psychological] denial, so “no”. Skepticism and denial are not the same thing. Genuine skeptics question science, but listen to the answers.

  49. Steven Mosher says:

    nice willard .the paper also cites lakoff and johnson

  50. Steven Mosher says:

    to understand abduction.
    a. evidence.
    b. related knowledge.
    c. potential hypotheses or explanations.

    a. you see a tiny shift in a stars doppler.
    b. knowledege of orbital physics..

    now explain that.. i give you 51 chances
    to peg it.

    suppose the thing you hypothesize is big.
    and close to the star, too big according to some theories… what just so story do you construct.?

  51. Steven,
    I was going to ask if you were aware of the history of exoplanet detection, but then I pegged that you clearly were.

  52. Depends which is the more beautiful? (I was given Sabine Hossenfelder’s book “lost in Math” for my birthday ;o)

  53. As Steven is alluding to, the first exoplanet discovered around a Sun-like star was discovered aroung 51 Pegasi and was found to have an orbital period of 4.2 days and a mass of about half a Jupiter mass. This was clearly a surprise, since the massive planets in our own system orbit much further from the Sun than this planet orbits its host star (it is closer to its host star than Mercury is to the Sun).

    However, it turns out that there were papers published in the late 1970s (here) and early 1980s (here) that considered how objects might evolve in discs around young stars. So, the theoretical explanation had essentially been developed, but noone had really considered that maybe we should be looking for massive planets on orbits very close to their parent stars.

  54. The best place to find a new theory is in an old journal ;o)

  55. Willard says:

    Snape,

    Fair enough. My point is that if you think a question is worth exploring, go first and explore it yourself. Joel already commented here a few years ago. He certainly has not your playstyle. I stumbled upon that comment when looking for where you may have heard the argument to which you alluded. It led me to an interesting list of contrarian arguments by some Richard Evans.

    Exchanges flow best when everyone contribute.

    ***

    My response is borrowed from William Whewell. It also echoes Sherlock Holmes’ idea that once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Inference to the best explanation is so far the best explanation we have of scientific explanation.

    The jury is still out as to how human reasoning enables it. The model presented above is more in line with Good Ol’ AI. Its main advantage is modularity. This contrasts with connexionnist approaches like Alpha. Both have their weaknesses, both have strengths too.

    I may return to it when I get to chat with a philosopher of smell, after she finishes her book.

  56. Everett F Sargent says:

    “So, the theoretical explanation had essentially been developed, but noone had really considered that maybe we should be looking for massive planets on orbits very close to their parent stars.”

    Are you sure about that?

    Because, it would seem obvious, especially in hindsight, for a given S/N ratio, you have to pick up the easy stuff 1st (big-fast-close).

    Just asking or wanting to know. Thanks.

  57. EFS,
    All I mean is that when that planet was discovered, many people realised that it probably meant that it had migrated inwards through the disc in which it had formed and that the theoretical calculations that one could use to determine how this might work had already been developed. For example, this is the paper that first tried to explain its origin and it referred back to lots of work that had taken place in the 1970s and 1980s.

  58. Willard says:

    We must go beyond STS:

  59. Everett F Sargent says:

    NAS
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Academy_of_Sciences
    is really …
    National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Academies_of_Sciences,_Engineering,_and_Medicine

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Academies_of_Sciences,_Engineering,_and_Medicine#Program_units
    “There are seven major divisions: Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Division of Earth and Life Studies, Division of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Health and Medicine Division, Policy and Global Affairs Division, Transportation Research Board, and the Gulf Research Program.[12]”
    (I didn’t already know that last part, divisions)

    Gulf Research Program?

    STEM is STEM and still is all inclusive under the rubric of science (of which there are thousands, at least).

    Teaching medicine in grade school has already been tried and shown to fail …
    Jethro Bodine
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beverly_Hillbillies#Jethro_Bodine
    “He once struggled between becoming a brain surgeon or a fry cook.”

  60. Snape says:

    Izen: “No, it is significant that you are using the same objections that are made to evolution by creationists.”
    Me: tu quoque? (hat tip to Willard, I had to look it up on Wikipedia)
    Izen: “The accusation that a historical science that has only one instance of a process that has to be observed in its contingent effects disqualifies it as a ‘science’ is a nonsense.”
    Me: I asked a question. It was not meant as an accusation. Look, the big challenge for climate science is the lack of a scientific control. It can’t be helped – there’s just one Earth – but it’s still a problem. That’s the idea I thought was worth discussing……how big a problem?

  61. Willard says:

    > That’s the idea I thought was worth discussing……how big a problem?

    I won’t ask a third time, Snape.

    You have a point. Make it.

  62. izen says:

    @-Snape
    “Look, the big challenge for climate science is the lack of a scientific control.”

    It is not a problem for climate science any more than it is a problem for evolution, or exo-planet detection.
    Not all science has the option or the possibility of having a ‘scientific control’ by which I think you mean a possibility of repeating the process under controlled laboratory conditions. Not all science has the option of direct observation of the processes, as in the theories that explain the conclusions of evolution, exo-planets or climate change.
    What stops them from being ‘flaky’ is that aspects of the physical, chemical and biological processes CAN be tested under lab conditions, and the inferences, or even abductions reached are predictive and consilient with the wider field of knowledge we have.

    Trying to ‘just raise it as a question’ is not only a tu quoque, but because it is wrong about the scientific method, automatically labels you as a bad faith and/or ignorant participant.

  63. russellseitz says:

    dikranmarsupial says:
    April 30, 2019 at 1:37 pm
    The best place to find a new theory is in an old journal ;o)

    Dikran hasa point- an amazing document has resurfaced from archival obscurity. It shifts the foundational narrative of modern climate policy back to the relative prehistory of 1965, and re-centers Revelle, Keeling and Broecker in the Presidential advisory process.
    .
    Its most remarkable paragraph is posted at

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2019/04/and-godfather-of-solar-radiation.html

  64. Steven Mosher says:

    “Steven,
    I was going to ask if you were aware of the history of exoplanet detection, but then I pegged that you clearly were.”

    haha glad you got the joke

    Here is how I see it.

    In abduction we start with evidence and some background theory and then a hypothesis is generated to explain the evidence. Note, there are always multiple hypothesis ( or stories)
    that could explain the evidence. In Pierce’s formulation the evidence was typically something
    surprising, something novel. But any way you get the structure.

    In the case of Peg, the hypothesis is that this anomaly in doppler is caused by a planet.
    Assuming a planet makes sense of the evidence in light of the background knowledge of orbital physics. And then Prg turns out to be pretty large which is also surprsing, and so we have another
    story that explains how this COULD HAVE happened.

    The point is none of these could have stories are PRESENTLY directly testable. They are testable in principle
    so they have empirical content, its just that we cant go out and test them at will.

    Now with the stories that science tells in these situations there will be times when two or more stories conflict, and the question is how is this conflict resolved.

    Later I will comment on how STS and even the arts have this same structure of explanation
    but no clear way of deciding between stories.

  65. Everett F Sargent says:

    Let me give it a try …

    5.2 Computer methods and the ‘third way’ of doing science
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-method/#ComMetThiWayDoiSci
    (that would just be a starting point to a full on discussion)
    Types of experiment
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experiment#Types_of_experiment
    (ditto)
    Computational science in engineering
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_science#Computational_science_in_engineering
    “Computational science and engineering (CSE) is a relatively new discipline that deals with the development and application of computational models and simulations, often coupled with high-performance computing, to solve complex physical problems arising in engineering analysis and design (computational engineering) as well as natural phenomena (computational science). CSE has been described as the “third mode of discovery” (next to theory and experimentation).[10]”

    Computational engineering
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_engineering
    “Computational science and engineering (CSE) is a relatively new discipline that deals with the development and application of computational models and simulations, often coupled with high-performance computing, to solve complex physical problems arising in engineering analysis and design (computational engineering) as well as natural phenomena (computational science).”
    Applications (same url)
    “Environmental Engineering and Numerical weather prediction: climate research, Computational geophysics (seismic processing), modeling of natural disasters”

    The “relatively new discipline” is not exactly true, at least not from my own research experiences (or others climate scientist experiences)

    If you believe that science MUST include a double blind method then you would be WRONG! :/

  66. Steven Mosher says:

    In short I’m prepared to argue that the study of the arts is an observational science.
    without good methods for deciding between competing explanations.

    You are left with this

    Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
    BY WALLACE STEVENS
    I
    Among twenty snowy mountains,
    The only moving thing
    Was the eye of the blackbird.

    II
    I was of three minds,
    Like a tree
    In which there are three blackbirds.

    III
    The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
    It was a small part of the pantomime.

    IV
    A man and a woman
    Are one.
    A man and a woman and a blackbird
    Are one.

    V
    I do not know which to prefer,
    The beauty of inflections
    Or the beauty of innuendoes,
    The blackbird whistling
    Or just after.

    VI
    Icicles filled the long window
    With barbaric glass.
    The shadow of the blackbird
    Crossed it, to and fro.
    The mood
    Traced in the shadow
    An indecipherable cause.

    VII
    O thin men of Haddam,
    Why do you imagine golden birds?
    Do you not see how the blackbird
    Walks around the feet
    Of the women about you?

    VIII
    I know noble accents
    And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
    But I know, too,
    That the blackbird is involved
    In what I know.

    IX
    When the blackbird flew out of sight,
    It marked the edge
    Of one of many circles.

    X
    At the sight of blackbirds
    Flying in a green light,
    Even the bawds of euphony
    Would cry out sharply.

    XI
    He rode over Connecticut
    In a glass coach.
    Once, a fear pierced him,
    In that he mistook
    The shadow of his equipage
    For blackbirds.

    XII
    The river is moving.
    The blackbird must be flying.

    XIII
    It was evening all afternoon.
    It was snowing
    And it was going to snow.
    The blackbird sat
    In the cedar-limbs.

    Willard will get this

    Anyways, there are 13 ways of looking at a crow.
    One response of course is to try to decide THE right way of looking at a crow.

    as if.

    Now, I used to study with this guy, a Lakota. And he always looked for the same things in Poems.
    I enjoyed his way of looking at things. mine was different. Stevens celebrates our difference.
    funny
    Any way, I made a prediction how my old friend would read Steven’s poem. I know how
    he makes sense of things. he has his way, I have mine. There is no need to decide.
    He helps me see things I would not see and hear things I missed.
    I found this from 2015.

    http://www.modernamericanpoetry.org/criticism/kenneth-lincoln-thirteen-ways-looking-blackbird

    I was right. I always enjoy Kenneth’s making sense of things. He makes sense of this thing,
    Stevens poem, using his own particular background knowledge. He is always finding the trickster somewhere, I was always finding the philosophy somewhere.

    Do I need to decide if his hypothesis about this thing is THE correct one? or can I just enjoy
    not knowing. Negative capibility. I choose not to decide. I choose to sit in Kenneth’s sweat lodge and experience his way of looking at the crow. Enriches me. I havent talked to kenneth since 1985. 30 years later he still views the world through the same lens. I guess it works for him.
    why would I want to change that.

  67. Everett F Sargent says:

    SM,

    I won’t be drawn into an art is science discussion, but I thought you (and even ATTP) might find this interesting …
    Swirling patterns in Starry Night match those in gassy star nurseries
    https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/04/what-starry-night-has-in-common-with-gassy-clouds-where-stars-are-born/
    “Several of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings show evidence of turbulent scaling. The bold blue and yellow swirls of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889) share turbulent properties with the molecular clouds that give birth to stars.”

  68. Steven Mosher says:

    “I won’t be drawn into an art is science discussion, but I thought you (and even ATTP) might find this interesting …”

    Not what I said.

    maybe I wasnt clear.

    This quote from the paper may help

    “We propose this unification can be achieved by viewing the origin of hypotheses as a process of deep analogical inference. ”

    Short version
    1. Some observation science employs abduction, arguing to “the best explanation”
    2. The process of abduction has its orgins in deep analogical inference

    abduction and deep analogical inference is the same method used to UNDERSTAND and offer explanations of cultural artifacts

    In short, at the bottom the same cognitive methods are used in the study of the natural world and the study of the cultural world.

    The main diference I see is the sciences tend toward consensus while the application of the same methods do not tend toward consensus where cultural artifacts are the subject matter.

    But why should we want or expect consensus WRT cultural artefacts?
    celebrate diversity

  69. izen says:

    Here is an example of science, statistical analysis of structure, used to explain diversity in cultural artefacts.

  70. Everett F Sargent says:

    Hey, I’m famous (almost, download the PDF, see my 1D and 2D OTEC numerical and experimental efforts, Jirka, GH).
    Engineering: Cornell Quarterly, Vol.17, No.1 (Summer 1982): Thinking Big About Our Energy Future
    https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/2420
    https://scholar.google.com/scholar?start=0&q=fe+sargent+gh+jirka&hl=en&as_sdt=0,25&as_vis=1
    Two peer reviewed papers and two DOE reports and one MS thesis.

    Who here can claim that they were researching alternative energy sources circa 1978?

    Bye. 🙂

  71. Steven,

    Now with the stories that science tells in these situations there will be times when two or more stories conflict, and the question is how is this conflict resolved.

    Later I will comment on how STS and even the arts have this same structure of explanation
    but no clear way of deciding between stories.

    I think this is essentially what I’m getting at. I think there is a great deal of value in documenting events. A great deal of value in describing what’s going on around us. There’s clearly value in trying to see if there are any patterns. However, if you don’t have an underlying framework on which to base your assessment you have to be really careful as to what you infer from your observations.

    It seems odd to me that a discipline that feels in a position to comment on the replication, and reproducibility, crisis, doesn’t seem to realise that much of this is based on poor metholodogy in terms of how one infers broader conclusions from some research projects.

  72. Everett F Sargent says:

    SM, SM, the link, the link 😦
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy_Island

    I took someone else’s advice have chilled and am sitting this one out (I only needed to say one follow on comment, if you have not noticed). I’m moving on.

  73. @russellseitz I wonder what the albedo of the great Pacific garbage patch actually is! ;o)

  74. David B. Benson says:

    STS is an historical science, akin to African Studies, etc., in that regard. As such it is just descriptive in the main. Doesn’t seem to offer predictions, at least not ones other than the obvious.

  75. Snape says:

    izen
    “Not all science has the option or the possibility of having a ‘scientific control’ by which I think you mean a possibility of repeating the process under controlled laboratory conditions.”

    Controlled laboratory conditions? No, I’m just talking about “with versus without”:
    “An experiment should include an experimental group and a control group. The control group is what the experimental group is compared against.”

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.livescience.com/20896-science-scientific-method.html

    If I wanted to test the effectiveness of a fertilizer, I could plant 2 groups of 50 little tomato plants in my yard. Similar lighting, water, etc. One group would get the fertilizer (experimental group), the other group wouldn’t (control group). That way I could compare “with versus without”. It’s a basic idea, used in all sorts of sciences. It’s even found its way into sports (plus/minus).

    But if we ask the question, “how much warmer is Earth as a result of GHG emissions?”, there is no “control Earth” by which to make a comparison. The problem extends to changes in cloud cover, ice extent, weather patterns, ocean currents and so on. Trying to separate AGW from natural variability therefore becomes a monumental task. A high tech guessing game. The changes can’t simply be measured (like measuring the difference in height between a fertilized and unfertilized tomato plant), they have to be calculated or simulated. Years of study and research.

    Consider the so-called “hiatus” (yes, it was only a slower rate of warming): If the atmosphere had remained at ~ 280 ppm CO2 during those 14 years, it might have been a period of pronounced cooling (my hunch). As it is, we’ll never know. All we have is an experimental group, so to speak, and lack a control group to compare it with.

    I don’t think this inherent problem means climate science is flaky. Not at all. It does add a measure of uncertainty to the results and projections though.

    I regret having put out such a dumb question! Lots of insults (probably deserved), little in the way of conversation.

  76. Snape,

    But if we ask the question, “how much warmer is Earth as a result of GHG emissions?”, there is no “control Earth” by which to make a comparison.

    No, but we do have Venus, which tells us something about what happens if all of it ends up in the atmosphere. We do have Mars, which tells us what happens if you lose most of your atmosphere. We do have the Moon, which tells us what happens if you have essentially no atmosphere. We do have Milankovitch cycles, which tell us what happens if CO2 and albedo vary in a state that is similar to the state we’re today. We also have the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) which tells us something about what might happen if we release a lot of CO2. We have an understanding of radiative physics (i.e., what are the radiative properties of CO2 and water vapour). We have satellite measurements of the outgoing spectrum. We have measurements on the ground of the downwelling spectrum. We have detailed models that incorporate both radiative transfer and dynamics. etc.

    We might not have a perfect control, but we do have lots of information that constrains our understanding of the system and how it is likely to respond to perturbations. Information is also presented with uncertainties, to take some of this into account.

  77. Everett F Sargent says:

    Numerical modelling of two Earths:

    Figure 10.1 | (Left-hand column) Three observational estimates of global mean surface temperature (GMST, black lines) from Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit gridded surface temperature data set 4 (HadCRUT4), Goddard Institute of Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP), and Merged Land–Ocean Surface Temperature Analysis (MLOST), compared to model simulations [CMIP3 models – thin blue lines and CMIP5 models – thin yellow lines] with anthropogenic and natural forcings (a), natural forcings only (b) and greenhouse gas (GHG) forcing only (c). Thick red and blue lines are averages across all available CMIP5 and CMIP3 simulations respectively. CMIP3 simulations were not available for GHG forcing only (c). All simulated and observed data were masked using the HadCRUT4 coverage (as this data set has the most restricted spatial coverage), and global average anomalies are shown with respect to 1880–1919, where all data are first calculated as anomalies relative to 1961–1990 in each grid box. Inset to (b) shows the three observational data sets distinguished by different colours. (Adapted from Jones et al., 2013.) (Right-hand column) Net adjusted forcing in CMIP5 models due to anthropogenic and natural forcings (d), natural forcings only (e) and GHGs only (f). (From Forster et al., 2013.) Individual ensemble members are shown by thin yellow lines, and CMIP5 multi-model means are shown as thick red lines.

    FAQ 10.1, Figure 1 | (Left) Time series of global and annual-averaged surface temperature change from 1860 to 2010. The top left panel shows results from two ensemble of climate models driven with just natural forcings, shown as thin blue and yellow lines; ensemble average temperature changes are thick blue and red lines. Three different observed estimates are shown as black lines. The lower left panel shows simulations by the same models, but driven with both natural forcing and human-induced changes in greenhouse gases and aerosols. (Right) Spatial patterns of local surface temperature trends from 1951 to 2010. The upper panel shows the pattern of trends from a large ensemble of Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) simulations driven with just natural forcings. The bottom panel shows trends from a corresponding ensemble of simulations driven with natural + human forcings. The middle panel shows the pattern of observed trends from the Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit gridded surface temperature data set 4 (HadCRUT4) during this period.

    SOURCE: IPCC AR5 WG1 CHAPTER 10 DETECTION AND ATTRIBUTION OF CLIMATE CHANGE: FROM GLOBAL TO REGIONAL

  78. russellseitz says:

    The wombat with the hat asks:
    ” I wonder what the albedo of the great Pacific garbage patch actually is! ;o)”

    Since whitecaps may cover more of the gyre than plastic, it’s not an easy call. As derelict fish nets mostly come in Dayglow colors, spectral peaks corresponding to fluorescein and rhodamine may help map the flotsam density.

  79. Snape says:

    ATTP
    I can’t find anything in what you wrote to disagree with!

    Honestly, what has struck me most while reading this blog has nothing to do with science. It’s the quality of writing. Not what I would have expected from people with a background in physics. You and Steve Mosher, Willard, several others – really impressive. Your comments are a pleasure to read even when the argument fails. 😏

    ******
    Paul: snapes are a lot harder to catch than snipe.

  80. Snape, they have no idea. I heard the grunion are running. Don’t tell Granny.

  81. Willard says:

    > even when the argument fails.

    The argument needs to be made before it fails. The argument has been made many times before. My own version includes Earth Holodecks.

    Perhaps there’s a way to connect most of what has been said. Natural sciences deserve respect by virtue of offering explanations that help us control and predict. Social sciences delve into muddier waters to fish out interpretations that can illuminate how people ordinarily work, including natural scientists. The division of epistemic labour works fine until one side tries to second guess the other a bit too much for its own good.

    However hard we may try to formalize that guessing game, the facts of the matter are that we don’t know how we discover things and how we infer regularities from them. We have educated guesses about these phenomena. One of them is inference to the best explanation. While plausible as a just-so story, it cannot be a realistic model for human reasoning. The cognitive processes need to be juiced with something. One guess among many is deep analogy. I’m sure there are others.

    Working by analogy saves time, compacts information, and is fun to do. It also mobilizes pattern recognition. A recent example:

    The devil, as always, lies in the details. If I was into (philosophy of) literature, I’d be interested to test that hypothesis. That is, I’d check if the narrative structures of folktales can help us understand political issues surrounding liberties, rights, and responsibilities. Perhaps this has already been done – I know that Martha Nussbaum worked on the connection between moral theories and literature. Knowing myself, I won’t exploit this idea, except as a topic of party conversation. Devil stories are more intriguing than Twitter fights.

    I’m paying lip service to disciplines ranging from complexity theory to literature in the same comment to make a point. Humanities do not force anyone to clean up a tiny room. As long as there’s ground to put one foot in front of another, it does not matter much if the pace goes from sentence to sentence or to centuries to the next. As long as the journey is fertile enough to provide something to see, an essay toward an understanding that may not look rigorous, but that in the end may proceed the same way physicists would.

    At least that’s how I understand Mosh’s point.

  82. Steven Mosher says:

    “At least that’s how I understand Mosh’s point.”

    I think you get my basic point.

    Having lived on both sides of the two cultures, I tend to see the similarities..
    lets say at the deep analogical level. lets say that at some level I find that
    the cognitive process on each side is more similar than different at least in my case.
    in the end we are always trying to make sense of things.

    Of course there are differences, there are always differences.

    We could go into those differences, but my sense is that people will try (always) to create a hierachy once an opposition is created.

    anyway for those interested, this was influential on me

    https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/bo3637992.html

  83. David B. Benson says:

    American geographer Jared Diamond, famous for his “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, has just published “Upheaval, Turning Points for Nations in Crises”.

    I shouldn’t call it an STS study, but rather a form of history.

  84. Steven Mosher says:

    “I think this is essentially what I’m getting at. I think there is a great deal of value in documenting events. A great deal of value in describing what’s going on around us. There’s clearly value in trying to see if there are any patterns. However, if you don’t have an underlying framework on which to base your assessment you have to be really careful as to what you infer from your observations.”

    I would say this

    Lets just speak generally about the sciences. There will come times when Multiple theories explain the same evidence ( see underdetermination if you like) And in general over time one explanation
    wins out.

    lets take a hypothesis of how the dinosaurs died since prediction is kinda off the table.
    In the end, one story of how this happened wins

    1. We have a unique event
    2. We cant set up a controlled experiment
    3. We have competing explanations.

    In the end, one wins out? How? because it explains more? How do we measure explaining more?
    because one explnation is simpler? How do you measure complexity?
    Because it is consistent with other facts? etc etc. Sometimes these arguments go on for decades
    perhaps they never get resolved. But you would not argue that its not science, merely because there is no formula or canonical method for chossing which explnation should be favored.

    Now lets take an cultural artefact. take an authors poem. Unique event. And folks who work
    on this stuff try to make sense of it. They look at all his works, they look at his letters, at the history when it wrote it and they try to make sense of the thing. Suppose my native american indian mentor does this. he will use a framwork to understand the thing. In the end he will fit all the pieces together
    in a coherent account of how this happened and what it means.

    I do the same thing as he does and account for the same things, but from a different perspective
    We have two hypothesis about this thing. But no way to decide. No rule, no canonical formula that says choose explanation B

    So there are multiple frameworks for understanding the thing, but no agreed upon way of choosing between frameworks.

    and no need to.

    because the aim is not progress but enlightenment or wisdom.

  85. Steven Mosher says:

    “Here is an example of science, statistical analysis of structure, used to explain diversity in cultural artefacts.”

    Thank you thank you thank you.

    jesus.. ya know years ago ( 1981-5) when I tried to apply stats to arts.. well lets just say
    it was not very popular with either side of the divide

    When I first came to korea in 1987 I wanted to stay because everything sounded like poetry to me
    Needless to say the boss demanded I come home

    Vowels

    Now the next topic would be how engineers from different cultures design things differently

  86. Snape says:

    An analogy (not very deep) came to mind that helped me understand the GHE. I pictured a bulldozer pushing a pile of dirt over a ledge. If the bulldozer was moving at say 2 mph, dirt would be falling at a particular rate, dependent on the size of the pile.

    A larger pile would allow the bulldozer to potentially travel at 1/2 the speed, but push the same amount as before.

    ******
    Applied to AGW: A larger and larger pile of energy is traveling to space at a slower and slower speed.

  87. izen says:

    @-SM
    “Now lets take an cultural artefact. take an authors poem. Unique event. And folks who work
    on this stuff try to make sense of it. … there are multiple frameworks for understanding the thing, but no agreed upon way of choosing between frameworks. and no need to. because the aim is not progress but enlightenment or wisdom.”

    I am reminded of I A Richards book Practical Criticism
    https://archive.org/details/practicalcritici030142mbp/page/n37
    In which he presented a number of poems to English students and teachers at a university and asked for responses.
    However he did not reveal the authorship of the poems.

    The critiques revealed a lot of personal biases that he classifies under different types.
    Without a clue as too the status of the author, ‘bad’ poets were often lauded and famous poets were often dismissed. D H Lawrence got the worst score…
    It is a reminder that when faced with art, (or even a good bottle of wine), it is not the artefact that is being judged when you form an opinion.

  88. Snape says:

    Maybe science could be defined as an objective study of something, whereas the study of poetry, for example, where results and conclusions differ from one person to another, and there is inherently no way of proving whose are better or more true, should be called something else?

    The study of dinosaurs sounds like the latter but is different. With advances in technology it may be possible to someday determine who is right and who is wrong – meaning the differences are practically irreconcilable but not inherently irreconcilable.

  89. Snape. Science can’t absolutely prove *anything*; dinosaurs are no different from other sciences in that respect – it is inevitably a matter of degree, rather than substance IMHO.

  90. Steven Mosher says:

    “I am reminded of I A Richards book Practical Criticism
    https://archive.org/details/practicalcritici030142mbp/page/n37
    In which he presented a number of poems to English students and teachers at a university and asked for responses.
    However he did not reveal the authorship of the poems.”

    Yes I A Richards, required reading if you specialize in critical theory.
    He inspired a lot of the work I did, but it was just one framework.

    His work with Ogden was also good.

    New criticism had its day in the sun.

  91. Steven Mosher says:

    D H Lawrence got the worst score.

    yes, he sucks.

  92. Willard says:

    The Man Who Loved Islands is one of my favorite short stories.

    Reminds me of seasteading:

    A pirate’s life ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be: A bitcoin couple is sought by Thai authorities after trying to make a lawless, tax-free home on the sea outside Phuket island. If convicted, the duo face a potential death penalty for violating Thailand’s sovereignty.

    https://qz.com/1600609/seasteading-cabin-could-bring-bitcoin-couple-death-penalty/

  93. Snape says:

    “Snape. Science can’t absolutely prove *anything*;”

    Ate you 100% sure about that?

  94. Willard says:

    What do you mean by “100% sure,” Snape?

  95. Yes. For a start, how can I be sure I am not living in a VR simulation of a universe and my observations are real?

    AIUI, it all starts from Hume pointing out that we can have no certain knowledge of causality by purely empirical means, so certain knowledge is only as certain as the assumptions used to augment our observations and experiment.

    However, I am not an expert on this, it is just something I find interesting.

  96. Snape says:

    To be 100% sure about something means you have absolutely no doubt that it’s true. Should a scientist be 100% sure about something that can’t be proven with 100% certainty?

  97. Should anyone be absolutely without doubt about anything that isn’t a tautology?

    Seriously, if you need absolutely certain knowledge stick to mathematics (and even then, try and avoid thinking about the foundational difficulties there as well)

  98. Snape says:

    My point being, if the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” is true, then it’s possible that the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything” is not true.

  99. dikranmarsupial says:

    Yawn.

    Hint: it isn’t science that established that we can have no certain knowledge of causal relations in the real world via purely empirical means.

  100. Snape,
    Science can’t *prove* things to 100% true. However, it test some things so thoroughly that it becomes virtually certain that it is essentially [true]. Also, there are cases where we can be confident of something in some circumstances, but be aware that it may not apply in all circumstances. We’ve used Newtonian gravity to land objects on comets, put rovers on Mars, people on the Moon, etc. We can be extremely confident that Newtonian gravity provides an excellent explanation for dynamics on Solar System-like scales.

    Does it apply at all scales? It might, but there are still people doing serious research on the possibility that there needs to be some modification at larger scales. Many people still regard Dark Matter as a more likely explanation for some of these observations, but we haven’t ruled out that gravity doesn’t work the same at larger scales as it does at Solar System-like scales.

  101. “However, it test some things so thoroughly that it becomes virtually certain that it is essentially. ”

    Exactly. The problem with e.g. climate skepticism is that nothing can be established beyond unreasonable doubt, because nothing can be proven absolutely. And we have gone back to the point where I came in.

  102. Willard says:

    > My point being

    Wait, Snape.

    Are you suggesting that your question was a point?

  103. Snape says:

    Hint: I never said science made the claim.

  104. Willard says:

    What kind of questions is usually used for points one has not the fortrightness to make directly?

  105. izen says:

    @-Snape
    “My point being, if the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” is true, then it’s possible that the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything” is not true.”

    You need to do a bit of study on logic as well as how science works.

    Suppose we have a large jar of sweets in front of us with an unknown whole number of sweets.
    If I claim there is definitely an even number of sweets in the jar you can logically deduce that until they are counted the claim is wrong because it is unsupported by the evidence.
    But that does not mean that the number of sweets is therefore odd.
    Logically that is an equally unsupported claim.
    However it is an inherent property of number theory that the number of sweets is either odd or even.

    The claim that the small, regular changes in intensity and/or frequency of light from distant stars indicates there are planets orbiting those stars cannot be supported by having a ‘control’ star without planets for comparison.
    The conclusion is a credible theory because it is supported by the consilience of evidence from our current knowledge of physics.
    To cast doubt on that conclusion without proposing an alternative hypothesis that is equally consistent with current knowledge and explains the observations without invoking extra unknown or unknowable factors would be almost as ridiculous as denying that the jar contained a countable number of sweets.

  106. Willard says:

    > To be 100% sure about something means you have absolutely no doubt that it’s true.

    What does having absolutely no doubt mean?

  107. snape said “My point being, if the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” is true, then it’s possible that the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything” is not true.” [emphasis mine]

    snape said “Hint: I never said science made the claim.”

    This is very obviously transparent sophistry, and justifies my earlier expression of boredom at the above attempt at Godelian paradox.

  108. Willard says:

    > I never said science made the claim.

    What did you say, then?

  109. snape said “My point being, if the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” is true, then it’s possible that the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything” is not true.” [emphasis mine]

    snape said “Hint: I never said science made the claim.”

    To demonstrate why this is wrong, lets assume that science didn’t make this claim, and instead it was made by David Hume. Then Snape’s point would be “if Hume’s claim that “Science can’t absolutely prove anything” is true, then it is possible that the claim “Science can’t absolutely prove anything” is not true” is a non-sequitur because it would require doubt as to whether Hume, the source of the claim, could prove the claim, not science, the subject of the claim.

  110. Snape brings up some of the usual issues surrounding validation. What can you do when a controlled experiment is not available to substantiate a theory? At the last AGU, I presented various validation approaches that included temporal cross-validation, frequency cross-validation, common-mode validation, geophysical model validation, proxy validation, frequency-domain autocorrelation, and multiple-time-scale validation.

    Yet, it remains a never-ending struggle to validate because someone will still demand that the only true climate validation is to make a prediction and wait 100 years.

  111. Snape says:

    dikranmarsupial,Willard

    “A premise or premiss[a] is a statement that an argument claims will induce or justify a conclusion.[3] In other words, a premise is an assumption that something is true.”

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premise

    ******

    “If A is greater than B, and B is greater than C” is a premise from which we can infer that A is greater than C. It doesn’t matter who stated the premise, could be Donald Duck. Likewise, it’s doesn’t matter if A is actually greater than B, we’re making an ASSUMPTION that it is.

    Here’s another premise, like most, it begins with the word “if”:

    [If the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” is true……]

    Again, the premise could have been stated by Donald Duck. Doesn’t matter. A logical consequence can still be drawn, “then it’s possible that the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything” is not true.”

    *******

    So, we get to make a circular argument:

    If the claim “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” is true, then it’s possible that the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything” is not true.

    Followed by:

    If the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” is not true, then it’s possible that the claim, “Science can’t absolutely prove anything” is true.

  112. Willard says:

    > we get to make a circular argument

    Who’s “we,” Snape?

    Now comes your last chance to make a direct point. Use it well.

  113. Everett F Sargent says:

    Your comments are a pleasure to read even when the argument fails. 😏

  114. Everett F Sargent says:

    if… then …
    is a conditional statement, it also happens to be straight up logic.

  115. Snape says:

    My point, Willard, is the claim “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” fails because if true it can be demonstrated not to be true. If not true it can be demonstrated to be true. “We” being anybody in the audience who wants to make a circular argument.

  116. Joshua says:

    Snape –

    Do you think that science can absolutely prove things?

    If so, could you give an example of what you think that science has absolutely proven?

  117. Snape says:

    Ok. I finally see my error!! Apologies to everyone for wasting your time and for my condescending tone to Willard in last comment. I guess a snape confused himself and got caught.

  118. Willard says:

    That science can’t absolutely prove anything may not need to be proven, Snape. Re-read the sentence, or refer to the definition of premise you yourself quoted. If a criteria to evaluate commonplace claims or concepts leads you to a paradox, chances are you need another criteria.

    I’m not sure how that point is related to your:

    To be 100% sure about something means you have absolutely no doubt that it’s true. Should a scientist be 100% sure about something that can’t be proven with 100% certainty?

    I suspect this last point is a roundabout way to resurrect your earlier concern about the D word.

  119. Everett F Sargent says:

    Snape,

    It would appear that a demonstration is in order, of the kind where science proves something.

  120. Snape says:

    Two points to clarify and then I need a long break:

    1) Although it might be theoretically impossible to prove with absolute certainty a scientific conclusion, to think a 4 oz mouse might be bigger than a 5 ton elephant would be absurd. The conversation started with this exchange between DM and I:

    Me: “The study of dinosaurs sounds like the latter but is different. With advances in technology it may be possible to someday determine who is right and who is wrong – meaning the differences are practically irreconcilable but not inherently irreconcilable.”

    dikranmarsupial: “Snape. Science can’t absolutely prove *anything*; dinosaurs are no different from other sciences in that respect – it is inevitably a matter of degree, rather than substance IMHO.”

    Then the conversation segued into my circular argument nonsense.

    ******

    2) I have seen skeptics argue that climate science is a pseudoscience because, in their words, it doesn’t follow the “scientific method”. I tried to expain their position (control groups, etc.) to a group of real physicists (you guys), after having thrown it out as a conversation starter (clearly annoyed the hell out of a few people). My intent was to use your rebuttals and comments as a tool in future debates when that argument comes up again. ATTP had an eloquent and forceful response. So did Izen earlier today,

    “…….The claim that the small, regular changes in intensity and/or frequency of light from distant stars indicates there are planets orbiting those stars cannot be supported by having a ‘control’ star without planets for comparison.
    The conclusion is a credible theory because it is supported by the consilience of evidence from our current knowledge of physics.
    To cast doubt on that conclusion without proposing an alternative hypothesis that is equally consistent with current knowledge…….”

    I’ve bookmarked them both.

  121. Joshua says:

    Snape –

    I asked you a question about something you had written. You didn’t answer it, and then wrote a long response, and then said you need to take a break

    I’m disappointed.

    Not answering a direct question, and then posting a long comment, and then saying you need to take a break, looks to me like poor faith exchange to me.

  122. Snape says:

    Joshua
    I’m still here.
    “Do you think that science can absolutely prove things?
    If so, could you give an example of what you think that science has absolutely proven?”

    You saw my mouse and elephant example, right? I’m six feet tall, could there be any doubt that Shaquille O’Neal is taller? I didn’t read Everett’s link yet, but offhand I’m dubious the counter argument could be anything but philosophical mumbo jumbo.

    Here’s a thought I had a while back, maybe a little OT: my understanding was that if you spun a top on a table, based on the theory of relative motion you could claim, and it would be equally true, that me, the table, and my house were the objects spinning – the top being motionless. Is that correct? Well, if it is, then it begs the question, “how did I manage to spin the table?”

  123. Everett F Sargent says:

    Is that correct?
    No.

    The spinning top isn’t stationary (it is in dynamical rotational equilibrium absent friction). The table has only one fixed point its point of rotation. That point will not provide the necessary restoring point to balance the top in an upright position (the top is never in static equilibrium, except when it is down, but even then, it needs at least one horizontal restoring force, namely some friction or placed against a wall). Try taking any top, or knife point and see if you can make it stand up on its own.

  124. Everett F Sargent says:

    Note to self: Inertial frames of reference versus fixed frames of reference are not the same thing. Rigid body motion = 6 DOF.(3 = translation and 3 = rotation)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_of_reference

  125. Everett F Sargent says:

    Take your common bicycle wheel, hold on to its axis of rotation, now spin it really fast with your 3rd hand, now try to reorient its axis of rotation real fast.

  126. Joshua says:

    Snape –

    You saw my mouse and elephant example, right? I’m six feet tall, could there be any doubt that Shaquille O’Neal is taller?

    Except I’m not relying on science to prove that. I’m relying on my senses and my reasoning, and my life experiences, with an understanding that all three are subject to biases.

    What do you rely on science to absolutely prove?

  127. izen says:

    @-Snape
    “based on the theory of relative motion you could claim, and it would be equally true, that me, the table, and my house were the objects spinning – the top being motionless. Is that correct? Well, if it is, then it begs the question, “how did I manage to spin the table?””

    It is correct that you can calculate the relative distance and speed of points on the spinning top and the table – house – universe accurately whether you use the frame of reference of the top, or the table.
    I have seen this argument used to claim that the (flat?) Earth is a stationary fixed point, around which the universe rotates.

    The reason we decide that it is the top, or the Earth, that is spinning is because otherwise you get results that the table, house, universe is moving at rotational speeds that exceed the speed of light and would be subject to angular (centrifugal) forces of acceleration that are impossible, and not observed.
    While it is possible to use the frame of reference of the top, the results, while ‘accurate’ in one sense, are falsified by the conflict with everything we know about the structure and nature of physical reality.
    Otherwise you descend down the rabbit hole of ridiculous mysticism.
    http://www.fixedearth.com/

  128. Snape says:

    Joshua, Everett, izen
    It turns out the spinning top question was not off topic at all. Joshua asked, “What do you rely on science to absolutely prove?” Izen answered for me,

    “The reason we decide that it is the top, or the Earth, that is spinning is because otherwise you get results that the table, house, universe is moving at rotational speeds that exceed the speed of light and would be subject to angular (centrifugal) forces of acceleration that are impossible, and not observed.
    While it is possible to use the frame of reference of the top, the results, while ‘accurate’ in one sense, are falsified by the conflict with everything we know about the structure and nature of physical reality.
    Otherwise you descend down the rabbit hole of ridiculous mysticism.

    ******
    The last sentence being his own version of “philosophical mumbo jumbo”

  129. David B. Benson says:

    From the equivalence of inertial and gravitational mass together with the observed constancy of the speed of light irrespective of the inertial frame of measurement, Einstein proceeded to derive, i.e., prove, GR, general relativity.

    His 1915 paper, ten years in the making, treated the anomalous precession of the orbit of Mercury and predicted the bending of light around the sun. For this latter, the total eclipse of 1919 offered an opportunity to measure; Arthur Eddington pronounced himself satisfied.

    But already by 1916 Schwartzchild proved the existence of what are now called black holes and for which a picture is now available.

    I use this as an indication that proof is possible in science, albeit rare.

  130. Dave_Geologist says:

    I see it’s Relativity of Wrong time again, David.

    Einstein did not prove General Relativity. Your conflation of “derive” with “prove” is a bait-and-switch. There’s a reason Einstein himself called it a Theory, not a Proof or a Law. And of course it’s since been proved wrong, by Quantum Mechanics. Or rather, per TRoW, it’s been proved to be an extremely accurate and precise model of physical behaviour under a certain range of conditions, but not under all conditions. The same is true of black holes. Hawking Radiation, anyone? The same is, indeed, true of Newton’s Laws. They’re still fine for cannonballs.

    With a few exceptions such as cold fusion or faster-than-light neutrinos, science builds on and refines what went before. A mature science like relativity, or climate change, has thousands or millions of observations behind it. Any new theory has to explain all of them. That’s why the PV=nRT nonsense would have been a useless theory even if it was valid (it’s invalid, as we’ve discussed, because the regression is overdetermined and the curve is guaranteed to go through all the points, but also guaranteed to have zero significance and zero predictive power). Even if it had correctly explained that one set of observations, its consequences conflict with thousands of others. Fitting with thousands of independent observations in multiple fields is sometimes called consilience. That’s a thousand times more powerful than any one experiment. Just as instrument error was far more likely than the existence of faster-than-light neutrinos, so some apparent discrepancy in a climate model is far more likely to be due to a missing or poorly represented piece of data than to a thousand other physical findings being wrong, or the army of theories which explain them being wrong.

    Real science rarely proceeds by a single key experiment. You may have been taught that in school, just like you may have been taught that WW1 was all down to one assassination. Both of those are oversimplifications, fine for school but not for professional scientists or historians. Even Eddington’s observations have been challenged as wishful thinking, because the precision required exceeded that of the instruments of the day. But that doesn’t matter, because a gazillion other observations have come along since. Had Eddington found that Mercury didn’t fit, it wouldn’t have proved Einstein wrong. Eddington is the one who’d have been wrong. In practice, if not always formally, modern science follows a Bayesian approach rather than a frequentist approach.

  131. Ev quoted: “There’s No Such Thing As Proof In The Scientific World – There’s Only Evidence”

    Agree, and even the exit criteria for much of climate science is difficult to establish. IOW, what is the criteria for gathering enough evidence to show a causal relationship. The delineation is not sharp between what is accepted and what is not.

    Joshua said:

    “Except I’m not relying on science to prove that. I’m relying on my senses and my reasoning, and my life experiences, with an understanding that all three are subject to biases.

    What do you rely on science to absolutely prove?”

    Relying on senses and using a comparative measuring tool (such as a ruler or scale) is a form of trivial science, but science nonetheless.

    A good example of applying science in a less trivial manner to validate reality (note that I didn’t say prove), is using diffraction to understand the atomic structure of crystal lattices — this was long before we could actually “trivially” observe the structure with tools such as scanning tunneling microscopy.

    I say this is trivial now because I remember that physics grad students were building home-made working STMs in their basement, and recall that some claimed they constructed them over a weekend. That was over thirty years ago. Here’s someone from last month describing how they built one: https://dberard.com/home-built-stm/

  132. Dave said:

    ” Even if it had correctly explained that one set of observations, its consequences conflict with thousands of others. Fitting with thousands of independent observations in multiple fields is sometimes called consilience. That’s a thousand times more powerful than any one experiment.”

    That’s an excellent approach when you lack experimental control such as with climate science. I find that the consilient tie is between geophysics and natural climate variability on the largest scale — the behaviors that all quantitatively tie together comprise the variation in the earth’s rotation rate, the wobble in the earth’s axis, the oscillation of the earth’s equatorial stratospheric winds, the seasons, conventional tides, and the cyclic sloshing of the equatorial Pacific thermocline. These are all related by precise alignment of the external forcing, with each consilient factor strengthening the likelihood that the model validates reality. I referred to this as geophysical model validation in an earlier comment above

  133. Dave_Geologist says:

    Another way of expressing consilience, Paul, is to say that Science Is All Joined Up. Because it describes and explains interlocking aspects of the same objective reality.

    My dad used to wind me up by challenging me to prove that NASA really had landed on the Moon. At the time I was writing up the hard-rock part of my PhD, working with people and going to conferences where among other things chondrite and moon-rock petrology and chemistry were discussed. My undergraduate mapping project, in fact, was on an unusual rock body which was much more like Moon-rock than it was like typical terrestrial igneous rocks. Once I did sit down and work out who would have to be involved to sustain a conspiracy that it was all shot on a Hollywood lot. After a while, I realised that I would have to know and be friends with some of the conspirators. Then I thought more seriously about consilience (the word probably hadn’t been coined by then), and realised that I’d have to have been brought in on the conspiracy. If it wasn’t true, there would have been holes in the implications of the story which generals and Hollywood screenwriters certainly would not have spotted, and which Cold War physicist cronies of the generals would not have spotted because they couldn’t see all the implications, but which I would have spotted.

  134. Willard says:

    > There’s a reason Einstein himself called it a Theory, not a Proof or a Law.

    Worse, proofs have their own theory. Spoiler alert:

    It is clear to us, and it was clear to Hilbert, that mathematical thinking does not proceed in the strictly regimented ways imposed by an austere formal theory. Though formal rigor is crucial, it is not sufficient to shape proofs intelligibly or to discover them efficiently, even in pure logic. Recalling the principle that mathematics should solve problems “by a minimum of blind calculation and a maximum of guiding thought”, we have to investigate the subtle interaction between understanding and reasoning, i.e., between introducing concepts and proving theorems.

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/proof-theory/

    That being said, I’m on David’s side. There are things we know with enough confidence to say they’ve been established. Incidentally, I was convinced of this fact by a contrarian at Judy’s. Every time someone was speaking of fallibilism, he mentioned a random factoid from biochemistry.

    More generally, consider that all our knowledge forms a field of force, with logic and maths and physics in the middle. Nothing in principle can insure us that we won’t change our core. However, how will we be able to change the law of contradiction? Paraphrasing what Ruth Millikan once observed, humans will still need to distinguish good from bad sex.

  135. Willard says:

    Those who would dispute that formal matters are not clear-cut might wish to consider that we still do not have a universal model for negation:

  136. Science is all joined up, both through direct and indirect evidence. It’s often the case that the indirect pieces of evidence line up with the tangible, direct pieces. I mentioned the case of STM earlier, which won Binnig & Rohrer the Nobel prize in physics. Now I remember talking at a conference to Gerhard Meyer, a colleague of Binnig’s, who confirmed that students were home-brewing these things. I mention Meyer too because at the time we were finding double-step transitions on a silicon surface with the addition of arsenic, but only via the indirect evidence of electron diffraction. Doing a quick Google search now, I see that Meyer found a similar multiple-step transition several years later by applying silver, but he used the direct and tangible results of STM to visualize the steps. We at least got a cite for being there first:
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262947553_Ag-induced_multi-step_formation_on_Si001

    The level of model substantiation is essentially:
    1. A diffraction model interpretation is correct but not many people understand it, so they often want more direct evidence
    2. An STM visual of the experiment will substantiate the diffraction results
    3. No one has any issue with STM on some new phenomena as they can see it with their own eyes, and so no need for further substantiation.

    As Snapes said, you can see that the elephant is bigger than a mouse, so we don’t have to do a volume displacement experiment or get out the sextant 🙂

  137. snape wrote “My point, Willard, is the claim “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” fails because if true it can be demonstrated not to be true.”

    except you also said “snape said “Hint: I never said science made the claim.”

    hence your argument is a non-sequitur, as I pointed out. When you write something stupid, it isn’t a big deal, unless you double down by saying something that makes it even more stupid.

  138. snape said “You saw my mouse and elephant example, right? I’m six feet tall, could there be any doubt that Shaquille O’Neal is taller? I didn’t read Everett’s link yet, but offhand I’m dubious the counter argument could be anything but philosophical mumbo jumbo. ”

    That doesn’t prove anything. As I said, how do you know that your are not in a VR simulation that distorts your perceptions? You don’t. Descartes tried to go back to the point where skepticism could no longer be considered reasonable, and ended up with “Je pense, donc je suis”. And there are those who wouldn’t accept that as a given.

    Yes, we can establish things beyond reasonable doubt, but that is not the same thing as proven (established beyond all doubt). As I said, nothing can be proven beyond unreasonable doubt, which is often what we are faced with when discussing climate.

  139. Speaking of Millikan, it’s possible that his famous oil drop experiment was fraudulent:
    https://io9.gizmodo.com/did-a-case-of-scientific-misconduct-win-the-nobel-prize-1565949589

    I recall my dad telling me that he could never get that experiment to work in his college lab … hmmm.

    Another great example that I recall in grad school were the guys in the sputtering lab who were duplicating the High-Tc superconductors, which won the Nobel prize for Bednorz & Muller. The “proof” was they could levitate a magnet above the material submerged in LN2. Everyone was doing this within a few months of the discovery (contrast that to cold fusion)

  140. Snape says:

    Dikranmarsupial

    You were right, I was trying to be snarky and going for a Godelian paradox. I messed it up, though:

    “Science can’t absolutely prove anything.” is an assertion specific to science. Not unlike “my cat can’t absolutely prove anything”. There is no paradox.

    OTOH, “nothing can be proven beyond unreasonable doubt” is a broad assertion, broad enough to cast doubt on the claim itself.

  141. Snape says:

    It’s possible that I’m taller than Shaq. He might be a 4’2” leprechaun. He might be part of a VR simulation. I get it. Science has to accept as possible the things it can’t disprove, however improbable. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call a spade a spade.

    “Ridiculous drivel” is how someone on Roy Spencer’s blog described a particularly nutty theory. Lol.

  142. David B. Benson says:

    Dave-Geologist — The General Theory of Relativity is indeed a theorem in the theory of metric spaces. I earlier mentioned the hypotheses from which Einstein proceeded to derive, i.e., prove, i.e., demonstrate (technical sense of QED), that

    The evolution of spacetime which might contain matter-energy, see the Special Theory of Relativity, is governed by a system of 10 nonlinear differential equations. This he expressed in mathematician Levi-Civita tensor notation which can be read as

    Spacetime shape = matter-energy distribution.

    My point is that this is a theorem, i.e., has a proof. I suppose we call the general area mathematical physics.

  143. Everett F Sargent says:

    Cosmological constant problem
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_constant_problem
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_constant
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einstein_field_equations
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_relativity

    “In cosmology, the cosmological constant problem or vacuum catastrophe is the disagreement between the observed values of vacuum energy density (the small value of the cosmological constant) and theoretical large value of zero-point energy suggested by quantum field theory.

    Depending on the Planck energy cutoff and other factors, the discrepancy is as high as 120 orders of magnitude,[1] a state of affairs described by physicists as “the largest discrepancy between theory and experiment in all of science”[1] and “the worst theoretical prediction in the history of physics.”[2]”

    I can’t understand the math, but even I can read.

  144. Marco says:

    “Speaking of Millikan, it’s possible that his famous oil drop experiment was fraudulent”

    It’s possible, yes, but plausible, no:
    http://www.its.caltech.edu/~dg/MillikanII.pdf

  145. David B. Benson says:

    Everett F Sargeant — Quantum field theory is wrong. I could go on about it’s ad-hoc nature, but it is late. Possibly Lee Smolin’s book, “The Trouble with Physics” offers a suitable explanation.

  146. Dave_Geologist says:

    The distinction I would make, David, is between a mathematical theorem, which has a proof if-and-only-if you assume a certain set of postulates or axioms: but there is no guarantee that those postulates represent, or at least fully represent, the real world; and a scientific theory, which does not have the luxury of assuming that the postulates represent the real world: it has to work with the real world, warts and all.

    Willard, ironically one of the criticisms of some recent monster mathematical proofs is that they’re too long and complicated for others to verify because they rely on calculation (sometimes computer calculation) for proof. When I was at school I loved maths because I though it was beautiful and elegant. Of course everything you’re taught there conforms to the principle that mathematics should solve problems “by a minimum of blind calculation and a maximum of guiding thought”. I felt cheated when I learned that some integrals couldn’t be solved that way, and you had to take a bunch of random functions and differentiate them, saving the results into a look-up table, then go down the look-up table and find the derivative that looked like the thing you wanted to integrate. Hang on, isn’t that cheating? Where’s the elegance?

    There’s a strange schizophrenia there, because I’m normally the shut-up-and-calculate type. But I had this concept of pure mathematics as an ideal world, albeit one that was only ideal because it was idealised by limiting the degrees of freedom through your choice of postulates. So I’ve always had that distinction in my mind, between the messy real world, and the idealised mathematical world. I know the idealised world is an over-simplification and may lead you astray if you trust it too much, but I don’t care because, at least sometimes, it’s beautiful.

  147. dikranmarsupial says:

    snape wrote “OTOH, “nothing can be proven beyond unreasonable doubt” is a broad assertion, broad enough to cast doubt on the claim itself.”

    Sorry, attempting to be clever and messing it up is bad enough, reissuing the claim without further support is simply trolling.

    There is a VERY long history of thought on this one, and I have given you at least two pointers to where it really starts. Perhaps you ought to go and do some reading (or at least pay attention to what is said to you).

  148. dikranmarsupial says:

    ““Ridiculous drivel” is how someone on Roy Spencer’s blog described a particularly nutty theory. Lol.”

    Some anonymous person on Spencer blog said that? How very convincing!

    It appears that they don’t understand the distinction between proof and “establishing beyond reasonable doubt either. As I said, you should try reading and reasoning, rather than dismissing out of personal incredulity.

  149. Snape says:

    DM
    “Sorry, attempting to be clever and messing it up is bad enough, reissuing the claim without further support is simply trolling.”

    What claim do you think I have reissued? And I don’t understand your point of contention, or what subject you think I need to read up on.

    Do you think, “nothing can be proven beyond unreasonable doubt” is not a broad assertion, or do you think it’s not broad enough to cast doubt on the claim itself? Or maybe you think the sort of paradox I’m seeing has no merit whatsoever, and is simply a cheap shot?

    *******
    “Some anonymous person on Spencer blog said that? How very convincing!”

    The nutty theory, if I remember right, was a variant of “atmospheric pressure is what keeps the Earth warmer than otherwise – nothing to do with a GHE”.

    Would you refrain from calling that ridiculous drivel? Not me.

  150. Thanks Marco for the defense of Robert Miilikan by David Goodstein, who essentially is carrying on in the tradition of his advisor Feynman. Incidentally, Goodstein has a neat little book called “Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil “, which makes a strong claim about our dependence on FF, writing at the end : “Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in this century unless we can find a way to live without fossil fuels”. Nothing about climate change driving his POV, just the obvious observation that FFs are finite and non-renewable.

    BTW, Agree that the oil-drop experiment is tricky and Goodstein has long suggested that science history needs to be treated with care. His classic textbook States of Matter included this caution in the foreward:

    “Physics, I think, should never be taught from a historical point of view – the result can only be confusion or bad history – but neither should we ignore our history. “

    I’ve got both these books on my shelf

  151. Snape,
    Maybe you can clarify, but was the “ridiculous drivel” referring to Ned Nikolov’s ideas?

  152. izen says:

    @-David B.
    “Quantum field theory is wrong. I could go on about it’s ad-hoc nature, but it is late.”

    It may be more accurate to say it is purely descriptive with no explanatory elements.

    Quantum field theory is the most accurate description we have of how matter and energy interact. It is capable of accurate prediction of complex phenomena with much greater precision than any other theory within the scientific arsenal.
    I understand that the epistemological implications of field theories are problematic, but that does not justify throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  153. izen says:

    @-David_G.
    “I know the idealised world is an over-simplification and may lead you astray if you trust it too much, but I don’t care because, at least sometimes, it’s beautiful.”

    And sometime it’s not.
    n /0 has two possible answers. + or – infinity.
    Zero raised to the power of zero is 1.
    Or it is not a number, inherently undefinable, depending on context.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_to_the_power_of_zero

  154. Snape says:

    ATTP
    “Snape, Maybe you can clarify, but was the “ridiculous drivel” referring to Ned Nikolov’s ideas?”

    Yes, and for a bit of comedy: the blogger with the pressure hypothesis went by the name “phi”. The smart one, “Gammacrux”, started calling phi, “phignoramus”. Another blogger came to phi’s defense and in turn started calling Gammacrux, “Gummycrud”.
    I couldn’t stop laughing at the whole exchange. Mind you, Spencer’s blog is mostly unmoderated, so there’s lots of name calling.

  155. David B. Benson says:

    I came across the following book description from John Hopkins University Press :

    Emmy Noether’s Wonderful Theorem
    Dwight E. Neuenschwander
    2017

    which relates to General Relativity via local guage invarience. So far so good but “Noether’s theorem also laid the foundations for later generations to apply local guage invarience to theories of elementary particle interactions.” Which means theoretical particle physicists no longer have to follow Richard Feynman in “throwing away the infinite part.”

    But still, I hold that quantum field theory is the modern day equivalent of Ptolemy’s epicycles upon epicycles starting from a fixed, static and central Earth. A completely new conception is required; Richard Feynman would approve as he understood that what he was doing was ad-hocery.

  156. snape said “What claim do you think I have reissued?”

    snape said in the comment to which I replied “OTOH, “nothing can be proven beyond unreasonable doubt” is a broad assertion, broad enough to cast doubt on the claim itself.”

    please stop playing stupid rhetorical games. It would have taken you only a minute or so to go back and re-read the comment to which I was replying, if you couldn’t remember already what you had written.

    snape said “And I don’t understand your point of contention, or what subject you think I need to read up on.”

    That is because you are not listening to what is said to you. This is a problem that has been studied since at least the 18th century, and I have already mentioned Hume and Descartes, you could at least have looked them up on Google if you had any interest in my argument.

    snape said “Do you think, “nothing can be proven beyond unreasonable doubt” is not a broad assertion, or do you think it’s not broad enough to cast doubt on the claim itself?”

    Ah, so you do know what I was referring to then. Doubt isn’t cast by breadth, that is just argument from personal incredulity AFAICS. We can’t observe causation, only correlation, so any “proof” would have to rely on assumptions/theory which themselves cannot be proven from observation (which themselves are not absolutely reliable).

    snape said “Or maybe you think the sort of paradox I’m seeing has no merit whatsoever, and is simply a cheap shot?”

    It isn’t a paradox, as I have already pointed out, just your flawed logic.

  157. “@-David_G.
    “I know the idealised world is an over-simplification and may lead you astray if you trust it too much, but I don’t care because, at least sometimes, it’s beautiful.””

    Speaking of which, I just finished Sabine Hossenfelder’s book on this subject “Lost in Math”. Rather disappointing I thought – interesting question though to what degree we ought to be influenced by the “beauty” of a theory. I don’t really like the word “beauty” for that sort of thing, it is more “elegance”.

  158. Dave_Gelogist says:

    I suppose I would consider “elegance” a subset of “beauty”, dikran.

    I’ve read some of Hossenfelder’s stuff and would tend to agree (although it is of course ‘way beyond my understanding). Perhaps physicists who come form a pure-maths background are prone to falling into the trap of thinking reality is ultimately elegant, and just looks messy because we have a blurred view of it. Which I would rather see as the modern version of solving the Laws of Nature to “know the mind of God”. To me, the idea that reality is elegant is something to be proven or disproven from observation, not accepted as a postulate.

  159. ” one of the criticisms of some recent monster mathematical proofs is that they’re too long and complicated for others to verify because they rely on calculation (sometimes computer calculation) for proof. When I was at school I loved maths because I though it was beautiful and elegant. Of course everything you’re taught there conforms to the principle that mathematics should solve problems “by a minimum of blind calculation and a maximum of guiding thought”. I felt cheated when I learned that some integrals couldn’t be solved that way, and you had to take a bunch of random functions and differentiate them, saving the results into a look-up table, then go down the look-up table and find the derivative that looked like the thing you wanted to integrate. Hang on, isn’t that cheating? Where’s the elegance?”

    If one is trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, who cares about purity of approach. All that matters is the result.

    Coincidentally, we have a thread going on at the Azimuth Project forum right now lamenting the disappearance of Eureqa, and trying to figure out how to get Mathematica to do similar symbolic reasoning.

  160. Dave_G “I suppose I would consider “elegance” a subset of “beauty”, dikran.”

    indeed, but that is rather the problem that I have with calling it “beauty”.

    I’ve not read her blog (but been irritated by the polemic in the one tweet of hers that I saw), but the book seems full of irony (e.g. dismissing philosophy and then saying that physicists need it a couple of pages later – maybe there was humour there I didn’t get; treatment of Weinberg followed by advice about social biases; incorrect statements about probability…). It seems an interesting question from a “philosophy of science” perspective, but there was very little of that in the book.

    “To me, the idea that reality is elegant is something to be proven or disproven from observation, not accepted as a postulate.”

    I sort of agree (except I wouldn’t go as far as prove), however we do need some inductive bias in order to draw conclusions from observations. Where observations are scarce, then it seems reasonable to explore the space of theory. As a Bayesian I’m not uncomfortable with having priors (I rather disagree with her statements about Bayesian priors, I suspect that it might be possible to express “naturalness” in terms of MAXENT or transformation groups or some other approach to minimally informative priors).

    I disagree that the purpose of science is [merely] to explain observations; I’d say it is to find the best explanation for universe as it actually is. The stuff about the multiverse seems to fall within that category (although I’m not sure about Tegmark’s more “advanced” ideas). Falsification is good, but not everything; consillience is, to a degree, testing against theory, rather than observations, and is not completely without value. IMHO, naturally.

  161. Dave_Geologist says:

    You’re right dikran. I should have said “supported”, rather than “proven”, especially in light of my previous comments 😦 . Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder 🙂 .

    I’ve not read her book(s), just some of her blogs. And I would agree she sometimes goes too far. As I think I indicated, I see consilience as a form of Bayesianism. We have a huge array of priors available, be it about faster-than-light neutrinos or L&C’s lowball ECS. Whose error was to exclude a gazillion priors that would have pushed it up, on what seemed to me specious grounds if you want to describe reality, as opposed to making a simple, divorced-from-reality mathematical point: what happens if you use only a tiny subset of the evidence, and ignore the known physics in setting your boundary conditions.

    I wasn’t saying science was merely to explain observations, just that when a simplified theory(-em) conflicts with observations, then subject to verification of the observations, observations win. Of course the theory is perfectly fine where it doesn’t conflict, as with Newton’s Laws of Motion or General Relativity. We just recognise that it’s not a full description of reality. I’m also happy with stuff that we just call “stuff”. In fact I have a folder on my PC called stuff. For everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else. We don’t have to match everything to our macroscopic, three-dimensional, non-relativistic reality. So for instance I stick to “wavicle” for wave-particle duality. I’m happy that it’s neither a wave nor a particle, but sometimes behaves like one, sometimes like the other. And that whatever it actually is, our monkey brains can’t describe it in terms our monkey senses would understand. We have no problem in saying a lion sometimes behaves like a leopard, and sometimes like a tiger, because our monkey brains can understand all three.

  162. Snape says:

    A lot chess players, myself included, find beauty in the game we love. Maybe that’s similar to seeing beauty (or elegance) in math or science. This is from a famous artist turned chess nut:
    “On another occasion, Duchamp elaborated, “The chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes thoughts; and these thoughts, although making a visual design on the chess-board, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem. … I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Duchamp

  163. Willard says:

  164. Snape says:

    Willard,
    I don’t have a Twitter account, but I looked up “dialetheist”

    “Dialetheism is the view that there are statements which are both true and false. More precisely, it is the belief that there can be a true statement whose negation is also true. Such statements are called “true contradictions”, dialetheia, or nondualisms. Wikipedia”

    I hope you’re not trying to draw me back into an argument I’d just as soon forget?

  165. Steven Mosher says:

    “Willard, ironically one of the criticisms of some recent monster mathematical proofs is that they’re too long and complicated for others to verify because they rely on calculation (sometimes computer calculation) for proof. When I was at school I loved maths because I though it was beautiful and elegant.”

    “Rather disappointing I thought – interesting question though to what degree we ought to be influenced by the “beauty” of a theory. I don’t really like the word “beauty” for that sort of thing, it is more “elegance”.

    a little confusion about the difference between beauty and elgance.
    an elagant beauty is simple and graceful, as opposed to, say, an ornamental beauty.
    In the context of math proofs to monsterous to follow, byzantine might be a good word

    great author..

  166. Steven Mosher says:

    willard will enjoy from here on

  167. DG “I wasn’t saying science was merely to explain observations,” no, that is what Hossenfelder says in her book, which I think is part of the problem. IIRC she also requires theories to be “useful”, which I don’t necessarily agree with – useless but correct is still science!

    Science is rather hard to define (other than you know it when you see it), so I think it is probably best not to go round saying that something isn’t science, unless it is so obviously not science that nobody will disagree.

  168. Steven Mosher says:

    “Science is rather hard to define (other than you know it when you see it), so I think it is probably best not to go round saying that something isn’t science, unless it is so obviously not science that nobody will disagree.”

    Watch the chaitan Video

  169. SM will do, “minimum description length” is often a good inductive bias, but I wouldn’t describe it as beauty (which to me seems more a sensory, rather than intellectual, thing).

  170. Snape says:

    I’m annoyed with myself for forgetting the familiar term “devil’s advocate”,
    “a person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments.”

    Too late now, but I was playing devil’s advocate when I made some contentious comments way upthread.

  171. “a person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments.”

    if devil’s advocates are interested in provoking debate or testing the strength of arguments, then they need engage constructively with the answers, rather than engage in evasive rhetoric, e.g.:

    “”If drug companies didn’t have the possibility of e.g. randomised trials, then yes, we would have to make do with that kind of evidence, or go without medicines.””

    And you would call someone skeptical of claims made by the drug company a science denier?”

    especially rhetoric that is making uncharitable assumptions about your interlocutor.

  172. “Too late now, but I was playing devil’s advocate when I made some contentious comments way upthread.”

    There is a fine line between playing devil’s advocate and bullshit. Personally, I think playing Devils advocate, without explicitly saying from the outset that is what you are doing, is a bit rude/arrogant. Why not just argue or ask questions in “good faith”?

  173. Snape says:

    “And you would call someone skeptical of claims made by the drug company a science denier?”

    That seemed like the logical response to you posting, “The 5 characteristics of science denial”, which I likened to being called a denier.

    “Personally, I think playing Devils advocate, without explicitly saying from the outset that is what you are doing, is a bit rude/arrogant.”

    Yes, I agree, and would have used the term if it had come to mind.

    “Why not just argue or ask questions in “good faith”?”

    Nothing wrong with that, of course, but being polite is not provocative. A good example is Dave G’s link to Isaac Asimov:

    https://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm

    Mr. Asimov recieved an arrogant, irritating letter in the mail, which provoked him to write the wonderful essay we see. If the letter had instead been a humble inquiry, would it have illicited the same response?

  174. Snape says:

    Sorry, elicited not illicited

  175. Steven Mosher says:

    Typically one announces that one is playing devils advocate.

    Its an interesting question about what this announcement does to the conversation?

  176. Snape: “If the letter had instead been a humble inquiry, would it have illicited the same response?”

    Right, so Asimov responding conspicuously well to someone being an arsehole justified them having been an arsehole? Stop digging, the hole is deep enough already.

    SM “Its an interesting question about what this announcement does to the conversation?”

    I would have thought in a scientific discussion it ought to be safe enough as we are used to the idea of our position being subject to adversarial scrutiny, and hence play devil’s advocate for ourselves before submitting our papers (if we have any sense ;o). In rhetorical “debate”, I suspect YMMV.

  177. Snape says:

    DM
    “Right, so Asimov responding conspicuously well to someone being an arsehole justified them having been an arsehole? Stop digging, the hole is deep enough already.”

    What amounts to “being an arsehole” falls under a large umbrella. In this case the author of the letter was not being a bully, was not cruel or hurtful. He simply spoke his mind. The result benefited both parties and more:

    a) tbe English Lit. major was set straight.
    b) Asimov was enlivened to do what he loved – write about science.
    c) a wonderfully instructive essay was produced.

  178. “The result benefited both parties and more:”

    Yes, but as I said, the end doesn’t justifiy the means – stop trying to justify your mistake! We all make mistakes, but if we try to minimise them, then we also minimise our chance of learning from them.

    snape “In this case the author of the letter was not being a bully, was not cruel or hurtful.”

    earlier snape “And you would call someone skeptical of claims made by the drug company a science denier?”

    … so you don’t want bullying or cruelty or being hurtful, and yet you were trying to get me to indulge in name calling [that some people find offensive] earlier in the thread. As I said, stop digging!

  179. Snape says:

    You’re making a generalization – why didn’t the end justify the means?

    And no, I didn’t intend for you to call me a name, anymore than the English major wanted Asimov to call him a name. That’s not the point of playing Devil’s advocate.

  180. “You’re making a generalization – why didn’t the end justify the means? ”

    No. I was talking about two specific cases, Azimov and yours, so that is just sophistry. It is clear that you are going to double-down indefinitely, but I am not interested in helping you did the hole any deeper, the antipode is only a shovel or two away as it is.

  181. Snape says:

    DM
    You wrote, “Right, so Asimov responding conspicuously well to someone being an arsehole justified them having been an arsehole?”

    You seemed to imply, in that specific case, that the means did not justify the end. I argued to the contrary. Have you changed your mind and now agree with me?

  182. You are just blatantly trolling now. First you say I am making a generalisation and now you were saying I was implying something about a specific case. The end doesn’t justify the means in either the Asimov case, nor your behaviour on this thread. In the Asimov case, the end was purely the product of Asimov and achieved despite the behaviour of the other individual who can take no credit for it.

  183. Snape says:

    “You are just blatantly trolling now. First you say I am making a generalisation and now you were saying I was implying something about a specific case.”

    What?? You used the generic phrase, “the end doesn’t justify the means” to try and refute what I had written about a specific case, the letter to Asimov:

    “a) tbe English Lit. major was set straight.
    b) Asimov was enlivened to do what he loved – write about science.
    c) a wonderfully instructive essay was produced.”

    I asked you to explain, given the above, WHY you thought the end didn’t justify the means.

    *******
    You answered here:
    “the end was purely the product of Asimov and achieved despite the behaviour of the other individual who can take no credit for it.”

    My opinion is that if the letter had been humble and polite, Asimov woukd have likely given a much shorter response, or even asked an intern to reply for him. The letter was not mean spirited or cruel, just arrogant, in that it came from someone with little science background. Not a big deal – the English student wasn’t trolling- but the letter was annoying enough to motivate the essay.

  184. Yawn. I did predict “It is clear that you are going to double-down indefinitely, …”

  185. It seems to me that you folks having this conversation are more involved in the social rather than the physical sciences. An argument over propriety. So what of ideas or conclusions that can or can’t be proven by traditional means. My idea is that if the means are insufficient to the expanse of the idea. Expand the means.

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