"Scientific Consensus" and Religion

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MountainGnome
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"Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby MountainGnome » 22 Aug 2014, 08:06

I greatly admire the scientific method as a tool. I think it's one of the most powerful tools mankind has ever invented, especially of the past 400 years or so when it's really been established and put to good use.


My post here isn't about the scientific method. It's about "scientific consensus." A consensus is a general agreement about something. Of course, if something is rigorously demonstrated with the scientific method, with controls and dependent and independent variables and all that, then a "consensus" as such isn't necessary. The method speaks for itself, and it either proves something or it doesn't.

So consensus comes into play when we develop theories, and models, and ideas about things which haven't been proven yet but are based on other principles which have been already proven. These things may or may not be true, we don't know. We make educated guesses based on our experiences and observations, and what just makes sense to us.


So what I want to bring up here is the thought that there's a difference between real science, and a popular consensus, and we should be careful not to get them confused. Not because we'll go out and accuse people of hokey scientific beliefs and burn them at the stake, but because we can trick ourselves very easily when we confuse the two. and so disempower ourselves. Because real knowledge is power, and consensus knowledge is .... well, it might be power, or it might just be the illusion of power, and thus more akin to religion. :shrug:

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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby WaffleBox » 22 Aug 2014, 11:42

There is still some consensus required even in the use of the scientific method to generate knowledge. One principle of the method is replicability. Results will not be accepted, typically, until they've been repeated several times by independent researchers who start to form a consensus that the results are for real. Additionally, there needs to be a consensus that the particular methodology used didn't lead to misleading results.
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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby MountainGnome » 22 Aug 2014, 17:57

There is still some consensus required even in the use of the scientific method to generate knowledge.
Yes, the beauty of the scientific method is that if an experiment is performed correctly, its results can be replicated by anyone at any time who wants to test its conclusions for themselves, and it will always give the same results. If you have all the same variables going in, you should get the same results coming out, making behaviors predictable and repeatable. In fact, several trials should be done to reproduce the results multiple times even in the same experiment. This is how the process is taught in our universities, and to look at the slight variations in data (if there are any) and comparing them to theoretical values, etc.

But in principle, if a team of scientists conducts an experiment properly and produces a result, even if everyone else disagreed with them and claimed that the experiment wasn't carried out properly for any number of reasons, when it really was carried out properly, then the experiment's results will still be reproducible and are still real anyway. That's not to say an experiment can't be carried out improperly, but just that in principle, the method itself removes any need for people to agree or disagree with the results. The method is designed to produce a result independently of what people believe should or should not happen. Church officials also had established ideas of what should and should not be true, and they were the most powerful authority in many parts of Europe for hundreds of years, but of course their consensus wasn't enough to change experimental results either.


Speaking of experiments being carried out improperly, the pharmaceutical industry often gives examples of this. A report may come out that says that vitamins are a better treatment than one of their pills, and of course they don't like this and automatically dispute it. But then they hire a team of scientists to do another study, and when it comes out it comes to the complete opposite conclusion. Then if you read their actual publication regarding the study, if they are honest enough to describe everything in detail, it will usually become very clear that they did not have all of the same variables going in as the first study that they contradicted. Then debates might follow, but the scientific method should always produce consistent results. Whenever you have two studies that disagree, it isn't the scientific method that's broken, it's the consensus that's broken, and someone is either not being honest in their studies or else they are neglecting to keep all variables equal between the two studies.

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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby Explorer » 24 Aug 2014, 18:14

Whenever you have two studies that disagree, it isn't the scientific method that's broken, it's the consensus that's broken, and someone is either not being honest in their studies or else they are neglecting to keep all variables equal between the two studies.
In IT we call that 'garbage in, garbage out'.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby Sciethe » 25 Aug 2014, 12:39

I flatly reject the use of the term 'scientific consensus', science happens when the research leads to questions and conflict, and when scientists debate their findings. I think a more accurate term would be the 'political consensus of science'.
~n.
Absolutely. It's essential to be aware of the terms of the scientific debate rather than the supposed consensus. And in assessing scientific work (original published papers) the first thing you look at- if you're wise- is the political context: who FUNDED the research. No-one can understand scientific results if they fail to take this primary data into account. No big money, no science. Who has big money? Governments and industry. Science is informed by a vast and distorting strand of political dialogue.
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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby treegod » 26 Aug 2014, 08:34

The consensus I think would be the scientific method itself. There is a general consensus that this is the way that science works. The results and studies it generates isn't a consensus but an ongoing process of debate, testing, explaining, counter-explaining, searching for and sharing alternatives, etc.. Yes, it is quite political.
For every theory, even if proven, there is a dissenter. The scientific community can't be complacent about even the most basic theories.

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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby Badmoose » 26 Aug 2014, 17:01

Science is objective. Scientists, not so much. Look at the Pluto debate for a simple example. It has a rather elliptical orbit and does not orbit in the same plane as the other planets. In that aspect, it's more like comets and Kuyper Belt objects. However, when William Herschel discovered Pluto, he called it a planet and for nearly a century it stuck. Would we have called it a planet if discovered today? I tend to think not. But there's that history and sentimentality, so astronomers have been going out of their way to try and keep it in the family, somehow. There's nothing scientific in their thinking; it's pure rationalization. It's making the "facts" fit what they choose to believe.

If that can happen with something as honking big and observable as a (dwarf) planet, imagine how much trouble scientists (people in general, actually) would have on things they can't readily observe or understand what they're observing?
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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby treegod » 27 Aug 2014, 09:31

That's a simple procedural consensus that doesn't promise either an observational or conclusionary consensus.
Exactly. And after that it's anyone's test/guess/debate/etc..

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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby MountainGnome » 27 Aug 2014, 18:38

Okay then, what do you guys think of this:

The scientific method requires taking physical data. So if someone says they can sense elves or gnomes in the spirit realm (like a lot of people in Iceland say), but this can't be physically tested, then would you say...

(A) This is impossible. Such things can't exist, or else we could physically test for them.
(B) It's possible but we can't prove it using science as we know it today.
(C) Some other response?


A lot of people would say if something can't be tested for scientifically then it can't exist. Kind of like, if you can't prove it, then it isn't real. But I see that as having a lot of faith in the idea that everything that exists must be physical, and that nothing can exist but physical things. I've never seen any kind of proof of that belief, and I don't know how you could scientifically prove it either. Using science (which requires physical observations) to prove that only physical things exist is like using the Bible to prove that the Bible is correct because it says it is, otherwise called circular reasoning. Not to mention that lots of things are apparently very real before we know about them or can prove them for certain, like things in outer space for example (exoplanets, black holes, etc.).

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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby Sciethe » 27 Aug 2014, 19:09

Now you've got to my favourite bit: the falsifiability conundrum. :grin:
According to Karl Popper, who is far from stupid, there is a demarcation between things which are scientific and things which are unscientific, and that hinges on whether an idea or hypothesis could, within the methodology of science, be falsified- proved untrue. Not IS proved untrue, just COULD be, using science.

So the term "unfalsifiable" which has been a rude word for some time now comes properly into its own. A great many things which demonstrably exist (or must logically exist, or reasonably might exist) cannot be scientifically tested (yet). They stand outside the remit of science but are perfectly valid in principle.

Then we enter into a continuum with two ends, one silly and one reasonable. Unfalsifiable things -like whether a computer may ever be built which is truly sentient right through to "I just saw a unicorn with a pink bow in its tale, it talked to me." In these unscientific cases judgement is all we have, wisdom rather than hard numeric intellect if you like. Belief in an unscientific thing is not wrong if you're fairly sure you're right, and have applied every reasonable test you have at your disposal.

Science has a "Range of Convenience" i.e. the things it is useful for, a lot of things actually, but not everything. A common fallacy is embodied by the attempt to try to apply science to everything, both trying to verify and logically destroy unfalsifiable statements. Proof that God exists is a favourite one.

Hope that helps :huh:
S
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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby treegod » 27 Aug 2014, 20:19

Isn't that when most professional scientists apply Occam's razor? It might be true or not, but since it can't be scientifically tested it's probably not worth thinking about (in a scientific sense, anyway).

On Wiki it says of Occam's razor: "It states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove correct, but—in the absence of certainty—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better."

Our subjective sensations might be true, but if they can't be tested then they remain outside the domain of scientific testing and remain in the domain of human subjectivity/belief.

Edit: what Sciethe said, basically. :)

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Re: "Scientific Consensus" and Religion

Postby Badmoose » 28 Aug 2014, 01:22

Belief in an unscientific thing is not wrong if you're fairly sure you're right, and have applied every reasonable test you have at your disposal.
Aye, there lies the key, does it not? Belief should always be looked at from the perspective that we're completely off our rockers. Instead of guarding beliefs by trying to destroy anything that threatens it, we should ourselves try and beat it to submission. When we've done out level best to try and disprove what we believe, and fail, the belief than then hold no matter how irrational it might seem to others.
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