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  1. #1

    Default (Perhaps Controversial) Thoughts on Different Kinds of Science

    This is really only tangentially a Scientific discussion, because it deals with science.

    I'd like to discuss various aspects of various "sciences." The aspects I had in mind were:1) Confidence in knowledge, 2) Status as a Science, 3) Facts and Inference, 4) The Roles of Observation, Confirmation/Repeatability, and Authority

    Which sciences I pick is somewhat arbitrary. What we call "science" is arbitrary in many ways. Ultimately, each science is a study of something (and in that way we can have the "science" of anything).

    But I believe what gives "science" its credibility, is the very fact that its results are so reliable. I believe what gives science its reliability is the precision of representation (which allows for the precision in testing and application) given to it by mathematics (or some equivalent proxy).

    Physics is the study of "things." Ultimately, what demarcates it is what we can rigorously consider to be "things." Many make the demarcation here. "Hard sciences" study "things" while the other "sciences" study concepts that may not be "things."

    Chemistry is the study of "stuff"--that is the study of "elemental" things and their interactions. The atom is the smallest unit of an element. In many ways physics and chemistry are the same, but their divergence increased when the notion of what is an "atom" froze at our current conception. Quarks, leptons, and Bosons could form an alternate concept of "atoms" and if this were the case, I doubt there would be much difference between Chemistry and Physics. But the selection of the atom for what it is was a eminently practical one for the study of interaction between elements.

    Biology is the study of "living" things, not really quite the study of "life" itself. What it means to be "living" is a difficult distinction, but we know it when we see it (or at least believe we do).

    I will also include many social sciences (the study of human beings and their interactions). I haven't decided which ones yet.

    Also, I will divide the sciences into four categories. Mathematical sciences (pure and applied), Physical Sciences (Physics and Chemistry), Life Sciences (Biology), and Social sciences.

    Again, what I include in each has a degree of arbitrariness. For instance, Computer Science could be called out separately from Applied Mathematics, but for now I am going to treat it as a subset. Also, Organic Chemistry (the study of the "stuff of life") could be included as a Life Science, but I leave it as a subset of Chemistry. Things like Geology, Astronomy, Material Science, Pharmacology, etc., I'll leave as subsets and compositions of physics and chemistry.

    There is a whole host of other subjects, but I make the demarcations not by who does what, but by what is being study. So many physicists do a lot of Applied Math (that is studying certain general forms to see if they apply to reality), and biologists do applied physics (that is studying the living thing simply as thing based on physical laws), etc.

    I'll be making a lot of judgment calls. Ultimately, it comes down to opinion.

    Nevertheless, mine will follow.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  2. #2

    Default Mathematical Sciences

    Mathematical Sciences
    Pure Mathematics
    Confidence in knowledge
    • Represents the most incontrovertible human knowledge (I am including Logic in this)
    • The body of knowledge is most general in its application, and these laws are thought to hold true in any context. They are considered context independent, but are nevertheless based on axioms (the axioms may, in a way be thought of as "context").
    • Professionals in this field implicitly hold the attitude that if anyone at all believes they have found a specific example disproving one of the laws, they can confidently issue the challenge, "Show me the example, and I'll show you how you're wrong."
    • I know of no modern example where someone has shown an example of the laws of pure mathematics being violated. If by some incredibly small chance, the holder of the example is actually correct, then the laws themselves are corrected.

    Status as a Science
    • Often not considered "science" because it is more basic and fundamental

    Facts and Inference
    • Has a very small set of accepted assumptions (you could call these "unexplained facts") and very long chains of inference.
    • Generally has very satisfactory explanations for the question "why?" In fact, when something appears to be true, but we don't have the answer to "why?" in terms of a proof, it is not even considered "true."

    The Roles of Observation, Confirmation/Repeatability, and Authority
    • The mechanisms are so fundamental to being human (perhaps being a thinking being of any sort) that many assume that there are no "observations" to speak of.
    • The observations seem visceral and automatic. (there was a question about if .9999...=1) Like all observations, they are prone to error.
    • When people differ in their observations of the same objects, they engage in debate with each other. Consensus in the community is based of a rigorous enough proof.


    Applied Mathematics
    Confidence in knowledge
    • The body of knowledge is rather general in its application, and the confidence of knowledge is essentially determined by the confidence in the mathematical model selected for the application. The models themselves are a result of pure mathematics (even though often done by the applied mathematician).
    • Professionals in this field implicitly hold the attitude that if anyone at all believes they have found a specific example disproving one of the laws, they can issue the challenge, "Show me the example, and I'll show you how you're wrong, or why the model chosen is wrong."

    Status as a Science
    • Often not considered "science" but the "language of science."
    • You could say that "all science is applied mathematics" as an alternative to it being the "language of science." Even qualitative models, are mathematical (usually discrete) in nature if they are to be coherent.

    Facts and Inference
    • Has a relatively small set of accepted assumptions and fairly long chains of inference.
    • The nature of explanations for the question "why?" are based mainly on the application and the selection of the mathematical model. Nevertheless, the answers to "why" things happen in the model are very satisfactory.

    The Roles of Observation, Confirmation/Repeatability, and Authority
    • The observations are based on the specific application or on the model chosen for the application.
    • When people differ in their observations of the same objects, they engage in debate with each other. Consensus in the community is based of a rigorous proof of the models, and strong enough evidence on the proper selection of the models.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  3. #3

    Default Physical Sciences

    Physical Sciences
    Physics
    Confidence in knowledge
    • Represents the most incontrovertible human knowledge regarding the material world and anything that emerges from it.
    • The body of knowledge is rather general in its application, and when the appropriate theory is selected, the laws are thought to hold true in nearly all physical contexts.
    • Professionals in this field know that there are many physical mysteries and that at extreme conditions or scales that there are deviations from their theories and observations (as well as between competing theories). However, they implicitly hold the attitude that if anyone believes they have found a specific example disproving one of the laws in fairly "mundane" circumstances, they can confidently issue the challenge, "Show me the example, and I'll show you how you're wrong." The ways they can be wrong are not as clear-cut as in Math, and there are many. Ultimately, it is either poor experiment/observation, or poor application of theory. In rare cases, the "mundane" may turn out not to be so mundane, and have pushed to the boundaries of physics. There is very little "new physics" being discovered, but instead a lot of new phenomenon being explained in terms of old physics.

    Status as a Science
    • Considered "science" but have fringes that many consider "pseudo-science."

    Facts and Inference
    • Has a fairly small set of accepted assumptions and long chains of inference. How much is determined empirically vs. through first-principles is often a practical decision of the investigator.
    • Generally has very satisfactory explanations for the question "why?" The answers come in the form of a proper selection of mathematical model (that is, an instance of applied mathematics, usually done by the physicist).

    The Roles of Observation, Confirmation/Repeatability, and Authority
    • Observations are generally made in very carefully controlled environments or carefully constructed models or simulations.
    • When people make observations that disagree, the experiments, observations, models, calculations, etc. are examined carefully and errors are generally found. In many cases, errors can be exposed by direct argument from first principles (violation of conservation laws, thermodynamics, etc.). In some cases, the discrepancy doesn't go away, and this leads to a physical mystery.



    Chemistry
    Confidence in knowledge
    • Represents we know about stuff and their interactions. Many of the rules are rules of thumb, and deciding which rule is the most dominant in a situation is context dependent.
    • The body of knowledge is rather general in its application, and when the appropriate theory is selected and enough is known about the particular situation, the laws are thought to hold true in tested chemical contexts.
    • Professionals in this field know that there are many complexities in the interactions and are fairly open to phenomenon that run counter to their theoretical judgment. However, they implicitly hold the attitude that well worked out theories backed by many experiments ought to repeat about the same when others do it. If others were to produce results with high "experimental error," there would be strong suspicions about improper experimental set-up or theoretical application.

    Status as a Science
    • Considered "science" in almost all cases.

    Facts and Inference
    • Has a rather high number of accepted assumptions and moderate chains of inference. There is a fairly strong practical push towards empirical modeling and heavy testing.
    • Has somewhat satisfactory explanations for the question "why?" The "why" answers come feedback between empirical testing and physical modeling.

    The Roles of Observation, Confirmation/Repeatability, and Authority
    • Observations are generally made in very carefully controlled environments or on carefully constructed models or simulations.
    • When people make observations that disagree, the experiments, observations, models, calculations, etc. are examined carefully. New phenomenon are still being found regularly.
    Last edited by ygolo; 11-09-2008 at 10:08 PM. Reason: some lists was broken

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  4. #4

    Default Life Sciences

    Life Sciences
    Biology
    Confidence in knowledge
    • Represents what we know about living things. Much of the knowledge comes in the form of statements of existence and composition. The more "law" like knowledge comes from chemistry, physics and applied math (done by biologists, physics, chemists or mathematicians), and may be logically placed there.
    • The body of knowledge is rather context specific, and proof of existence relies of repeatability of observation or excellent records of singular observation.
    • Professionals in this field know that there are many complexities in the interactions and are fairly open to new biological phenomenon. But they have to guard against hoaxes and misrepresentation since they can be manufactured.

    Status as a Science
    • Considered "science" in almost all cases.

    Facts and Inference
    • Has a very high number of accepted assumptions. Till recently, the knowledge itself amounted to this. (Though epidemiology, genetics and other places have general models). Inference amounts to verification that biological phenomenon can and does exist, and relies heavily on the principles of chemistry, physics and applied mathematics (even when done by the biologist). We are a long ways away from explaining biology from "first principles."
    • Has rather murky explanations for the question "why?" The "why" answers come feedback between empirical testing and modeling. Many models require the use of emergent models rather than "physical" ones. There is often no choice.

    The Roles of Observation, Confirmation/Repeatability, and Authority
    • Observations are generally made in very carefully controlled environments or on carefully constructed models or simulations.
    • When people make observations that disagree, the experiments, observations, models, calculations, etc. are examined carefully. New phenomenon abound.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  5. #5

    Default Social Sciences

    Social Sciences
    History, Anthropology, and Forensics
    Confidence in knowledge
    • Represents what we know about human events. Much of the knowledge comes in the form of statements of existence of events related to humanity or particular human beings. Relies on the physical and life sciences for the confirmation and fleshing out of the details of events.
    • The body of knowledge is explicitly context specific. Excellent records of singular observation comprise the majority of evidence.
    • Professionals in this field know that there are many complexities in life, and know there are many things that may or may not have happened. But they have to guard against hoaxes and misrepresentation since they can be manufactured fairly readily. Plausible but untrue stories abound, but many techniques exist for sifting the truth out from fiction.

    Status as a Science
    • Considered "science" by some, but not others. History in particular is not considered "science" by most.

    Facts and Inference
    • Comprised almost entirely of accepted assumptions. Inferences are usually made in the form of confirming or denying the details of events.
    • Has either non-existent or highly-speculative explanations for the question "why?" The focus is rather strongly on "what?"

    The Roles of Observation, Confirmation/Repeatability, and Authority
    • Observations are made on a fairly opportunistic basis.
    • When people make observations that disagree, a lot of investigation is needed in many cases. Official resolutions can be rather unsatisfactory.


    Economics, Sociology, Political Science, etc.
    Confidence in knowledge
    • Represents what we know about humanity in aggregate. Much of the knowledge comes in the form of statements of indexes and descriptive statistics of populations.
    • The body of knowledge is explicitly context specific. Records of observations aggregated together (also known as "data") comprises the majority of evidence.
    • Professionals in this field know that there are many complexities in life, and know there are many things that may or may not have happened. They have to guard against hoaxes and misrepresentation since they can be manufactured fairly readily. Plausible but false aggregate scores abound, but many techniques exist for sifting the truth out from fabrication or bias.

    Status as a Science
    • Considered "science" by some, "pseudo-science" by others.

    Facts and Inference
    • Comprised almost entirely of accepted assumptions. Inferences are usually made in the form of evaluating aggregates in terms of accuracy.
    • Has either non-existent or highly-speculative explanations for the question "why?" The focus is rather strongly on "what?"
    • Applied Mathematics (in the for of probability theory) works on these indeces. Like all applied math, what the model derives is rather uncontroversial (once resolved), but the degree of controversy comes from the assumptions used to create the model. In this case, that would be in the proper creation of indexes and scores.

    The Roles of Observation, Confirmation/Repeatability, and Authority
    • Observations are made on an opportunistic basis and only when they can be made en mass.
    • When people make observations that disagree, a lot of investigation is needed in many cases. Official resolutions can be rather unsatisfactory.


    Psychology
    Confidence in knowledge
    • Represents what we know about the human psyche. Much of the knowledge comes in the form of statements of measures and vague conceptions.
    • The body of knowledge can be explicitly context specific or generally applied to the human condition.
    • Professionals in this field know that there are many complexities in life, and know there are many things that may or may not have happened. They have to guard against hoaxes and misrepresentation since they can be manufactured fairly readily. Plausible but false theories as well as dubious experiments abound. Many techniques exist for sifting the truthful experimentation from fabrication or bias, though they seem Highly lacking. I know of no theories that are anything beyond a gross exaggeration or impressionistic.

    Status as a Science
    • Considered "science" by some, "pseudo-science" by others.

    Facts and Inference
    • Comprised almost entirely of accepted assumptions. Very little in terms of a stable professional view in the long term.
    • Has either non-existent or highly-speculative explanations for the question "why?" The focus is rather strongly on "what?"
    • Inferences are made on an individual basis, and correctness seems to depend more on the empathic abilities of the practitioner than the techniques themselves.

    The Roles of Observation, Confirmation/Repeatability, and Authority
    • Observations are made on an opportunistic basis or under "double blind" situations if possible.
    • When people make observations that disagree, a lot of investigation is needed in many cases. Official resolutions seem non-existent.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  6. #6

    Default Thoughts?

    So, what are your thoughts on the matter?

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  7. #7
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    Well, I take science as the study of "things" in the universe using a predefined set of procedures known as the "scientific method".

    Most of what you've mentioned, with exceptions to political/social science can fall under the broad umbrella. And the only things excluding those two is the means people use to study them.

  8. #8

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by nightning View Post
    Well, I take science as the study of "things" in the universe using a predefined set of procedures known as the "scientific method".

    Most of what you've mentioned, with exceptions to political/social science can fall under the broad umbrella. And the only things excluding those two is the means people use to study them.
    Although, I did mention status as a "science" as on of the characteristics I analyzed, I am actually concerned more with the reliability of the results and discoveries than I am about whether or not qualifying as a "science."

    "The Scientific Method" is one of the myths of science according to many.

    Using previous results and methods to recreate phenomenon is quite common to be sure, but there are many creative aspects to it as well.

    I think, depending on which science your background is will change your view of what science is.

    Frankly, if one is pedantic, or focusing on following procedures or gaining the incentives of being member of "science" through publications alone, I think the work will be dead of the curiosity that is its engine.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  9. #9
    Glowy Goopy Goodness The_Liquid_Laser's Avatar
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    If you are ranking them in order of reliability then I essentially agree. (Did you include geology/earth sciences in there somewhere?) Overall I tend to think what makes a science reliable is heavy use of math and experimentation in a controlled environment.
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  10. #10
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    Although, I did mention status as a "science" as on of the characteristics I analyzed, I am actually concerned more with the reliability of the results and discoveries than I am about whether or not qualifying as a "science."

    "The Scientific Method" is one of the myths of science according to many.

    Using previous results and methods to recreate phenomenon is quite common to be sure, but there are many creative aspects to it as well.

    I think, depending on which science your background is will change your view of what science is.

    Frankly, if one is pedantic, or focusing on following procedures or gaining the incentives of being member of "science" through publications alone, I think the work will be dead of the curiosity that is its engine.
    Ah... we have a difference in terminology. I call the creative work derived from science "technology". Science and technology. Science is understanding, technology is applied. Other than that, I agree with what you're saying.

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