• #26
PeterDonis
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My intention was to make it clear that they deserve deference only when speaking of science.
I don't think this is quite the right way of putting it. Scientists only deserve deference when they can demonstrate the necessary predictive track record based on scientific models to support whatever claims they are making. Many scientists cannot do that even when they are speaking of science. That's part of the nature of science.
 
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  • #27
PeterDonis
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as practitioners of the scientific method our input should be valued on a panoply of topics
You're assuming that "scientist" and "practitioner of the scientific method" are coextensive. They're not.

I think a person's input should be valued based on the content of the input, not on who it is coming from. Non-scientists might be just as good at constructing models and building a sound predictive track record in a particular domain as scientists are; conversely, scientists might not always do a good job of that even in their own fields.
 
  • #28
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You're assuming that "scientist" and "practitioner of the scientific method" are coextensive. They're not.
No that assumption is far too strong. As with almost every life decision, who one chooses to listen to is based on incomplete knowledge. I am asserting merely that the probability is better. And the quality of the science is a pretty good "tell".
 
  • #29
symbolipoint
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I'm asking: suppose that scientists started doing a much better job than they are currently doing, of accurately communicating to the public the current state of scientific knowledge, including all the uncertainties. Would that make the public more likely to confuse science with engineering than they are now?
I could not say. I can only guess that that would cause no change.
 
  • #30
symbolipoint
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PeterDonis
I finally looked at the first 5 or 6 paragraphs of your article more carefully.
I am not right now presenting a judgement; I just have two questions, of your opinion, if you like:
What are the responsibilities of a scientist?
What are not the responsibilities of a scientist?
(You might also want to say, exactly what IS a scientist?)
 
  • #31
PeterDonis
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What are the responsibilities of a scientist?
I would say:

- A scientist is responsible for honestly reporting all experiments and their results (including the raw data, not just the results of data analysis), whether or not they supported whatever hypothesis the scientist was trying to test.

- A scientist is responsible for accurately communicating the current state of scientific knowledge in whatever field they are working in, including all uncertainties. This includes drawing careful distinctions between scientific theories that have been tested experimentally, and hypotheses or speculations that have not. It also includes carefully distinguishing their own personal opinions from scientific theories or hypotheses.

- A scientist is responsible for not invoking the authority of Science for what they say, unless what they are saying is backed by a strong predictive track record that they can verify of their own personal knowledge.

What are not the responsibilities of a scientist?
I would say:

- A scientist, in their capacity as a scientist, is not responsible for deciding what public policy should be, even in an area where their scientific work provides critical information. In their capacity as a citizen, a scientist of course has a voice in public policy, just as all citizens do, but their status as a scientist gives them no special responsibility in that regard over and above the normal responsibilities of a citizen. (They should, of course, accurately communicate the current state of scientific knowledge in discussions about public policy, but that is already covered above.)

You might also want to say, exactly what IS a scientist?
Of course there are many ways of answering that question. For purposes of this discussion, I would say a scientist is someone who claims to be communicating information that has a scientific basis and is relevant to some issue of public concern.
 
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  • #32
atyy
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Of course there are many ways of answering that question. For purposes of this discussion, I would say a scientist is someone who claims to be communicating information that has a scientific basis and is relevant to some issue of public concern.
In that sense, everyone should be a scientist, in that we hope that everyone uses sound science in forming their policy preferences.

The preceding statement is of course, made not as a scientist, but as a lay member of society.
 
  • #33
PeterDonis
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In that sense, everyone should be a scientist, in that we hope that everyone uses sound science in forming their policy preferences.
I see that I phrased my statement much too broadly. I should have said "claims to be communicating information that has a scientific basis which they have personal knowledge of as a researcher".
 
  • #34
PeterDonis
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I should have said "claims to be communicating information that has a scientific basis which they have personal knowledge of as a researcher".
To give an example: I cannot claim to be a scientist regarding general relativity, because I haven't personally done any research, or personally investigated any research done by others by looking at the primary source data, verifying calculations, etc. (Actually, that's not strictly true; I have done this in a few particular cases. But it's true to a good enough approximation for this discussion.) But Clifford Will, who wrote the Living Reviews article "The Confrontation Between General Relativity And Experiment" can claim to be a scientist regarding general relativity regarding what he wrote in that article; even though he didn't personally conduct every experiment described (though he was personally involved in some), he took the time to personally read the original papers and satisfy himself that they were correct before including them as references in the article and explaining what they showed.
 
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  • #35
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The public tends to have a binary perspective on scientific questions. They either think science has told us something is true, or that thing is false.

Scientists are afforded a degree of credibility in their claims. I think they have an obligation to be clear about the truthiness of what they say. Unfortunately, some instead use their authority to try and convince others of their beliefs (maybe supported, but not certain) and are happy to have those beliefs accepted as facts by the general population. Scientists can easily manipulate the public (intentionally or not). The goal should be not to convince people of things, but to offer the ingredients and tools for people to contemplate the questions themselves.
 
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  • #36
jack action
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From my perspective about science, a scientific method exists and you choose to use it or not. This scientific method has evolved throughout the time - and continues to evolve - to give us guidelines on how to observe our environment to better find patterns that are accurate. The theory is that one who uses the scientific method has better chances of finding a reliable pattern. But that is a probability, not a certitude.

The problem raised in this thread about determining if we should follow (blindly?) 'scientists' (who is a scientist?) or not is not one about the merits of the scientific method, but about personal freedom and acceptance of diversity.

Say a group of people decides we need to build an ark because a catastrophic flood is coming. Let's take 2 scenarios:
  • in one case, 90% of the population wants to follow them and participate in the project;
  • in the other case, only 15% of the population wants to follow them.
In any case, why would anyone wants to force the people who don't want to participate, to do so, against their will? If you want to build an ark, do it, no matter what are your reasons, no matter what are your means, no matter what are the outcomes. The same judgement applies if you don't want to build an ark.

If I tell you that the group of people who wants to build an ark (whether they are followed by 90% or 15% of the population), based their decision on a quote from the bible, it would be laughable for anyone who chooses to follow the scientific method. In such a case, any 'scientist' would be glad to have the freedom to choose which project they can invest in.

But what if I tell you that the group of people who wants to build an ark (whether they are followed by 90% or 15% of the population), based their decision on a thorough examination of weather data and elaborate mathematical models? Why would the rest of the population lose their freedom to choose their own path? Whether their choice is based on a bible quote or simply on an "I don't care" mentality.

Even with the argument that if they don't participate, we're all going to die or that they will be saved by your ark anyway and that's unfair, your choice still lies with what you will do with the conditions given. It shouldn't be about what others will do, even if what others will do will have an influence on your decision.

It's funny how if a squirrel don't help you build the ark and you can't finish it in time, nobody blames the squirrel. If a squirrel jumps on your ark and get saved, again, nobody blames the squirrel. Why is it different with another human being? Why not accepting the fact that some will know the outcome (maybe out of pure luck), some will not, and that the one who doesn't have a clue might be you? People who use the scientific method should understand more than anyone else that everything is about probabilities, thus anyone can be a winner or a looser. Pretty much the whole scientific concept behind diversity.

The scientific method is a tool, not a magic wand.
 
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  • #37
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I will point out your argument about liberty fails completely in the current COVID-19 pandemic.
 
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  • #38
symbolipoint
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I will point out your argument about liberty fails completely in the current COVID-19 pandemic.
jack action's point is made. Long in discussion, but made. The point is, back to the same question. Nobody is certain of scientists being taken as authorities or not. The reference to the Ark & Flood example is just to show, planning for disaster and combined community participation is helpful - very helpful.
 
  • #39
PeterDonis
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your argument about liberty fails completely in the current COVID-19 pandemic
This is off topic here; too many other considerations are involved that are outside the purview of science. Please keep discussion in this thread focused on the Insights article and its topic.
 
  • #40
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OK then back to the question at hand. I believe the appropriate layman's response is familiar. If it is an important question one should seek a second opinion. What else can one do?
 
  • #41
PeterDonis
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If it is an important question one should seek a second opinion.
And then you have the same problem with respect to the second opinion that you had with respect to the first: how can you evaluate it?

What else can one do?
That question is what my suggestions in the article are intended to address.
 
  • #42
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In practice, at least for the medical analog to which i was alluding, the Google search and some working knowledge of the interpretation thereof, constitute a kind of search for consensus opinion. I think mainstream science relies on concensus when necessary.
This produces numerous pitfalls but I am reminded of Churchill's admonition about Democracy.
 
  • #43
PeterDonis
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In practice, at least for the medical analog to which i was alluding, the Google search and some working knowledge of the interpretation thereof, constitute a kind of search for consensus opinion.
I can't speak for other people, but when I am looking up information about a medical question, I'm not looking for consensus. I'm looking for what the information is based on. Have there been studies done? Are there papers I can read that describe them? Is what I'm finding consistent with my general understanding of how the human body works and how chemicals work? And so on.

I think mainstream science relies on concensus when necessary.
I think it depends on what you mean by "relies". I don't think scientific claims should be established by consensus. They should be established by a track record of accurate predictions.

I do think consensus plays a role in mainstream science when scientists decide which research areas to work on.
 
  • #44
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In light of your (I think correct) last sentence, it would seem to me that
  1. The negative nature of science is that nothing can ever be proven completely correct
  2. Things we rely upon as "true" are those that have been the most researched and withstood the scrutiny
  3. The role of consensus in shaping the outlines body of scientific truth should not be minimized
 
  • #45
PeterDonis
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The negative nature of science is that nothing can ever be proven completely correct
Agreed.

Things we rely upon as "true" are those that have been the most researched and withstood the scrutiny
This is not how I would put it. I would put it that things we rely upon as "true", at least in a scientific context, are those that are based on a solid track record of accurate predictions. Usually those things are also the ones that have been the most researched and withstood the scrutiny, but the latter are just proxies, and since we should have direct access to the track record of successful predictions, there is no need to use proxies to judge the claims. We can just examine the track record directly.

The role of consensus in shaping the outlines body of scientific truth should not be minimized
Again, I would put it differently. I would say that the role of consensus in determining what is researched and what gets scrutiny should not be minimized.

I also would say that the role of consensus in that process can be significantly affected by how science is funded. Today almost all science is funded by government grants, which means funding is centralized, and so one would expect consensus to play a larger role in determining where the funding goes. Contrast this with the situation in, say, the middle of the nineteenth century, when almost all science was funded privately, and consensus played much less of a role, since each scientist only had to convince his own private patron (who in many cases was just himself) that he was working on something worthwhile.
 
  • #46
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Usually those things are also the ones that have been the most researched and withstood the scrutiny, but the latter are just proxies, and since we should have direct access to the track record of successful predictions, there is no need to use proxies to judge the claims. We can just examine the track record directly.
If I understand you, this presupposes that data sufficient to test the predictions already exists. But often it requires the aforementioned consensus to generate the data (the poster child being the Higgs Boson I suppose). Or gravitational radiation. Many such examples, but certainly not always.
 
  • #47
PeterDonis
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If I understand you, this presupposes that data sufficient to test the predictions already exists.
Yes. If it doesn't, obviously you can't test the predictions, so you can't know whether or not they are accurate.

often it requires the aforementioned consensus to generate the data
Yes, this is included in deciding what is researched and what gets scrutiny.
 
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  • #48
Vanadium 50
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Scientists only deserve deference when they can demonstrate the necessary predictive track record based on scientific models to support whatever claims they are making.
Do you have an opinion on Neil Ferguson's 2005 comments on H5N1 flu?
  1. 150M-200M could die, based on scaling up 1918. (Reported in The Guardian)
  2. 1.5B (e.g. 1500M) could die, assuming a mutation that produces a more deadly and contagious strain (Reported in New Scientist; to be fair, the "more deadly" part was entirely of New Scientist's making. The relevant paper doesn't discuss outcomes at all.)
 
  • #49
PeterDonis
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Do you have an opinion on Neil Ferguson's 2005 comments on H5N1 flu?
Do you have links to the items you referenced?
 
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