# Our opinions

1. Feb 5, 2012

### Jasongreat

As much as i like this forum I have a question, what us the difference between a fact and an opinion? According to feynman, one should never trust authority. Therfore any truth is always subject to scientific debate, and as soon as we are told a concesses is true, by the very fact of being a concenses we should debate the facts.

I am of the opinion that we all have opinions, but that majority opinions alone do not negate our opinions. I believe that all valuable opinions come from the minority side. Can anyone show an opinion coming from the majority, where anything invaluable has come?

2. Feb 5, 2012

### DaveC426913

It might help you to realize that PF's primary raison d'etre is to help students and others alike to understand currently-accepted, mainstream scientific knowledge. The seat of this knowledge is recognized to be known peer-reviewed articles and journals.

3. Feb 5, 2012

### Jasongreat

I understand that, but cant peer reviewed be wrong? In the recent climatogy debate we hear that the science is settled, doesnt the fact that science is settled alone warrant extra discussion?

4. Feb 5, 2012

### DaveC426913

This is a flaw in selective perception. You are taking for granted the vast, uncountable number of correct decisions that the majority agreed with.

If you always bet on the slowest horse you will be a very poor man. But what gets public attention is not the 99 people who (correctly) bet on the winning horse, but the one who did not.

5. Feb 5, 2012

### DaveC426913

Of course. Anyone is free to publish their own paper in a peer-reviewed journal demonstrating how wrong it is.

Who do we "hear" this from? That is a very politically-charged topic.

6. Feb 5, 2012

### Jasongreat

I dont know if I would go that far, wasnt that the big point of climategate, that they were refusing to let dissenting opinions into the magazines?

7. Feb 5, 2012

### DaveC426913

Not sure what we're talking about anymore. Are we still talking about PF?

Are we talking about PF's banning of climatology as a topic?

It's not because PF has an agenda to promote, it's that PF does not have the necessary pool of experts to objectively moderate the topic. It would not be right to let such a charged topic be run without strong guidance by a field expert.

8. Feb 5, 2012

### Jasongreat

I never had PF in my sights, this forum seems to me a very well run educational sight, in which I have learned more about getting my point across than any other time in my life. This site makes one think before speaking, which is never a bad idea.

In fact most other sites would have already had their fill of me, but PF seems very liberty minded.

The reason I am starting this thread, is that we are well aware of supporting opinion with fact, however my opinion is that we all have an opinion, one which we have spent our lifetimes refining, we have read, discussed and defined it over the years. Our opinion is as valid as any other fact, as long as we spend time thinking about and refining our theories. I am not saying that I am as smart as Feynman, but one should be able to challenges existing theories freely, the fact that a theory is correct will be readily apparent, as long as one is allowed to challenge that theory.

I am getting sick of the IMO tags on every theory, we shouldnt have to clarify, we are having an adult discussion. My belief is that all great things come from the minority, as well as all truth comes from the minority. When we have to prove our theories against the popular narrative facts get lost from time to time, since popular will is hardly ever the same as truth.

9. Feb 5, 2012

### checkitagain

$\text{Then I shouldn't trust Feynman, who claims to be an authority,}$

$\text{at least in part, as to telling people who they should trust as an authority.}$

10. Feb 5, 2012

### zoobyshoe

If everyone accepts that x is true, then the first person to happen to conceive a good reason that x might not be true is automatically, but completely incidentally, in the minority. In other words, he's not right because he's in the minority, but because he realizes, based on good logic, that x might not be true, when others don't see it yet. It could also easily happen, though, that a person could suppose some fact, x is not true for illogical reasons. His arguments might be ridiculous and unpersuasive, and he'll remain in the minority. Since either case could be true, there's no reason for you to automatically equate minority opinion with correctness.

A case where the majority was right: Before Morley-Michelson, pretty much everyone was unhappy with the notion of the ether. It was a cumbersome concept, but no one had a good solid reason to reject it. The Morley-Michelson experiment killed the notion of the ether, pretty much confirming the majority opinion there was something very off about it. Here, the majority view turned out to be the right one. Someone clinging to a minority view, that there had to be an ether, would be completely unable to support that view. It would be just about guaranteed to be a mistake to apply your rule-of-thumb, that the right opinion is most likely the minority opinion, to this case. I'm sure there are many similar examples.

Feynman wasn't saying anything so extravagant as 'If an authority says it, it's wrong,' or anything like that. He was saying 'Don't assume it's right just because an "authority" said it'. This is much like the motto of the Royal Society: Nullius In Verba, which, loosely translated means: Don't Take Anyone's Word For It. One of the examples Feynman gives is the Millikan oil drop experiment. For a time after Millikan published his results, people were replicating the experiment, not getting the same results as his, and fudging their results to match his! Their own results didn't match his, so they assumed they had made a mistake, and not him. In their mind, the "authority" had to be right. It turned out, though, that Millikan had miscalculated the charge of an electron. In this case, the notion that the authority must be right, lead people to cheat their own results to match the erroneous "authority" results.

So, while you, or anyone, should feel free to question any consensus or authority if you think you have a better argument, better logic or better data, your suggested rule-of-thumb, that 'if it's the consensus it should be automatically debated', is probably just as erroneous as saying 'if it's the consensus it should automatically be taken as fact'.

Whether or not an opinion is persuasive should be based on the reliability of the data and soundness of the logic behind it. It's majority/minority status is probably ultimately irrelevant. At the present time the majority opinion is just about guaranteed to be the most vetted, but that hasn't always been the case, and may not always be, and may not actually be true at the present time in some small percentage of cases where it's assumed to be true.

11. Feb 5, 2012

### Drakkith

Staff Emeritus
Who is "we"? The average person does NOT refine, discuss, or define most of their opinions in any meaningful way. They have an opinion that is usually based on preconceptions and are loathe to even allow someone to challenge it. Everyone is guilty of this in some way, some in more ways or less ways than others. The "Fact" of the matter is that no ones opinion is a valid fact. You can spend your life developing your opinions on a subject, and in fact many people do, but rarely are these opinions ever "facts".

Also, Scientific theories MUST be able to be challenged or they are not scientific theories. Period. You are 100% free to challenge each and every theory that exists. Just not on PF. That is not the point of the forum. If we allowed everyone to post their own theories or reasons why the mainstream theories were wrong it would be utter chaos on the forums. From what I hear from members that have been on PF longer than myself, they have tried this several times, each time led to disaster.

The problem is that science itself is a "best guess". To deny this is utterly foolish. The only correct thing you can say when you get right down to it is "According to our current knowledge" or something similar. One of the reasons so many people have a problem with science is that many people who understand science do not explain that all of science is only accurate to a certain degree, and most people don't know enough about science to realize this. Heck, even many people that actually know a lot about science don't really realize this.

12. Feb 5, 2012

### cmb

On this point, there is a snag I have noticed a few times. It was also indirectly highlighted in a recent thread about the qualifications of the advisors/mentors. In this other thread, it was pointed out that a poster need not express their qualifications, because it is a function of what they say that counts, not their authority.

Yet for publications, it's not what they say that counts, it's their authority!

This was pretty self-contradictory.

And just to emphasise the point, there have been a few threads now where I have posted/quoted a journal referenced paper, or the comments of a well-respected 'establishment' figure, only for a mentor or other person (who is not encumbered with a need to express their qualifications here) to then go on and comment that the content of that reference or opinion should be disregarded as it is wrong in some way. And the [seemingly contradictory] way this site works means that a moderator with unpublicised qualifications has more authority to declare whether a peer-reviewed paper is 'right or wrong', and worthy or not for further discussion.

So, there are contradictions on this site regarding what does or does not count as 'main-stream' - and so their should be! Science is a live, moving, growing humanised activity with all the faults and predilections that go along with a human activity. I just wish PF would give me less of the impression of this 'this is OK on this occasion, but not OK on that occasion' inconsistency.

Like the OP says, it seems to me that anyone who makes a personal observation as part of a discussion has to surround it with defensive caveats to avoid the wrath of the moderators - and I'm talking even about referenced peer reviewed material that might be condemned as a minority opinion -. But this just slows down a scientific discussion if everyone has to 'watch their backs' and judge whether something is mainstream 'enough' to discuss, or not.

In short, I think PF should recognise self-consistent arguments and debates, rather that simply whether they are discussing main-stream, because 'main-stream' is, itself, very subjective at the frontier of the sciences and so it must be if there are any advances left to be made.

I'm not saying there should be an open-house on any-old topic, and I recognise a well-intentioned (and historic) need to keep the level of unsupported chat to a minimum. But an objective way to determine whether something is main-stream and peer-reviewed 'enough' for discussion is needed, and I don't see that that is ever going to be really possible. Sometimes a discussion will be rightly locked early before it gets out of hand, sometimes a discussion will get locked that was 'legitimate' and might have drawn out a good debate. I can't see how that can be avoided. It seems to me it's just part of the make-up of the site.

13. Feb 5, 2012

### Ryan_m_b

Staff Emeritus
An opinion is a subjective belief, a fact is a verifiable objective observation. Opinions based on facts are the best kind for example:
The first part half was the opinion, the second half was the fact. Arguably it is a valid opinion because it is based on objective and verifiable facts.

Importantly whilst everyone is entitled to an opinion not all opinions are equally valid. There is a strong tendency (in the UK at least) that from a young age children are taught that everyone's entitled to their own opinion and this is conflated with opinions being equally valid. This is not the case, the validity of an opinion is determined by the quality and quantity of facts it is based on. In the scientific world we maximise the validity of our opinions (I would argue far more than any other field) by being in the business of elucidating and studying verifiable objective observations.
You have this totally wrong. Anyone can publish a paper in a scientific journal, all they have to do is submit it and have it good enough to pass peer-review and be published. We determine whether or not a journal is allowed if it is on the Thomson Reuters journal list whose citation reports (things like H-indexes) determine the validity of a journal.

14. Feb 5, 2012

### cmb

Thanks for that clarification, I was not aware of this having been specified anywhere (maybe I missed it).

Anyhow, the issue here is that if I make reference to a paper from a journal on this list that it might still be condemned here as a topic that should not be discussed on the forum.

So I'm glad I've been made aware of PF's point-of-reference. But my point is/was that, with this journal list, it still appears that a PF authority may overrule (by persons with qualifications the reader can only guess at) the discussion of a paper under such a journal title, for either being a disputed topic or one that has been superseded by 'new theories'. The reader is sometimes put in a position to take a PF writer's word for it, over a published article.

15. Feb 5, 2012

### cmb

...though they usually also need funds to pay for the publication... and then more funds to download their own paper!

16. Feb 5, 2012

### Ryan_m_b

Staff Emeritus
This is a private forum, moderator decisions are final. PF is the great place it is because of moderation, not in spite of it. Mentors have good reasons for acting the way they do. It is in our interest to keep PF at the high standard that it is, if this means shutting off threads that could have a legitimate discussion (but have gone down another path) then so be it.
That is not the fault of the scientific community, that is the fault of the economic world we live in.

17. Feb 5, 2012

### cmb

Absolutely. I mentioned this myself, and aimed to phrase it as a positive thing. Yes, I accept that there is an element of cutting-the-cloth further over towards the 'locked' side of discussions, and by so doing the idea is that you prevent cross-over. Accepted.

All I am asking is whether this is a particularly objective process. I do not think it is, yet I get the impression that it is 'marketed' as being objective. I'm quite comfortable with 'PF' saying 'this is how we do it, and it's up to us, it's not for objective discussion'. But I get the impression you'd like to think it is objective?

18. Feb 5, 2012

### Ryan_m_b

Staff Emeritus
It's up to a mentor decision (often after discussion with other mentors) as to whether or not to lock a thread. It's always going to be a slightly subjective process as to when a mentor thinks a discussion has gone off-topic or is inappropriate or there is nothing more to say etc etc however there is almost always consensus amongst mentors. We have objective guidelines for mentoring and inevitably we are going to subjectively enforce them (because "close a thread when it is only generating off-topic bickering" is objective but measuring what counts as off-topic bickering has a large subjective element).

So whilst we don't have a totally objective tick-list of reasons to enforce actions (such a thing is not possible) we do have a team of trusted and experienced mentors who work together to ensure that our moderation is sensible and within the PF rules.

19. Feb 5, 2012

### DaveC426913

It is as objective as possible. It's been refined over 8 years or so from times when the board was rife with crackpots and mudslinging arguments. PF takes the quantity (250,000+) and the quality of its members (many, many professionals) as an indication that it's successful.

There's a phrase in the world of economics (referring to capitalism, but applicable here) that goes:

20. Feb 5, 2012

### phoenix:\\

(EDIT) refer to checkitagain. But I believe that is a simplification with what I said and doesn't get at the real grit of what Feynman was trying to say, of course we shouldn't trust exclusively one source. Science from my understanding is mostly an objective field or should be objective. However if it works, it works for the time being. But I don't exactly get what you're trying to say either? Primarily because authorities in science are observers of phenomenon that report the results/happenings of the reality we live in. Of course we cannot test everything individually, but we rely on the tests and results of other scientists conducting the same experiment, and if it has been proven to be sufficient, we having a working knowledge of it. We shouldn't trust those sources either?

I agree with Dave.

Last edited: Feb 5, 2012
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