26 june 2018
All original writing
2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 Ian McLauchlin
THE INTERNET, THE DEPICTION OF SCIENCE AND THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
Something new has happened. The internet has allowed ANYBODY to publicise their opinion. This presents the world with a huge number of opinions BUT they're all presented as of equal worth. Expert and non-
Here's an example. Reading various comments on newspaper articles, it really does appear that a large number of people think that scientific conclusions are simply a matter of opinion. One person’s view against another's. These people clearly know nothing about science but they think it's alright to present their ignorance as fact. Unfortunately there are a lot of undereducated people who'll believe them. Moreover, they WANT to believe them because that then confirms their own view and they then have no need to tax their brain by trying to understand. Unfathomably, they're also PROUD that they don't understand.
So what is science and why isn't it just a compilation of current opinion as presented by the ill-
Science represents the sum of our knowledge of how the natural world works. It derives from observation, careful measurement and the ruthless and rigorous application of logic and reason. Such a body of knowledge isn't derived by one person in a given field of expertise but by a whole range of scientists checking and reproducing the findings of each other. It's the result of critical examination of data, methodology, and reproducibility of results, among other things, by others equally expert in that field. That's what's called Peer Review. It's only a matter of opinion in the sense that nothing's accepted, or acceptable, unless the world's experts agree that there is no flaw whatsoever in the logic of the collection and interpretation of results. The conclusions must be supported by the findings and must be compatible with the rest of current knowledge.
Specifically, one can have an idea and try to test that idea by a properly designed experiment. If the experiment shows that the idea is wrong, then something else must be happening and it's the scientist's job to find out what it is.
Something not at all obvious here is that mere opinion wouldn't allow the prediction and extrapolation of results and understanding into the unknown. There are very many examples in which a detailed understanding of phenomena allows prediction of something new. This then provides a lead as to what might be possible or what field exists for further study. On numerous occasions such predictions have been proved correct, thereby confirming that the original understanding was also correct. A simple example is that the understanding of the behaviour of atoms allowed construction of the Periodic Table. As a consequence it was possible to predict the existence of further elements, unknown at the time, and throw light on the structure of atoms themselves. There are many more.
It can take a long time for a prediction to be able to be tested, sometimes because the equipment necessary to test doesn't yet exist. That doesn't mean the prediction is wrong, just that it hasn't yet been confirmed by the amassing of evidence. Examples are the theory and confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves and the Higg's Boson. Sometimes the scope and end product of research is not even intially understood by the researchers themselves. Tim Berners-
So science is not simply a collection of empirical observations. A framework exists, invisible to the non-
But the internet often misrepresents all of this by not distinguishing between the statements of the ordinary and ill-
Ian McLauchlin 29 Sept 2017