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Author Topic: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?  (Read 5029 times)

Offline Joe L. Ogan

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Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« on: 03/12/2010 19:22:27 »
Is it a duty of a Scientist to be a sceptic?  There are some who do not believe in the Big Bang Theory.  There are some who do not believe in the Red Shift Theory.  As I have been a member of this forum for a rather long time, it causes me to wonder why no one ever questions some of the generally accepted theories.  As one of our members says, "A table is a good place to hide under."  Thanks for comments.  Joe L. Ogan
« Last Edit: 05/12/2010 11:12:20 by chris »


 

Offline Don_1

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #1 on: 03/12/2010 19:47:23 »
I see where you're coming from, but I wonder if 'skeptic' is being a little harsh.

Its certainly the duty of a scientist to require proof or, at least, substantial evidence. I see no reason why 'accepted theories' cannot remain thus until the evidence is shown to be questionable. That, I suppose, does require the skepticism of one or more individuals, but could also be brought to light by way of some other research.

I rather prefer the term 'open minded'.
 

Offline Joe L. Ogan

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #2 on: 03/12/2010 21:47:09 »
Hi, Don.  I find it impossible to prove that something is not true.  As one guy said, "I could tell you that there is a flying elephant up in the sky."  Now, how will you prove that is not true?  Thanks for comments.  Joe L. Ogan
 

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #3 on: 03/12/2010 21:50:43 »
True skepticism is a proud label. As a scientist I think skepticism is one of the main components of doing good science. I was trained on how to be a healthy skeptic. The problem in the general perception is that we all don't see the actual, often very contentious, debates that go on in a specific research area. What we do see is what we are told by commentators who are increasingly made up of people that don't understand what the issues are, and are not willing, or allowed, to research their stories. Further, there are some areas, at the edge of understanding, where a hypothesis may be only partly supported because the data are just not available, and it takes quite a while for new or competing ideas to be sorted out. Don't just react to what you read here because I doubt, for example, that there are many top string theorists who post here.

 

Offline CPT ArkAngel

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #4 on: 04/12/2010 01:28:36 »
The problem is that for too many people, personal goals are more important than truth. Like Don said, we all have to keep our minds opened. When i find something ridicule, i just stop to argue...  ;D
 

Offline Geezer

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #5 on: 04/12/2010 02:29:51 »

I doubt, for example, that there are many top string theorists who post here.


I resemble that remark! I'll have you know I got my knots badge in the Boy Scouts.
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #6 on: 04/12/2010 06:05:23 »
We'll never know Steve :)

It all depends on if they want to have fun, or not ::))
 

Offline Foolosophy

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #7 on: 04/12/2010 07:45:15 »
the word skeptic is a Greek term meaning someone who thinks about problems and natural things etc and poses quations and solutions etc.

If you THINK then youre a skeptic - its just that there are people around that think more than others - and more importantly think differently than others.

Unfortunately the word skeptic has been spin doctored and politically distorted and so it has certain conotations when used in public.

A bit liek conspiracy theories - automatically the word conspiracy implies crack pot theories that are baseless

In law however the word conspiracy is a well defined illegal act (eg conspiracy to defraud etc)

 

Offline graham.d

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #8 on: 04/12/2010 11:39:49 »
I think that we should all have healthy skepticism about the pedantic use of words when discussing the philosophy of science, including the word skepticism.

I think that Don is on the right track in trying to soften the concept which can be taken to extremes. And also Joe in his elephant in the sky analogy. We can probably all agree that we can never prove anything absolutely but only disprove something by showng, for example, a lack of self consistancy or consistancy with observed reality.

If we take skepticism to extremes, science would never get off the ground; there would be no theories that anyone would find acceptable and there would be little enthusiasm for the subject. It is part of the joy of science to think "what if" and to follow through the conclusions that are derived. It takes a little belief to do this. All scientist must ultimately accept they may be wrong, but if we are all skeptical, except in a truly logica sense, I doubt we would progress far.
 

Offline Foolosophy

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #9 on: 04/12/2010 12:19:15 »
We can probably all agree that we can never prove anything absolutely

Mathematicians would disagree with you on this point.

But then again, mathematics is not a science - more of an abstract philosophy and has the luxury of claiming immutable axioms as its fundamental building blocks
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #10 on: 04/12/2010 12:54:40 »
Ahh but that's the question, of all tools we use mathematics seems to be the most robust for describing ah, .. everything ?

Wish I knew what made it so predictionary :)
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #11 on: 04/12/2010 12:57:22 »
Actually....  A scientist should have a mix of optimism and pessimism.  

Something to get them excited when they hear something new.

But, enough "sense" to sit back and ask if it actually makes sense.  In part that is what the peer review, and peer review journal system does.

Of course the risk (and temptation) is to follow the other lemmings down a path and over a cliff.

Computer models are powerful, as astronomers and physicists are discovering.  But...  one should stop oneself before explaining something with certainty that can not ever be observed and can neither be proven, nor disproven beyond the basic concepts covered by the model.
 

Offline Foolosophy

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #12 on: 04/12/2010 13:29:23 »
Ahh but that's the question, of all tools we use mathematics seems to be the most robust for describing ah, .. everything ?

Wish I knew what made it so predictionary :)

Well mathematicians rely on rigorous unambiguous proof - based on what they call mathematical axioms (which cannot be challenged for their perfect form)

In other words NEVER argue with a mathematician

THey even have more than one definition of INFINITY - which they themselves admit is an undefined quantity - lol

I have to question the combined mental state of the mathematical community
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #13 on: 04/12/2010 15:38:16 »
As far as I'm concerned they are our times alchemists. And just as the ancient ones searching for the grail. But the fascinating thing is that mathematics and the universe seems to agree. Like the idea of 'symmetries', don't really know where it first popped up but it would be really interesting to know if it came as a theoretical concept or was grounded in some practical observation. I think its older than our century.

Yeah peer reviews is a good idea, but it might also stop some theories that don't fit in. Didn't there open a new site on the net where the peer reviewing would accept contributions a little easier than the established ones? I have some vague recollection of that? If so, there have to be a reason?
 

Offline CPT ArkAngel

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #14 on: 04/12/2010 18:01:50 »
Mathematics are tools helping to describe our world. They can help to make predictions, but those predictions have to be seen to go to the next level. Our minds can sometimes surpass the mathematics as a tool by extrapolating on new concepts that are too often dismissed, because they are more difficult to communicate. No known mathematical equation is absolutely true in the physical world. It is fortunate that we have computers that help us to conceptualize mathematics. But if you are wrong, it may help you to be worst... For you, the most important skeptic is yourself...
« Last Edit: 04/12/2010 18:08:12 by CPT ArkAngel »
 

Offline JP

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #15 on: 04/12/2010 21:25:22 »
Hi, Don.  I find it impossible to prove that something is not true.  As one guy said, "I could tell you that there is a flying elephant up in the sky."  Now, how will you prove that is not true?  Thanks for comments.  Joe L. Ogan

That's exactly why it's important for scientific theories to make testable predictions.  For this to be scientific theory, you'd have to tell me what I could measure or observe to verify that there is an elephant in the sky.  (Elephant patties on the roof, perhaps?)
 

Offline Soul Surfer

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Re: Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #16 on: 04/12/2010 23:44:36 »
A questioning approach is a good idea but when some ideas have been generally accepted on the basis of good evidence it is foolhardy to dispute them purely on the grounds that you just don't like them.  It is vital to produce strong evidence in favour of an alternative and convince several other experienced scientists of the value of this evidence.  People who have developed an idea into a theory will often defend it to the death but most others are open minded others can be convinced if the evidence is strong enough.  I am absolutely sure that there are no conspiracies to hide things and disseminate untruths.

One of the problems is the attitude of the inexperienced and non scientific theory to the development of understanding.  a typical example of this is a statement like Einstein with his relativity theory proved Newton to be wrong.   This is untrue.  Einstein showed that Newtonian relativity was a good approximation for low velocities and required correction for velocities close to that of light.  Most modern scientific developments are just refinements of what went before them and sometimes one has to accept that there are two approaches (as in wave-particle duality).
 

Offline Foolosophy

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Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #17 on: 06/12/2010 00:30:55 »

One of the problems is the attitude of the inexperienced and non scientific theory to the development of understanding.  a typical example of this is a statement like Einstein with his relativity theory proved Newton to be wrong.   This is untrue.  Einstein showed that Newtonian relativity was a good approximation for low velocities and required correction for velocities close to that of light.  Most modern scientific developments are just refinements of what went before them and sometimes one has to accept that there are two approaches (as in wave-particle duality).

Care to elaborate on what you mean by Newtonian relativity??

Can you show how relativism enters the Classical Newtonian world?

Remember, the relativistic equations proposed by Einstein and others collapse to their Newtonian form at low velocities.

That was the point of introducing special relativity in the first place
 

Offline Soul Surfer

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Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #18 on: 06/12/2010 23:36:18 »
The first person to recognise and state as part of a theory of dynamics that position and motion could only be measured relative to some other known position or motion was Galileo.  Newton with is gravitational theory turned this idea into a predictive theory that allowed the future positions of planets and stars to be predicted from a physical theory and not just on the basis of past measurements.  His relativity assumed that the velocity of light was infinite and positions fixed.  This is Newtonian Relativity.

Einstein realised that having a finite velocity of light changed things and that if the physical laws were to remain fixed and independent of position and velocity space and time would have to change.  This produced many predictions of what would be observed if this was true and velocities approached the velocity of light.  These have been fully and precisely borne out by experimentation.  Remember it might of course have been possible that the physical laws DID change dependant on relative velocity but it would be very difficult to work out a consistent theory that could explain how this happened.

Relativity theory also (from later understanding) shows how magnetism arises out of the relativistic effects on static electricity and motion.  This then creates a more solid physical basis for Maxwells equations  of electromagnetism which had been worked out from observation before Einstein.

There are also some very interesting effects associated with gravitational interaction and high relative velocities that are not well understood and only just being measured and included into dynamic models.  These are a direct parallel with electrical charge and electromagnetism and sometimes called gravitomagnetism and/or frame dragging.  These effects may well play a very significant part in the behaviour of material around black holes and other relativistic stars.  They could even play a part in determining the gravitational collapse of gas clouds into stars and galaxies.
 

Offline Foolosophy

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Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #19 on: 07/12/2010 03:02:01 »
The first person to recognise and state as part of a theory of dynamics that position and motion could only be measured relative to some other known position or motion was Galileo. 

This was one of Galileo's many contributions - but this recognition or insight can be traced back to the ancient Hellenic mathematicians and philosophers over 2 milenia ago

Everybody builds upon the shoulders of others - even Enistein
« Last Edit: 07/12/2010 03:04:38 by Foolosophy »
 

Offline Geezer

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Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
« Reply #20 on: 07/12/2010 03:55:12 »
Everybody builds upon the shoulders of others - even Enistein

I believe Einstein did that too.
 

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Is it a duty of a scientist to be a sceptic?
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