Revised 26 September 2021
What is Science?
- An hypothesis is a proposal intended to explain certain facts or observations and a scientific theory is a scientific hypothesis which has survived testing.
- Scientific laws describe the phenomena of how things are and do not dictate how things should be.
- Science deals with facts based on hard evidence provided by experiments and analysis.
- knowledge or scientific theories about the world can never be conclusively proven.
- Science is defined by its methodology and not its contents because all knowledge based on science is provisional.
- What distinguishes genuine science from pseudoscience is its willingness to allow evidence to confirm or challenge its theories.
- According to Karl Popper (1963), “the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability”. Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theories fails this criterion because his theories are presented in an unfalsifiable form. No experiment could ever disprove them.
The Scientific Method
- The challenge of the scientific method is to eliminate personal and subjective influences. Methods of science have been developed to eliminate these influences. One method is the peer review process.
- There are differing degrees of stringency in the peer review process provided by different avenues of publication.
- The findings of conference papers should be regarded as being tentative and yet to be confirmed by the research community.
- Ideally, all scientific observations should be absolutely objective, but in reality, observations will always be limited and prejudiced in some way due the inherent limitations of our sensory perceptions and our personal subjective biases.
- Experiments are carried out to enable an investigator to focus on and measure a single or more than one attribute of what is being examined by eliminating all other extraneous influences. Experiments which cannot be reproduced are rejected by the science community.
- This approach is called reductionism based on the belief that we can best explain something by breaking it down into its individual parts. The very act of deciding what constitutes a part of the whole is subjective.
- The behaviour of an entire system cannot be deduced by examining only the individual behaviour of the parts when the behaviour of the entire system is influenced by the interactions of the parts. A systems dynamics approach is necessary to model and simulate the behaviour of the total system.
- It is impossible to ever know the extent of all possible theories that can be applied to any set of experimental results.
- When there are several possible theories which explain the data, the principle of Occam’s Razor is applied where simple explanations are preferred over complicated explanations.
- The inductive method of research is based on collecting information and then drawing conclusions which leads to the framing of an hypothesis.
- The classic problem of induction is that no amount of evidence will ever be enough to prove a case. There is always the possibility of being proved wrong.
- The hypothetico-deductive method is opposite from the induction method in that it starts with an hypothesis instead of observation. It then proceeds to establish whether that hypothesis is correct or not by deducing a prediction which can be tested by way of experiment or observation.
- The abductive method of reasoning is where instead of working from a cause or precondition to a consequence or effect, scientists work back from a consequence to a precondition using a process of inference to find the best explanations.
- Some people expect science to provide absolute certainty. This expectation is unrealistic. Some people need and seek certainty in their lives. Pseudoscience panders to this need.
Critical Thinking and Formal Logic
- An argument is a presentation of reasons to support a conclusion. An argument can be verbal or in written form.
- Critical thinking involves the ability to recognise the logical form of an argument, deconstruct that argument, and then evaluate the conclusion.
- Critical thinking includes not only understanding the correct use of logic, but also considers the psychological biases of oneself and others.
- Critical thinking requires practice, effort, and the humility of being prepared to objectively consider claims and arguments of others which challenge one’s own beliefs.
- In formal logic, the statements “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man” are known as premises (propositions).
- The key feature of a logically valid deduction is that if the premises are true and one thing follows necessarily from the other, then the conclusion must be true.
- Deduction alone, however, cannot establish whether a conclusion is true or not as opposed to being logically valid. All that logic can offer is that if all the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true so long as the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. If any of the premises is not true, then the conclusion is also not true.
Deconstructing and Assessing Arguments
- Understanding how to construct your own valid arguments is an advantage, but not essential, in evaluating the arguments of others.
- If a verbal argument is complex, then it is an advantage to have a recording of that argument which can be used to create a written transcription to enable deconstruction.
- Deconstruction of an argument is a process of disentangling the chain of arguments into separate sets of premises and conclusions and linking conclusions which form the premises of higher order conclusions.
- The total argument stands on the weakest link in the chains of reasoning.
- Deconstructing arguments can be done with pen and paper or by using a word processor.
- It is an advantage to set out the structure of a complex argument in graphical form. Pen and paper are adequate, but the use of graphic software makes the task easier.
- The process of deconstructing an argument involves assessing whether the assumptions of an argument are warranted, the reasoning is relevant and sufficient, and whether relevant information has been omitted or not.
- Assumptions can be overt and explicit or covert. Covert assumptions can be the most difficult to identify. In many cases, the boundary of the subject matter is too limited and the argument has accordingly failed to address the full story.
- A fallacy is a type of argument that may seem to be correct, but upon examination is not.
- It is useful to study and recognise arguments with similar and different types of fallacies to help keep us from being misled. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
- Arguments which omit relevant evidence can appear to be stronger than they really are. Knowing immediately whether critical information has been omitted or not requires a broad background in the field of the argument.
- There is currently no universally accepted classification of fallacies. Nonetheless, some classifications are more useful than others.
- Developing critical thinking requires time, effort, and commitment. A first step towards becoming a critical thinker is to obtain a copy of Haskin’s paper and/or Kindle book and absorb the contents.
- In the 1970s, Professor Al Bartlett found that many college and university students did not have an intuitive grasp of exponential growth and its implications for the future of humanity. Al Bartlett subsequently devoted a great deal of time and energy over several decades educating students and the public as to the implications of exponential growth.
- If a quantity is always increasing (or decreasing), but the changes do not have the regularity of either linear or exponential change, the growth (or decay) is said to be monotonic or continuous.
- Linear growth occurs when an entity increases by a fixed amount of the original quantity over time interval.
- Constant exponential growth occurs when an entity increases by a fixed percentage over each time interval. If the rate of exponential growth fluctuates over time and the entity is monotonically increasing, then the population is still said to be growing exponentially.
- An entity undergoing a low rate of exponential growth will always grow larger and more rapidly over time than the same entity undergoing linear growth.
- The doubling time of any entity which is growing is the time interval over which that entity doubles in size.
- Given a continuous rate of exponential growth, a rule of thumb to estimate how many years it takes for that entity to double in size is approximately given by 72 divided by the rate of exponential growth. For example, an economy growing at 3% per year takes 72/3 = 24 years to double in size.
- Given that a stock of resources in the ground is extracted at constant exponential rate, then the amount of resources extracted over the last doubling time period is almost the same as the sum total of resources extracted since the resources were first extracted.
- Given steady exponential growth in the extraction of resources, the absolute size of the stock of any resource has very little effect on the time it takes to exhaust the resource. If the original resource were twice as large, it would take only one more doubling time to exhaust the resource.
- William Ophuls warned us back in 1977 that the time for concern about the potential exhaustion of a resource comes when no more than about 10% of the total has been used up. So far, this warning has been ignored.