Debate:Philosophy of science

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The innocent start[edit]

Figured a lot of people here might appreciate this. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 18:15, 19 May 2009 (UTC)

This is why I take rather a dim view of philosophy of science; the only difference being that the philosophers-of-science pretend to know jack about the subject. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 18:29, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
Really, Listener? Which philosophers of science did you have in mind? Sir Sockpuppet 19:54, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
Every one that is not also a scientist. This appears to be the majority. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 20:09, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
And what, exactly, qualifies someone as a scientist? Obviously you don't mean just those persons engaged in science research, since that would include the philosophers of science as well. Perhaps you mean those with advanced degrees in a scientific field? But that would rule out the greatest scientists of the past. So... what do you mean by "scientist"? Sir Sockpuppet
I lean toward the "research" definition, and dispute your claim that very many philosophers-of-science are actively engaged in scientific research. Here are the philosophers-of-science whose works I have, at one point or another, been directed to read:
  1. Plato
  2. Karl Popper
  3. Peter Singer
  4. Philip Kitcher
  5. Jim Woodward
  6. Nancy Cartwright
Can you name a single scientific contribution made by any one of those people? And if you can, have they continued to make such contributions after becoming known as philosophers-of-science? Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 20:42, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
Well, let's see. Plato's Timaeus sets the foundation for epistemology, without which science would be impossible. Popper's falsifiability criterion is, despite the Duhem-Quine problem, still the go-to standard for determining whether a claim is properly scientific or not. Singer, I don't know; I don't really do ethics. Kitcher works at the intersection of science and faith, surely of interest to this community. Woodward's improvement on Judea Pearl's model of causation is basically the only thing going in that discussion right now. Cartwright's arguments against "natural law" models are pretty persuasive.
Or did you mean "scientific contribution" as "experimental result"? If so, not really. But that's a strangely limited view of science indeed!
Finally, on what authority or argument do you base your claim that, say, Nancy Cartwright knows "little to nothing about [science]"? Sir Sockpuppet 21:06, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
Those are contributions to the philosophy of science, not to science itself; you seem to be confused as to what "science" is, and I suggest that you check any dictionary or even this Wiki's page on the subject.
As to Prof. Cartwright's qualifications, a track record of some study in a scientific discipline, preferably involving some interaction with the real world, would not go amiss. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 21:26, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
Ah, the classic "appeal to definition". Well done, neighbor! You sure showed me. I guess the difference between philosophy of science and science is well-enough defined to be found in any dictionary or, barring that, on this very wiki! But... maybe you could explain just how it's possible to divorce the scientific method from its philosophical underpinnings? Because that would be a huge result, maybe one you should think about publishing. Oh, but wait, you can't. And the continuing development of the scientific method is precisely the business of philosophers of science, who do, in fact, know more than a little about science; based on your claims so far in this section, I would wager significantly more than do you, but then, maybe you're just tired or something. Sir Sockpuppet 21:39, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
  1. Note that while I have cited the dictionary and the Wiki to back up what I submit to be the definition of "science," you have neglected to cite any sources to back up your claim on that point. You posit that the philosophy of science is itself science. But are those philosophers per se producing "knowledge obtained and tested through the use of the scientific method" (Webster's)? I put that they are not.
  2. Yes, one can "divorce the scientific method from its philosophical underpinnings;" one can use the scientific method simply by opening one's eyes, looking around, and thinking. There is one school of thought within the philosophy of science holding that the methods of science defy codification.
  3. Define "science" and "scientist" how you like, I still hold that the only people with more than a superficial knowledge of, for example, physics are those who are actually in the lab studying it. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 03:21, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
Apropos of nothing, but has anyone else noticed that point 1 in the above comment reads like a cross between Ungtss and  K e n  D o l l ? --Kels 03:34, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
That's probably because SSP is probably Ungtss. But we don't need to know or figure that out to continue the discussion... ħumanUser talk:Human 03:46, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
I think Kels was referring to my post... Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 04:03, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
I don't think so. Her reference just wasn't clear. But, hey, maybe she'll turn up and clear this up. ħumanUser talk:Human 04:42, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
Well, let me put it this way: I'm not Ungtss. I'm just sick and tired of those who have little or no exposure to philosophy treating it as a convenient whipping-boy. I'm happy to reveal my IRL identity to anybody who emails me. Complete with (not very good) photographic evidence, even. Sir Sockpuppet
Translation: Sir Sockpuppet is making wild claims about what constitutes "science", and when I point him to the real definitions he is accusing me of a bait-and-switch. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 03:41, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
My claims aren't actually all that wild, Listener. 1. Since we're talking philosophy, why not check out the SEP on science and the philosophy of science. 2. Opening one's eyes, looking about, and thinking does not reliably lead to what we think of as the scientific method, as evidenced by, oh, the entirety of human history up until a couple centuries ago. 3. If the only people with more than a superficial knowledge of physics are those who are actually in the lab studying it, then Einstein had no more than a superficial knowledge of physics when he published on the photoelectric effect. Sir Sockpuppet 22:54, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
  1. I had a look through some of the articles in the SEP online, and as I expected, it agrees with the dictionaries in treating philosophy and science as completely separate things (although it does speak of some feedback between the two). Was there some specific article you had in mind?
  2. A few names for you to consider. Geber. Copernicus. Galileo. Isaac Newton. Those four men: (a) made extensive use of the scientific method; (b) lived far more than "a couple centuries ago." Just because it took philosophers thousands of years to get their head around the scientific method does not mean that scientists could not use it in the meantime, just as one does not need to study number theory to learn how to add. (Incidentally, Geber said of chemistry, "He who performs not practical work nor makes experiments will never attain the least degree of mastery.")
  3. Are you saying that Einstein had not studied any physics before his Annus Mirabilis? Or are you taking the term "lab" literally there? Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 03:31, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
If you are not taking the term "lab" literally, Listener, you should really retract your comments about at least Cartwright and Woodward. Let me ask: which articles on the SEP did you find that treated "philosophy" and "science" as entirely separate? And I admit I should have been more precise than "a couple of centuries"; if you'll be kind enough to allow me to refine my terminology, I'll say "six centuries". That still leaves, oh, a few thousand years of human endeavor unaccounted for. Sir Sockpuppet 09:58, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
Show me one contribution made to physics, chemistry, or some other scientific discipline by either Prof. Cartwright or Prof. Woodward and I might just do that. (To cite the blackjack we often use against "creation scientists," a paper published in a peer-reviewed science journal would be excellent.)
Show me one article in the SEP supporting your definition of science, for which you have hitherto failed to cite sources, and I will cite the articles I found (some of which happen to be written by none other than Prof. Woodward).
Regarding your "six centuries" remark, I will remind you that Geber lived not 600, but 1300 years ago. These numbers may be insignificant in terms of the 200,000 years that humans have been around, but you should at least try to answer the argument put to you. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 15:57, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
I have a much easier recourse, as might be obvious by now. Your claim is that only those who have made substantive contributions to science can count as scientists. Right? If I'm wrong, let me know. But supposing that I have not mischaracterized your position, my attack is twofold: First, what contributions have you made to science? I'm guessing, and this is, I admit, just spitballing, that at best you've got third or fourth author on a paper nobody bothered to read. Again, if I'm wrong, please let me know.
Second, and this is the big one, what contributions have you made to the philosophy of science? If your have not made any contributions, then you, by your own requirements, must admit that what you know about the philosophy of science is ... how did you put it? Oh, right. Jack shit. (And yes, you walked right into that.)
Oh, and this is just a thought: Why should we expect Nancy or Jim to publish in a science journal? They publish in philosophy journals, which have much more stringent requirements. Sir Sockpuppet 10:08, 23 May 2009 (UTC)

EZ edit button[edit]

(UNINDENT) "Why should we expect Nancy or Jim to publish in a science journal?" To demonstrate the profound knowledge of science you attribute to them. It is much more difficult to fool scientists on that point than philosophers. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 23:05, 23 May 2009 (UTC)

Oh, I see the problem. You think that postmodern cultural studies counts as philosophy. Well, that certainly explains your low opinion of my field! Your belief is, of course, incorrect. I am still curious, though: since you don't like it when people who don't know what they're talking about (by your definition) in a field of inquiry opine about that field, why do you keep talking about philosophy, since you (again, by your definition) don't know what you're talking about when it comes to philosophy? Or is science somehow special, in ways that, say, history, or mathematics, or linguistics is not? If so, what is it that makes science special? Sir Sockpuppet 23:21, 24 May 2009 (UTC)
  1. According to the editors of Social Text, Prof. Sokal was going specifically after "postmodern philosophy" with that paper.
  2. It is not stating an opinion on some field outside one's own to which I object; we do it to religion all the time here on the Wiki. It is the idea that philosophers know as well or better than scientists what qualifies as "scientific" research, or how to "interpret" the same. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 04:27, 25 May 2009 (UTC)
  1. Postmodernists like to call themselves philosophers in roughly the same way that the fellows of the Discovery Institute like to call themselves scientists. It's a problem. We do have real journals, of course.
  2. And yet the task of interpretation is a necessary one, and one which is not performed well by scientists. For example: Do electrons exist? If so, what are their properties? And so on.
Look, science is very good at producing more and more refined models of the world. But that's all it does. It is not and cannot be a complete epistemology, because there's so much more than just those models at work in the way we understand the world. This is where the philosophy of science comes in: it's the job of the philosophy of science to tell both scientists and the rest of the world what science is actually telling them, and how it fits in with the rest of their knowledge. Science, and, more broadly, scientists, are famously silent on things like the nature of causation, which is nonetheless broadly assumed in the course of scientific research; and when scientists do start to talk about that sort of thing, they're acting as philosophers, since empirical methods do not and cannot detect causal power, as Hume ably demonstrated (I can dig up the relevant section of the Treatise if you want a citation). Similarly when scientists describe things as laws of nature: it's not as if there's a Universal Law Enforcement Agency that will toss you in the clink if you break gravity or whatever. No, natural law talk is ... well, you've read Cartwright; I mostly agree with her position.
Do philosophy students misunderstand and misuse science? Of course they do. I've gotten to the point where I threaten my intro-level students with an automatic grade reduction if they use the word "quantum" in their papers. It's terrible. But that's not the point. The point is, everybody doing philosophy of science at a professional level as a matter of fact has at least the equivalent of a few university courses in the relevant field (though there aren't any philosophers of chemistry for some reason?) under their belts. If Plato was wrong, that's to be expected, but it's hardly his fault he didn't correctly anticipate modern scientific methods. It's still impossible to do any sort of science without owing an intellectual debt to him, and it's certainly worth thinking about how far we've come and what we're doing when we do science.
I think we can agree at least on these points. Sir Sockpuppet 19:46, 25 May 2009 (UTC)
  1. Your dismissal of postmodern philosophy is quite obviously a No True Scotsman, but is, in my opinion, very accurate.
  2. All scientists owe an intellectual debt to Plato? Goodness; makes one wonder how the field of astronomy ever got started, thousands of years before the fellow was out of diapers.
  3. Your characterization of the relationship between philosophy and science reads to me like philosophers popping in out of the blue to tell scientists that science has major problems that only the philosophers can address — but problems that the philosophers themselves made up. Reminiscent of a church informing people that they need to give the church lots of money to escape hell, really. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 07:28, 26 May 2009 (UTC)
  1. Since most postmodernists I know would say the same thing of me, I'm comfortable with it.
  2. All scientists owe an intellectual debt to Plato in the same way that no human is over 150 years old. Get it?
  3. How my characterization reads to you is, of course, irrelevant. Philosophy has not and could not "pop in out of the blue", since what you're calling science in fact springs out of philosophy. Perhaps you should have read some philosophy of science -- or, as it once was called, natural philosophy -- between Plato and Popper? Descartes on optics is especially illuminating. The relevant comparison has nothing to do with churches or religious beliefs; it's more like the relationship between a physicist and a chemist. Sir Sockpuppet 19:40, 26 May 2009 (UTC)
True, some branches of science grew out of "natural philosophy" — by shedding its more "philosophical" elements, such as the idea that one could speculate freely without testing one's hypotheses. That history does not give philosophers any more license in that area.
I don't know where you're getting the idea that philosophy encourages/allows free speculation unmoored from testing. Contemporary analytic philosophy is (typically) deeply involved with the relevant literature. I don't know anyone doing philosophy of language who isn't conversant with the literature on linguistics, and similar relations generally hold between philosophy of mind and neuro/cognitive science.TallMan 23:46, 28 May 2009 (UTC)
There is a large difference between reading current data to make an hypothesis, and gathering new data or performing new experiments after the hypothesis is made. Philosophers of science, unless also scientists themselves, are not much into the latter sort of testing. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 07:32, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
First, this is just not true. Indeed, there's an entire discipline called experimental philosophy that involves using novel experiments to test philosophical hypotheses. And while experimental philosophy wasn't called experimental philosophy until fairly recently, it's been practiced for some time. Second, your claim is irrelevant. Philosophical hypotheses aren't the same as scientific hypotheses. Philosophers, even philosophers of science, aren't (generally) doing science, and no one has claimed that they are (as far as I can see). Many philosophical theses can't be confirmed or disconfirmed by experiment in the same way that some scientific theses can. Third, a good deal of the scientific literature doesn't involve performing novel experiments, or even performing experiments at all. Look at the literature on string theory and quantum gravity. Or look at evolutionary biology, where a great deal of the literature is either purely descriptive. Evolutionary biologists are doing science, as are theoretical physicists. So you're not going going want to say that novel experiments are characteristic of science.TallMan 12:20, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
"no one has claimed that they are" — Except, of course, for you, going by the exception you took to my making a distinction between science and philosophy of science. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 03:56, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
Of course there's a distinction between science and philosophy of science. It's just that the distinction isn't what you've said it is. The natural follow-up question here is "what is the distinction, then?" I'm afraid I don't have a good answer to that. Philosophy, when done well, makes use of the appropriate epistemic standards and practices of science, informs and is informed by the scientific literature, etc., all of which suggests that the science/philosophy border is vague and porous, and as such resists analysis. But I, and I suspect most philosophers and most scientists, can give examples which are clearly one or the other, and our lists will agree on the majority of cases. (Added in update: there were two other points made in my previous comment. Do you have a response to those?) TallMan 12:06, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
"...it's more like the relationship between a physicist and a chemist." No, unless the philosopher-of-science in question also happens to be a scientist. And philosophers have made all sorts of claims concerning God and the world; I have been over one of Prof. Cartwright's papers specifically addressing that topic. Religion is not so far removed from the equation as one might wish. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 22:03, 26 May 2009 (UTC)
If by "some" you mean "all", then yes, you are correct. If you want to bring up astronomy again, keep in mind that the first successful astronomical prediction was made by Thales of Miletus -- a philosopher. No "license" is asked, nor is any required, for the part of philosophy most closely related to the natural philosophy, or the sciences, as you call them, to comment on the roles played by those disciplines. Nor is your claim about free speculation particularly "philosophical".
Yes, indeed I will bring it up again; it is quite amazing how astronomy managed to exist for thousands of years before Thales without making a single correct prediction. Also, not all forms of science came out of natural philosophy; the formal sciences certainly did not, and botany has more roots in medicine. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 07:32, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
Given a loose enough definition of "astronomy", sure. And since I didn't bother to pin you down on that before engaging -- my mistake -- I'll concede that point. Now, what exactly do you mean by "the formal sciences"? Sir Sockpuppet 20:12, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
The second point is just incoherent. So Cartwright wrote a paper on God... but what does that have to do with anything at all? Is Ken Miller not a scientist, then?
Qualification: Wrote a paper on what the laws of physics imply about God. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 07:32, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
Well, what's wrong with that? If there are laws of physics, and God is the author, then we can learn things about God. If God isn't the author, then it's irrelevant, but still an interesting exercise.Sir Sockpuppet 20:12, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
Again, and I really hate to keep bringing this up, you're criticizing philosophy without being a philosopher. Either your behavior is inconsistent, in which case I don't see why anybody should care about your disgruntlement, or you're being deliberately disingenuous to pick a fight. Or maybe you just haven't grasped my argument yet; let me put it explicitly.
  1. It is your belief that people who are not engaged in research in an academic discipline should not comment on the proper behavior of those people who are so engaged.
  2. You are commenting on the proper behavior of those people engaged in research in an academic discipline.
  3. You are not engaged in research in that discipline.
Therefore, you should not be commenting on the proper behavior of those people. Or would you like to drop the first claim, or defend the idea that "science" and "philosophy" are relevantly different when it comes to what laypersons know? As far as I can see, those are your options at this point. Best regards, Sir Sockpuppet 02:05, 27 May 2009 (UTC)
Take two: It is not stating an opinion on some field outside one's own to which I object; we do it to religion all the time here on the Wiki. It is the idea that philosophers know as well or better than scientists what qualifies as "scientific" research, or how to "interpret" the same.
Oh, I see. You just have no idea what philosophers of science are up to, so you're criticizing them based on your misconceptions. That's OK. I can recommend some reading, if you like. Sir Sockpuppet 20:12, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
Do you or do you not subscribe to that idea? If you do not, you should retract the statement you made above beginning with, "And yet the task of interpretation is a necessary one." Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 03:56, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
I do subscribe to the idea that philosophers of science are more able than practicing scientists to interpret science. Interpretation is not the job of science. I regret that I will be unable to respond to your further arguments for a while, but real life is intruding. You may, if you like, take this as a concession, but I'd prefer to come back to the discussion sometime later. Sir Sockpuppet 10:16, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
I am obviously not mistaken in saying that philosophers of science have that idea, as you appear to have argued for it in your reply. You, on the other hand, are very much mischaracterizing my position, as I have here made no judgments of anyone's "behavior." Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 07:32, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
I'm sorry, do you really think that "commenting on science" isn't behavior? If so, what on Earth does count? Sir Sockpuppet 20:12, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
I am here criticizing the philosophy, not the philosophers. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 03:56, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
A quick comment on your point #1: "belief"? I think if you were being more philosophical in your wording/though, you would have said "position" or "claim". ħumanUser talk:Human 04:12, 27 May 2009 (UTC)
Well, Listener started off by talking about his "dim view of philosophy of science", which indicates that the positive claim he makes is indicative of belief rather than, I don't know, just sayin'. Sir Sockpuppet 21:10, 27 May 2009 (UTC)
There are a number of people doing both science and philosophy of science. One of my former professors, James Mattingly, publishes on quantum gravity, relativity, and philosophy of physics. Jerry Fodor, Jaegwon Kim, Jesse Prinz, and Dan Dennett are all involved in philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and cognitive science. Elisabeth Lloyd writes on biology and philosophy of biology. There are no doubt other examples, though these are all that come to mind at the moment.TallMan 23:46, 28 May 2009 (UTC)
James Griesemer, Paul Teller, Elliot Sober, Mike Bishop, J.D. Trout, the Churchlands... the list goes on and on. Sir Sockpuppet 20:12, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
I can't believe I forgot the Churchlands.TallMan 22:21, 29 May 2009 (UTC)

"dingding"?[edit]

"dingding"? :D --Just passing by 20:29, 19 May 2009 (UTC)

Listener, wtf does this have to do with the Philosophy of Science?--Sun mowse.pngEn attendant Godot"«Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. V.Nabokov» 20:31, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
It is, like philosophy of science, a case of non-scientists judging the findings of science while knowing little to nothing about it. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 20:53, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
Like this, perhaps? You can put dear Mr. Tss' name up there next to Plato and Popper, above. Perhaps above them. --Kels 20:58, 19 May 2009 (UTC)

Jeez. If I'd been as smart as you guys when I was going to College, I'd own the internet by now. DogPMarmite Patrol 21:27, 19 May 2009 (UTC)

Or you'd invent whatever will replace the internet. Now that would require some brains. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 22:13, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
@ SSP: "Plato's Timaeus sets the foundation for epistemology, without which science would be impossible." No it wouldn't. Someone else would have figured it out. Also, Plato was horribly wrong with his "forms" crap, and totally screwed up so many things with that he should be forced to drink poison.
"Popper's falsifiability criterion is, despite the Duhem-Quine problem, still the go-to standard for determining whether a claim is properly scientific or not." That is highly debatable. ħumanUser talk:Human 02:57, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
@ Human: Sorry, I meant to convey that without epistemology science would be impossible. As a point of fact, Plato got that ball rolling. Now, whether the "forms" are correct or not is an entirely different question; while modern-day Platonists don't have anything like the strictly Platonic hierarchy in mind, there's still a large group of people all over philosophy who think that universals exist in some way. And... if Popperian falsifiability isn't the standard criterion for sorting scientific from non-scientific claims, what is? I hope you're not thinking Feyerabend! Sir Sockpuppet 22:54, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
"I know you think that you know but how do you know that what you know is true?" (Jackson). And the answer to "standard criterion for sorting scientific from non-scientific claims" is not a matter of name-dropping. OMG I hope your not thinking Olshewsky! ħumanUser talk:Human 03:51, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
Simple enough: if p is not true, I cannot know that p. And obviously namedropping is not sufficient, but I assumed from your comment and your other claims that you actually had a passing familiarity with the debate, in which case you would have gotten the Feyerabend joke. My mistake. That aside: What is the criterion for distinguishing scientific claims from nonscientific, if it's not falsifiability? Sir Sockpuppet 09:58, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
Prediction. ħumanUser talk:Human 04:13, 27 May 2009 (UTC)
Prediction is problematic, though, since it does not allow for distinction between "good" and "bad" theories. Of course, theory is always underdetermined by the evidence, but if predictions are your metric of choice, my intricate working-out of the Standard Model as explained by invisible telepathic pixies will be just as scientific as, say, QFT. Sir Sockpuppet 21:08, 27 May 2009 (UTC)
Most contemporary philosophers of science aren't interested in the demarcation problem. My understanding is that the big issues are the structure of theories, theory change, and issues of realism/antirealism/irrealism. But I'm not a philosopher of science, and I don't keep up with the literature, so I may be mistaken. I do know, though, that the consensus is that Popper was wrong about demarcation. There's a debate page on the subject where I go over some of the problems, but the short version is that there are counterexamples to the claim that falsification is necessary and to the claim that it's sufficient.TallMan 23:51, 28 May 2009 (UTC)
SSP, You mean your pixie version of the SM can make useful predictions that can be tested? Or that QFT doesn't/can't? The distinction is between hypotheses whose predictions are verified and those which fail, surely? ħumanUser talk:Human 00:54, 29 May 2009 (UTC)
While not pretending to answer for Human or SSP, here's my take: if you've got a model involving pixies which actually allows you to make precise, testable predictions, then it's a scientific theory. Science is not domain-specific, and if there were pixies than we'd expect to have a scientific theory of pixie activity. Now, as it happens no one has actually developed a pixie model of gravitation, but if they did it would be unlikely to supplant current theories of gravity for several reasons. 1) It would have to get right all the things which current theories get right, which is a difficult task—unless the pixie theory just is the theory of relativity (or whatever) with the claim "also, there are pixies" added. 2) It would have to make better predictions than the current theory, which precludes the parasitic approach described above. 3) It would have to be consistent with the rest of our knowledge, which provisionally includes the claim there are no pixies. This claim is revisable, but some explanation of the widespread mistake w/r/t pixie existence is needed. We'd also have to worry about the interface of the pixie theory of gravity and optics (why are they invisible?) and biology (assuming they're organisms). 4) It should be directly confirmable, so we'd want to have some way of producing pixies. This requirement isn't as strict as the others, but it's still present.
The upshot of all this is that a theory of gravity involving pixies could be a scientific theory. If it were sufficiently detailed, it would be a scientific theory, and it would almost certainly turn out to be an obviously false theory. But that's fine. Not all scientific theories are true; in fact, most are false. The pixie theory, because of its obvious deficiencies, is probably bad science, but bad science is still science.TallMan 12:36, 29 May 2009 (UTC)

[unindent]@Human: If the pixie theory and QFT make the same predictions about observables, then they'll both be evaluated in the same way. So "making predictions" is not a reliable guide. @Tallman: You're right, not many people are worried about the demarcation problem any more, and falsification is not a great standard for it anyway (Duhem-Quine FTW). That said, it's still a quick-and-dirty approximation that allows us to more or less pick out the right sorts of questions to be asking. I see that you seem to favor a post-Kuhnian model of scientific progress -- have you read Teller's paper How We Dapple The World? It might be interesting to you. Sir Sockpuppet 20:17, 29 May 2009 (UTC)

I prefer something like Lakatos's methodolgical falsification approach to demarcation, supplemented with an account of the structure of scientific theories and of theory change. I take it that the primary "unit" of scientific inquiry is the theory, so if we're going to figure out what is science we'll have to look at their use of theories and their behaviors in response to recalcitrant data. So Popper wasn't completely mistaken, but ultimately he's not going to work. I'm not familiar with Teller's work. Philosophy of science isn't my main field, and I'm neck-deep in work on two-dimensionalism, so I'm afraid I won't be able to add it to my reading list any time soon.TallMan 22:27, 29 May 2009 (UTC)