Demystifying Science: Scientific Inquiry
In this third article on distinguishing valid science from pseudo-science we examine scientific inquiry and the process of elimination.
I will write my paper on how we have casually examined the self-deception that results from selective perception and experimenter expectations in the story of Clever Hans and the movie, Being There. We saw how as individuals we are swept up into a larger social and political reality and how even the sharpest among us can fall for wildly popular fads and delusions. We want to further examine social and political reality, but realize that we must first address the basis upon which we establish physical reality.
Although we are skeptical of reports of strange occurrences, like Big Foot sightings, The Loch Ness Monster, UFO sightings and paranormal encounters we are prone to be influenced by them when those reports come from many sources, even when the evidence is sketchy at best. People wanting to share in some of the attention will mysteriously come up with their own stories and sketchy evidence. They seem to present to us a preponderance of sketchy and fuzzy evidence and that seems to carry enough weight to create a critical mass of influence and convince others. This is known in logic as the fallacy Argumentum ad Populam (Argument from Population).
Nearly all of us are guilty for having committed these fallacies from time-to-time. In the case of arguments from population consider a room with ten people. Two of them are shivering, but the others feel perfectly comfortable. Naturally, since only two people feel cold we assume that the room must be fine. What we seldom realize is that there is no necessary connection between how any of the people feel and the case in point of fact. Consider, for example, that the two shivering people are in t-shirts and shorts, while the others are in parkas and winter attire.
Even widely respected sources regarded as "authoritative" have been known to publish work later proven questionable at the very least; therefore, we are also vulnerable to the fallacy of Argumentum ad Authority (Argument from Authority). Both of these fallacies are common and are regarded as fallacious, since no conclusions follow from them by necessity. So now I will have to rewrite my essay.
How Science Works in These Cases
Social scientists realize that we can only examine human behavior at various levels of analysis (individuals, families, communities and larger demographics). Seldom is the psychological and social profiles considered in which social and political events are couched. Feature films further influence audiences who see one fictional story after another in which a lone witness reporting a UFO sighting or paranormal event eventually proves the skeptics wrong. They often tag the film as “based on a true story”, which even a brief query reveals them to be a loose interpretation at best. Even though nothing quite so dramatic actually happens hopeful believers feel that their suspicions will one day be vindicated, and for all you or I know they may be. But suspicion and expectation are not evidence of anything other than what we want to see, and the power of our desires to influence our perceptions is a matter of box office receipts, not fiction.
The central advance of science has been the application of double-blind experiments in which even the experimenter does not know how the conditions of an experiment are manipulated before assessing the results. The source of each unit of data is thus unknown, and a probability distribution is assessed to eliminate hypotheses. Scientists know more than anyone that their own expectations can influence an outcome and will make every effort to disprove their own theories, not prove them. In science even a negative result is better than no results at all, as we eliminate the impossible leaving the only remaining possibility. Ultimately, over the remainder of this series of articles we will see how it is that even physical reality is created by the mind at the individual level of analysis. We will explore this in both the common knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, as well as in the Principle of Quantum Uncertainty underlying the physics of the modern world.
"...When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth..."The Sign of the Four, ch. 6 (1890)
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