Godot added a topic in History and Philosophy of ScienceThe Demarcation Problem for IlliteratesI"m enrolled in a science writing class this semester. One of the assignments was to write 1000 words about science. I decided to take the directions literally and write about science: I chose the demarcation problem.
The target audience for these short papers is expected to be completely naive, so I kept it very high level and necessarily simplistic. I finished off at 982 words and submitted the first draft (to be critiqued by the class) Monday night. The Heretic has already read it for me and suggested that I put it up here.
What is Science?
Science surrounds us and infiltrates all aspects of our lives, yet is surprisingly difficult to define in a sufficiently inclusive manner. The Scientific Method is largely considered to be the pinnacle of human achievement: a robust method of exploring, uncovering and understanding the secrets of the natural world. But how do we define science?
A simplistic definition might be to consider science the pursuit of knowledge. But this definition is excessively broad, as it would permit the paranormal and supernatural to don the mantle of science. A more robust definition in common use is to view science as a systematic and repeatable series of methodologies that seek to learn about the natural world via experimentation and rely upon testable hypotheses. This definition too has flaws: counterintuitively, it is worded such that cooking would be considered science and that String Theory would not.
These two quick examples demonstrate the difficulty in defining our boundary conditions, or what are more commonly referred to as our demarcation criteria.
What is the Demarcation Problem?
Quite simply, the demarcation problem is an argument in the philosophy of science that seeks to distinguish the boundary criteria between science and nonscience. Others may refine the argument slightly to define it as the boundary between science and pseudoscience. Any distinctions to be made between nonscience and pseudoscience are not germane to this paper and both terms herein will be considered synonymous.
What Relevance is the Demarcation Problem?
The demarcation problem is not exclusively an academic concern. There are real world consequences at stake. Prevalent in the news in recent years has been the ongoing saga in the United States where evangelical groups continue to try to force creationism to be taught in schools. The rulings in both the 1925 Scopes Trial and the 2004 Dover Trial found that creationism and its pseudoscientific analogue, Intelligent Design are not scientific.
Proposed Demarcation Criteria
Over the years, many demarcation criteria have been proposed to define the fuzzy boundary between science and nonscience. While hardly exhaustive, the following list of criteria provide a high-level summary of the scholarship in this filed of philosophy over the last century.
Verification / Confirmation
Verification and its modern cousin confirmation posit that the truth of a theory can be determined by axiomatic logical relationships. Put another way, a theory that can be arranged in an axiomatic fashion in syllogistic form can be verified (or confirmed). This fails as a demarcation criterion, as nearly any nonsensical statement can be written into a syllogism and thus “confirms” a theory even when it bears no relationship to the theory at all.
Introduced by Sir Karl Popper in 1934, falsification proposes to define as scientific any endeavor that makes a testable claim. Non-testable claims thus are by definition, non-scientific. Although roundly endorsed by many practicing scientists and popularizers of science as being the pinnacle of demarcation criteria, it does not attain as a criterion. As proposed, falsification only determines whether a theory is testable and says nothing whatsoever about whether the theory is meaningful. Thus, the question “Am I wearing socks?” is scientific, but String Theory is not (with our present level of technology). Furthermore, pseudosciences like phrenology and astrology would become scientific by dint of being testable and falsifiable; that they are thoroughly refuted and discredited are immaterial.
Kuhnian Paradigm Shifts
In 1962’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn divorces the scientific process into “normal science” and “revolutionary science.” He describes “normal science” (aka “puzzle-solving”) as the series of regular activities, rarely challenged through Popperian “conjectures and refutations” whereby science grows through the slow accretion accepted facts and theories. Conversely, Kuhn defined “revolutionary science” as a “non-cumulative developmental episode in which an older paradigm is replaced ...by an incompatible new one.” In this view, adherence to the old paradigm during the ascendance of a new paradigm may delve into pseudoscience. Criticism of Kuhn suggests that his dichotomization of science does not attain as a demarcation criterion; many pseudoscientific endeavors could be viewed as “puzzle-solving.”
Lakatos’ Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes
In response to both Popper and Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, in 1978’s The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, defines a research programme as a core of assumptions or ideas that cannot be altered or abandoned without eschewing the programme. Lakatos was focused on explanatory power. Any evidence that challenged the core of a programme was termed an auxiliary hypothesis and a programme was further described as either “progressive” or “degenerative” according to whether or not the auxiliary hypotheses increased or decreased the explanatory power of the programme.
Feyerabend’s Epistemological Anarchism
In his 1975 book Against Method, Paul Feyerabend sidestepped the demarcation problem by declaring it irrelevant. According to Feyerabend, science is an anarchistic process guided by no single unifying methodology. For him, attempting to provide a rigid definition for science prevents science from growing or advancing in any non-prescribed fashion. Taking a series of examples from the history of science, Feyerabend demonstrated that science progressed in leaps and bounds in ways not dictated by any strict methodological adherence. In light of this narrative, a rationalist is forced to conclude that, in science, anything goes.
The philosophy of science has discussed the Demarcation Problem at great length for over a century. The examples presented above are merely a highlight reel through the major arguments put forth in that time. The consensus in the field is that the Demarcation Problem is insoluble.
In practical terms, however, we are still often required to make a precise demarcation between science and nonscience. How you choose to draw that line (if at all, à la Feyerabend) will likely depend on a series of ad-hoc rationalizations that may or may not incorporate some of the arguments presented above. If anything I’ve presented piques your interest at all, I would encourage you to seek out the primary literature written by these fine minds.
- 6 replies
- 3,246 views
Godot added a topic in PlayNHL 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 2The second round of the playoffs has gotten ahead of me much in the same way as the first round did!
in the East:
Ottawa put a scare into the Rangers and forced game 7 only to fall short. The Caps pulled off a huge upset of the Bruins (this is probably the first time in NHL history where the previous two Finalists lost in the first round). Philly embarrassed the Pens and the Devils snuck past the Panthers.
in the West:
L.A. pulled off a massive upset of the Canucks while the Preds pulled off a lesser upset of the Red Wings. Mike Smith stonewalled the Coyotes past the Blackhawks and the Blues made short order of the Sharks. This is a small mercy for Sharks fans as they can now get on with the rest of their lives rather than waiting another month for the inevitable collapse.
Going forward into Round 2:
(Despite each series already being two games in, I'm still going to call as I saw it before the series started)
Rangers vs. Capitals - Rangers are the stronger team, although the Caps may be playing better as the underdog. Rangers in 6.
Flyers vs. Devils - The Flyers laid a pretty serious beat down on the Pens in Round 1, they may not have as easy a time of it against a more seasoned goalie in Brodeur but I think they are the stronger team.
Blues vs. Kings - On paper I would give it to the Blues. Unfortunately, with a number of injuries piling up, they're pretty thin on the ice. The Kings are looking very solid out there and and Quick is playing hot. I expect them to ride him into the Conference Final, but my call would have been for the Blues in 5. Down 2-0, I think the Kings may sweep it.
Coyotes vs. Predators - The Predators are a strong team and have done well this season while the Coyotes limped into the playoffs, only clinching the third seed due to the retarded NHL ranking system. The Coyotes play a very disciplined, defensive brand of hockey and Mike Smith has been unstoppable. Shots on goal show that Phoenix have been outshot in every single game by a double-digit margin in some cases. In teh long run this trend will bite them in the ass hard, but not this round. I would have thought the Preds would take it in 7, but I suspect that the Coyotes will do it in 5.
- 0 replies
- 1,299 views
Godot added a topic in PlayNHL 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1Better late than never, eh?
davidm and I have been talking hockey in chat since the playoffs started and we both discussed who we thought would advance. As surprising as how a few of the series have been played thus far, the biggest surprise has been how intense most of the games have been. Things tend to ramp up the closer you get to the Finals, but at this rate they'll all be sucking wind by the third round!
Rather than go into any sort of lengthy discussion explaining my picks this round, I'm just going to state them, warts and all.
Rangers vs. Senators
Bruins vs. Capitals
Panthers vs. Devils
Penguins vs. Flyers (yeah, right)
Canucks vs. Kings
Blues vs. Sharks
Coyotes vs. Blackhawks ()
Predators vs. Red Wings (sorry Dave!)
Although I don't have a clear favorite to carry the Cup, I expect it will be Nashville or St. Louis out of the West and New York or New Jersey out of the East.
Anybody else have any predictions?
- 4 replies
- 1,953 views