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Discussion - On the Nature, Being, and Logic of Science

A guiding question for this discussion will be 'what is good science '?

The motivation for this week's discussion topic stems from Stephen Stearns' poignant lecture "The Logic of Science " which is available as a 45 minute YouTube video, a 412 MB QuickTime video download, a 43 MB mp3 audio, or a 6800 word transcript. The discussion will focus on the issues addressed in the lecture. It is recommended that participants either watch, listen to, or read the lecture and bring their thoughts about it.

As always, the discussion will develop according to the interests and concerns of participants. I will prepare some thoughts to stimulate discussion on each of the following topics inspired by the lecture "The Logic of Science":

  • The Nature of the Scientific Enterprise
    • Science and the big problem of epistemology
    • Definitions of science (Aristotle, Buckminster Fuller, Kevin Kelly)
    • Inference and David Hume
    • The role of technology in knowledge acquisition
    • Operational "truth"
    • The limits of scientific knowledge
    • The role of bias in scientific work (T.C. Chamberlin's views, etc)
    • The mental fog inherent in the work of discovery
    • The importance of detailed archival notebooks for one's science; the open research movement
    • The importance of good writing in science
  • The Methods of Science
    • The methods of tentative, adopted, and ruling explanations (theories)
    • The method of the working hypothesis
    • The method of multiple working hypotheses
    • The method of strong inference?(John R. Platt)
    • The role of falsifiability
    • The contest of alternatives
    • The role of descriptive science and other non-experimental sciences like astronomy, geology, paleontology or systematics
    • Scientific revolutions: how they really happen; cautions
    • The source of creativity
    • The nature and role of theory and models
    • The importance of multiple working models
    • The method of transcendental integration or synergetics
    • What is important ("good") science?
  • Science and Society
    • Postmodernism and science
    • The impact of the social, political, and economic context of scientists and their work
    • The role of philosophers of science and other non-scientists (social scientists, political scientists, anthropologists, etc.)
    • The application of scientific methods to "practical affairs" (such as Chamberlin's case of the method of multiple working hypotheses)
    • The future of science (Kevin Kelly's views)

I welcome adding other bullet points suggested by participants. Send me e-mail at [masked] to offer suggestions or just bring them to the meetup.

Note: I wrote a detailed review of Stephen Stearns' excellent introductory biology course, EEB 122: Principles of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior, from which the lecture on science (and this discussion topic) springs.

I am looking for volunteers to lead future Ben Franklin Thinking Society meetups on "science and technology".  If you have a topic of interest, please send me an e-mail ([masked]) outlining your subject.

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  • CJ F.

    This discussion "On the Nature, Being, and Logic of Science" inspired me to write an essay about the history and future of science. My essay entitled "An Enquiry Concerning Scientific Understanding" is located at http://blog.cjfearnley.com/2011/10/06/an-enquiry-concerning-scientific-understanding

    October 6, 2011

  • CJ F.

    We covered a lot of ground. I was surprised that my vision of the fluidity of scientific models and integrative knowledge were not embraced by the group. I guess I have work to do to make those ideas clearer. I think I did a passable job of encouraging discussion and letting everyone who wanted to speak have their say.

    September 12, 2011

  • Michael

    I was disappointed that most people were so late getting there and the discussion was 45 min. late starting. However -- once we started it was very interesting and fun. CJ was well-prepared. I enjoyed meeting everyone. This was my first meet up with this group but I definitely plan to attend more. Thanks!

    September 12, 2011

  • CJ F.

    I watched an intriguing and relevant video last night: Kevin Kelly on "The Next 100 Years of Science: Long-term Trends in the Scientific Method". The home page for the video is at http://longnow.org/seminars/02006/mar/10/long-term-trends-in-the-scientific-method/ but only a summary by Stuart Brand, a podcast and a transcript are available to non-members. I watched the hour and 17 minute video (including Q&A w/ Stuart Brand) at http://fora.tv/2006/03/10/Next_100_Years_of_Science

    September 10, 2011

  • CJ F.

    John R. Platt's essay "Strong Inference: Certain systematic methods of scientific thinking may produce much more rapid progress than others" is on-line as a PDF at http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~markhill/science64_strong_inference.pdf or in HTML form at http://256.com/gray/docs/strong_inference.html

    If you have limited time, I'd just watch the Stearns lecture which gives the synopsis. I liked the Chamberlin essay more than the Platt essay. We will discuss both on Sunday.

    September 9, 2011

  • CJ F.

    The essay by Chamberlin mentioned yesterday is more important for Sunday's discussion than these videos. But if you are interested in the philosophy of science, this set of 8 videos of just under 2 hours duration is a good orientation / introduction: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=67E2553770A6E39E

    I found the Stearns lecture more incisive and the Chamberlin essay more inspirational, but the philosophy professor who put these videos together is competent though much less poignant.

    September 7, 2011

  • Tom M.

    I'm very much looking forward to discussing science and epistemology;strong induction has a place in scientific theories, but whether it can be considered knowledge in an epistemical sense. Strong Deductive logic is part and parcel of scientific theories, and can give rise to knowledge as long as it is "strong", but is it epistemilogical?

    September 6, 2011

  • Tom M.

    I'm Fine with that ; I've watched Stephen Steams lecture several times. Empathy in this sense, concerns itself with those issues that demand to be resolves.e,g, empathy=an emotion compelling investigati0n

    September 6, 2011

  • CJ F.

    In 1965 Science re-published T. C. Chamberlin's influential 1890 essay "The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses: With this method the dangers of parental affection for a favorite theory can be circumvented". The essay informs a significant part of Stearns' lecture. It is fascinating not only for its importance to the scientific method but also for its application to "practical affairs". Here is a copy:
    http://www.auburn.edu/~tds0009/Articles/Chamberlain%201965.pdf

    September 6, 2011

  • CJ F.

    Tom, I'm not sure what you are getting at by your question about empathy.

    As to your second question, the ethics of science is a whole discussion unto itself. For this topic I'd like to focus on the scientific method vis-a-vis evaluating and characterizing "good" science. I'd like to focus on the thinking that scientists bring to their work that we might apply to our own work. Ethics is a good side issue, but the topic is focused on the methodology and actual doing of science: its nature.

    September 2, 2011

  • Tom M.

    No one has brought up ethical gray ares in experimentation -supposes it's obvious it wi;ll save lives, but the method is unethical? What does normative ethics have to say?

    September 2, 2011

  • Tom M.

    Nature pursues, often questions that appeal to academics, simply for the sake of finding an answer, Doesn't the ethic of this endeavor demand a facilitation of empathy?

    September 2, 2011

  • Tom M.

    I found the question"Does the social and political context determine what type of questions (get asked by science)" in the lecture particularly fertile ground for discussion

    1 · August 26, 2011

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