iFolio Entry 6 – Scientific Predictions

How can scientists decide between competing hypotheses?

As part of the scientific method, scientists are expected to evaluate the validity of their hypothesis. This may encapsulate explanations for possible outliers, anomalous results and describing the variables that may have affected these outcomes. This may be problematic because as much as scientists can try to control/repeat the circumstances of an experiment, an exact replica can never be obtained due to human error or natural changes (such as temperature or wind, if applicable). Therefore, technically, the validity of all data in labs is questionable as it is impossible to reproduce the same situation.

Moreover, according to the principle of simplicity, when deciding between competing theories, scientists generally prefer the simpler one. This mirrors how people tend to have faith in the orderliness of nature, showing not only a subconscious desire to rebuff incomprehensible concepts but also an innate desire to understand the world around us. For instance, Copernicus firmly believed planetary orbits were perfect circles; however, they are actually ellipses, which are arguably less aesthetically pleasing. Thus, ugly truths, however crucial they are, tend to be ignored as they conflict with personal perceptions of beauty. Additionally, as humans enjoy believing that nature makes full sense, if a theory disagrees with previously established knowledge, scientists may be biased toward rejecting this hypothesis. Conclusively, when humans make a discovery or a prediction that is not in line with their pre-existing beliefs, they may choose to side against it.

Scientists may also choose to accept hypotheses that satisfy confirmation bias. This is the notion that people only look for what they want to see, ignoring threatening evidence and considering it an anomaly. An example would be if someone believed all girls preferred wearing skirts over pants. They would take note of every time this was true; however, if they met a girl who said they preferred pants, they would invalidate this piece of data as an exception. Hence, intellectual integrity is a valuable trait in scientists as it is vital to acknowledge evidence that may falsify a hypothesis.

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iFolio Entry 5 – Science vs Pseudoscience

TED Talk: Why people believe weird things (Michael Shermer)

What does Michael Shermer mean when he claims that science is a verb?

Shermer believes science is the search for natural explanations to phenomena. While people tend to categorize science as a noun or a ‘thing’, Shermer thinks it is a way of perception.

What reasons does Shermer give for our tendency to believe unlikely claims?

Theories may be tainted by cognitive bias. Shermer provides the ‘Face on Mars’ example in which people believed they saw a face imprinted on the surface of Mars. This is an inevitable misinterpretation as through evolution, humans have been socially programmed to look for faces. Moreover, when humans see something strange, we often squint. This actually hinders the quality of our data collection as it becomes more ‘coarse-grain’. Auditory illusions also influence our susceptibility to accepting unlikely claims. When people are given sounds/words to listen for, they are much more likely to hear it even if it is incorrect.

What two advantages did Christiaan Huygens have over Galileo in trying to understand observations of the rings of Saturn?

When Galileo turned his telescope to Saturn, planetary rings had not been previously theorized about and his data was cryptic. As can be seen through his incorrectly reported qualitative observations, he was not able to collect the data needed to create a valid theory. Christiaan Huygens was able to solve this in 1655 as he now was able to (1) base his work off of pre-existing theories (about the planetary rings and function of the solar system) and (2) collect clearer data.

According to Shermer, what mistakes do pseudosciences such as astrology or parapsychology make that prevent them from gaining knowledge?

During experimentation, scientists may encounter both ‘hits’ and ‘misses’, meaning sometimes they are proven correct and sometimes incorrect. Shermer claims that in the pseudosciences, practitioners tend to neglect the ‘misses’, therefore ignoring the bigger picture and making the wider database more unreliable.

Additional notes

Shermer asserts that scientists tend to use ambiguous linguistic placeholders to name something for lack of a better term. This usually happens when the subject is difficult to put into words or when scientists do not have sufficient understanding of it to give an effective label (he says “until we figure out what it is, we’ll just call it this.”) He also suggests that photographic evidence, although considered a primary source, may not always tell the full story. For instance, he presented a blurry photo of a hubcap high in the sky. Despite not needing digital manipulation, If the photo was passed on without sufficient context, viewers may be misled to believe that it was an alien UFO.

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iFolio Entry 4 – Natural Sciences

“What distinguishes Natural Science from other AOKs?”

A distinctive generalization about the natural sciences is the belief that all knowledge in this area is certain. While they may contain a factual component, advancement in the natural sciences is still dependent on a more abstract WOK: faith. Faith is commonly misconceived as separate from science and more related to religion; however, as Naomi Oreskes argues in her TED talk, the sciences are rooted in faith as scientists trust the findings of others. While one may evaluate the validity of their data, they can never be entirely sure. Consequently, as new studies and hypotheses are based off of previous discoveries, scientists are relying on information that may not be completely true to begin with.

This presumption probably stems from another topic Oreskes touches on– the scientific method. As this experimental format seems to be tried, tested and true, the general public accepts the underlying assumption that it must provide fair results. Firstly, I would argue that other subjects have their own ways of determining investigative truth (i.e. OPVL source evaluations in history); secondly, as explained above, science is reliant on faith to some extent, meaning even this methodology has innate, unfortunately uncontrollable flaws. For instance, the fact that the scientific method relies on sense perception is testament enough to its fallibility (as explored in a previous iFolio post).

During our class discussion, we discussed the advantages and detriments of the sciences being based on faith. While scientists strive for truthful results to the best of their ability, it is inevitable that we trust in faith– otherwise, scientific advancement would come to a halt as we would have no prior knowledge to develop theories from.

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iFolio Entry 3 – Knowledge Questions

RLS: CRISPR technology (article)

First order claims:

  • Members of the public were interviewed about their understanding of CRISPR
  • Scientists have been developing this CRISPR technology for years
  • The technology is not ready for public use

What makes my TOK radar go off:

This article is not only about the CRISPR tech itself but also about how there are many public misconceptions about it. Therefore, while one may explore scientific research and ethical implications, one may also investigate how language can shape public opinion or misunderstandings.

Second order claims:

  • Sometimes scientists deem it necessary to interrupt natural processes
  • Simpler language allows for quicker communication
  • Communicative speed does not equate to communicative effectiveness

Knowledge question:

  • To what extent does language influence our understanding of the world?
  • Relation to another RLS: Donald Trump’s use of language and persuasive rhetoric has reshaped American politics and swayed public opinion (link)
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iFolio Entry 2 – First & Second Order Claims

(1) AOK: Human Sciences (PDF(original source)

Revised knowledge questions (09/29):

  • To what extent can human scientists successfully determine causality?
  • To what extent can the human element help or hinder scientific advancement?

(2) AOK: History (PDF) (original source)

Revised knowledge questions (09/29):

  • How does the validity of scientific research dictate the accuracy of our historical knowledge?
  • To what extent is historical knowledge based on interpretation?
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