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The Argumentum ad populum logical fallacy applies to the scientific community too

  1. Oct 6, 2009 #1

    Just like all people believing in God does not make God exist, All scientists agreeing on a scientific theory or an explanation for some unexplained phenomena , does not mean the scientific theory or the explanation reflect reality. My intention is not to say that the claims made by the lay public about certain natural unexplained phenomena are on the same level with claims made by the scientists who specializes in a field that studies that particular phenomena;What I am trying to say is that scientists can be suspectible to fallibility too and secretly can disagree with theories that may not coincide with reality but ostensibly , the scientist agrees with the theory because his peers appear to support the scientific theory being proposed; For example, their were I believe 200 german physicists who did not accept einstein's theory of special relativity(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Physik), and these german physicists were well respected in their fields; As everybody probably or should know, there was also the shuttle disaster where every engineer agreed that their was no flaw in the construction of the Challenger Scientists can also support a theory not because that scientific theory may hold any ounce of scientific merit , but they may support a theory to get more funding for their project or for career advancement;

    Again I am not trying to discredit scientists, I just hate when people say that a theory/ explanation for previous unexplained natural phenomena is right because a group of scientists(not all scientists) happened to agree with that explanation without doing any critical and thourough examination on their own.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 6, 2009 #2


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    No, but that is well known. Everyone knows that scientific theories can turn out to be wrong, there is a good reason why falsifiability is the most important criteria used for determining if a theory can be considered to be scientific or not.

    My point is that there is nothing really new in your post.

    Besides the whole concept of "does X describe reality" is more or less irrelevant for science; it belongs in the philosophy forum.
  4. Oct 6, 2009 #3


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    1] Poor comparison.

    Believing (a personal, subjective and unjudgeable act) in God is not at all the same as publishing a report that anyone who has the inclination to can repeat and get the same results.

    It is not that the scientists say something. It is that what they say can be documented, repreated and proven false. When it isn't proven false, it is a much muuuuuch more compelling case than "I believe".

    2] No serious scientist, when asked in this context, says any theory is "right". We have theories that match the observations. When they match the observation over countless experiments, at some point scienntists who want to move on to other things will accept them as right until something comes along to show otherwise.

    For example, relativity has passed every test we've ever put it to, to many orders of precision. It is a good risk to base new research on assuming relativity is an accurate model.

    Who are these people that say this?
  5. Oct 6, 2009 #4

    laypeople like to argue that their claim about a certain theory is correct because they will say something like :,"x number of scientists say that global warming is primarily caused by human activity, therefore global warming is caused by man-made global warming" ; Thats the main premise of my OP. Many scientists also can ostracized or not pay attention to the claims made by other scientists who don't hold a popular view about a scientific topic , like David Bohm's premise that the theory of quantum mechanics is incomplete and not holding the orthodox approach to quantum theory , and reduced people like him to the realm of "crackpottery" ;
  6. Oct 6, 2009 #5


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    Your premise referred to the "scientific community", not laypeople.

    So he has unpopular views. What does he expect? Are scientists to be forced to collaborate with him?

    Sounds like you think he should be able to have his cake and eat it too.

    Besides, who say's he's not a crackpot?
  7. Oct 6, 2009 #6
    Well everybody who hasn't read the 'Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident', which makes it quite clear that several of the engineers were worried before the launch about the O-ring in freezing temperatures .
  8. Oct 6, 2009 #7
    However, appealing to scientific consensus has another implicit premise that validates such appeals, namely that modern scientific consensus is more likely to be based on evidence as oppose to the opinion of any other arbitrarily selected group. This is the implicit premise that makes appeals to scientific consensus a valid argument (not necessarily always sound, though).
  9. Oct 6, 2009 #8


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    I'd think economists are more guilty of this than physical scientists.
  10. Oct 6, 2009 #9
    I think I can see why you think this: an economic theory like the keynesian economic theorywill be widely accepted by politicians and policy makers and all other economic theories that are not keynesian or related to keynesian economics might be completely disregard; Some economic theories might before based on a certain ideology rather than how it is applied to the market place; Sames goes for other social science fields like psychology and sociology ; Many of the disorders in the DSM-IV are motivated by politics and maintaining social norms rather than actual science;being a homosexual used to be considered a mental disorder 40 years ago; PArticipating in BSDM and S&M used to be considered "abnormal" activities and people used to seek "treatment" for such disorders ; 100 years ago, sociologists used to embrace social darwinism ; now, its considered a pseudo science.

    I don't think this phenomena is prominent in the natural/physical sciences as the social sciences, I still believe that scientists can be susceptible to corruption when they formed scientific theories based on everything but experimentation"(i.e. string theory) and publishing scientific papers not based on progress being made in science but publish papers for self promotion or just not lose funding for their research.

    Politicians, hollywood celebrities, or any other group of persons / people who blindly follows the popular scientific consensus but does not have a clue about science.
  11. Oct 6, 2009 #10
    Okay, then why did they go along with launching the space shuttle challenger if many scientists and engineers knew their were flaws in its construction?
  12. Oct 6, 2009 #11


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    Because it wasn't their call. They give their professional opinion to their superiors, who make the decisions.
  13. Oct 6, 2009 #12


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    How do you know how "blindly" they are following it?

    You don't know how much thev're read, or how many trustworthy sources they've checked with.

    You are generalizing and making some big assumptions.

    Back up your claims.
  14. Oct 6, 2009 #13
    I think god discussion is funny, since most people can't really describe what god actually means...spirituality isn't empirical, dawgg
  15. Oct 6, 2009 #14
    Okay. For instance, On Friday night I was watching Bill maher and at the end of his new rules segment, he said any body that opposes the claim that global warming is caused mostly by humans is in total denial of climate science or any scientist that doesn't not agree with the IPCC panel must representing the oil industry, instead of we think the model of the climate temperatures constructed by the IPCC scientists has a few flaws in it and are model is better. He only said that hundreds of scientists in cophehagen have pHd's instead of talking about the science behind the model of climate change created by the IPCC scientists. Many politicians and activists like Robert F kennedy jr. have claimed that anybody that opposes the man-made induce global warming model is akin to people who deny the Holocaust.
  16. Oct 6, 2009 #15


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    So your argument is basically that since no one -including scientists- can know anything with 100% certainty we should not take advice from anyone?

    Science can't give us perfect answers, but it it is the best method we got and it has worked pretty well so far.
    The alternative would be go back to reading the intestines of goats as a method to predicting the future, which is after all is what people used before science came along.
    You wouldn't want that, would you? Think of the poor goats:cry:
  17. Oct 6, 2009 #16
    Your straw-manning me. I never said that I was against science because of the lack of certainty it posseses. . I wasn't even debunking science at all. I love science! I think it is the best system we currently have for discovering new physical phenomena. I said that their can be groups of scientists, reputable scientists who have won nobel prizes in their fields , who disagree with a theory even though the theory is has been proven by a wide variety of experiments over a period of time, just like their were 200 german scientists in nazi germany who did not agree with the einstein's theory of special relativity.
  18. Oct 6, 2009 #17


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    And your claim is that Bill Maher is a layperson who knows nothing about the climate change issue and is taking the word of a bunch of scientists blindly, correct?
  19. Oct 6, 2009 #18
    I think most science minded people will be cautious of stating anything as 100% fact, set in stone, permanent. I am certain that people will use that fallacy in general.

    I don't the fallacy really has to do with what concerns you. I think you have a valid point. I think I think you'll have a hard time finding anyone who feels that a person shouldn't develop an opinion based on all possible factors.

    Maybe you should redefine the issue?
  20. Oct 6, 2009 #19
    Yes, because he is disregarding research by other climate scientists who do not agree with the results and conclusions on global warming derived from the IPCC report(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...tream_scientific_assessment_of_global_warming). A real scientific minded lay person would look at the scientific results and reports of all climate scientists and not just the report on climate change published by the IPCC
  21. Oct 6, 2009 #20


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    How do you know he has not familiarized himself with the other scientists?

    Not agreeing with them is not the same as disregarding them. At some point, one must get off the fence and take a side.

    How do you know he hasn't examined both sides and concluded that they are simply wrong?
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