William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Science-Is-Self-Correcting Fallacy

A group of self-correcting scientists discuss the various theories of melting butter.

A group of self-correcting scientists discuss the various theories of melting butter.

“You know my theory is true,” said the grant-wielding scientist, “Because science is self-correcting.”

That statement is a fallacy because, of course, even supposing that science is self-correcting, there is no guarantee that this fellow’s theory has been self-corrected. It may still be gloriously, yet fundably, wrong.

Yes, fundably. For an associated fallacy is the My-Grant-Was-Funded-Therefore-My-Theory-Is-True fallacy, which is a cousin of the My-Paper-Was-Peer-Reviewed-Therefore-My-Theory-Is-True fallacy, which itself is a spawn of the ageless I’m-An-Expert-Therefore-My-Theory-Is-True fallacy.

There is thus a whiff of the appeal to authority in the Self-Correcting fallacy. But it (the SCF) is much more than that, as we’ll now see.

How did the SCF arise? It has been observed, in several historical cases, that Theory A, itself usually a consensus, has been supplanted eventually by Theory B, and that Theory B both explains previous observations and predicts new ones better than Theory A. Theory A is discarded and B embraced. Think about the progress of the models of an atom from Democritus to the (consensus!) Standard Model of today. A clear improvement: self-correction in action.

Incidentally, did you notice it? Self correcting. Science is not the collective work of individuals, but a living entity, a thing apart from people, a being capable of repairing itself—and capable of anger and susceptible of being appeased. But let this pass.

From the truth that some theories have been corrected, it does not follow that all theories have been, or eventually will be, corrected. If it were true that all theories have been self corrected, then there would be no error in science, there could not now exist theories which are wrong. We see theories that are wrong (like catastrophic global warming, which makes failed prediction after failed prediction, yet the theory is still welcomed), therefore not all theories have reached self correction.

Then to say that all theories will eventually be self corrected is a matter of faith and is not a deduction. Why? It can be possible that every theory to date has been improved, and will continue to be improved, but it does not follow that all new theories will also fit this paradigm.

Also, it has not been demonstrated that all theories now “in play” have been self-correcting. It could very well be, and there is some evidence to suggest, that some theories are racing down blind alleys, self-destructing, as it were. This usually happens when theories are based on a false philosophies—and all physics must first needs a philosophy. For example, that the “laws” of physics work everywhere and everywhen identically is a philosophical and not physical idea. Multiverses and many-worlds seem to be examples of blind-alley theories.

Scientism is also incapable of ultimate self-correction. Scientism is the false belief that all theories are ultimately scientific; i.e. it is a futile attempt at supplanting philosophy, but which is a religion which only succeeds in masquerading its philosophy.

But let these examples pass, because they are beside the point. What is true is that to say that all theories are capable of self-correction is a matter of faith and is not a deduction. Given mankind’s pertinacious grip of error, nothing would seem more obvious than some theories can be perpetually wrong.

The Self-Correcting Fallacy is rarely stated blankly as the scientist who insists he is right because Science is self-correcting. But it’s not too far off, either. How often have we heard the phrase “The Science is settled”? If the science is settled, it is not in need of self-correction, and is therefore purged of error. Or perhaps some small amount of error is allowed—which, it is assumed, will itself be self-corrected—but because science is self-correcting, theories that reach public awareness must be “good enough” already. This is obviously false.

What remains true is that each theory must be judged on its own merits, and not on the merits of its expounders or that it was capable of self-correction.

Lastly, there is also a whiff of arrogance in the SCF. Scientists boast of science making improvements, and imply that other intellectual endeavors do not share this superior attribute. This is ridiculously false, a belief which can only be the result of an ignorance of human thought. For instance, history routinely improves its understanding, and even theology improves in time. Even a cursory reading in, say, the theology of Christology confirms this.

Of course, history, theology, and other humanities are awful prone to blind alley theories, too. But we have already seen science is not immune to these. We leave with the wisdom of Max Planck:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Which is at least proof that not all scientists are capable of self-correction.

40 Comments

  1. Coincidentally I was reflecting on this following Brian Cox’s recent postings on the subject of consensus.

    It seems to me that to state “X is self-correcting” can be considered true in nearly all cases. Where a statement is as vague as that – no time limit set within which X will self-correct, no measure of the degree of self-correction that will take place, no success or failure criteria, no guarantee that the X under consideration will not become less correct before it is judged “more” correct – it can be said to apply to everything from science to politics to fashion to my waistline.

    (Although my waist appears to be substantially less correct as time goes on, in fact it just hasn’t self-corrected *yet*, but just have some faith in the system. In the meantime, please continue to allow success to be judged in a more comfortably elastic way.)

    I can see that there was a period long ago where – when empirical data and practical experiment was the rule – there was merit in claiming that science is self-correcting; the parameters of the experiment were well established, the methods relatively easy to explain, the time between iterations far shorter than the time taken to run with an incorrect result and ruin a business, a country, or a life.

    Now, when models are considered experiments, results are pushing for attention and so much is to be gained by seizing on a convenient result, “Science is self-correcting” just looks like a clever piece of branding that has little actual value as a guarantor of quality.

  2. Sander van der Wal

    September 15, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Nobody says that theories are self-correcting. It is the scientists who are doing the correction, by thinking up new theories that explain things better compared tomthe old theories. If there is consensus then it is about whether a theory is properly falsified, or not. It is also possible that there is consensus about which theory explains things best, and the Standard Model is one of those theories. Even though everybody in that field is very much aware of the limitations of that theory, and that is not something they are keeping secret either. At least not in the popular literature I am reading about that subject.

    Same for the multiverse stuff. People state these theories are highly speculative. And people are actively seeking for ways to corroborate their theories, which means that they are looking for ways to falsify them.

    As an counterexample, people haven been counting for ages, without waiting for Peano to put a proper foundation below that kind of math. Even in the realm of Mathematics there are bits of it just being used without complete formal verification. Why should Science be holier than the pope if Math can get away with it?

    Finally, there is a Philosophy of Science. Several, even. There’s Positivism, and the Popper one. There’s Kuhn. Feierabend.

  3. And, Sander, there are those empirical philosophers of science: Bas van Fraassen, Nancy Cartwright, Henry Fine, who claim that theories are in fact constructs designed to “save the appearances”. Thus, the only criterion of a theory being “true” is how well (and how quantitatively) it predicts phenomena. If you take an historical view of science, that viewpoint is plausible. But see “Tipping the Sacred Cow of Science: Confessions of a Science Agnostic”
    http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/2014/06/confessions-of-science-agnostic.html

  4. And it is not a fallacy that Science is capable of self-corruption.

  5. The grant-wielding scientist has a theory that: “science is self-correcting.”

    This theory is no doubt the result of a huge intense scientific analysis and is backed up by masses and masses of data.

    Or is it just some dumb arsed academic trying desperately to find some way to justify their assertions despite the total lack of supporting data and empirical proof?

  6. William Connolley over at Wiki attributes this phrase “the science is settled” to opponents of the Kyoto Protocol. (Personally, I use the word propaganda for Wiki content in many cases, but I digress.) I haven’t yet found where the phrase did actually originate, but would be willing to be large sums of cash that Wiki is not exactly correct.

    In any case, the phrase was quickly changed to “there is a consensus”, since settled science was considered an oxymoron in many people’s views and there were far too many examples of not settled versus consensus that were wrong. Plus, “there is a consensus” elevates scientists to a more god-like level (though it does not seem to work for UFOlogists….) and allowed Experts to rule to climate change universe while crushing all who disagreed. Experts had to be redefined to those who agreed because a few heretics in the field stopped going along and became rather high-profile. So, in the view of climate scientists, science did self-correct. All the nasty naysayers are stomped on and consensus rules.

    Your typo gremlins appear to be as active as the hackers were at Home Depot! They’ve even hacked the comments for fun!

  7. Additional note: “The science is settled” is used by Al Gore and news people. I have yet to see Michael Mann step up and say “NO, it’s not settled. We’re 95% sure, but that’s not really settled. So stop thinking of this as a sure thing. We could be wrong, very wrong.” Until then, I will continue to attribute the belief to those in climate science because of their standing by and cheering Al Gore while trying to weasal out of saying they agree with him. Obama, Hillary and Kerry all are pretty much stating this is a sure thing and no one’s out there from Climate Change Central correcting them.

  8. The post and comments thereto smack of flailing around for an excuse to not believe something (or perhaps, so as not to get wrapped around the axle on “belief,” an excuse to consider that a body of theory is incorrect). “Science is self-correcting” is shorthand. It does not mean that science is considered by its practitioners or those who write about science and its practitioners think that science is some conscious entity.

    There are probably counterexamples, but (the “soft sciences” aside) I don’t think that a scientist considers that “because science is self-correcting, my paper is correct.” He or she is more likely to think that “the data I’ve collected or the experiment I’ve run justifies the conclusions I’ve reached with the provisos that I’ve stated.”

    As I’m sure you know, “science is self-correcting” is shorthand for “scientific investigation is a process whereby continuing the collection of facts and data and attempting to construct a model for them tends, over time, to create better theories to explain observed phenomena and predict others.” Or something like that.

    But science is a human endeavor practiced by fallible humans, as is posting and commenting in blogs. Nevertheless, the success of the scientific endeavor need hardly be justified, I’m typing away now on a device and into a medium that brings together a spectacular collection of positive results of that endeavor.

    Do scientists seek truth? Well, I’d say yes and no. Ontological considerations aside (Are we really part of The Matrix? Are we projections in a holographic universe? Are we daydreams in the mind of a superior being living in an x dimensional multiverse?), the scientists I know think that they’re attempting to understand some component of how the world works. They’re Platonists by day and Formalists by night if you will. None think that the body of knowledge that they study is complete; if they did, they’d stop (not my quote but I can’t find its origin at the moment).

    Do they seek grants? Well, some do. Those we employ don’t, we’re a for-profit enterprise. For those who do though, well, I point to Dr. Briggs’ not infrequent solicitations of engagements. We all gotta make a living. Is the grant system broken? My opinion is that it is. Is it so broken that nothing useful derives from it? Absolutely not.

    But this entire post is a straw man argument. It’s “I can show that the universal claim that ‘science is self-correcting'” is not universally and unambiguously true, therefore climatology and anthropogenic climate is false.”

  9. “But this entire post is a straw man argument. It’s “I can show that the universal claim that ‘science is self-correcting’” is not universally and unambiguously true, therefore climatology and anthropogenic climate is false.””

    The post said nothing like that as far as I can see, making the tail-end of your comment a genuinely superb example of a straw man argument.

  10. I thought that “science is self-correcting” is an example of the pathetic fallacy, i.e. to attribute human emotion or behavior to items incapable of it.

  11. Rob Ryan nailed it in his first sentence; here’s some recent data on the subject:

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/science_is_self-correcting_…_sort_of/

    http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~wilkins/science-fraud.html

    Nice Summary & links at: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/2243-is-science-self-correcting.html

    Issues associated with increasing retractions of published papers include:

    Most (about three-quarters) of retractions of published papers are due to honest human errors; in recent years about one- fourth (26% in the study) were outright fraud (to “correct” findings for a theory believed correct, or, for selfish gain). This indicates:

    Science done badly is bad science.

    Science done fraudulently is fraud.

    The issue is the perpetrator(s) of bad science, and the vast majority of that is due to honest errors, which is part of being human. The [significant] minority of fraud & other abuse is, also, part of the human condition.

    “Ultimately, science is only as dependable as the humans who apply it.”

    Substitute “philosophy,” or whatever for “science” there & the same applies…

    Being a Negative Nellie about science (e.g. invoking the fabricated concept of “scientism” as if flawed or fraudulent science is to be treated the same as all credible science) is like complaining about bad measurements (look at all these abuses of the tape measure—can’t trust’m, or anything measured by rulers or yardsticks for that matter!). It’s silly and completely misses the point, which is that people sometimes do things wrong—and sometimes a significant minority of them willfully do wrong & succeed via effective promotion/marketing (and not always of their own doing).

    To sweep all that under the “science” (or “scientism”) label is a nice example of the Sweeping Generalization Logical Fallacy – http://www.logicalfallacies.info/presumption/sweeping-generalisation/

  12. There’s absolutely no doubt that papers are published that:
    1. Use falsified data.
    2. Reach unjustified conclusions.
    3. Overreach.
    4. Ignore or misstate results of previous work.
    5. Plagiarize the work of others.
    6. Etc. (to cover whatever I’ve left out).

    None of that is relevant to the implication of the post. There’s no question that work done, or alleged to be done, by humans is subject to every human failing. That’s kind of the point, though, isn’t it?

    As to the statement by mrsean2k that “The post said nothing like that [referring to my claim that the subtext here is “therefore Climate Science is b.s.”] ,” I draw your attention to:

    How often have we heard the phrase “The Science is settled”? If the science is settled, it is not in need of self-correction, and is therefore purged of error. Or perhaps some small amount of error is allowed—which, it is assumed, will itself be self-corrected—but because science is self-correcting, theories that reach public awareness must be “good enough” already. This is obviously false.

    To claim that this is not about climate science is silly. As evidence of that, look at Sheri’s comment.

  13. Science is (potentially) self-correcting.
    Fads and group-think afflict science just like any part of human endeavor.
    At any given moment the degree to which a topic is “settled” is unknown.
    The fervor with which a proponent of an idea believes that idea is not relevant to its truth-value.
    People will believe things because they “feel right”, are “logical”, or are emotionally satisfying. Such as: peak oil, “natural” is good, nature is virtuous, humans are evil, fossil fuels are evil. Climate change, by resonating with other things that “feel right” (prior sentence) is given credence unrelated to its ability to match real-world data.

  14. Fletcher Christian

    September 15, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Perhaps not all science is self-correcting. However, the proportion of it that is, is enormously greater than the proportion of religion that is. Given the complete absence of reliable data in the latter case, this is inevitable.

    Note: “It says so in this book” is not evidence. “This person says that God told him (or in rare cases, her)” is not evidence. “I saw this in a vision” is not evidence.

  15. Rob,

    A quibble: Sheri’s comments are most representative of her own views. Undoubtedly Briggs includes climate science in his broad-brush pasting of peer-reviewed, grant-funded science by domain experts, but you have to look to prior articles for the supporting evidence. He picks on many other fields as well, especially soft sciences.

    Otherwise, I think your comments are on target. I’ll add that in his hasty rush to “prove” that some scientists are incapable of self-correction, Briggs missed the allusion in the other half of Planck’s excellent quote — younger generations of researchers are hungry to overturn the status quo.

    One need look no further than the much maligned process of peer-review for evidence that failure to self-correct a) happens and b) is recognized. Planck drives that message home in his quote, but the review process is stronger evidence, being less anecdotal.

    And scratch yet another irony meter for decrying the expert “fallacy” but ending the article with a quote from an expert.

  16. Craig,

    Climate change, by resonating with other things that “feel right” (prior sentence) is given credence unrelated to its ability to match real-world data.

    That many people appeal to emotion doesn’t speak to the data, nor conclusions derived from it, either. In addition, “real-world” data is completely meaningless if not defined and cited.

  17. OK, there are examples of how science is not self-correcting that don’t need to cite global warming theories. Anybody remember the “cold fusion” business? Results were reported by two very eminent and reputable electrochemists that the hydrogen fusion reaction could be achieved at ordinary temperatures within electrodes. Despite the lack of experimental confirmation, the game continues:
    http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/6.11/coldfusion.html
    But here are some examples that the self-correcting mechanism does work, when politics is not injected into the situation (polywater, faster than light neutrinos)
    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/11/polywater_history_and_science_mistakes_the_u_s_and_ussr_raced_to_create.3.html

  18. Bob, I hardly think that an article from Wired can be considered to be an example of a failure of “self correcting nature of the scientific process” (a phrase I much prefer over “science is self-correcting”).

    I’m not even sure what your claim is. I infer that it’s likely to be that there are still scientists working on cold fusion even when it’s been impossible to replicate the anomalous heat claims, but you could also be saying that mainstream science (use your own interpretation of the meaning of that phrase) refuses to recognize the reality of anomalous heat generation in the same way that geologists failed to recognize Wegner’s theory of continental drift. Either way, in time, we’ll know for sure (though I’ve picked my horse in that race, I’m also not refractory to contradictory evidence, should it appear).

    As to Brandon, yes, Dr. Briggs’ opinions are his and Sheri’s are hers. I only mention it to demonstrate that it’s not only a wild-eyed watermelon leftist environazi wacko tree hugging nut case such as the regulars here probably think I am that interpreted the post in that way.

  19. In the past science has been self correcting but it takes a long time. And that was without the torrent of money and the political aspects of AGW that has the effect of PREVENTING self correction. So we can look forward to a very long time before the current global warming paradigm is acknowledged to be seriously flawed. Sorry.

  20. Rob, “Wired” is an appropriate reference for the majority of the readers of this blog, who are not and have not been practicing scientists (hard scientists). Also, I classify cold fusion more as engineering than science, like the atomic and fusion bombs–scientific principles were involved, as in much of engineering, and although advances in nuclear theory were achieved, the enterprise as a whole was an engineering one. So, on reflection, that example was not well chosen. The polywater and superluminal neutrino examples were. And as even a better example of the self-correcting process in science are the succession of experiments testing Bell’s theorem, from the ’70s on. See http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/0402001.pdf

  21. Bob,

    Hmmm…. perhaps Wired is an appropriate forum for the readers of this and other blog readers to understand what popular technical press thinks that scientists are doing but that’s not a part of the self-correcting nature of the scientific process (regardless of whether one agrees that is has that nature). Your other examples, yes, definitely.

    As an addendum to Brandon: I’m right there with Dr. Briggs in his lampooning of the soft sciences. Perhaps he’d consider that to be cherry picking.

  22. Rob,

    I don’t exactly lampoon soft sciences as a whole, but I also haven’t shied from critiquing poor studies when Briggs has presented examples in the past. But the number one rule of highly polarized partisan politics is that it’s the other side picking cherries, mixing politics and science, and doing their level best to ruin the country. Or planet as the case may be.

  23. Intersting post. I liked the replies by Rob Ryan, espicially. Yup, science is fallable and it is not always self correcting, as Briggs states (since it is practiced by humans). But it has the best track record of explaining the universe around us, comapred to any othe type of explanation of the physical world. I am sure Briggs will disagree with this statement.

  24. Bob,

    The polywater and superluminal neutrino examples were.

    Engineering or no, Pons and Fleischmann’s first paper was rapidly skewered and left for dead by the majority as well.

    Your reference on Bell’s inequalities ends with, We must be grateful to John Bell for having shown us that philosophical questions about the nature of reality could be translated into a problem for physicists, where naive experimentalists can contribute.

    I’ll add to that list Newton, Copernicus and Galileo … who were wrong about a great number of things, but who were more right than their contemporaries … and whose experiments are also accessible to amateurs.

    Could climatologists be all wrong about CO2 and other GHGs? Logically yes. But arguments about scientists having been wrong before is academic. There are gobs of climate data available to amateurs and professionals alike. Why not look at that instead of rehashing that which is already well-known about the fallibility of human researchers?

  25. I think the general point is for the layman to not be easily bamboozled by badly conducted research and faulty findings and NOT to educate the layman on how to fix them. Fixing them should be the researchers’ job. The message is: take what you read about research findings with certain characteristics* with a truckload of salt. As for doing it correctly, there are numerous posts here that explain how. Some people fail to see them as such or reject them as solutions.

    *these revolve around hypothesis testing that invariably (it seems) focuses on the probability of the parameters of the models and not on the probability of the models. Also, most (if not all) hypothesis testing avoids trying to predict with the model used to test the hypothesis so there is nothing to indicate if these models have any validity.

  26. Brandon, I direct your attention to the You-tube video, “She blinded me with science.”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpRgY9GXLO0
    The point of giving examples of how science really works is that politicians who know nothing of science use that as a sacred term to justify their machinations. It’s very much like Satanists advocating a black mass justifying that as a Catholic ritual.
    So we want to educate those who don’t know how science works by giving them examples–that’s the point.

  27. Isn’t “Science is Self-Correcting” simply a corollary to the “Halting” problem?

    So when Rob Ryan says:
    “I can show that … ?SCIENCE CANNOT KNOW? … therefore climatology and anthropogenic climate is false.”

    That is NOT true (at least speaking for myself)

    The post is that ANY scientist who says: “I can show that … ?SCIENCE KNOWS? … therefore climatology and anthropogenic climate is TRUE.”
    That is what is NOT TRUE (“What is the definition ‘is'” anyway?)
    Only the idea of KNOWING IS wrong.

    As a skeptic/sceptic/(septic as some would have it), I worry all the time about my OWN confirmation bias.

    With the complexity of climate as a system, I personally have to reject that statement by the KNOWing scientist – I HAVE to question his confirmation bias – but wonder that his conclusions (or some subset of conclusions) are in fact correct.

    (I BELIEVE THAT’s why there’s such …call it stridency… on the part of CAGW proponents …yeah we visit Briggs for CAGW or theology (telling that statement is)… Conclusions HAVE to be accepted in the entirety (no subset of conclusions is acceptable).

  28. DAV,

    I said nothing about fixing anything. Briggs’ article said nothing about how to recognize faulting findings. He mentioned nothing about “certain characteristics” of research to watch out for.

    “Some people” have a habit of using weasel words and not providing specifics or citations to support their claims. Followed by staunchly refusing to consider contrary evidence of their unsupported claims. And then bizarrely hold themselves up as an instructor of how to properly do statistics and/or science, wondering all the while why “other people” don’t take them seriously.

    Now pause to ask yourself why I so often complain about sweeping generalizations, and opinions masquerading as fact.

  29. Bob,

    There is nothing in the current article about politicians abusing science as you describe. Nor is there anything about how scientists work, but rather how they fail when they make fallacious statements about their own conclusions. Finally, the article contains zero examples — we have to go to the comments for that. Most comments are anecdotal examples, my own included. My favorite comment is from Ken, wherein he provided this link:

    http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~wilkins/science-fraud.html

    The statistics provided (in graphical form) barely scratch the surface of what might be going on. Annoyingly the graphic calls the statistics “Retraction Rate” when what is really presented are total number of papers retracted. Still, the breakdown by field of study, journal, and year at least give some sense of where the problem areas are, and that it is likely getting worse. I can use that kind of information to form opinions — it’s specific and quantified. It provides a foundation of objectivity — albeit not much — for an informative discussion.

    Briggs’ post is NOT that. It’s an opinion piece with zero education value … in my opinion, of course.

  30. Brandon,

    I said nothing about fixing anything …

    Why do you think I was talking about you? Was it uncomfortably close or something?

  31. Brandon, the point is not what is contained in the article cited by Briggs, but what horrors are committed by those politicians, scientific administrators, scientific journalists, who use science to buttress their political, economic or social views. What the non-science student should take in secondary school are not problem-solving courses in chemistry and physics, which they will never use, but courses in the history of science, to show them that it is a self-correcting enterprise, and that errors and false statements have been made, and then falsified by experimental evidence, as AGW.
    And you see this in the next day’s post.

  32. DAV,

    Why do you think I was talking about you?

    Your comment directly followed mine.

    Was it uncomfortably close or something?

    Not at all. Is that why you’re talking about me now instead of what you posted?

  33. Bob,

    … the point is not what is contained in the article cited by Briggs, but what horrors are committed by those politicians, scientific administrators, scientific journalists, who use science to buttress their political, economic or social views.

    I understand that’s the point you wish to make. I don’t think you’re hearing me when I say that you’re preaching to the choir.

    And you see this in the next day’s post.

    Mostly what I see there is a continuation of a long theme of secularists bashing religionists and vice versa. I think I don’t need even a well-done scientific study to recognize that humans of all stripes can be thin-skinned, wary of difference and/or change, and that tribal truths can have primacy over all else.

    By the way, it just tickles me pink when the AGW skeptics here rail about “settled science” and then turn on a dime and say just as confidently, “AGW has been falsified by experimental evidence.”

  34. Brandon,

    Your Why do you think I was talking about you?
    Your comment directly followed mine.
    Was it uncomfortably close or something?
    Not at all. Is that why you’re talking about me now instead of what you posted?

    That’s your entire reasoning?! Wow!! I guess there’s a kind of logic in a comment directly following one of yours being considered uncomfortably close and obviously directed toward you. I had no idea you have claimed the space following your comments as your own. Though isn’t it a bit egotistical and selfish? OTOH, I can see the shoe fitting making more sense. Perhaps in the future, you should wait until I’ve commented before making yours then you won’t be so easily confused. They aren’t all about you, you know. Sheesh!!

  35. @rob

    As others have pointed out, a comment made in response to the article cannot reasonably be interpreted as part of the article.

    My rule for determining if I’m guilty of strawmanning it up is: am I using the original poster’s own words?

    If I am, the chance that I’m arguing a substantive point and that the OP is answerable for are massively increased, and the converse is true. Not always successful in that regard myself of course.

    In any case, my opinion remains that “self-correcting” is a description of so little practical value it’s worthless as a way of distinguishing the practice of the scientific method / scientists from the rest of the world. When competing for the same resources and attention it should, in and of itself, confer no extra privileges, trust or funding. But it’s trotted out with such frequency, somebody clearly expects that it should.

  36. DAV,

    I had no idea you have claimed the space following your comments as your own.

    Well I guess I’m just full of surprises then.

    Though isn’t it a bit egotistical and selfish?

    Maybe I’m just confused again, but that’s one of those rhetorical questions I’m not really supposed to answer, right?

    Perhaps in the future, you should wait until I’ve commented before making yours then you won’t be so easily confused.

    I’ll let you know when I attain Godlike omniscience. I’ll try not to let anything really embarrassing slip.

    Now do you actually have anything substantive to say regarding the post I was supposed to know I wasn’t to respond to, or are you once again out of anything save for empty blather?

  37. William you wrote :

    For example, that the “laws” of physics work everywhere and everywhen identically is a philosophical and not physical idea.

    I am sorry but this is deeply wrong and may lead to farther wrong ideas if they are constructed on similar examples.
    I suggest to read about Noether’s theorems (I mean it seriously).
    Not only is it a gem that Hilbert and Einstein rightly hailed but it goes to the fundations of physics itself.

    One of these theorems shows that if the dynamical equations of a system are unchanged by time translation then there exists an invariant and this invariant happens to be the energy of the system.
    In simple words if we observe energy conservation (what we do), that means that the dynamical equations of the system (e.g “laws of physics”) do not change with time (e.g “work identically everywhen”).

    Of course there could follow now a discussion of domains of validity like Hamiltonian mechanics etc but this was not the point of my post.
    The point is that the properties you mentionned in the example have absolutely nothing to do with philosophical ideas.
    They are as physical as physical ideas go.

    Actually I know of no sufficiently deep and consistent physical theory that would need let alone use any “philosophical” ideas.
    On the contrary, when a theory starts with some pseudo philosophical hypothesis (like the babling about “intrinsical reality” or “spookiness” in QM), you can bet with a high probability to win that it will be a crackpot theory which will be fast shown inconsistent and contradicting hundreds of experimental results established over hundreds of years.
    So it will self correct pretty fast 🙂

  38. Briggs

    September 18, 2014 at 5:39 am

    Tom,

    No, sir. Noether’s theory, and all physical theories, are based on a philosophy. It is impossible for them not to be. It is impossible for any science not to be based upon a philosophy.

    At the very least, Noether’s equations, themselves created at base by a philosophy (where did the axioms come from), still need to be applied to real-life things. Equations are inert, mere scratches on paper. It is the jump from scratch to application that always implies a philosophy.

    Etc.

  39. William

    There is then a problem.
    You say that it is impossible for a theory not to be based on philosophy and I am saying that it is not only possible but the rule.
    P and non P.
    I actually go beyond that and say that I know of no physical theory which would be based on any kind of philosophy (crackpot theories excluded).

    I know Noether’s theorems, could derive them and explain how and why they work. Color me knowledgeable in this matter.
    Now Noether’s theorems deal EXACTLY with what you called “philosophy” (e.g “laws of mechanics valid everywhen and everywhere”) yet use absolutely no explicit or implicit philosophical priors.
    It is not known that Noether had any pregnant philosophical opinions or was even interested in philosophy anyway.

    So as with P and non P only one can be right, where is the problem ?
    While the existence of N theorems is a proof that what you called “philosophy” in your example was pure physics and mathematics instead, it is not sufficient to prove that P is true.
    Perhaps if you could tell me where exactly in your opinion Noether needed philosophy let alone used it, it could shed some light on the problem.

    To avoid misunderstandings I precise that for me mathematics are not philosophy and that the existence of mathematical axioms implies in no way any necessity or usefullness for any kind of philosophy.
    Philosophy is just an option thay you check or don’t check when you do science for me.

  40. It would seem that Brian Cox is not self correcting since he insists that the GHG theory is correct.

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