• #76
PeterDonis
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two action statements
I'm not sure what you mean by "action statements". I suggested predictive track record and whether due attention is being paid to uncertainties as two ways to assess whether the claims are worth taking seriously. Deciding whether to take the claims seriously is an action on your part, I suppose, but it's not something anyone else tells you to do. It's a decision you make yourself.
 
  • #77
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English is so imprecise :smile:

Can you seriously not see the difference between the two?
I can, my being pedantic with definitions is not to have to infer your intent for the words you use, which can lead to confusion and miscommunication. And 'action statements' is as you saw them, I think, it's just how someone can apply the methodology you describe, as an action. Not as a command, and always as an individual decision to make.

Anyway, I appreciate your Insights piece because the topic is thought provoking, esp. given our 'fake news' environment, and I also feel I've cleared up my misunderstand sufficiently well, thank you for bearing with me, @PeterDonis.
 
  • #79
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First - I think this is such an important topic I should say thank you for raising it.

One thing I've always felt should be more generally understood is that science is not engineering.

Engineering expects its outcomes to be predictable within reasonable limits every time using pre-defined
tools and data. An engineer never wants anything unexpected to happen.
Science works differently - its job is to make assertions and then use engineering (i.e. things already believed to be facts - formulas, and other physical tools) to attempt to define the truth or falsehood of the assertion.

This in simple terms of course is "the scientific method"
The flow chart for this is very simple but seems to be seldom passed on in modern schools.

One problem we currently suffer is very basic lack of education that has now filtered its way up
the generations: a simple example I noticed related to Covid - on UK TV

At the start of the UK outbreak a medical professional was interviewed (On C4 I think) who has spent
his life studying virus pandemics in africa. At this time he was asked about face masks.
his response was that paper and cloth masks (expecially when used by the untrained) are a very bad idea
because the virus is very small and can easily penetrate the fabric and will be attracted to and follow the path of dampness created by breathing. This (he said ) was not a good thing to wear.
I have yet to see a second "pandemic specialist" interviewed. I expect they must be far too busy.

Recently since then UK tv "journalists" have been clearly agitating and attacking politicians for not ordering
people to wear face masks - my point in this thread is - a few days ago a female presenter (the one on ITV that used to be on BBC - I dont know her name) was attacking someone for not promoting face masks for general public use and stated that he should "look at news footage of china showing people wearing masks because that was 'evidence' that masks work"

There is a clear and I suggest dangerous dissconnect when a national broadcaster not only commenting but actively agitating a scientific course of action that could concievably kill many people when she doesn't understand even a basic concept of what might constitute evidence. Rightly or wrongly regarding the masks she has I suggest - no business behaving like that. But this behavious by "journalists" is not only accepted it is openly applauded as good "journalism." How is this not "fake news?"

I've also noticed a tendancy for these media people to present anyone medically trained as an "expert" suitable for comment on all sorts of issues. The media (and indeed political lobbyists) have much to answer for with respect to the subject of this thread.

These fundamental failures of education seem to also happen with climate science (including affecting many scientists who seem to loose perspective and have very agressive agendas on all sides of the various fences)
The simple scientific method should be drummed into the heads of schoolchildren along with the concept of evidence and perhaps we'd all be better able to judge the issues.

On the other hand the notion that only a practicing scientist can create a good theory is patently (sic) wrong
for which I refer you to a patent clerk who produced e-mc2 - an intriguing notion I'd hate to have seen dismissed because its creator wasn't working in a lab and didnt hold a degree in cosmology. Should we also have ignored Feynmans interest in biology or materials science because he wasnt expert in those fields?

A trite example perhaps but many amateurs can produce far more important concepts or data by
sidestepping accepted practice. I seem to recal the astronomer Patrick Moore was an amateur and few
would doubt his skills.

I suggest listen to anyone - if you yourself have understanding you may reject notions - but never reject out of hand. To do so would be to display a closed mind - and the world has far too many of those.

Sorry - a much longer post than I intended. I hope it's vaguely coherent!
 
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  • #80
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First - I think this is such an important topic I should say thank you for raising it.

One thing I've always felt should be more generally understood is that science is not engineering.

Engineering expects its outcomes to be predictable within reasonable limits every time using pre-defined
tools and data. An engineer never wants anything unexpected to happen.
Science works differently - its job is to make assertions and then use engineering (i.e. things already believed to be facts - formulas, and other physical tools) to attempt to define the truth or falsehood of the assertion.
Some scientific disciplines study relatively simple and predictable phenomena (like physics for the most part). Here you can make highly accurate predictions (which is why engineering works). Very complex systems like you find in biology and particularly medicine, are much more difficult to study, and only crude statistical methods may be available. These, of course, lead to much less reliable predictions and dissenting views among scientists in that discipline. The real misunderstanding by the general public is that all phenomena should be as easy to prove and predict as physics - you see this with skeptics of evolution, vaccines, AGW and many other areas
 
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  • #81
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Engineering expects its outcomes to be predictable within reasonable limits every time using pre-defined
tools and data. An engineer never wants anything unexpected to happen.
Bad engineers expect outcomes to be always predictable. (The space shuttle will have a failure rate of 1 in 100000 according to them). Good engineers understand that there are no guarantees in anything and good engineering design (particularly design for manufacture) must actively include such considerations. It is the basis for W. Edwards Demming's work on process control.

How is this not "fake news?"
Just because you misinterpret something about masks does not allow you spout about "fake news" The primary purpose for wearing a mask is to protect other people. And so this is not "fake news" but lack of understanding by the guy on this soapbox....
 
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  • #82
PeterDonis
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the notion that only a practicing scientist can create a good theory is patently (sic) wrong
for which I refer you to a patent clerk who produced e-mc2
This is a very bad example since Einstein was a practicing scientist at the time; he already had a degree, was working towards a Ph. D. (patent clerk was just his day job), and had numerous connections with the leading scientists of the time, with whom he constantly exchanged letters and scientific information.

The correct notion is that only someone who thoroughly understands the existing scientific theories and their limitations can create a good theory. I know of no counterexamples to that rule; certain Einstein is not one. The most common way to get such a thorough understanding is by getting a traditional scientific education, but that is by no means the only way. Einstein actually didn't get much from his traditional scientific education; he built his own thorough understanding of Newtonian physics and Maxwell's Equations, the best existing scientific theories of the time, through his own reading and working of problems, outside of his classes. To the extent he is an outlier, it is because of that, not because he was somehow a complete outsider with no scientific knowledge or experience who came up with a brilliant idea. The latter pop science story is a myth.
 
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  • #83
BillTre
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One thing I've always felt should be more generally understood is that science is not engineering.
This may be true, but I find many strong intersections between science and engineering.

There are many engineers at universities (and probably other places I am less aware of) who do experiments to determine the parameters they will use for their (or other's) subsequent "normal" engineering projects. This would be when they can't find needed (for their work or field) scientifically confirmed concepts already laying around from previous scientific work.

In addition, I think of successful engineering as providing a very strong confirmation of the scientific concepts underlying what ever it is that is being engineered. Each engineering event is like an additional experiment testing the correctness of the underlying concept in the real world.
To me, this is a very powerful form of confirmation and should also be obvious to "layman" types, since they can see it in the "real" world.
It's the "well, it works" type of argument.
 
  • #84
symbolipoint
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Good engineers understand that there are no guarantees in anything and good engineering design (particularly design for manufacture) must actively include such considerations. It is the basis for W. Edwards Demming's work on process control.
 
  • #85
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You might be interested in the work of Charles Manski, who studies what he called "incredible certitude". He argues that:
  1. Assumptions may be incorrect, even when there is consensus
  2. Political decision-makers want certainty not ranges
  3. The most successful scientist-advocates are the ones who give the decision-makers the certainty that they desire
 
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  • #86
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Einstein actually didn't get much from his traditional scientific education
After reading biographies of Einstein, Fermi and Feynman I suspect many of the greats were like that. I would love to read one on Landau, who I suspect was the same. Why - I don't really know. I do know Gell-Mann got a lot out of his education, liking the varied education he got at Yale, but then again he started university at 14. Even then it left him a bit unsatisfied:

This suggests a possible answer - those in that league already know from their own reading/study much of what they are taught undergrad. Many say Einstein failed math at school - thats wrong. While not in the class of say Hilbert or Hilbert's assistent Von-Neumann, he was a more than competent mathematician. Einstein was sick of the 'conformity' of education in German schools (called Gymnasiums) and left to self study himself. But before doing so obtained a letter from his math teacher that his math, even then, was already of University caliber. After a carefree year he sat for his entrance exams to university, and failed. But like Feynman, who failed miserably the humanities part of his entrance exam to Princeton for his PhD, did spectacularly well in physics and math, so well it attracted the attention of Weber who allowed him to sit in on his lectures. Anyway to actually get admitted he was urged to study at a school not as 'conformist' as German Gymnasiums and gained entrance that way. But, just like Fermi and Feynman, when he finally was admitted he likey knew more than he would be taught anyway. Because of that he was categorised by his teachers as a very smart but lazy sod who, when he completed his degree, could not find an academic job. So he became a Patent Clerk while self studying even further, corresponding with scientists like Weber (who already recognised his ability), wrote some papers, and worked on his PhD. He finally got it, and because of that got promoted I think from Patent Clerk third class to second class. He published papers, and in the magic year of 1905, papers of such quality and importance, it attracted the attention of even more famous Physicists such as Plank. He visited him at the Patent office, expecting to find him in charge, but was shocked to find him just one of many Patent Clerks. Now recognised for what he was, academic positions opened up.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #87
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There is an article "How Science Best Serves Society - Science is most effective when it is given the most amount of room to be wrong" by a postdoc named Walter Harrington.

What I am arguing is that for science to thrive in uncovering the deep secrets of our complex world, we have to be willing to be wrong, and be given the space to be wrong.

Distorting factors — like political values and points of pride — can easily take away this vital aspect of the scientific endeavor, relaxing scientific rigor, encouraging confirmation bias, and ultimately leading to less public trust of scientific claims. Even (or perhaps especially) in times of intense pressure and public scrutiny, we need to strive for intellectual honesty and the humility to admit when we may be wrong.
 
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  • #88
PeterDonis
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To me the issue isn't so much giving scientists the room to be wrong, as scientists making clear up front what the actual level of confidence is in what is being told to the public. If the level of confidence is low, because it's an area where we simply don't (yet) know very much or have very good data or have very good models, they should say so. If they are unwilling to hedge to that extent in an area where the level of confidence is that low, then they should refrain from making any public pronouncements at all. If people keep insisting on public pronoucements when scientists are simply unable to say anything with confidence, scientists should keep replying, "Sorry, we know you want scientific guidance on this issue, but we simply don't have any to give you; the science is simply not that good yet."
 
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  • #89
anorlunda
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From the article:
The second objection is that most people don’t have the expertise to second guess what a scientist says when talking about an area of science.
...
If the scientists have a good predictive track record, and if they are presenting their information with due attention to whatever uncertainties are present, then one’s own common sense should be a good guide in evaluating their claims,
IMO the public is no better equipped to evaluate track records than they are to evaluate claims. Most news reports cite scientific sources by names never heard before, nor will they be heard of again in the future. It is rare when a scientific name in physics becomes recognizable to the public. Stephen Hawking may be the most recent case, and without his disability even he may not have become famous. Without Hawking, we may have to revert to Feynman and Sagan to find a names with a sterling public reputation.

All these issues come down to trust. Trust is sorely lacking in the modern world. Even journalists say, "The era of trust-me has long gone. We are in the show-me era."
 
  • #90
PeterDonis
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IMO the public is no better equipped to evaluate track records than they are to evaluate claims.
I agree that you still need information to evaluate track records. But the kind of information you need is much easier for an ordinary member of the public to understand: it's just predictions vs. actual results. You don't need to understand the esoteric details of how the theory made the predictions, or how the theory explains what is going on, or why the theory's proponents think it's a good theory and its claims should be believed.

Of course, if those who claim that their job is to inform the public are not even providing the simple "predictions vs. actual results" kind of information reliably, then yes, we have a bigger problem than just how to evaluate, whether it's track records or claims.
 
  • #91
PeterDonis
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Even journalists say, "The era of trust-me has long gone. We are in the show-me era."
IMO journalists have no one to blame but themselves if the public does not trust them.

That said, I don't think journalism should be a "trust-me" profession. It should be a "show-me" profession. As in, show me your past track record of accurate reporting, and of scrupulous attention to detail in distinguishing the different kinds of things you're reporting, not to mention in distinguishing reporting from editorializing.

Of course there is a basic level of trust involved whenever someone is reporting things they have witnessed that the reader has not. If a reporter gives an eyewitness account of an important event they personally observed, I have to trust that they are honestly reporting what they witnessed. But I don't have to trust their opinions about what they witnessed or how it fits into some larger context, and they should be doing their best not to let such opinions color their straight reporting of what they witnessed.

But in any case that kind of reporting is extremely rare in science journalism. Most journalists just repeat what scientists say about their research, so to me the journalist is not really adding any value. Just give me the link to the paper on arxiv. I don't need the reporter's take on it. It would be nice if journalists would try to keep score on predictions by scientists, but I have not seen any signs that they are trying to do so.
 
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  • #92
anorlunda
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I don't think journalism should be a "trust-me" profession.
My post wasn't clear. Even though a journalist said it, my meaning was that "the trust-me era is over" applies to all of society in all contexts. It is a rejection of leadership. It is the cynicism that all news is fake news.

Of course it is not black and white, there are degrees of grey, but science is not immune to these trends.
 
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  • #93
anorlunda
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Why can’t we agree on what’s true any more?

That is an article from The Guardian, that is many ways is a dual to @PeterDonis ' Insights article. Rather than treating science as a special case considered in isolation, it treats distrust of authority more generally.

From the article:
This is not as simple as distrust. The appearance of digital platforms, smartphones and the ubiquitous surveillance they enable has ushered in a new public mood that is instinctively suspicious of anyone claiming to describe reality in a fair and objective fashion. It is a mindset that begins with legitimate curiosity about what motivates a given media story, but which ends in a [bleep] refusal to accept any mainstream or official account of the world. We can all probably locate ourselves somewhere on this spectrum, between the curiosity of the engaged citizen and the corrosive cynicism of the climate denier. The question is whether this mentality is doing us any good, either individually or collectively.
We may squirm with discomfort at having a scientific truth lumped with political issues like Brexit, but that is the trend, and it is not confined to the USA. Science is part of that mainstream being rejected.
 
  • #94
PeterDonis
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it treats distrust of authority more generally
There is an interesting use of language in what you quote: "any mainstream or official account of the world". The Guardian appears to think these two terms, "mainstream" and "official", mean the same thing. But they don't. "Mainstream" just means "what most people believe". "Official" means "what some authority tells you to believe". If journalists confuse those two things, it's no wonder the public distrusts them.
 
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  • #95
Dr. Courtney
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I think the big issue here is confounding the authority of science (which is a method with a good track record in the long run) with the authority of small groups of scientists or individual scientists in the shorter term.

For a few decades there, too many folks accepted scientific "truth" on the authority of small groups of scientists. Real science has always been about "show me." But the shorter, easier road is usually "tell me."
 
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  • #96
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We may squirm with discomfort at having a scientific truth lumped with political issues like Brexit
Part of the problem is that value judgements are getting lumped in with scientific judgements. Two recent examples:

"Climate change is such a threat to humanity that we all have to give up our wealth and freedoms to combat it, but not such a threat to humanity to increase our use of nuclear power."

"Anti-lockdown protests must be stopped because of risk of the spreading of disease, but BLM protests should not, because of the importance of the issue".

Both statements might even be true (although getting people to agree on what "true" means in this case may be difficult) but they are not scientific statements. Yet both are being presented as such.
 
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