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Question about the Scientific process

  1. Apr 26, 2017 #1
    Ideally, I would like to see an article on the PF insights about the scientific process about how we come up with laws, theories, and hypothesis. May be I missed, if so, please point me to the right page.

    My specific questions are as follows:

    Is there a lab experimental evidence a must to accept a hypothesis into a theory? I guess it is not needed. As an example, even though we have not simulated big bang theory in the lab, it is still a theory. I guess when someone initially proposed the big bang theory, it must be a hypothesis. And what specific observation made it into a theory. I'm assuming there is no center body that determines if a hypothesis could be made into a theory or not. Please correct if I'm wrong here.

    In Biology, theory of evolution is a theory, because we have lots of forensic/dna evidences to support it, or is it because we were able to successfully show the genetic variation in the lab experiments?
    I was reading about Katharine Milton's "Meat-eating was essential for human evolution hypothesis" (https://nature.berkeley.edu/miltonlab/pdfs/meateating.pdf) Why is it a hypothesis, whereas theory of evolution is a theory, even though she provides forensic/biological explanations for her hypothesis? My answer to that was, we cannot reproduce Milton's claim in the lab, so it is a hypothesis. But then the question comes, even big bang is not reproducible in the lab.

    Is there difference in the criteria between Physics and Biology, in what makes into a theory from a hypothesis?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 26, 2017 #2
    A great suggestion, in my opinion! And that could be one of the most important insights also, i.e. on the scientific method itself. (I summon @Greg Bernhardt).
     
  4. Apr 26, 2017 #3
    Please note there are different meanings of the word theory, a scientific theory formally means a body of work (see e.g. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/theory).
     
  5. Apr 26, 2017 #4

    russ_watters

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    You're taking the word "lab" too literally. A lab does not require four walls, a roof and a fume hood: The universe is the astronomer's lab. The Galapagos Islands were Darwin's lab.
     
  6. Apr 26, 2017 #5

    fresh_42

    Staff: Mentor

    And "lab" for the other extreme, CERN, is also a bit of an understatement. :cool:
     
  7. Apr 26, 2017 #6
    I meant, even without a lab simulation, it still qualified for a scientific theory. I'm familiar with the layman mistake of calling a scientific theory as 'just a theory'.
     
  8. Apr 26, 2017 #7
    If Darwin had to propose his ideas (for the very first time) today in a scientific journal, he will have to do it as a hypothesis? And later who accepts or approves it as a theory? Also why Katharine Milton's ideas are a hypothesis, not a theory?
     
  9. Apr 26, 2017 #8

    russ_watters

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    You're treating the scientific process to linearly/discretely; There is no clear-cut line between an hypothesis and a theory.
    I'm not familiar with her work, but is string theory really a theory? Does it matter?
    A simulation is run on a computer. Lab experiments are not simulations, they are real observations. And why would there be a need to run a lab experiment if you can observe the phenomena you are testing directly in nature? Sure, it can be more controlled if duplicated within four walls and a roof, but that isn't a requirement.
     
  10. Apr 26, 2017 #9

    DrClaude

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    To have a theory usually requires predictive power: the proposed theory needs to be able to predict phenomena that have not yet been observed.
     
  11. Apr 26, 2017 #10

    fresh_42

    Staff: Mentor

    In this context, it is worth reading what Isaac Asimov had to say about this:
    http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

    Theory must not be confused with absolute truth. It is usually a set of mathematical equations or a set of principles, which allow us to describe nature or the nature of something. Model is a very similar word for this. The difference is often due to historic reasons or the amount of what it covers. Hypothesis are models in work. There is evidence, they could be true, i.e. we haven't found a counterexample yet, but not enough evidence to be certain.
     
  12. Apr 26, 2017 #11
    Given the various corrections/quibbles that have already been raised, my suggestion would be to go away & do a little research on your own about how science works, so you can fill in more of the blanks. "How science works" is a HUGE territory - some might answer the question in practical terms, others in "philosophy of science/history of science" terms. It's an easy guess that not just hundreds but probably thousands of books have already been written on various aspects of this question, in many different languages.

    if you want just to take a tiny bite out of this enormous overall question, you have to be really clear about which tiny bite that is. And it doesn't sound like you know enough yet to be that clear. So as always, some more research on your own would help.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2017
  13. Apr 26, 2017 #12
    That's a neat piece by Asimov. Guy was some smart, eh? I like this bit:
     
  14. Apr 26, 2017 #13
    No insight article, but I just remembered we had a discussion thread on the topic two years ago here:
    http://www.physicsforums.com/threads/fact-checking-scientific-method.795527/
     
  15. Apr 26, 2017 #14

    russ_watters

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    Yeah, I guess you are unlikely to see a CERN scentist driving around in a pickup truck with a set of rubber testicles hanging off the back!
     
  16. Apr 26, 2017 #15
    @jobyts - following up on my previous post, there is an irony to my suggestion that you "do a little research" on "a HUGE territory." Not so easy. However I do have a suggestion for how you might go about it.

    There's a nice little series of books from Oxford U. Press, all of which follow the title format of [Some subject]: A Very Short Introduction. They tend to hire good authors; e.g. I have Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction, and the author is Tim Gowers, a Royal High Wizard, no excuse me a Royal Society Research Professor at U. of Cambridge in the U.K., who writes very nicely indeed. Anyway I did a quick Amazon search and there is a Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction that gets 89 reviews that overall are very positive; so you could try reading that; I bet it would answer many of your questions quite quickly:

    https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-S...-3&keywords=science+a+very+short+introduction, 2nd ed., by Samir Okasha. Heck, at $12 I might pick up a copy myself; I have a few big tomes on the subject but they are in packing boxes somewhere.​

    (EDIT: Yup, I've gone ahead & ordered it. It will go well with the trio of books I already have on my plate about related topics: Three new books to read about expertise vs. democracy.)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  17. Apr 26, 2017 #16
    Sorry, I used the word simulation incorrectly; I actually meant experiment.

    I wanted to explain the scientific process to a "just a theory" friend. But I realized I need to know more detail about the process, before I try to pass my bits and pieces of knowledge. Since there is no clear-cut between hypothesis and a theory, explaining the process to a theoretical physics skeptic gets much harder. I'm planning to read the book suggested by UsableThought.
     
  18. Apr 26, 2017 #17
    That's an interesting challenge! I sometimes try to explain bits of science to friends, including to my wife; but it's not something that people always care about, and when they don't care, they don't listen.

    But I did have one other idea. Depending on how skeptical your friend is, he or she may not be impressed by anything you have to say, no matter how detailed; he (I'll go with "he" for now) may simply fit whatever you say into his existing model of skepticism. So it might be more fruitful, if he is at all willing, to explore first what it is he believes, and why. You could take it a step further to see how knowledgeable he is (or more likely isn't) about everyday technology that he probably thinks he understands - but doesn't really. E.g. how a toilet works, the parts of a bicycle, and so forth. Many persons skeptical of science assume that they know much more than they actually do; but if questions are asked in the right sort of way, they are able to realize that actually they know much less than they thought. This may lead them to be more willing to listen to you explain the role of science in the development of technology, for example.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2017
  19. Apr 26, 2017 #18
    This is true. A lot of people overestimate their knowledge. However, some skeptics are 'agnostic', per se. Many of them realize that with the limitations in their knowledge, that they lack sufficient information to make a judgment. I'd figure out which kind of skeptic your friend is. \

    He could be a humble skeptic who is merely withholding judgment until he feels that he has a deeper understanding of the theory and where it fits in the world.
    He could also be a conflict-of-interest skeptic who blindly refuses to believe anything that contradicts whatever doctrine it is that he was tricked into believing at a young age. They say "Its easier to fool a man than it is to convince him that he has been fooled".
    Does he have any coherent reason for not arriving at the same position as you on the subject?
     
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