Sunday, 20 May 2012

highlights from lawrence torcello's "the trouble with pseudoskepticism"

skeptical inquirer, vol. 36, no. 3 | may/june 2012

"science advances through efforts to disprove hypotheses, even when hope is held for their confirmation. this is described well by philosopher karl popper:
whenever we propose a solution to a problem, we ought to try as hard as we can to overthrow our solution, rather than defend it. Few of us, unfortunately, practice this precept
criticism will be fruitful only if we state our problem as clearly as we can and put our solution in a sufficiently definite form--a form in which it can be critically discussed.

this makes me think of the mormon doctrine (DC 132:18):
"my house is a house of order, saith the Lord God"

is it? or is it a house of non-testable, unwarranted claims?

"The efforts Popper describes are reflected in standard scientific practices, such as repeated and controlled experimentation, the publication of findings only after peer-reviewed critique, and the requirement that such findings be presented openly so that other researchers may attempt to replicate and independently confirm or reject them under the same rigorous constraints. Indeed, all of this is a necessary prerequisite for any findings to take on a meaningful level of scientific acceptance, let alone consensus. A scientific theory becomes accepted as such only once the laws observed, findings predicted, and facts organized under that proposed theory have been so rigorously tested and confirmed over time that it becomes highly implausible (if nevertheless logically possible) that the stated theory should ever be refuted. Any scientific theory as a whole will represent the accumulated and organized explanatory force of numerous repeatedly tested data points. Thus skeptical critique is necessarily and inextricably part and parcel of the scientific process."

this made me wonder, what is a scientific law then?
"A scientific law is a statement based on repeated experimental observation that describes some aspect of the world. A scientific law always applies under the same conditions, and implies that there is a causal relationship involving its elements
Laws differ from scientific theories in that they do not posit a mechanism or explanation of phenomena: they are merely distillations of the results of repeated observation"

back to the article:
"while scientists are busy attempting to disprove a favored hypothesis and guarding themselves against the ever-present danger of confirmation bias, pseudoscientists actively seek confirming evidence for what they have already deemed to be the case.
to call oneself a paranormal investigator (as opposed to an investigator of paranormal to already confess a belief that there is something paranormal to investigate; the pursuit itself begs the essential question"
"truzzi's concern was that skeptics not abandon reasonable agnosticism in favor of a dismissive cynicism. instead, truzzi would have us remain true to the spirit of scientific inquiry by proportioning our beliefs to the strength of evidence available. and when there is no supporting evidence available for a claim, truzzi would have us call that claim unwarranted, rather than disproven."
 "some types of claims, even if true, are beyond the scope of what can be scientifically supported"

"expand upon the concept of pseudoskepticism to include that well-known pseudointellectual performance that involves the rejection of assertions already firmly established through the rigorous scientific process. pseudoskepticism is a form of cynicism posturing as skepticism. it is fatuously premised on the assumption that doubt for doubt's sake is inherently rational--call this the 'cynic's fallacy'. such is obviously not the case when there is strong supporting evidence in favor of a given claim."
this made me think about people who claim things like "well even when X was unanimously accepted by scientists, it was later proven to be false" and wonder when the scientific method really was born, and is there a list of scientific theories supported by a scientific consensus that were later disproved?
yes, this is called superseded scientific theories.

"of course, this is not to argue that one cannot legitimately question scientific consensus; indeed, without constant testing and questioning, science would be in danger of stagnation. scientific inquiry flourishes in the context of open intellectual contest, as evidenced by its skeptical nature."

"pseudoskepticism, alternatively, can be understood in relation to three proppositions put forth by bertrand russell in 'on the value of skepticism':
there are matters about which those who have investigated them are agree; the dates of eclipses may serve as an illustration.
even when the experts all agree, they may well be mistaken.
nevertheless the opinion of experts, when it is unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion. the scepticism that i advocate amounts only to this:
(1) that when the experts are agree, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain;
(2) that when they are not agree, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and
(3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment."
seems rational =)

"russell goes on to argue that if these simple propositions were to be accepted, they would have positive, even revolutionary implications for human life. russell therewith suggests that his skeptical principles have certain moral and social implications."

"[not] every appeal to expertise ought to be considered a fallacious appeal to authority. this is not to say that experts cannot be wrong, but it is always more reasonable to appeal to an expert than a nonexpert when one lacks appropriate expertise. it stands to reason that the more experts agree on a particular topic, the more cause there is for nonexperts to defer to their consensus."

"skepticism is precisely what has established the overwhelming consensus among working climatologists for anthropogenic global warming. to deny the legitimacy of this consensus while claiming to be a skeptic would require an unjustified double standard regarding one's appreciation of the scientific process."

"to call such obdurate denialism 'skepticism' is a gross misnomer that undermines science as well as the potency of genuine skepticism"

"i maintain, with (richard cameron) wilson, that pseudoskepticism is most often a product of ideological motivation rather than of balanced inquiry."

"the burden is upon the researchers to demonstrate their alternative hypothesis within the standard parameters of the scientific process (i.e. empirical research, peer-review, repeated independent replication by other researchers, etc.)"

"a good place to begin learning about anthropogenic global warming is by turning to the intergovernmental panel on climate change
realclimate: climate science from climate scientists
skeptical science: getting skeptical about global warming (pseudo-)skepticism
national center for science education

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