I jest. Although it is possible that somewhere on this planet Karl Popper’s spirit may be torturing those scientists who believe that the idea of falsifiability is a dead concept and should be retired, it is highly unlikely. I do often fantasize that Karl Popper is regularly haunting Sean Carroll after reading his article on Edge.org. I do.
I know you’re probably wondering what I’m rabbiting on about. I’m about to launch into a discussion about falsifiability and convince you that it is critical to performing good science.
Now, I know that many of you might not have come across this idea of falsifiability, at least not in the scientific context so let me briefly explain.
capable of being tested and falsified by experiment or observation
The way the scientific method works is that we do an initial observation of something, do a bit of wondering and then formulate a hypothesis and it’s opposite, the null hypothesis. These statements are of a form that is testable and thereby falsifiable. For example, if I thought the world was shaped like a pineapple my hypothesis would be:
Hypothesis: Earth is shaped like a pineapple.
The null hypothesis would be: Earth is not shaped like a pineapple.
These are two statements that can be tested and are capable of being falsified, i.e. shown not to be true. Obviously, measurements of the circumference of Earth at different points has been done confirming that the Earth is not pineapple shaped.
So, once we have a testable statement, we then do experiments to determine if our hypothesis was correct or not. The best way to test a hypothesis is to try and disprove it, usually by applying the null hypothesis. Then based on our results we decide whether to accept or reject the null hypothesis. Basically, this is done because it is a stronger and more certain test of a hypothesis to look for situations where it is untrue. Oftentimes, because we’re human, we have tendencies to focus on or accept evidence that backs up our beliefs, ideas and hypotheses. This is called conformation bias. So, in order that hypotheses be testable they must be falsifiable and it is often best to start by looking for evidence that your hypothesis is wrong. By doing this you’re framing your idea in a way to try to disprove, and thereby falsify, your initial hypothesis.
So here’s the issue I have. Some people think the concept of falsifiability should be retired from science. I may only be a monkee, but this is the dumbest thing I have heard in a long time. I do believe that, if such a thing were possible, Karl Popper would be turning in his grave if he knew about this. (Karl Popper was a philosopher of science who was all about empirical falsification).
Let me clarify what is wrong with rejecting the concept of falsifiability. Carroll claims that some things can not be falsified (see the Edge.org link at the start of this article). He is completely correct that some things, at this time, cannot be falsified. In his essay about this he mentions predictions within the field of physics not matching observation and the possibility of multi-verses being the explanation for these discrepancies. Now, just because predictions, hypotheses and theories cannot be confirmed or tested completely now, doesn’t mean there won’t become a time when they can. The hypotheses/theories/predictions Carroll mentions have inherent falsifiability, it’s just really difficult to perform this falsification at this point in time.
The gap between what we can conceive and what we can confirm is not a good enough reason to remove the concept of falsifiability from science. Carroll doesn’t seem to be able to see that in order to be confirmed scientifically hypotheses and theories about this phenomenon must be falsifiable. His argument stems from him being unable to see beyond the current state of scientific observation and see that the overall philosophy of falsifiability still applies, even if it can’t be applied now. Methodological development is not static. Perhaps one day we will be able to observe and measure multi-verses? However, Sean Carroll thinks that because the technology doesn’t exist to falsify some theories, hypotheses and predictions in our time we should throw it out? No! Absolutely not! People like Sean Carroll need to realize that while certain theories can’t be falsified at this current time, it doesn’t mean that they are not falsifiable or that the philosophy of falsifiability is no longer crucial within science.
Lack of the methods to falsify now does not mean lack of future falsifiability!
It is a testament to man’s intelligence that we often formulate ideas and theories beyond our time, beyond our current methodological capabilities. The scientific method doesn’t need to be changed, some scientists just have to learn to be patient and realize that certain hypotheses may not be testable for some time, maybe not even in their lifetimes. Just because a hypothesis isn’t testable now, doesn’t mean it won’t be testable in the future and certainly does not negate the continued use of the concept of falsifiability.
Please help me save the concept of falsifiability. If you ever here someone suggesting we should retire the idea of falsifiability from science please re-educate them and perhaps gently suggest they should consider another career.
I’ve been a tad quiet as my puppet master has been getting together materials and props for my upcoming YouTube channel launch. I’m starting to get nervous.
Until now I’ve only existed as a prototype. We also found out that the stuffing we picked can stick to everything and everywhere. It makes me look like I have dandruff! Very unsightly.
I wasn’t sure if I would ever progress beyond a black, patchy prototype, but then this week, finally, lots of parcels suddenly started arriving. There was much excitement as they were all unpacked to reveal various parts of what will become my new look. There is of course a mass of fur!
I previously told you all about the colors that had been selected after pouring over many, many swatches of materials. Now, as you can see, we have a fur-splosion on set.
And, a science channel wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t have some lab equipment and molecular models. So some of those arrived too, which you will get to see when we reveal the final set :(|)
Can’t wait to show myself off to you soon, my monkee fiends. Until then, toodle-pip!
An excellent example of using past misconduct cases to teach students how to behave ethically when performing science.
In a new paper published in the Journal of College Science Teaching, three professors at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia, discuss why retractions are good case studies for teaching ethics and examining the scientific process in class. Stephen Burnett, Richard H. Singiser, and Caroline Clower write:
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To me, I think of two types of loyalty. The loyalty built between two individuals and the loyalty to certain ideologies. I was always taught loyalty was admirable, but these days I’m not so sure.
A true scientist or philosopher is never loyal to an idea or theory. They remain open-minded, for they never know when what they currently believed will be proven wrong. It is far easier to prove something wrong, than to prove something right and so, regardless of what we believe may describe the world today, we know some evidence may come to light that shows an idea to have been naive or ridiculously incorrect. If science is to be done faithfully, a scientist needs to retain their objectivity to both their data and their theories. The only loyalty to be had is that of ones commitment to performing an unbiased examination of the world around us.
Unlike science, religion is an arena in which there is loyalty to an ideology. Being loyal to a set of religious ideals is not a bad thing in itself, but what if that loyalty was at the cost of accepting evidence of the world around you? I was raised as a Christian and I see nothing wrong with the religious teachings of moral values. I do, however, recognize that there is much information in the Bible that is not suitable for our time (like, if you work on the Sabbath you must be put to death) nor to be taken as read (such as the world being created in 6 days). If you talk to many religious people they are not ignorant of evidence regarding the physical universe, such as the age of the Earth, nor do they take the Bible word for word. However, there are a number who do take the word of the Bible literally. Loyalty towards an ideology to this degree can be dangerous.
The insidiousness of loyalty to an ideology was no more strongly demonstrated than in the recent Nye vs. Ham debate. If you didn’t catch it, this was a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham for Evolution vs. Creationism. The basic crux of this debate was whether Ken Ham’s creation model was correct. In his introduction to the debate Ken Ham pushed the idea that creation was the only possibility and said we should evaluate this question: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” He believes that the Earth is 6000 years old and will not accept any scientific evidence to the contrary. He believes, word-for-word, the history of our world as it is detailed in the Bible. He is loyal to his religion.
Loyalty and belief on their own are not an issue. People should be free to believe what they like. Even if we think they are wrong.
However, the real problem with this debate, the reason I say the loyalty expressed by Ken Ham was insidious is that in being so loyal to his religion he tried to diminish the value of science by insisting that secularists had hijacked the words “science” and “evolution”. He implied that science was it’s own religion. He said that by teaching evolution in schools we were indoctrinating our children in the religion of naturalism*. Ken Ham believes that by teaching evolution we (the secularist scientists?) are imposing our own ideologies and beliefs on our children; this belief in evolution that he makes tantamount to religious belief in a spiritual entity. Yes, there is belief in science, belief that we can deduce information about how the world works from a body of data. That is a far cry from the blind beliefs Ken Ham is trying to accuse scientists of. Ham is trying to push the idea that science is a religion itself so that he can justify superseding the teaching of evolution with that of creationism. His argument is that it is not right to allow one set of beliefs to be taught in our schools, but not the other. Let’s examine this closely.
Scientists are always looking for more information and do not just blindly believe something, there is no loyalty to their data or their theories, only a desire to keep looking and to keep discovering. Scientific theories are malleable, they change as more data becomes available. There is no religious indoctrination into certain beliefs when teaching science, there is only presentation of the current facts we have, presentation of the possible theories that could explain these facts and a clear message that scientific theories are always subject to change. In teaching science we create an environment where the support for certain theories is constantly being challenged as we attempt to discover more evidence of how our universe does and did work. Science teaches our children to think, question, test, and not simply accept everything they are told.
Teaching the creation model that Ken Ham puts forth requires asking our children to be loyal to a rigid belief system and asked to accept that the world was created in 6 days and that Earth is only 6000 years old. The only evidence they are presented with is the word of the Bible. There is no room for modification of that theory beyond what is documented in the Bible. There is no room for incorporating new evidence if it refutes this creation model.
Ken Ham’s belief in the creation model is born out of his loyalty to his religion.
Scientist’s belief in evolution is a result of constant debate over the possible mechanisms that could explain a huge body of data.
In which way would you rather have our children taught? Is loyalty always admirable, even when it means retaining a rigid view of the world regardless of any evidence presented to you?
*naturalism: the belief that only natural laws, like gravity, apply in the world and not spiritual or supernatural laws.
Until about 3 months ago I was oblivious of what was happening within the depths of YouTube. YouTube has always been a place I associated first with porn (when it first started) and then as being overrun with far more cat videos than can be healthy. Too much cuteness in one day can kill you. I, of course, knew of the science channels and would google now and then for the odd favorite movie clip. However, I was unaware of just how much interaction was going on in the comment sections of vlogs that fell within a certain set of subjects.
It appears that there is warfare between different ideologies: the men’s rights movement against the feminists, atheists against theists, evolutionists against creationists, utilitarians against Kantians. Logical thought dies in frustration at the insults from the somewhat-educated. A little knowledge becomes dangerous as wikipedia references are thrown at the feet of academics as “proof” they are wrong, even in their own field of expertise. Then there are the trolls. The trolls who are only there to provoke and incite virtual meltdowns. Trolls, who I suspect know exactly how correct others arguments and hypothesis are, but that poke and prod until someone, somewhere is sobbing silently in front of their laptop at the idiocy of it all. Trolls that can twist the mind of even the most intelligent person into a pretzel as they dance around changing the meaning of words, reframing their arguments and even your own until you’re not even sure what is going on. Arguments seem never ending as words, meanings and facts get twisted, distorted and exaggerated.
On one hand I find it awesome that there is this warfare, that ideologies are being discussed and fought over on the internet in this manner. It’s exciting to see such engagement. However, it appears that viewpoints of the few in society at large can garner a greater following in the confines of YouTube. YouTube it seems is a place where bad ideas, even insidious ideas, go to flourish. On YouTube miseducation abounds and expression of a hateful agenda can be spun as philosophy lessons. Dogma is rife. Logical and rational thought is insulted.
Luckily, there is a small sector of YouTube populated by intelligent, educated and rational human beings. I have witnessed both their intellectual conversations and their all out battles with the stupid and ignorant. But we need more!
I have found this hidden rumble in the YouTube jungle and now feel my calling is to join the ranks of the educated. I will help fight this fight! So should you.
Almost two months to go, to the day, until my channel launch and lots of things have suddenly arrived all at once! Mucho excitement my monkee fiends! We now have the fur samples, the eyes and all my stuffing to make me nice and shapely. After many, many examinations and swatch combinations it has now been settled… I will be chocolatey brown with a dash of sandy beige.
The first thing I think of when someone says “painting” to me is the chemistry. In my younger years, I had the privilege to attend a lecture series on forensic analysis. I had originally thought that the talk on art fraud would be quite boring following the talks on arson and insurance fraud. How can you top smelling burnt articles to learn the differences between various combustable chemicals? Turns out that I could not have been more wrong; the one thing I remember most clearly from that day is the talk on art and the chemistry of the paints and canvases.
To me and you, a good copy of a painting could look like the real McCoy. With forensic analysis, hidden information, such as the true date range a pigment, varnish or canvas came from can be determined. Forensic scientists can do many things to date or verify the providence of a painting. Pigment dating. Carbon-dating. White lead dating. Infrared analysis. Microscopy. Two techniques that particularly impressed me where UV-fluorescence spectrography and X-ray diffraction and fluorescence. Certain paints and varnishes associated with historical developments have known responses to UV light, some fluorescing more than others, such that UV-fluorescence spectroscopy or spectrography can be used to determine which period a component of the painting does, or does not, come from. X-rays can also be used to determine the components of the paint and composition of the pigments; as art materials have advanced and new pigments have been developed, the purity or components present can reveal the likely age or exclude certain time periods where a pigment or component was known not to have existed.
Foiling criminals who would try to dupe us with copies of great art, chemists do that…
On March 28th, I plan to launch my channel on YouTube. The star of the channel will of course be me, Bench Monkee! I thought it would be fun to keep a log of the progress as we approach the launch date, sharing some fun stories and photos along the way. Except for the awesome news of this upcoming channel, I’ve not got much to share today. All I will say is, I’m anxiously waiting on some new fur samples so I can look glam in time for my debut in front of the cameras.
In the late 1800s, the time of Jack the Ripper, some of the early procedures that would become known as forensic science included inspection of a victim’s eyes for evidence. It was believed that eyes could capture the image of a killer, that the last thing that a victim would have seen would be retained on the retina like a final photograph trapped within the eye. There are reports that the police did photograph the eyes of victims in the hopes of finding such evidence. This method, called octography, became well-known because of its use in trying to identify Jack the Ripper. This belief was so widely held at the time that killers would destroy the eyes of their victims (Encyclopedia of Octography, Derek Ogbourne, 2008, p40).
History often repeats. Once again, the eyes are being looked to as a source of forensic information. Although it turned out that the image of a killer isn’t left on the retina of a victim, it appears that there is now technology that can now allow us to resolve the image of a person reflected in the eyes of another within photographs. This technology is now allowing the police to peer indirectly into the eyes of victims to identify the photographer, and even witnesses, to identify criminals by examining high resolution images of the reflections on the eyes.