Is saying "...so I can safely tell you that's not how science works." likely to be productive?

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teo123
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Is saying "...so I can safely tell you that's not how science works." likely to be productive?

Post by teo123 » Mon Jan 28, 2019 12:12 pm

So, as some of you know, I thought I have figured out an effective and a true response to the ridiculous claims such as "Science has proven God is real." or "Science can't tell us whether animals or whether even plants feel pain." or "Well, the science tells us we should eat meat." (or even "Science tells us government intervention is beneficial to the economy.").
Simply, I say something like:
Me wrote:I've published three papers about linguistics in peer-reviewed journals (all of which have at least something to do with my alternative interpretation of the Croatian toponyms, you can read about it here), so I can safely tell you that's not how science works...
When I talk about my research in the field of Croatian toponyms to people in real life, the responses I get are almost always very positive.
However, many people on the Internet forums seem to have this idea of the hierarchy of sciences and that linguistics and other social sciences are "soft sciences" or somehow not real sciences. The logic is that, if you study natural sciences (the "hard sciences"), it's relatively easy to know if you are wrong, since you can see whether the predictions you've made are right very soon. And that, if you study social sciences, it's very easy get something wrong and end up never knowing that, because it's very hard or impossible to do controlled experiments and/or systematic observation.
If you ask me that notion is very problematic, if not outright self-contradictory. So, when you talk about things that are harder to properly study, you have, by that logic, less credibility. And the hierarchy of sciences is the hardest thing to properly study (Saying "You are more likely to be wrong about linguistics and not ending up knowing that than about physics." is a way less-formally-defined claim than, for example, the Grimm's Law in linguistics is.), therefore, when you make a statement about it, you have no credibility. Perhaps it made sense to say something like that when Auguste Comte made such a statement back in the early 1800s, when social sciences didn't quite exist (apart from Adam Smith in economics and William Jones in linguistics) while natural sciences did, but now it's just an incredibly arrogant and a practically unfalsifiable assertion ("I know enough of all the fields of all sciences to tell how credible they are compared to each other!").
Nevertheless, many people not only believe that, but also insist on that.
I know that this topic has, with slight variations, has run across multiple threads, but I think it's important that we discuss the animal-advocacy-related portions of it. So, what do you think, is saying "I've published three papers about linguistics in peer-reviewed journals (about...), so I can safely tell you that's not how science works." more likely to be productive or counter-productive?

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Post by Jamie in Chile » Mon Jan 28, 2019 9:30 pm

My guess is productive. But possibly the kind of productive where the other person gets annoyed with you for being arrogant but ultimately might change a view if not in that moment or not admitting it.

I think it might be better to put things in a very polite way so as not to come across as arrogant, which may be counter productive.

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Post by teo123 » Tue Jan 29, 2019 1:49 am

In some sense, why should I bother to put it more politely when people aren't being polite to me? Maybe saying "...so I know how science works." sounds a bit arrogant, but people who are convinced they know how science works won't listen to you otherwise.
OK, maybe I could say something like:
I admire your attempt to honestly follow science. However, you seem to have been misled about what science is. See, science is basically when people more or less educated about some issue try to honestly study it. And by honestly, that means making falsifiable claims (that means, that there is a conceivable observation that would prove them wrong), doing their best to tell whether that claim could be true given what is already known (and possibly doing some experiment) before shouting it out loud, and discussing what logically follows from those claims and what doesn't. God is, by its definition, not falsifiable (since it mustn't be put to test), therefore, science can't study it. I have published 3 papers about linguistics in peer-reviewed journals (about...), so I know how science works.
I think that misconceptions people show about how science works fall into three categories, sorted from the easiest to fight to the hardest to fight:

1. Science is based on absolute proofs which are unscientific to doubt.
Sometimes, as in mathematics, it's possible to do that. Otherwise, it simply isn't and that's why science has to be based on the principle of falsifiability, rather than absolute certainty. That's, I think, the misconception behind "Science has proven God is real." (and perhaps also behind some instances of "Science has proven we need to eat meat." and "Science has proven we need a government."). That misconception is reinforced by the way science is taught in schools and the TV-shows like NCIS where forensics is shown as 100% reliable.

2. That science is based on rejecting any authority as "dogmatism" and trying to research everything by yourself.
That's the logic behind Flat-Earthism, it's very hard to fight. It's also behind some instances of Creationism.

3. If people behave like all the scientists agree on something, that means they actually agree on that. In other words, that what journalists write about science and what our textbooks write about science is true to a very high degree.
And that's where we get most of the instances of "Science has proven we need to eat meat.", "Science has proven we need a government." and "Science has proven animals don't feel pain/that plants feel pain." from. That misconception is the hardest to fight because, when you show people evidence against their beliefs, they end up not even listening to you and your sources and saying you are being unscientific or even anti-scientific.
Politicized issues are very hard to properly study, so it's quite unlikely that scientists actually agree on that. What's obvious is that politicians usually try to justify their policies with reasons that are contrary to what scientists generally believe.
As for eating meat, scientists agree we don't need to do that to be healthy, for the obvious reason that there are tens of millions of vegetarians in the world who are doing just fine. Scientists believe many things that might seem counter-intuitive to us, but animals not feeling pain is not one of them. You can show people proofs that most scientists, who have studied those issues, believe very strong contrary statements, but that won't help much with people who are convinced they already know what scientists believe.

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Post by Jamie in Chile » Wed Jan 30, 2019 9:55 pm

teo123 wrote:
Tue Jan 29, 2019 1:49 am
In some sense, why should I bother to put it more politely when people aren't being polite to me?
Because it's likely to be more effective.

If people aren't being polite to you, you are justified in not being polite, and shouldn't feel any obligation to be polite, but it may just be more effective to convince someone politely.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:13 am

I think even a physicist saying "I've published three papers about physics in peer-reviewed journals (about...), so I can safely tell you that's not how science works." would probably not be that productive either, unless the question is explicitly about physics. And even then, it might not be convincing.

It's better for somebody to explain or just to cite specific things for them.
Otherwise, you need to go hard on epistemology, that that's a 20 page argument that nobody has time for (look at the original flat Earth thread).

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Post by teo123 » Wed Feb 06, 2019 1:22 am

At least I was honest enough to admit that my epistemological philosophy would imply it's unreasonable to believe in airplanes. Then the discussion about the conspiracy theories soon ended because I had to admit I was terribly wrong.
I don't think most people who believe, or claim to believe, weird things are that honest. I think I can safely tell you JROA, the most active Flat-Earther on the TFES forum, doesn't honestly believe the Earth is flat. When I pointed out to him his explanation for the ships disappearing bottom first contradicted the basic trigonometry (as well as the most basic common sense), and included (at least for me) hard-to-draw diagrams in my post, he simply refused to respond.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Thu Feb 07, 2019 7:36 pm

I don't think it's that beneficial to assume people are dishonest, but if they don't reply there's not much that can be done.

Also...
teo123 wrote:
Mon Jan 28, 2019 12:12 pm
And the hierarchy of sciences is the hardest thing to properly study
No. It's, again, an epistemological question. Remember Occam's razor?

At the base of everything you have raw logic and mathematics.
Then you have physics which depends on that.
Then you have chemistry which depends on physics.
Then you have biology which depends on chemistry (biochem).
Then you have psychology which depends on biology/biochem... and that's starting to get soft.
Then you have the softer social sciences which derive largely from psychology, sociology, etc.

There are mixed subjects like economics which are more split between math/logic (100% hard, but arguably not really a science) dealing with idealized market forces and pure rational agents, and a softer side which is a fairly hard application of psychology through statistics. You get more variability there depending on the kinds of questions and answers you're after.

Even when we're talking statistical analysis, we're talking about sciences being assessed by mathematics, not another science. That's above and beyond, and it's not a contradiction to assess sciences with something more fundamental like mathematics.

If you want to discuss that at more length, maybe you can bring it up in the hard/soft sciences thread.

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Post by Red » Thu Feb 07, 2019 7:56 pm

brimstoneSalad wrote:
Thu Feb 07, 2019 7:36 pm
At the base of everything you have raw logic and mathematics.
Then you have physics which depends on that.
Then you have chemistry which depends on physics.
Then you have biology which depends on chemistry (biochem).
Then you have psychology which depends on biology/biochem... and that's starting to get soft.
Then you have the softer social sciences which derive largely from psychology, sociology, etc.
Did you get that from an XKCD comic?
Hierarchy Of Sciences.png
Hierarchy Of Sciences.png (33.15 KiB) Viewed 801 times
I like to think that a more in-depth hierarchy would be
History (not a science but anyway) -> Anthropology -> Sociology -> Psychology -> Neuroscience -> Biology -> Geoscience -> Astronomy -> Chemistry -> Physics -> Mathematics -> Logic -> Philosophy.

Would you say anthropology in regards to Evolution is a harder science?
Learning never exhausts the mind.
-Leonardo da Vinci

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Post by teo123 » Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:00 pm

brimstoneSalad wrote: It's, again, an epistemological question.
What do you mean by "epistemological"? It's more of a poorly defined claim about the empirical world. First of all, determining what some science is about is obviously (at least partly) an empirical question.
There are many people out there who haven't even heard of the nutritional science. Is it possible for them to reach by reason alone that it exists and that it's a reliable science? I don't think so.
Most of the people aren't aware of that it's even possible to make academic arguments about what the names of places coming from the long-extinct and poorly-attested or non-attested languages meant. How could you determine how reliable that is by reason alone (as the word "epistemological" implies)? All we can do is to say from the experience that it appears to be reliable, people who do that strive to make their theories coherent (both internally and with other well-accepted theories in linguistics) and sometimes they are confirmed later by other sciences (as in the case of the Antun Mayer's interpretation of the name "Asseria").
brimstoneSalad wrote:Even when we're talking statistical analysis, we're talking about sciences being assessed by mathematics, not another science.
OK, the study you linked in the other thread talks about the supposed lack of a scientific consensus in social sciences. Where is that in linguistics? I don't quite see it. Yes, people who study Croatian toponyms have so far failed to agree on some details. But nobody of them doubts the basics of the historical linguistics, like that Proto-Indo-European language existed and some of its basic properties. In fact, I think that not a single one of them even doubts the details such as the Laryngeal Theory and the Havlik's Law.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Sun Feb 10, 2019 1:57 pm

Red wrote:
Thu Feb 07, 2019 7:56 pm
Did you get that from an XKCD comic?
Ah, no, that would be from university indoctrination in the hard sciences.
Good comic though.
Red wrote:
Thu Feb 07, 2019 7:56 pm
Would you say anthropology in regards to Evolution is a harder science?
I'm not sure.
teo123 wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:00 pm
What do you mean by "epistemological"? It's more of a poorly defined claim about the empirical world.
The facts about science in practice may be empirical, but it's still based on fundamentally non-empirical principles.
teo123 wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:00 pm
Is it possible for them to reach by reason alone that it exists and that it's a reliable science? I don't think so.
Based on biology it is. You know things eat and derive nutrition from those things. And that, based on chemistry, knowing how chemicals react, based on physics, and so on.
You would be able to derive a conceptual framework.

Now, whether the field was politicized and full of corruption or dogma you would not be able to deduce by reason alone.
A science can depart from its ideal in practice, but that doesn't say anything about the underlying potential.

We should be able to reason that chemistry is probably a softer science than physics merely by their relation to each other.
It could be in some world that physics is infested by quacks and pseudoscientists and that chemistry is not, but that's a different issue and does not speak to the underlying principles involved.
teo123 wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:00 pm
How could you determine how reliable that is by reason alone (as the word "epistemological" implies)?
Again, based on relationship to other sciences and dependencies on various variables those deal with.
teo123 wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:00 pm
All we can do is to say from the experience that it appears to be reliable, people who do that strive to make their theories coherent (both internally and with other well-accepted theories in linguistics) and sometimes they are confirmed later by other sciences (as in the case of the Antun Mayer's interpretation of the name "Asseria").
The latter case is concordance and that's what you want. That actually confirms something and hardens a science.
A mere framework that doesn't contradict itself isn't science, it's ad hoc hypothesizing. Again, the same deal with Flat-Earth models.

You *could* make a model that explains everything about the flat Earth, it would just take a lot of work and involve some very radical divergences from established theory. If you worked hard enough, you could even force compatibility with other things. That doesn't mean anything.

Softer sciences don't *have to* be filled with ad hoc hypotheses, it's a correlation, but humans being how they are they want to pretend to know things they don't and can't plausibly confirm so there we go.
teo123 wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:00 pm
OK, the study you linked in the other thread talks about the supposed lack of a scientific consensus in social sciences.
That's a correlation that comes from the low hardness.

You could absolutely get nearly 100% consensus in a soft science, though. Just need enough group thinking. Look at the level of consensus in theology that a god exists, for example. There's also the bias that an atheist is unlikely to go to school to study theology.

This has actually been a problem in psychology for a while, with a lot of poor studies that have just been accepted for a long time *because* it's a soft science so it's hard to disprove them, but also because there's so much to "discover" that there isn't as much incentive to challenge existing ideas.

A high level of consensus, though, suggests we should look at something more deeply because there *may* be something there.
teo123 wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:00 pm
Where is that in linguistics? I don't quite see it.
It's not for you to subjectively analyze based on your feeling on the matter and claim, out of your ass, that there's high level of consensus.
If you *really* want to claim there's a higher or equal level of consensus in linguistics, then use the same methods that study used and apply them to linguistics (not just a niche within linguistics studying Croatian).

Remember when I told you to do your homework in the Flat-Earth thread and show the math for your model?
Well, do the same here. You can read that study and its methods, and apply it to the published papers in linguistics.
Show some proof that linguistics has a higher level of consensus than clinical psychology, for example. Your general feeling on the issue is not evidence.

I have no doubt that there are a few matters there's consensus on, like the historical existence of root languages, which could be predicted by biological genetics.
Obviously people dispersed from common ancestors, and we can trace lineage through genetics pretty reliably. We also have well established that languages diverge by drifting and mixing (based on good written evidence) and there's no reason to believe they're being completely replaced by constructed languages; although sometimes they might be replaced by conquest, a pidgin is more likely. There would also be genetic evidence of a foreign conquest.
Matters like root languages can be harder science because we can use a harder science to predict them (like biology).

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