Forum:Any criticisms of science here?

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Hi. I'm wondering if there are any criticisms of the scientific method or scientists themselves (funding issues, herd mentality?) on this site. I presume this wiki does not exclude such discussion. I recognize that science is an extremely useful tool, but I am looking at the limits of it and any potential biases that may be being introduced into the method. I've heard that herd mentality and concerns over funding may be causing scientists to over-emphasize AGW, and that scientists have been wrong in the past in a similar manner. Are there any articles covering this? I didn't find any accepted criticisms in the anti-science page. Are we saying there are none? --Domokato (talk) 00:14, 17 March 2010 (UTC)

Criticism is a good idea, although it would probably come down to context. It's probably worth having a look at What is a RationalWiki article? It'll give you an overview of the approach we try to take. It certainly doesn't exclude valid criticism of scientists and the scientific method, but you'd probably want sources if it's going in to mainspace. Also, criticism of individual scientists, or even larger groups, won't necessarily equate to a fundamental problem in the "system" as a whole. This thread mwould be a good place for throwing around a few ideas and examples. AGW is one of those red-button topics right now, so if you're suggesting extensive changes you'd probably want to raise them here or in the talk page for an article.--ConcernedresidentAsk me about your mother 00:24, 17 March 2010 (UTC)
Excuse the bad English. It's late here and my brain is shutting down. --ConcernedresidentAsk me about your mother 00:25, 17 March 2010 (UTC)
One thing I've been eager to discuss, but haven't because there's a wealth of theoretical scholarship that I'm only beginning to deal with (notably the work of Bruno Latour and other STS/ANT thinkers) is the question of the links between the practice of science and the creation and reproduction of power relationships. On a very basic level we could talk about funding issues--how corporate and government power often plays a determining role in deciding what problems will get addressed and, ultimately, what will count as scientific knowledge. Beyond that is a world of intensely dense thinking about the relationship between science as modernity, and about the links between the production of scientific knowledge and the reproduction of uneven power relationships in gendered, colonial and other contexts. From what I've read, it seems like a compelling question is that of the extent to which scientists see themselves as working to reproduce power/knowledge--it seems as though the idea that what counts as scientific knowledge is intiatley bound with hegemonic power is something that most scientists never stop to consider...TheoryOfPractice (talk) 00:38, 17 March 2010 (UTC)
I doubt there would be any real criticism of "science in general", but we would critique poorly done science, bad science, and of course, pseudoscience. Of course, any genuine or valid critiques of science in general or the scientific method would be welcome if we don't already have it. As far as the herd and money things, those are flaws with humans rather than science itself. An example would be the Reagan administration basically ignoring the growing AIDS plague in the 80s, which severely delayed research into it. One of the best qualities of science is that in general it is self-correcting - no matter how far down the wrong path it goes, once it figures out it's wrong, it throws out the bad stuff and starts again (or starts where the good stuff left off). Examples... Piltdown man was being ignored more and more even before it was exposed as a fraud because it simply didn't fit in with all the other evidence that was turning up; the recent retraction of the vaccine/autism paper published in the late 90s. ħumanUser talk:Human 21:03, 17 March 2010 (UTC)
I too doubt we'd critise the method, as RW is quite open in its editorial stance that the scientific method - due to the fact that it makes observations of the real world - is the superior form of knowing about the world. But as has been pointed out, science that has been badly done or is misrepresented (at one end of the spectrum of "bad science" is pseudoscience) is certainly covered. But it is certainly true that scientists themselves are human and prone to the usual human errors and bad things can and do happen because of this. Funding is certainly an area worth looking at, but that's less to do with science and more to do with the politics that underpin the world of money. For example, politicians will commit to funding science but they usually have no idea what to actually fund or how it works - I believe Gordon Brown said that "we'll fund winners". That's not how it works at all, you need to fund pretty much everything because everything contributes to everything else and discoveries are often made serendipitously. The current research going on in my group which is attracting attention and funding and news articles and (dare a jinx it?) a potential Nobel Prize is only occurring because we had funding to explore an obscure area that seemed to be nothing more than a curiosity to a few specialists. You can't predict what will be the "next big thing" with science so you can't target funding in the way that funding bodies (which are increasingly influenced by the politics that supply the money as much as the scientists who want the money) tend to do. A good example that I heard is that if we took all the world's science funding and plowed it only into researching faster-than-light travel, it would fail no matter how much and for how long we tried it. It's a nice idea, but it just doesn't work like that. Although that's more of a gripe than a totally rational appreciation of the subject, funding is definitely one to look at. Scarlet A.pngpathetic 22:56, 17 March 2010 (UTC)
RationalWiki is not neutral point of view:"As a site, RationalWiki does have a strong point of view; and that point of view is that the scientific method and the information gained from its application is better than almost anything else humanity has come up with." So that's that. I can't imagine what kind of legitimate argument against the scientific method there could be anyway: only arguments against cases where it is badly applied, & we have plenty of stuff covering that (confirmation bias, correlation does not equal causation, list of cognitive biases, pseudoscience, etc. etc.) As for how science is funded & organised, & the possible consequences of this, we could probably do with some more content on that if it's well grounded & not conspiracy theoryesque. WěǎšěǐǒǐďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 00:04, 18 March 2010 (UTC)
I don't know much about the philosophy of science (or philosophy period), but having read 'A Short Introduction', there were some interesting views about the scientific method. It's been a while since I read it, but I think it was Hume (?) who stated that all science relies on inference, which is not rational. I don't think he was attacking science, he had a lot of respect for it, just making a point. May have been Kune. Maybe that's something that could be discussed in RW? --Seantalk 01:25, 18 March 2010 (UTC)
I'd have to look that up, because I can't see how inference isn't rational. You infer a conclusion from premises, which is the foundation of logic. The point with science is that you gather your premises from observations and test your conclusions against further observations - which reduces the uncertainty normally associated with the word "inference". The process is then iterative to increase accuracy. So unless you assume total pyrrhonism or like to dwell far too much on the notion that "science improves upon its inferences therefore each of its inferences are wrong" (which isn't strictly true, as "wrong" is certainly not the right word) then science is still rational. But yeah, worth looking into. After all, science is still founded on the unprovable axiom that "the scientific method works and is superior" - although we can make very a good defence of it, certainly a better defence than most "other ways of knowing", it's still fundamentally unprovable. Scarlet A.pngpathetic 12:05, 18 March 2010 (UTC)
Damn, I love this site. ħumanUser talk:Human 10:10, 19 March 2010 (UTC)
May be of some interest, certainly after reading the paragraph with "science is now an everyday business" I can see what they're getting at. Scarlet A.pngpathetic 12:33, 19 March 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for all the responses, by the way, and the interesting links. So, science and power, and science and politics. Those would be interesting topics to cover. I would do it myself if I were more knowledgeable. --Domokato (talk) 17:09, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
specific scientists work is often critisised here, generally where they have made some statements which are not really supported. The RATE team on radiometric decay is my favorite. Creation scientists as a group also, but for the poor science they do. I dont think anyone seriously has problems with the scientific method and funding issues are simply a fact of life. Investigate something with excellent commercial prospects and funding is easier to get than investigating something very esoteric that maybe a half dozen other people understand. try for some fun talk pages about why supernatural events are OF COURSE science and why modern science is just wrong where it contradicts the bible. Hamster (talk) 17:32, 31 March 2010 (UTC)