Skip to main content

Creationists make it sound as though a 'theory' is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night.  
--Isaac Asimov

You know a science discussion is going down hill when someone says something is "Just a theory"  This doesn't only apply only to politically-charged science discussions (e.g. Evolution; GMO's; Climate Change; Vaccinations) - any science discussion should be ended immediately after someone plays the "It's Just A Theory" card.  There is an aggravating and common misperception that 'theories' have not become 'facts' yet so they should not be taken seriously. To paraphrase Pauli, that idea is so bad it is not even wrong!

Theories are extremely important to scientific research so important that serious scientists would rather know a good theory than a good fact!  If you want to know what I mean, read on (sorry, it is l-o-n-g)

The problem with talking about facts, theories and all that is these words have multiple  meanings and they are technical terms in science (HT GooseRock!)  Take the word 'fact' - it can mean the same as 'truth' or it can mean an occurrence or any actuality.  The facts are clear: 'fact' can mean different things - and that's a fact!   The word 'theory' means a 'hunch' or a 'guess' in common usage but in science it applies to something very specific.  Before getting to the nature of scientific theories, let's talk about facts and phenomenons (I know, academics usually say 'phenomena' but using a Greek - or Latin - plural when speaking English seems a bit douchey to me).  We can't just spew out some definitions and call it 'done' - we have to describe and explore what these things really are. If your friend got a puppy and wanted to know how to take care of it, you wouldn't hand them a dictionary and tell them to look up the word 'dog.'   We need to know more than what some words mean - we need to understand the nature of facts and theories.

When I use the word 'fact' I am talking about an observable 'event' or 'occurrence' - it could be the shape of a bird's beak, or the rate that an apple falls.  Facts are things we can all see and agree upon*.  An example of this comes from the old TV show Dragnet.  Detective Joe Friday, would interview witnesses and ask them for "The facts, just the facts."  Clearly he wasn't accusing them of lying to him - he wasn't demanding, "I want the TRUTH" - ala Dan Kaffee in A Few Good Men. Joe wanted them to simply recount what they saw and heard - without commenting, editorializing or interpreting it.   He wanted to know what he would have seen had he been there (Yes, I realize psychologists have demonstrated that human perception doesn't work this way - please forgive this benign spherical cow)  IOW: Facts are Data Points.  We can record them, measure them, study them, compare them and, after peering deeply enough into them, usually agree on what they are (not always, but you'll have to wait for my upcoming article on Data and why it isn't the Trump Card you thought it was ;).

When you have a string of facts, we'll call that a 'phenomenon.'   It is a pattern of related events or occurrences.  (Note: most science educators make a big point that these must be natural  and not mystical or magical phenomenons but I've always wondered how Clark's Third Law applies to that dividing line. Nevertheless, in deference to those who taught me science, I'll stick with natural phenomenons for now - even if I don't always write the word 'natural.').   Scientists care about facts and how they fit into (natural) phenomenons but make no mistake, figuring out which facts belong to which phenomenon is no easy task.  Scientists often argue more heatedly than bloggers about which facts are part of which pattern.   This is a crucial (and under-appreciated) part of science: finding the patterns.  A great example of this was Newton's realization that the same gravity which causes apples to fall to the ground holds the Moon in orbit around the Earth.  That is why they call it Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation.  Often times just seeing the connection between the facts makes the big picture clearer.  The point is a fact is some thing we saw that happened - a phenomenon is a pattern of things we see happening around us.  

Now, we are ready to discuss the nature of scientific theories.  BTW: Some of you may wonder why some things are called 'laws' (e.g. Newton's Laws) and others are called 'theories' (e.g. the theory of relativity) ... after digging into this question, the Bad Boy Scientist believes any rules for calling some things 'theories' and others 'laws' are bullshit - it's basically how it rolls off of the tongue. Let's call this The Bad Boy's law of Scientific Taxonomy: even scientists sometimes put 'catchy' ahead of 'accurate' when naming things. Hey, they're human, too.

Organizations, like the NSTA, say a theory is something like "A description and/or an explanation of a natural phenomenon that has passed exacting testing."  There are three bits to that which are essential to the nature of a theory.  First, science deals with natural phenomenons: things we see happening.  We covered that already.

Second, theories are descriptive or explanatory - they explain what something is or how it works.  Simply stating that gravity exists is not a theory - but explaining how it works and the relationship between masses and distances ... now that's a theory.    We could also say theories are models of natural phenomenons. they can be computer simulations or mathematical representations of how & what is going on - or something else.  But models are used to predict what would happen under difference circumstances (like, say, after the CO2 in our atmosphere exceeds 500 ppm for a century).   It is important to understand that scientific theories must be predictive, not so much in the sense of predicting the future, more like answering the question "What happens if I do this?"  Theories can help us understand things outside of our direct experience.  This is important because the to extend from the known to the unknown can save a lot of money (and lives) on bad bridges, buildings and airplanes.

Finally, the third aspect of a scientific theory is it is well tested - specifically, it has passed a lot of tests.  Before it is well tested, we call a description and/or explanation of a natural phenomenon an "hypothesis."  I don't want to get too much into the difference between theories and hypotheses except to note that there is no special 'graduation date' when a hypothesis has passed enough tests to become a full-fledged theory.  There is a big, fat grey line between theories and hypotheses - and that line is all about how much confidence the community of experts has in it.   After years, decades or even centuries of trying unsuccessfully to poke holes in something, after a while experts eventually admit "It's pretty good" and even start relying on it.  This isn't to say that no one will ever find a hole in it - but it is "Good enough for now!"  That is really what 'passing exacting testing means' - the general community of experts who really know something about it cannot find any significant flaws and accept is as Good enough for now.

At this point a lot of people smugly say, "Yeah, but what if they're wrong?"  To which a scientist says "Then we'll fix it.  That's the nature of science - scrutinizing our work, looking for flaws and fixing them."   When scientists find flaw in some old theory and replace it with a new one, that is not a failure - that is a scientific success!   Let me say that again in bold: When scientists find flaw in some old theory and replace it with a new one, that is not a failure - that is a scientific success!

This is getting long and loved ones are clamoring for my attention so let me return to my crazy assertion that scientists would rather know a good theory than a good fact.  Now that we've explored the nature of some of these sciencey concepts like facts, theories and phenomenons, let's look at an example:

Say you have a friend, Jamie - who has blue eyes.  You go to their house and meet Jamie's family - and they all have blue eyes.   That is a fact - no sane person would argue with you (even nit pickers wouldn't call their eye color hazel ;).   So you get curious and start noticing eye color in your friends and their families and see a pattern: When both parents have blue eyes, all the kids have blue eyes (unless the postman has brown eyes, but that's another blog).  If either parent has non-blue eyes  the kids can have blue, brown, hazel, etc - but blue eyed couples only have blue-eyed kids. That is a legit phenomenon.

So what's the theory for all this?  
Genetics.  
It explains not only the inheritance of eye color but that of other traits like mid-digital hair, the shape of ear lobes, blood types, etc.  It explains why some traits are dominant and others are recessive - it explains these things so well the theory of genetics affects financial decisions, relationships and is admissible in court.  

So I ask you, which would you rather know, the fact that Jamie's family all have blue eyes, or the theory of genetics?

Originally posted to BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 02:14 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech and Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Don't tell all this and expect any acceptance... (10+ / 0-)

    ...from Republicans;

    The size of the gap between partisan groups has grown since 2009. Republicans are less inclined today than they were in 2009 to say that humans have evolved over time (43% today vs. 54% in 2009), while opinion among both Democrats and independents has remained about the same.
    Science ranging from evolution, to plate tectonics, to cosmology, to relativity, is all a hoax to most Republicans.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 02:25:08 PM PST

    •  Agreed. But (24+ / 0-)

      They aren't the target audience.  

      I find that there are plenty of eager, educated pro-science folks who are confused about the nature of scientific theories.  One thing I hammer home to my students is:

      The primary objective of scientific research is to describe and explain natural phenomenons.

      IOW: Scientific research is about producing theories.   The data, experimentation, analysis, critical thinking are all essential tools to accomplish this objective - some of them define the methodology of research - but they are not the objective of science.

      I hope some of the eager, educated pro-science folks on Kos find this enlightening and help bring into focus why so called Intelligent Design Theory ain't a scientific theory. (spoiler:  saying "The Intelligent Designer did it" is neither descriptive nor explanatory - it isn't much of a model and has no predictive power).

      -- illegitimi non carborundum

      by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 02:39:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I met a scientist from California (18+ / 0-)

        He gave a lecture on the discovery of the "God" particle (the Higgs boson) in which he had played a role.

        Some years before he was hired to teach at the University of Alabama.  He told me that he had to quit because of the pressure he felt about not contradicting creationism and/or intelligent design.

        I do find your diary very educational and highly appreciated.    

        Given the meager belief in evolution and other theories in the US compared to other countries we need more voices to counter this disease that seems to be spreading.

        Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

        by Shockwave on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 02:51:34 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is more than sad (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Shockwave, Alumbrados, linkage, Mayfly

          I would have expected our universities to be beyond this.   Maybe the admissions board of the University of Alabama will start to notice when their admission applications start to drop.

          "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

          by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:30:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Scientific facts are not just observable phenomena (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rb608, FarWestGirl

          The author of this post says

          When I use the word 'fact' I am talking about an observable 'event' or 'occurrence'
          Not all "facts" are observable events. Some "facts" are like the "Higgs Boson" categorized as "initially theorised" and later "confirmed likely" because "It would explain why"

          Where this "This unanswered question" is "of such importance" it can lead to searches for an answer that go on for ungodly periods of time; forty years in the case of the Higgs Boson, about ten millenia in terms of the myth of creation, and at least a couple of millenia more in terms of consensus building that has included things like charges of heresy, inquisitions and crusades.

          I grant you that science believes it gives better answers than religion, and is indeed somewhat dismissive of "faith" as a valid scientific proof, but religion when it gets to define the terms of the argument finds faith most persuasive.

          If science "discovers" something which it "appears" has been proven to behave" "in many of the ways predicted by the Standard Model" it takes that as a proof of the "theory" and the "theory" becomes a fact"

          On the other hand science is often thrilled to have its "accepted facts proven false", which suggests they may not have exactly been facts at all.

          Suppose we were to advance it as a theory that science is just another religion, like the one where "the written law is taken to be sovereign over all the other gods" and a rock is carved in the image of the deity of the written law, housed in an ark and the ark placed in a sanctuary.

          Is there anything scientific about that? How about the theory that the speed of light in a vacuum is a constant?
          Where the expansion of the universe causes distant galaxies to recede from us faster than the speed of light, how can we see them and know that to be true?

          There are many galaxies visible in telescopes with red shift numbers of 1.4 or higher. All of these are currently traveling away from us at speeds greater than the speed of light. Because the Hubble parameter is decreasing with time, there can actually be cases where a galaxy that is receding from us faster than light does manage to emit a signal which reaches us eventually
          Theoretically a scientific approach to the questions raised by creationists should be considered definitively answerable, but would we really want to expunge all possibility of being wrong from science?

          Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

          by rktect on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 06:21:33 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  As a way of understanding everything, religion is (0+ / 0-)

            similar to art, imo. Science is more "material" so to speak.

            "Stand your ground" laws promote aggression rather than discretion."

            by Mayfly on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 02:36:37 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Ah but ... (0+ / 0-)

            To say "The Higgs Boson is a fact" is using the word fact differently than how I was using it.  Recall my example of Detective Joe Friday wanting the facts - just the facts. Although, there is plenty of evidence that is being interpreted to indicate the existence of the Higgs Boson - the existence of the Higgs is not directly observable.  So, in that sense, it is not a fact.

            But, talking about this opens a whole can of worms about data and its interpretation.  I skirted this whole issue in that short piece because encyclopedic documents tend not to be read much.  I focused on the point that the main objective of science is describing and explaining natural things that are going on.

            Back to the worms: there is an issue of observation & interpretation - you cannot easily observe without any interpretation.  For example,  when you see a blue hat, your eyes are reacting to wavelengths of light and interpreting those wavelengths as colors - and then you further interpret those colors as properties of the hat. The 'fact' that you see a blue hat may not be a fact after all - the hat could be white with a blue light shining on it.  Or maybe your viagra is kicking in.

            But I don't want to spoil the next installment on this...

            -- illegitimi non carborundum

            by BadBoyScientist on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 03:27:46 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Science measures weighs and judges (0+ / 0-)

              what it observes according to standards. Religion has similar but different standards for belief and faith which generally seem to involve some sort of pain. If you can walk through a fire barefoot on the hot coals and not be burned or handle poisonous snakes and not die when bitten that proves you have faith.

              Science accepts that everything a believer believes is a bias while conservative believers claim that the truth has a liberal bias. Believers find it important to be as adamant as scientists, otherwise their faith is lacking.

              As for the blue hat, you can observe that whatever  side you look at appears to be blue but when was the last time you checked the sides you aren't looking at now.?

              Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

              by rktect on Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 08:07:09 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Note on 'God' particle (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wilderness voice, FarWestGirl

          Leon Lederman referred to it as the 'goddamn' particle because the Higgs boson should exist but nobody could find it. His publisher wouldn't let him use 'Goddamn' in the title of his 1993 book. He was trying to vilify it, not elevate it to Biblical proportions.

          “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

          by se portland on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 09:49:07 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  ID - Kitzmiller v Dover (13+ / 0-)

        If you have not read the ruling by Judge Jones it is well forth the effort.

        ID is merely repackaged creationism as shown by The Wedge Strategy and further, the trial demonstrated that claims of science by ID/Creationists were merely so much bullshit.  That is why the new strategy is to "teach the controversy."  That means a wholly fabricated controversy under the guise of "critical thinking."  And critical thinking in this context is that opinion will be presented as fact to gullible children for them to decide on what is "true."  So much discussion in America devolves to such idiocy.

    •  Notice that those are not the same Republicans (7+ / 0-)

      as in 2009. Millions of young people have left the Party of their parents, and many RINOs have been bodily ejected from the Party. Even some old people have gotten the message that this is not Dwight Eisenhower's Republican Party, and that many of the policies even of Goldwater (gay rights), Nixon (EPA!), and Reagan (Buffett rule before Buffett) would be unwelcome in the Party today.

      Those who do not accept the dogmas preferentially leave or are thrown out, while the remaining True Believers double down on ideological and religious purity. Thus the self-selected Republican Party stalwarts become progressively more Antediluvian.

      Those who will not evolve face extinction. It is an extreme instance of

      Those who will not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. (Santayana)
      and

      Experience teaches a dear school, but fools will learn in no other. (Ben Franklin)

      and

      Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. (Anonymous)

      where in fact the fools are determined not to learn anything, lest they be ejected from the society of other believers into the Outer Darkness.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 06:13:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good timing (17+ / 0-)

    Today's task has been working on the sections of my new book dealing with evolution and with the science/religion conflicts. Terminology is a key issue here, particularly with the use of "theory" and with "religion." Those who say that religion is opposed to evolution are usually defining religion as: Christian; Protestant; fundamentalist; literalistic.

    It is also interesting to read some of the nineteenth century writings about the theory of gravity in which some Christians claim that anyone who believes in this theory cannot be a Christian.

  •  It’s a pretty good short explanation, (6+ / 0-)

    but phenomenons is beyond fingernails-on-a-blackboard annoying when the word is not being used in the sense ‘extraordinary things, occurrences, or persons’, the sense that’s often informally shortened to phenoms (e.g., extraordinary young baseball players).

  •  I advise against "phenomenons" (11+ / 0-)
    I know, academics usually say 'phenomena' but using a Greek - or Latin - plural when speaking English seems a bit douchey to me.
    Just to be sure I am not a douchey snob, I checked Ngram to compare “phenomena” with “phenomenons.”  It appears that you are all alone on this.  I found your plural form of the word to be quite jarring and distracting.  I recommend that you revise accordingly.

    The opposite mistake, using “phenomena” or “criteria” as if they were singular, is a more common error, but still one to be avoided.

    •  also (8+ / 0-)
      using a Greek - or Latin - plural when speaking English seems a bit douchey to me
      Since much of English is derived from Greek and Latin, it may be "douchey", but it is still English. I notice the diarist uses "data", not "datums".

      Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

      by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 02:58:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But nowadays 'data' is a collective singular (8+ / 0-)

        It doesn't matter how many times a guardian of the language writes an agenda to address what to do about the fact the media uses the word 'data' as a singular - the fat lady has sung.

        -- illegitimi non carborundum

        by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 03:15:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  If you're an educator, (4+ / 0-)

          I find it a little disappointing that you don't use the opportunity to educate people about the word "phenomena". Science education is important, but so is language.

          Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

          by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 03:25:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  My duty is to teach my students science. (7+ / 0-)

            And I do teach the language by saying "I know academics usually say XXXXae, but I will say XXXXes because saying it the other way makes me feel pretentious." The students learn the 'correct' usage -(Well, correct for that sad little community, anyway) and we all have a hearty laugh.  

            More importantly, I send them a message about me - the man who will be teaching them about the Universe -  I am passionate about all of the crazy shit that goes on in this marvelous universe - all of those things in heaven and earth beyond our philosophies - but I'm not too keen on school.  And I am really down on posturing, pompous douche-bags... because they take the fun out of learning.

            -- illegitimi non carborundum

            by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 03:49:24 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  your contrasting of "normal" people (4+ / 0-)

              to "douchey" "pompous" scientists doesn't help matters either, in my view. You can educate one group without insulting another. Kind of feeding the "egghead" stereotype that anti-science types love to capitalize on.

              Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

              by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 04:41:11 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Using familiar language instead of jargon (6+ / 0-)

              is a Good Thing to the extent that it can be done without losing so much precision as to actually change what's being taught (the latter usually isn't a problem at the introductory level).

              However, "phenomenons" isn't familiar language to anybody. It's idiosyncratic language that reflects your personal beliefs about how pluralization ought to work, as opposed to how it actually does work when people do it. It makes you come off as contrary just for the sake of being contrary. It's not a word that they'll encounter anywhere else in their attempts to inform themselves about the subject.

              In short, people who are already familiar with the concept will find the term jarring and distracting. People who aren't yet familiar with it won't find it any easier to understand than the more common usage.

              In fact, it reminds me of Sarah Palin's notorious and hilarious attempts to "talk like rural folk" where she really winds up talking like a suburbanite's stereotype of rural people.

              Unfortunately when smart and educated people get crazy ideas they can come up with plausibly truthy arguments. -- Andrew F Cockburn

              by ebohlman on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 09:20:03 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  And yet .... (2+ / 0-)

                My students seem to get what I'm driving at.

                What this tells me is - when I write this stuff, I need to be mindful of laying out what I am doing and why.

                -- illegitimi non carborundum

                by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 09:47:49 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Lies to Children (4+ / 0-)

                  Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen advance an idea about teaching being a series of gradually more complex lies built on top of less complex lies to reach a point at which truth may begin to be grasped. They call this practice lies to children.

                  A basic example is the "solar system" model of the atom. In giving a child the idea of a sun/nucleus in the middle of the atom and electrons like planets whirling around it, you are telling them something that, other than being wrong in every relevant sense (i.e. a lie) is functional in grasping the basic idea.

                  In much the same way, expressing scientific ideas in common terms, you can better convey the essential reality to people not yet ready for the more nuanced and erudite understanding of scholars.

                  Which is to say, phenomena is correct, meaning grown up scientists, among themselves, use the term. Phenomenons is a lie to children, in that the de-latinized plural helps those with no background in language or science to better grasp the terminology. When they are better able, the proper term should be used.

                  On the other hand, Phenomenae is pretentious (unless you're British, to whom spellings like haemoglobin are de rigueur).

                  •  One problem with conservatives (4+ / 0-)

                    Is they they have the bad habit of, once they have heard the lie to children, never progressing beyond that point.

                    For example, their ideas on economics are commonly dismissed on the first day of Econ 101. It's as if conservatives ducked out of class after the first 20 minutes and never ever went back.

                    It's the same with just about every idea espoused by conservatives. Even a rudimentary knowledge is sufficient to dispel the vast majority of their ideas.

                    They just never get to that point.

                  •  OMG - have you been looking over my shoulder? (3+ / 0-)

                    I am a HUGE fan of Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen (and Terry Pratchett - who is the man who lead me to the other two).

                    My educational philosophy is based on the the "Lies to Children" model.  And, as deprecating as "LTC" sounds I do not mind being the recipient of a well spoken lie - in the sense that I appreciate being told only the info I need to know in that context.

                    When I am trouble-shooting my laptop I do not want to hear every-god-damned-thing-there-is-to-know-about-computer-science.    At a later date, when time is not pressing, I may enjoy learning all about Alan Turing ... but NOT when a proposal deadine is 6 hours away!!  (did I say God-dammit?)

                    The LTC model of information transfer is a revolutionary one - that the Ed Biz desperately needs to learn.

                    ----

                    BTW:  Stewart & Cohen are the only easy-to-find authors of another brilliant concept:science cannot be done in isolation.  I uttered that idea in a NASA meeting and was accosted with requests for citations - I was too ashamed to say Science of Discworld

                    -- illegitimi non carborundum

                    by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 10:38:53 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Yes, I love the Science of Discworld books, too (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Mike Kahlow, CamillesDad1, linkage

                      And Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors.

                      I love the fact that he can convey solid scientific ideas in the context of a humorous fantasy story. His novel Thief of Time (2001) was far more in line with contemporary theories of time than "science author" Michael Crichton's novel Timeline published only two years previously.

                      The ability to convey complex ideas in ways that the non-professional can readily grasp is a fundamental aspect of all good teaching (and something the Democratic party desperately needs to learn to do).

                      And which is why I loved Carl Sagan and the original "Cosmos" (and am hopeful, but slightly wary, that the show is returning with Neil DeGrasse Tyson who is, to put it charitably, no Carl Sagan).

                •  You are biased.... (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  wilderness voice, linkage

                  of course you believe your students seem to understand you better when you speak in incorrect English.  But you are at the same time teaching them poor communication skills.  I agree you should rethink this idea.

        •  and your stance on one element of language, (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Roadbed Guy, CamillesDad1

          as used in scientific discussions, undercuts your points about the use of the word "theory", in my view.

          Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

          by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 03:39:02 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  That was not the point (5+ / 0-)

          The point of the “data” example is that to be consistent you should have used the word “datums,” on the grounds that the plural form is douchey.  And if using the word “datums” sounds wrong to you, then you know what “phenomenons” sounds like to us.

          •  Being Consistent is Boring (3+ / 0-)

            If you hate my using phenomenons - you'll probably loathe the fact I refer to matter as "Shit that has mass and takes up space."  

            Also,  I'm probably the only professor who teaches exo-planet searches with a dead baby joke.

            You can bet your ass they don't forget that!

            [BTW: Bad Boy Scientist isn't so much a screen name as a description.]

            -- illegitimi non carborundum

            by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 04:17:07 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Data is plural... (0+ / 0-)

          ...as is media.  In proper English verb agreement should reflect that.

          •  Not any more (0+ / 0-)

            No more than an English-language chaise lounge is a French chaise longue. No more than English hari-kari is the vulgar Japanese harakiri, or the more culturally approved seppuku. No more than the Elephant and Castle in London is La Infanta de Castile, the Spanish princess who landed there centuries ago. No more than London is Imperial Roman and Latin Londinium.

            The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
            James Nicoll

            You can use academic English in the academy, but you can't stop the evolution of the vernacular.

            Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

            by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 01:13:25 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Maybe... (0+ / 0-)

              ...but having taken 5 years of Latin between high school and college and it being the closest thing I have to a second language I will defend Latin forms more strongly than most:)

              I did just look up both words on dictionary.com, which confirms both to be officially and properly plural while acknowledging they are informally used as singular.  I come down on the side of propriety every time.

              •  I favor academic language in the academy, (0+ / 0-)

                and precision in the use of the vernacular in some situations. In fact, I used to be quite the doryphore, which was of use in my employment as a writer and editor.

                I also know Shakespearian and some Chaucerian English, in addition to a bit of Classical and Vulgar Latin (Winnie Ille Pu, anybody?), Classical and Christian Koine Greek, and other languages, and also something of linguistics and Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class. Veblen points out the use of the minutiæ of language as a shibboleth between those who can afford that kind of education and everybody else.

                I also have a minor specialty in translating bureaucratic bafflegab into actual English.

                There is a reason why the most prominent writer on such matters used to be Republican William Safire.

                Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

                by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 10:50:45 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  BadBoyScientist - I hope your use of agenda and (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wilderness voice

          media as singular nouns is sarcastic. Of course, agenda has pretty much become singular through usage but the medium-media distinction still exists (as in "I'm working in the print medium.") "Phenomenons" grates on the ear and, to be frank, I've never heard anybody use that word, not even the newest undergrads.

    •  I'm OK with being all alone on this one (5+ / 0-)

      Language changes.  Maybe, one day, I won't be alone on using Greek or Latin plurals in English - or maybe one day, we'll all use more Germanic plurals (at least in our respective ha"user)

      To me, foreign-language plurals seem a quaint and out-dated affectation, like trying to beat English grammar into a Latin shape.  You know:
      Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.
      It is bad to ever split infinitives.

      -- illegitimi non carborundum

      by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 03:13:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Dang, I'm not alone on this (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        blueoasis, debedb

        I was hoping to be a trend setter ... but Webster accepted it before I did it:
        http://www.merriam-webster.com/...

        -- illegitimi non carborundum

        by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 03:21:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I will support your usage of phenomenons, as (3+ / 0-)

        long as you don't get hung up on my use of phenomena to describe the same phenomena.

        As long as I can figure out what you're saying, I'm okay. What you have run into here is something different. When you said "it sounds a bit douchy to me", the implication is being taken that when other people use the word in its original form, they sound like douches to you.

        Thus, the reactions you are getting aren't to your usage, but to the seemingly implied suggestion that other people sound douchy when they use the English they grew up with.

        I absorbed the latin/greek plurals as part of the mongrel and problematic English language when I grew up. I used consortiums earlier today instead of consortia, and it still bothers me that I didn't go back and add a comment to correct the usage. Therefor I am sort of douchy? Nah. Does it bother me when somebody else plays with the language? Only once in a while. It was the only itchy point of your otherwise excellent diary for me.

        At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

        by serendipityisabitch on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 05:01:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I hope to buy you a beer one day (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          serendipityisabitch

          We are such kindred souls.   I was raised to speak 'correctly' - including the past subjunctive and such.  The trend of saying "XXX and I" for direct or indirect objects is irritating (I can't help but scream inside my head "'They made fun of Jeff and I'?  Would you ever say 'They made fun of I'? ---  when  I scream inside my head I always sound like Sam Kinison)

          When I use 'phenomenons' instead of 'phenomena' and laugh about it, I am telling my audience I choose to reach out to you instead impressing you and now I cannot fall back on the ol' "Because I'm the professor" ploy.  I am real.

          The thing about being 'real' is - people don't believe you until they test you.  The thing about students who 'test' instructors, they open themselves up to 'reality' testing.  And some life-long friends are ones who I passed their 'reality' test and they passed my 'reality' test... it makes me think my life has been worthwhile.

          -- illegitimi non carborundum

          by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:44:04 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Something else that is quite jarring... (0+ / 0-)

      “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

      by se portland on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 09:54:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Very, very few Americans have the slightest (10+ / 0-)

    understanding of what science is.

    For a large portion, it's magic capable of doing anything, so when the magic they seek doesn't happen this "proves" science and/or scientists are frauds.

    Add to that the demand of a significant portion of the population for absolute answers to everything.  Science doesn't provide absolute "truth", so people with these personalities dismiss it in favor of someone who sounds convincing as they spew opinion disguised as fact.

    •  I Made a Hobby of Asking Teachers for a Working (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir, Mike Kahlow, rduran, Alumbrados

      definition. Rarely got a good answer.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 03:08:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ya wanna hear something scary? (5+ / 0-)

        I asked a bunch of colleagues (Scientists) to explain "What is Science?" -  to a hypothetical High School class.  I didn't get a single good answer.

        (The terrifying thing is I told 'em they could cheat and go to a NSTA or NSF or NASA/EPO website to get ideas.)

        -- illegitimi non carborundum

        by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 04:25:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ouch. (4+ / 0-)

          That hurts.

          I'll confess, I haven't looked at NSF &/or NSTA's definitions, but I'm pretty sure I could come up with an acceptable definition on the fly.

          OK, I know I can, because I give my own definition to my classes:

          What is science? Science is how the universe works. We make observations and then we build models. Then we make predictions based upon the models. That's science! It's not worth a &&&& unless we can use it to predict what will happen next! It's predictive!

          Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

          by Mike Kahlow on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 04:39:57 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  From my experience (4+ / 0-)

          science, as it is practiced, doesn't conform to simple, uniform, textbook definitions.

          Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

          by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 04:44:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I'm not surprised (4+ / 0-)

          But I'm also not alarmed.  How many people spend a lot of time contemplating the philosophical foundation for their jobs or hobbies?

        •  But that isn't a science question (3+ / 0-)

          They only know how to do it, not how to explain it.

          I have a double major in math and philosophy, with Philosophy of Science courses thrown in, so I can give usable but not definitive definitions of a lot of things that others in the business take for granted or are taken aback by when asked.

          Philosophy, I concluded, was any area of investigation in which there was no agreed method at all. In fact, nearly all philosophy has been an attempt to prove what the writer thought he knew but didn't.

          Science is any area of investigation in which there is a method that demonstrably works by creating a theory that gives an accurate description of a wide and coherent range of phenomena, with a strong predictive power, and working in all cases we currently know of better than any other theory so far put forward. That was true for Newtonian gravitation for more than two centuries, and since then for Einsteinian gravitation for just under one century.

          My inclusive definition of science obviously covers math, which is distinguished by not requiring any observational data.

          The advantages of the method of postulation are great. They are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil.
          Bertrand Russell

          Religion and politics have methods that various communities agree on, but there is not and cannot be general agreement, and most of the ideas demonstrably do not work. Notice that I did not say that none of either works. (I am a Buddhist. But that is a topic for another time.)

          Physics was Natural Philosophy right up until Newton made it decisively work on a reasonably universal level, including mechanics, gravity, astronomy, and optics, integrating the various discoveries and methods of Gilbert (magnetism) Galileo (gravity, astronomy, mechanics), Kepler (conservation of angular momentum, elliptical orbit of Mars), Descartes (analytic geometry, early non-vector version of conservation of momentum), Leibniz (calculus, early version of conservation of energy of motion), and many others.

          Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

          by Mokurai on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:11:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Dude, we have to have a drink together (0+ / 0-)

            I was reticent about posting this (after my experience in one of those gun forums I was a little ... gun shy) - but I have read some seriously stimulating shit.

            Let's start up a private conversation on this.  I have read up on the philosophy of science a fair bit and know how naive some of the stuff I write sounds (OTOH: as a scientist I know how naive any Into-to book sounds).  I would very much like to bounce ideas around with you.

            -- illegitimi non carborundum

            by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 08:51:52 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Not only that, very few Americans have a good (0+ / 0-)

      command of the English language beyond the most basic level, if the diarist is correct.

  •  Cut to the Chase, the Concept is "Technical Term." (6+ / 0-)

    People can understand that when you go home in a baseball game, you don't leave the park for where you sleep, home is a technical term for the place on the field where you score.

    Same for "theory."

    Call it a technical term right at the outset, then you'll have many peoples' attention for the difference.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 03:10:26 PM PST

    •  Gotta put in the other side to this. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AaronInSanDiego
      Call it a technical term right at the outset, then you'll have many peoples' attention for the difference.
      Call it a "technical term", and for every person who perks up their ears, two will lose interest on the basis that they "don't get that 'technical' stuff"

      Unfortunately.

      At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

      by serendipityisabitch on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 05:09:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Similar to the rule of thumb (2+ / 0-)

        That every formula printed in a general science book cuts the potential sales in half.

        One must wonder just how staggering the sales figures for "A Brief History of Time" might have been without the handful of formulae it contained.

        (Sorry, just had to use formulae. Pretentious of me, I know.)

        ")

      •  Richard Feynman discussed this problem (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        linkage, serendipityisabitch, rduran

        His father taught him that names are bupkes ("beans" in Yiddish) and that what matters is behavior. For example, when you know the name of a bird, you know nothing. You have to observe the bird in order to learn anything. (The name has a use later on, when you want to talk about what you observed.)

        Later on, he concluded that if we have a complicated set of equations for something, with names for all of the variables and so on, but we cannot prepare a freshman lecture about it, that means that we do not understand it. Some say that you should be able to explain it to your grandmother, but that is an exaggeration.

        You have to call children's attention to how they already observe reality and draw conclusions before you get into what any of it is called.

        For example, many elementary school children can think of ways to prove that the Earth is round, such as observing its shadow on the Moon during an eclipse, or noticing that things disappear over the horizon. It is easy to explain a dozen more methods, such as radar ranging the tops of the towers on the Golden Gate Bridge, which are farther apart than the bases, or setting up three poles in a flat, straight section of a canal, and sighting from one end. The one in the middle appears to stick up higher. Historically, this was done in response to a Flat Earth Society challenge in England, but they handwaved the result away.

        We can teach Galilean gravity (file in Libre Office format) with a video camera trained on a falling ball, and quite elementary visual geometry tools such as Turtle Art in the Logo or Smalltalk or other programming languages. The distances in equal times are as successive odd numbers, indicating constant acceleration. (Yes, it's elementary. We have been teaching it to third graders for decades. It isn't their fault if you were misled in school, and don't get it.)

        Then we can talk about naming observation, data, phenomena, models, theories, experiments, and proof, and if necessary the transition from Greek grammar to English. Incidentally, if children can handle "phenomenal" they can wrap their minds around "phenomena".

        Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

        by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 11:29:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think you meant this as a main comment, rather (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rduran

          than as a reply to me. I hope it doesn't get lost here, since it's definitely both on topic and useful.

          At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

          by serendipityisabitch on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 08:27:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  No, it was meant as a comment on your comment (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            serendipityisabitch, rduran

            on technical terms. But you are right. It could have been a comment on the Diary as a whole.

            I hope we take all of these ideas up again.

            Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

            by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 10:55:55 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  In that case, my reply is that I'd shifted (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              rduran

              reference frames, partly just because of the way I phrased my point. But I was talking about ways that adults have of avoiding learning new stuff, as I thought the parent comment was, rather than how to get the attention of students.

              Because in order to get adults involved in making the school experience more profitable for kids, we have to get the attention of the adults, and many of them have more and better ways of not paying attention out of their comfort zone.

              At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

              by serendipityisabitch on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 11:09:44 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Seems to me kossack Anne Elk should have (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gizmo59, matching mole

    something to contribute to this conversation.

    To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

    by UntimelyRippd on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 03:15:37 PM PST

  •  Tipped, rec'd, (4+ / 0-)

    ...and following.

    I like your first diary. It's a righteous rant, the kind that I, as a scientist and educator, would write if I didn't have a tendency to obfuscate the points I was trying to make through overuse of multisyllabic words, used inadvertently because my academic training leaves me in the habit of addressing all points of the issue. Simultaneously.

    ;-)

    Stick to your guns, Bad Boy!

    (BTW, welcome to Daily Kos!)

    Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

    by Mike Kahlow on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 04:12:32 PM PST

    •  Thanks (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Kahlow, freerad, linkage

      I used to have that problem, too.  Then I discovered beer.

      Gee, I hope they perfect synthetic livers soon.

      -- illegitimi non carborundum

      by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 04:41:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  LOL! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        freerad

        I'd like to run into you at a conference. Or not. It would depend a lot on how early the sessions started the next morning.

        Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

        by Mike Kahlow on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 04:46:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The APL '89 conference tried to get Tom Lehrer (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mike Kahlow, T100R, linkage

          to appear as a guest, explaining that a) APL is the most mathematical of programming languages, and b) the Danish APL Association would be there to promote the APL '90 conference the next year with free Tuborg beer. Lehrer explained that he wasn't doing personal appearances any more, but if he were, a meeting of beer-drinking mathematicians would be exactly the place. As we mathematicians say,

          Every graduate student in whatever field who has to slave away on a dissertation in the library, the lab, or the field curses the mathematicians who sit in the garden together drinking beer and talking, and call it research.

          Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

          by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 11:38:57 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Theory Is (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cheminMD, Mike Kahlow

    Theory is that's an awful good explanation, even if long.

    The problem is getting the general public to think about it that way when they hear someone on TV discussing climate change or evolution.

    I suggested (a while back, and in public) that scientists stop talking about theories and simply say "the scientific answer to that is...". For example, why do we see the oceans getting warmer? The scientific answer is that humans have been burning fossil fuels causing a greenhouse effect in the atmosphere and warming the planet. That may well be a well-tested scientific theory, but the public will not respond to that. But if the scientific answer is that humans are warming the planet by burning fossil fuels then the natural response of the public is, "Hey, then. Let's stop!"

    I got booed for proposing this. In theory, it would be better to get the public to understand scientific terminology and there's a lot of benefit to the effort. But in terms of politics, the answer is to simply invent a new approach to discussing facts with the public.

    •  Hey man, can we talk off line? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cheminMD

      I think I know what you are getting at here, but would feel more comfortable if we could bounce this around n private.

      Hells, bells, I don't want a public record of how long it take until we're speaking the same language.  And that is the thing I am concerned about: speaking the same language...

      -- illegitimi non carborundum

      by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:49:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sure (0+ / 0-)

        I sent you a message on Daily Kos messages so that you can contact me.

        I don't think we give up anything by adding a new way to talk about what scientists think. Rather than buy into the erroneous language from the other side that "evolution is just a theory" I think we can bypass that with the right language.

        So, I'd be more than happy to kick that around with you and see what we get.

        Thanks!

    •  Actually, a better strategy is to explain that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Liberal Thinking

      evolution and global warming are facts, or rather sets of millions of coherent facts, and not theories at all. The theories are the mathematical models, such as inverse square gravitation.

      Evolution began to be recognized as a fact before Darwin, but most scientists didn't want to leap that far ahead without an explanation, which Darwin started to provide. Darwin's theories are the explanations of the facts by Natural Selection and Selection by Sex, both of which are observable sets of facts. Then we added Mendelian genetics, and later molecular biology, and thus billions more facts.

      Against this, Creationists have only the delusion that the Fall in the Garden of Eden must be historical, otherwise Jesus can't save us through the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Well, so much for God's Omnipotence.

      The Greenhouse Effect is likewise an observable fact. You can put an Alka Seltzer in a bottle half full of water to half fill it with carbon dioxide, set another bottle beside it containing water and air, put thermometers in through stoppers, shine a heat lamp on them, and measure the temperature difference.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 12:56:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's an Excellent Point (0+ / 0-)

        Problem is, we are discussing this with people who don't believe the real world is a better source of facts than their own mind. Still, it has to be a jolt when reality throws cold water on your beliefs. (Or, hot water, as the case may be.)

        •  Facts for the children (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Liberal Thinking

          whose minds haven't been poisoned. Indeed, we cannot argue facts with the hidebound. Sometimes there is a way past the emotional barriers, using something other than facts.

          4 Don’t answer a fool in terms of his folly,
              or you will be descending to his level;
          5 but answer a fool as his folly deserves,
              so that he won’t think he is wise.
          Complete Jewish Bible, Proverbs 26

          Tricky, that. It's what Buddhists call Skill in Means.

          Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

          by Mokurai on Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 10:38:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I struck a nerve with a religionist. (3+ / 0-)

    My forum article about Darwin Day (that I published as a diary here first) was finally published by the TC Record Eagle.  Evidently it struck a nerve in a thin-skinned religionist.

    Today there was a long and rambling letter to the editor that claimed that Evolution was merely a belief system.  In it he continually referred to me as if repetition would be an exorcism.

    I'm not responding to ignorant buffoons.  Further, people like him would not understand that there is only one belief and corollary in all of science - That the cosmos is natural and that the cosmos is knowable.

    We in this community have discussed many times how the ignorant in America think that their opinion is equal to another person's knowledge.  I sure saw that in spades.

  •  For the record, (6+ / 0-)

    as I learned it, and as I teach it, a scientific law is, in your terminology, a phenomenon.  It's a pattern of facts that describes regularity of behavior over a wide range of conditions, if not universally.  A law does not explain anything;  it is purely descriptive.  For example, take the first law of thermodynamics:  Energy is conserved.  That comes purely from experimental observation, and no explanation is offered as to why energy is conserved.  Later, the kinetic-molecular theory was created, and that provided explanation.

    This is also true of Newton's law of gravitation.  Newton did not seek to explain why bodies attracted each other;  what he provided was an equation that described the attraction without explanation.  Einstein proposed the existence of curved space and gravity waves in his theory of general relativity in order to explain gravity.  Curvature of space has been proven, but they're still looking to observe gravity waves directly.

    -5.13,-5.64; GOP thinking: A 13 year path to citizenship is too easy, and a 5 minute background check is too burdensome. -- 1audreyrenee

    by gizmo59 on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 05:19:31 PM PST

    •  My philosophy of science professor (3+ / 0-)

      put it this way:
      A fact is a truth claim.
      A law is a universal truth claim.

      Light is seen through a small hole.

      by houyhnhnm on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:32:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There is more to this (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gizmo59

        My SciPhil professor, Norwood Russell Hanson, taught that what makes a fact is always dependent on a theory. Thus Creationists can deny any fact that contradicts their superstitious theory that the Fall has to be history in order for Jesus to save us.

        Fact and theory are necessarily intertwined. We bootstrap the process as infants, where we are primed through our senses and brain structure to be able to absorb facts and generalize from them, and we can see those abilities developing as our brains mature.

        The most important theoretical problem that immature humans have to deal with is whether everything we see is natural, or whether we must necessarily invoke supernatural explanations. Many children subjected to such superstition never recover from it, but millions are "falling away" or "backsliding" every year, now that they cannot be brought up in an impenetrable cultural bubble due to the increasingly broad spectrum of mass media, and to mobile phones and the Internet.

        Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

        by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 01:37:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is true. (0+ / 0-)

          Which experiment one chooses to perform is greatly influenced by the theoretical framework operating in your head.  If you believe heat is a material fluid (pholgiston), it's not likely you'll discover the first law of thermodynamics.

          As for the prevalence of belief in the supernatural in the general public, I'm far less optimistic than you.  Among many, there seems to be a real need to believe in a deity.  It appears to be a real human need, though it's not universal.  While the number of the religiously "unaffiliated" is increasing in this country, I doubt this segment will ever come to dominate.

          -5.13,-5.64; GOP thinking: A 13 year path to citizenship is too easy, and a 5 minute background check is too burdensome. -- 1audreyrenee

          by gizmo59 on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 04:46:30 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Pew Forum has good numbers on this (0+ / 0-)

            Millennials, in particular, are far less likely to belong to a church than their elders, and unbelief is rising, too, to 11%, double the rate among their elders. Uncertainty (agnosticism) also.

            Millennial generation less religious, more liberal than older ones

            Millennials in Adulthood

            We have a long way to go, but the Evangelical churches are running scared. See The Incredible Shrinking Church, by Frank Page, once President of the Southern Baptist Convention. They have totally lost on Marriage Equality, which the courts are ruling for even in Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Kentucky. Indiana got its first Marriage Equality lawsuit, Love v. Pence, on Friday.

            Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

            by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 10:39:25 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Let's talk off line (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gizmo59

      -- illegitimi non carborundum

      by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:51:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Exactly right - laws merely describe that which (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      serendipityisabitch, gizmo59

      we consistently observe without exception, while a theory explains why it works that way.

      It's why we have only one law of gravity but several competing theories of gravity.

      •  We have multiple laws of gravity (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gizmo59, skrekk

        in different domains.

        Galilean gravity with constant acceleration, V = AT and d =  AT²/2, is fairly accurate near the surface of the Earth. Very precise pendulum measurements, not available to Galileo, show that gravity varies with altitude and location.

        Newtonian inverse square gravity, A = gM/R², is extremely accurate for planets, moons, comets, space probes, stars, and galaxies, except near large masses. The first known anomaly was the perihelion of Mercury.

        Einsteinian tensor gravity, G = kR, where R is the Riemann tensor for the shape of spacetime, is validated by gravity lensing, atomic clocks in orbit, observations of neutron stars and black holes, and Gravity Probe B. It is completely incompatible with Quantum Mechanics, where the Wave Equation is written for flat spacetime, and cannot be adapted to curved spacetime. So far, Einstein is winning, although we had to put in a Cosmological Constant not long ago.

        Quantum Loop Gravity is one of several proposed theories that attempt to reconcile GR and QM. We can't test them yet.

        Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

        by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 01:54:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, Einstein was the first (0+ / 0-)

          to introduce the cosmological constant, though he later regretted it.  Nowadays, modern theory needs it to take dark energy into account.

          Each successive law subsumes the previous one.  It is not difficult to show that Newton's law simplifies to Galileo's near the surface of the Earth.  It is also possible to show that general relativity simplifies to Newton's law for planetary kinematics (except for the Mercury anomaly).  One then uses the appropriate law for the kind of problem one needs to solve.  You could, in principle, use general relativity to solve all kinematic problems, but most of the time, one of the simpler laws works just as well while being much easier to solve.

          While I'm confident that the gravitational field is quantized, humans seem to be having a hard time finding a way to describe this quantization.  Theorists seem to be stuck in neutral on this point, and have been for decades.  Even if they manage to come up with a theory that's consistent with reality, it may not be testable by experiment.

          General relativity and quantum gravity lie well outside my ordinary range of expertise--all I know about these are what I read in the papers.

          -5.13,-5.64; GOP thinking: A 13 year path to citizenship is too easy, and a 5 minute background check is too burdensome. -- 1audreyrenee

          by gizmo59 on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 04:36:09 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  If we observed gravity waves at (0+ / 0-)

            LIGO we would have been in. We didn't, even with Enhanced LIGO, so they are building the ten times more sensitive Advanced LIGO, which goes operational later this year. LIGO has been good enough that if we were really lucky and got an event close enough, like Kepler's supernova, or a more distant but rarer neutron star merger, we could get real answers to many questions (and raise more, as with all good science). We haven't been that lucky.

            The baseline inspiral of two roughly solar-mass neutron stars is typically expected to be observable if it occurs within about 8,000,000 parsecs (26,000,000 ly), or the vicinity of our Local Group of galaxies, averaged over all directions and polarizations.
            At some point, with increasing sensitivity, we can rule out gravity waves and start looking for something else.

            Theorists are coming up with possibilities such as loop quantum gravity from time to time, so they are not stuck in neutral. Going from such theories to experiment has been extremely difficult, although there have been attempts to detect the extra dimensions in string theory, where the gravity tensor would have that many extra dimensions, too.

            Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

            by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 06:56:42 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Very nice. It's still not a useful argument (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock, LynChi

    against a Creationist, even though it's a good argument against Creationism. When your opponent states, totally sincerely, that "God's love is a fact", then the polite thing to do is refrain from breaking into hopeless giggles and go on to look for someone who is only uninformed, or misinformed, rather than malinformed.

    I enjoyed it. More, it got my mind riffing on something I haven't looked at in a couple of years - the application of the scientific method to the phenomenon of creativity, and the impossibility of creating reproducible results or predictive models in that area.

    T&R, and following.

    At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

    by serendipityisabitch on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 05:25:37 PM PST

    •  You're right it is not useful against creationists (3+ / 0-)

      Its also not useful against sharks, bears and crazed gunmen.

      What is that ol' quote "You can't reason a man out of position he didn't reason himself into"?

      I was laying this out partially to practice explain this to people who do not have to listen to me out of fear of failing and partially because so many fans of science have blurry notions of the objective of science and all that.

      -- illegitimi non carborundum

      by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:54:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent piece (2+ / 0-)

    The only thing I take issue with is the claim that "[fact and theory] are technical terms in science."  Outside of philosophy class and the lecture circuit, I've found scientists use those terms as informally as nearly anyone else.  Theory--especially amongst physicists--is often used in the anticipatory sense and applied to statements that may more correctly be described as hypotheses.  Theoretical physicists and cosmologists in particular often use theory in way similar to mathematicians.  

    •  Wow. You got me. I owe you a premium Draft (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rduran

      I'll even cough up an example - in my line of research there is something formally called 'mixing length theory' (google it).  Everyone who gives a talk about work which employs this 'model' apologizes that 'mixing length theory' is known to be inadequate but it is the best analytical formulation for this purpose.  

      In other words - it ain't a theory.  It may be good enough for this purpose but it has not passed the tests.  WTF is it called a 'theory'?

      Well, I fall back on "Bad Boy's Law of Scientific Taxonomy" ... and hope you have either A) a deep understanding of the messy nature of research B) a sense of humor of C) a BAC over 0.08 - lol.

      Anyone who really knows about the philosophy of science knows that I am taking a very particular view on all of this science stuff.  There are alternatives.  If you & I were sitting over a couple of frosty ones, I'd confess that I am advocating this particular view of science only for this context - what do you tell an outsider about the insiders of science.

      I give an entirely different 'speech' to grad students...

      BTW: I actually am pleased that you got me on this one.  Now I have to think harder about this.  Maybe my older brother was right - I am not of this planet... since most netizens find this experience distasteful.  

      -- illegitimi non carborundum

      by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 08:06:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm not sure about your definition of "theory," (0+ / 0-)

        which is, in effect, a hypothesis that has been tested.
           I tell my students (again, being simplistic) that a theory is a systematic explanation for a set of observations.
           For example: The Hugh Everett's original PhD thesis, which sets out the Many Worlds Interpretation (in quantum mechanics) is titled "The Theory of the Universal Wave Function."
           AFAIK, Many Worlds is pretty much untestable but it is accepted as being a theory. And it does explain certain strange phenomena in quantum mechanics.
          For that matter, the theory of relativity wasn't directly testable for decades. But I've never heard it called the hypothesis of relativity.

  •  There is an easier way to differentiate science (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock, ybruti, wilderness voice

    and bullcrap:  Science is all about utility.

    It doesn't matter if you believe in gravity.  It doesn't matter if you accept gravity as a scientific fact.  Niether of those phrases mean diddly.  What matters is if you can use the theory of gravity to calculate a launch force and orbital speed required to put a communications satellite in orbit.

    That is the difference.  That is the proof in the pudding: you can use science to accomplish something.  That is also the difficulty with global warming - you only get one shot at it and you can always be charged by the ignorant of selling spirit wards.  In that case, you need to look at the utility that climate science has provided in terms of weather forecasts, rainfall pattern prediction, all that good stuff, and set that next to the big old pile of nothing that the deniers have accomplished.

    But, the short short version is that science is about utility - useful testable predictable actions and consequences.

    (Of course, the short short short version is that scientific societies lob missiles while mystics blow smoke, and which side would you rather be on?)

    And we love to wear a badge, a uniform / And we love to fly a flag But I won't...let others live in hell / As we divide against each other And we fight amongst ourselves

    by ban48 on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 06:12:00 PM PST

    •  I don't think utility is required. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      serendipityisabitch

      Science doesn't always have to be useful. How useful is it to discover the distance of a long dead star, for example?

      Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

      by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:45:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The utility is learning about the fundamental (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mike Kahlow

        forces of nature for when they come in handy in developing quantum systems, fusion energy, you name it.  Why did the star die?  How far away is it and is it accelerating away from us?  At what speed?  Is there really dark-matter distortion in our view of that long dead star?  How do we utilize that dark matter?

        There is no such thing as useless information.  So I guess you could morph that into an inherent value of a 'scientific explanation', but the explanation doesn't mean much until it provides a use.

        That is also why creationism can never be science.  There is no utility to the information it provides.  If you can test and use creationism, you can test god - and we all know what theists think about testing god(s).

        And we love to wear a badge, a uniform / And we love to fly a flag But I won't...let others live in hell / As we divide against each other And we fight amongst ourselves

        by ban48 on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 08:29:17 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  well, it's a philosophical question, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          serendipityisabitch

          rather than a functional one. I don't think science is defined by its purpose, but by its process.

          Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

          by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 09:16:47 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  If it is not testable, it is not science. If it (0+ / 0-)

            is testable, it has a utility, even if the utility is not immediately apparent.  Even virtual constructs and simulations can have a science to them.  You might not think of utility as the purpose of science, but it is a natural consequence.

            BTW - Smart theists recognize this and will never submit a 'proof' of their god's existence, because the minute you have a testable proof, you have turned god into a utility for you to experiment on.

            And we love to wear a badge, a uniform / And we love to fly a flag But I won't...let others live in hell / As we divide against each other And we fight amongst ourselves

            by ban48 on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 02:49:42 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  If discovering the distance to a long dead star (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mike Kahlow, AaronInSanDiego

        is the goal, science is the method. That's where science has utility.

  •  Hotlisted so I can come back and look once in a (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LynChi, wilderness voice

    while.

    Thank You for teaching science to non scientists and aspiring to do it well. For many of us it's the only science we will get and it's very important.

    When I run up against that "it's only a theory" bit I say so is electricity and I don't believe in it. Is that true? Is electricity only a theory? Has no one really ever seen an electron?

    Sometimes I read peer reviewed scientific articles about subjects I have an interest in. The reading is night and day different in some of the articles. Some very readable, others not so.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 06:36:36 PM PST

    •  as an Electrical Engineer (0+ / 0-)

      I have never personally seen an electron but I can vouch for laws of electromagnetism working every well on the lab bench.  

      Also I recall (way) back in my college days repeating Milliken's oil drop experment which proves electrons are discrete particles carrying a uniform charge.

      That said, AFAIK, electrons are too small and mobile to hold still to be seen with even an electron microscope, which uses electrons to image other objects.

    •  We can see impact events from individual electrons (0+ / 0-)

      on photographic film, and individual tracks in cloud chambers. You could see impacts of individual electrons on the back of your eye, although I would definitely not advise trying that at home. We have used electrons to map the quark distribution inside neutrons and protons. That makes electrons pretty real.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 02:08:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Since we are talking about the way words are used (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AaronInSanDiego, dallasdunlap

    to describe happenings in the world, here are my two cents.  I have always thought of truth as being subjective - something which is true to an individual as he/she perceives it.  And, I always think of a fact as something universal - something that everyone can agree upon.  

    Also, it is true that the word “theory” is used often to denote a hunch or a guess.  However, in my opinion, by always combining the two words “scientific theory”  when describing science differentiates it from the common ordinary use of the word “theory.”    

    Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket. Eric Hoffer

    by LynChi on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:08:05 PM PST

  •  Perhaps you should check out the philosophy of sci (3+ / 0-)

    A fact is a very exact thing. A theory is, too.

    "Just a theory" should be welcomed by anyone who understands the tenuousness of all knowledge. A skeptic should be a skeptic all the way. Set aside creationists, because they are not having a scientific discussion at all, but rather having a parallel discussion.

    A fact is a representation of reality at a given time that can be verified. No theory can be a fact, and no fact can explain anything. A fact is, "A blackbird. A pair of scissors." A fact can neither explain nor refute.

    Science is not a thing to believe in, because it is not a thing. The scientific method is an approach toward investigating the unknown by the means of inductive reasoning. We can believe in that method, but "science" is not in distinction to something or superior to something. It's just a method that has allowed us in the west to turn from the goal of refining what we already knew through deduction to answering what we did not know through observation and a calculus of likelihood.

    "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

    by The Geogre on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 07:22:19 PM PST

  •  Is gravity a fact? (0+ / 0-)

    Most people would say so.  We have a good theory, or at least mathematical formulas, to describe the effects of gravity.

    Evolution of fossils as you dig down into lower, presumably older, strata is also a fact.  Darwin just came up with the best theory to explain it.

    We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

    by david78209 on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 08:04:16 PM PST

    •  No, David, Gravity Is A Lie (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      david78209

      It defies popular conceptions of what sort of facts prove a theory is a law with a bow to the author's hilarious essay that demonstrates more than anything the problems with language and limits of knowledge.

      My favorite bit of scientific fact is from famed biologist Kurt Vonnegut [Vonnegut did enroll in a course of study in biology but went onto more important things related to gravity]:

      Q: What is that white stuff in the middle of bird doo-doo?

      A: That is bird doo-doo too.

      BTW the author's mention of the GMO vampire hunters alongside serious scientific inquiry is proof of the limits of his own gravity.

      Best,  Terry

  •  Isaac Asimov, Truth, and Nate Silver (4+ / 0-)

    I’ve been thinking about some of the things you said from various angles. And here are some thoughts (which I might expand into a Dkos essay at some point in the future). You might call this reply long enough to be an essay.

    1) You started with a quotation from Isaac Asimov. He once wrote a piece that I remember quite well. He was writing about how scientific theories supplant other discredited theories, but they do it by inching closer and closer to the truth. So we went from a flat earth to a spherical earth to an earth with a bulge around the equator to an earth that’s (very) slightly pear-shaped. But each time we changed the theory we got closer to the actual shape of the earth. No serious scientist would ever advocate going back to a flat-earth model.

    So not all theories are equal. And it's insane for a reporter to give equal time to people who believe in a flat earth. The newest theory usually describes reality a little (or a lot) better than the previous one. So that’s that.

    2) I’ve long thought about writing something for Dkos about what exists (ontology), what we believe (epistemology), how we express an idea using language (linguistics), what can be proved by logic using our minds, and so on.

    I had this idea after hearing arguments from friends about biased/unbiased reporting from news sources. Some people think that news reporters should only report the facts and not inject opinions. Which is not as easy as you might think.

    For example, let’s say that idiot Inhofe from Oklahoma says “Climate change is not true and it’s a huge liberal media hoax.” If he said that, then reporting that he said those words is true (because he did in fact say those words, at least in this example). The words inside the quotation marks might be false, however. So it's true that he said something. Even though what he said was a lie. What should a reporter do?

    Or what about something extremely simple, like “the sun rises every morning?” That’s certainly a factual statement, right? Well, maybe not. For two reasons. Reason one is that, if we believe the earth revolves around the sun, astronomers tell us eventually the sun will burn out or explode in a nova. Or maybe the earth will slow down and fall into the sun. Eventually something will happen. Maybe a million or a billion years in the future, the sun won’t rise on earth and the statement won’t be true. But it is 100% true, at least during our lifetimes and for a long long time. Or maybe not.

    On the other hand, it’s demonstrably false. The sun doesn’t rise -- it doesn‘t move around the earth at all. The earth revolves around the sun and rotates around its axis. It’s the earth moving, not the sun. But “sunrise” and “sunset” are so embedded in our language that those are the words we all use. Even though the sun isn’t really moving at all. Not within this frame of reference.

    When you get to arguments of “Chicago-school trickle-down supply-side economics” versus “Keynesian pump-priming with deficit spending,” we’re getting into the realm of belief systems. I’m not a believer in the former (Chicago) and I favor the latter (Keynes). This becomes a conservative versus liberal argument -- and the liberals are correct, in my opinion. So there are facts and perceptions and beliefs and language and so on. But enough of that for now. I could write 50 paragraphs about truth and science and religion and what is true or believed by some people to be true.

    3) Now I'll talk about statistics and predicting the future. I’ve recently been reading Nate Silver’s book “The Signal and the Noise”, which is about figuring out the future (which is what science is supposed to do, right?).

    If you don’t remember Nate Silver, you probably haven’t been on Daily Kos very long. In the Presidential Election of 2012, he was, I believe, either the most accurate or second most accurate predictor of the final results (and wrote the well-respected five-thirty-eight column for the NY Times). If I’m not mistaken, he also predicted every Senate race except for one (North Dakota, where the Democrat Heidi Heitkamp won by a razor-thin margin (hurrah!)). Before that he used his brilliance to predict which minor-league baseball players would become good major-leaguers or not.

    It’s a fascinating book about how different people use science and statistics to predict the future. He talks about predicting which baseball players are worth drafting. And predicting weather. And influenza epidemics (it turns out that people are less likely to listen to President Ford about getting a flu vaccination and more likely to get a vaccination if a friend or neighbor gets sick). And predicting earthquakes (scientists really really suck at this). And poker hands (it's random, but good players eventually win in the long run). And the economy (most economists are too optimistic -- partly because people don't want to hear bad news). And lots of other subjects where people want to know what the future might bring (Silver says the talking heads on the Sunday morning shows aren‘t very good at predicting the future because they‘re starting from their political biases rather than being scientific and mathematical).

    He’s an excellent writer. There’s some math, but it’s not too daunting. It’s more like, based on knowledge of the past, what can we predict about the future and what numerous things can go wrong with those predictions and why? Like a hands on guide to science and statistics.

    Silver is a smart guy. I’m not surprised he beat everyone else at predicting the 2012 Presidential election. It's a good book. Highly recommended.

    "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

    by Dbug on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 09:05:15 PM PST

    •  Dbug, I *Like* you (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dbug, rduran

      There's a thing I tell my classes when I have a 'special connection' with them. I call it "[My surname]'s law of literature"  and it is about Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes: An author cannot create a character smarter than s/he is.

      (I might as well give out my home address and telephone number because my students will know who I am now).

       In A Study in Scarlet Sherlock admits that he doesn't know that the Earth revolves around the Sun - and I am outraged. I am livid.  I am god-damned, muther-fucking, beyond #$%!@! pissed that a character like Sherlock Holmes would be this fucking obtuse!

      If I were Arthur Conan Doyle, I would have written Sherlock's POV to be: My dear Watson the Earth does not simply go around the Sun - that is what we tell children.  The Earth and the Sun - and all of the other bodies of the solar system go about the Center of Mass of the Solar System - Newton's Third Law of motion says so - the Sun must move, too. The same law that says a fired Pistol recoils and a fist hitting a face is also bruised tells us the Sun must move.  Nature has only a handful of rules and if you learn them everything is your game.  

      But Sir A.C.Doyle was not as smart as Sherlock so he wrote some mumbo-jumbo that takes away from the whole series... let this be a warning to all writers - know your shit.

      -- illegitimi non carborundum

      by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 09:43:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  but Sherlock was a scientist (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rduran

        not a religious fanatic.

        And saying that he doesn't know the Earth revolves around the sun? Not believing that it is true is not the same thing as believing that it's false.

        "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

        by Dbug on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 10:12:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sherlock was a fictional character and as such (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dbug

          could have been anyone Arthur Conan Doyle imagined .  

          OTOH:  judging a man outside of the context of his era is unfair... anyone who reads Huck Finn and says Twain was a racist is doing Ol' Sam Clemens a huge disservice.  

          -- illegitimi non carborundum

          by BadBoyScientist on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 10:47:15 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  No, he believed it (0+ / 0-)

          He just said that he intended to forget it because he could not imagine using it to solve a criminal case, and Doyle gave him the bizarre notion that human memory is finite and can be filled up.

          Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

          by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 02:24:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  In Conan's defense (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        serendipityisabitch

        A Study in Scarlet predates by almost two decades even the discovery that the atmosphere rarefies into a vacuum.  Copernican heliocentrism and universal gravitation were certainly in vogue by the 19th century, but we sometimes forget that direct observation of the implications of these theories had to wait until technology was available.  Sherlock may be a contrarian, but at the time of Scarlet's publication the only thing he had to support those notions were crude telescopic observations and gas laws that were as recent to Conan as quantum mechanics is to us.

        •  Actually, the idea of planets orbiting the sun (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rduran

          was as firmly established among scientists by Newton's work and that of contemporaries like Halley as Global Warming is among scientists now. Halley worked out the orbits of comets, which would have crashed through the crystal spheres of the various Ptolemaic theories. The process started to take off when Galileo observed moons orbiting Jupiter with his new-fangled telescope, and was greatly advanced when Kepler announced the elliptical orbit of Mars.

          Heliocentrism was not a vogue, any more than Doyle's solecism about Moriarty's work on the Binomial Theorem having a European vogue. Newton did the Binomial Theorem. It was over and done in the 17th century. In the late nineteenth century you would have to talk about a mathematician making a contribution to real or complex analysis, or non-Euclidean geometry, or topology, or set theory, or higher algebra. Theory of numbers at the very least. Something that Cantor, Dedekind, or Poincaré might have done. Maybe Charles Babbage in computing.

          Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

          by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 02:38:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  My reading is it took nearly another century (0+ / 0-)

            of convincing.  Astronomers risked their lives during the Seven Years' War to observe the transits of Venus a century and a half after Kepler's death, and Cavendish didn't deliver our first measure of the gravitational constant until the close of the 18th century.  I don't think you could compare the climate change consensus today to two emerging models that had just begun to pin down their fundamental measurements, particularly when even a century after the notion of a vacuum separating celestial bodies was unconventional.

            •  You are partly right (0+ / 0-)

              Heliocentrism on Wikipedia

              An annotated copy of Newton's Principia was published in 1742 by Fathers le Seur and Jacquier of the Franciscan Minims, two Catholic mathematicians, with a preface stating that the author's work assumed heliocentrism and could not be explained without the theory. In 1758 the Catholic Church dropped the general prohibition of books advocating heliocentrism from the Index of Forbidden Books.
              But I said "firmly established among scientists", not the churches or the public. Even so, the prohibition by the Catholic Church was dropped during the Seven Years War, 1756–1763.

              Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

              by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 10:31:06 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Not talking about the public or the church (0+ / 0-)

                There's no evidence of general scientific consensus on universal gravitation equal to that of the climate change consensus until after the Cavendish experiment.  What little evidence there is at best shows Newton's work held in high regard due to its role in transforming mathematics from a geometrically driven art to an analytical one.  

    •  Silver was also a (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Kahlow

      popular poster here before he hit it big.

      Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

      by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 10:04:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  but not quite (2+ / 0-)
      He once wrote a piece that I remember quite well. He was writing about how scientific theories supplant other discredited theories, but they do it by inching closer and closer to the truth.
      There are various other views of "science"; let's check out Popper, for example.

      For the purposes of this comment I'll use a Popper-like concept. And let's see where this takes us.

      So we went from a flat earth to a spherical earth to an earth with a bulge around the equator to an earth that~s (very) slightly pear-shaped. But each time we changed the theory we got closer to the actual shape of the earth. No serious scientist would ever advocate going back to a flat-earth model.
      Right here there's a problem. A "flat-earth model" is a perfectly fine scientific model of reality -- if it is falsifiable within its domain of applicability, and if it yields useful predictive results.

      And so it does -- building a house or navigating a city with a printed map can perfectly well be accomplished with such a model.

      Or what about something extremely simple, like ´the sun rises every morning?¡ That-F~s certainly a factual statement, right? Well, maybe not. For two reasons. Reason one is that, if we believe the earth revolves around the sun, astronomers tell us eventually the sun will burn out or explode in a nova.
      "We can observe the sun rise every morning" (leaving aside the question of what "morning" really means, since this seems to be a circular definition), is a very much factual statement. Astronomers models about novae have nothing whatsoever to do with this.
    •  Supplant may not be the right word (3+ / 0-)

      In fact, discredited may be strong as well.  When you think about it, we still use flat earth and geocentric models frequently because we save ourselves a buttload of calculations we'd have to perform using a more accurate one.  We don't accept those models as statements of truth, but life would be a pain in the ass if we had to throw away Galilean relativity and universal gravitation simply because a more comprehensive models have emerged.  

      •  Good point. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rduran, wilderness voice

        I tell my students that they need to use the right model.

        I'm a chemist. There are times when one can predict structure and properties by writing electrons as dots and sticks. And there are times when one needs to use a powerful computer.

        I tell them - don't waste the computer time when a few scribbles on paper will tell you what you need to know. But don't confuse those electrons-as-dots-and-sticks-and-curved-arrows as "truth".

        Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

        by Mike Kahlow on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 08:26:04 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The issue is with approximations (0+ / 0-)

          We use Galileo's model of gravity for calculating periods of pendula (see, I can talk good English ;) because the difference in the gravitational acceleration at different heights is negligible ... we also use the approximation sine(theta) = theta!

          For many orbits we use Newton's Universal Law of gravitation ... because the variation of gravity becomes too large to ignore.

          For GPS, we must use good ol' GR because gravitational time dilation is large enough to matter when dealing with the timing of signals from these satellites.  

          Part of the art of science is having a feel for when 'good enough' is.  

          -- illegitimi non carborundum

          by BadBoyScientist on Tue Mar 11, 2014 at 11:08:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  back to flat earth for ballpark trajectories (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wilderness voice

      you don't need the full up Keplerian orbital mechanics stuff to model a pigskin in flight across a football field.

      For small scale stuff flat earth errors are negligible.

    •  Good news from Silver today (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dbug

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 02:22:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  theories trump laws as well as facts (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    armd

    Which would you rather know:

    Hook's law, Ohm's law, Bernoulli's law, etc.

    -or-

    quantum theory and the theory of general relativity?

    -------------

    The progression of increasing knowledge is essentially:

    facts & old theories => phenomena => laws => new theories

    with continuous revision in light of new facts

    •  Ohm's "law" and Hooke's "Law" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      docmidwest, JMcDonald

      Good point, and well expressed.

      When teaching freshman-level physics I always write quotation marks (and "air quotes" with my fingers) when introducing these two, since they are simply useful approximations to more complicated behavior in most cases... I then discuss the difference between how we view these "laws" vs. something that is better suited to being referred to as a law (eg. First/second/third laws of Thermodynamics), which are better referred to, I suppose, as aspects of the classical theory of thermodynamics, or some such.

      I think discussion of the inconsistency in how scientists end up referring to "laws" vs. "rules" vs. "theory", as well as the difference between a "theory" a "hypothesis" and a  "WAG" (wild-assed guess), is of great value in an intro classroom/lecture. I think BBS has done a fine job (although I agree with many commentators that "phenomenons" would not be my choice - I think many non-science students are willing to accept technical jargon, if it is explained clearly, and kept to a minimum... freshman physics is filled with terms such as work, energy, momentum, which the student must learn to distinguish form the everyday-English versions).

      In areas outside of science, don't get me started on the "Law of Supply and Demand", for which about two minutes thought will allow anyone to come up with exceptions and counter-examples! Too bad most economics textbooks don't seem to mention that this is simply "a (sometimes) useful approximation to more complicated behavior in many cases..."

      •  The problem with Supply and Demand (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JMcDonald

        is that they only work under certain conditions, which Market Fundamentalists refuse to discuss. Basically, economic theory of perfect markets requires perfect information and perfect competition, defined as having no economic actor with extra economic or political power beyond offering better products and services at lower prices. So no tax breaks, no subsidies, no exclusion of competitors, and so on.

        I wish it were true that anybody could come up with exceptions and counter-examples with two minutes' thought. It would have saved us centuries of insanity and catastrophe.

        Such as the situation in which you cannot find out what anybody else's price is. For example, in employment, where companies forbid contract workers and management to tell anybody else what they are paid. Also car sales.

        Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

        by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 05:53:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Religious vs Scientific Beliefs (0+ / 0-)

    Another important distinction is between diferent kinds of beliefs. A belief is knowledge that hasn't been proven. But there are two kinds of beliefs. Scientific belief is knowledge that can be proven, but hasn't, at least to the person with the knowledge. Religious belief is faith, knowledge that cannot be proven. Not by anyone, no matter how smart, no matter how long they try. Nor disproven.

    Religion is all about faith, at least legitimate religion. When making statements on religious grounds about knowledge that could be proven, or disproven, that statement is wrong. Faith is useless in knowing knowledge that can be proven. Except in rorschach projections, or abusing religion for power, or enforcing ignorance.

    Far too many religious people think that their kind of ignorance is equal to scientific beliefs that are derived from facts, logic and reliable knowledge.

    As usual, religion is mainly a word game that misleads people from actual truth.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 10:33:50 PM PST

    •  Christians will tell you that religion is (0+ / 0-)

      all about faith, but they are wrong. Buddhism demands that its followers examine the evidence of which practices work to reduce suffering in the world and within themselves. Not that we are able to get them all to do it, but we at least say so, clearly and distinctly.

      Sola fide (by faith alone) comes from Martin Luther, and was taken up by many other Protestant churches, so it is a mainstay of the Religious Right, which is trying to drown out all other Christians and all other religions. Catholic and Orthodox and other churches follow Jesus in the various places where he tells his followers to do his Father's work and be perfect and help the poor and needy and the like. He put great store in both faith and works, according to the tales we have.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 06:13:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Very nice diary and engaging commentary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nancyjones

    There is wisdom in here to be mined.

  •  Another theory (0+ / 0-)

    I left a Seventh Day Adventist at a loss for words when I said, what if it was Gods plan that we should evolve, so that we would be better connected to all other creatures we share the earth with? She said, "interesting".

  •  Thank You - N/T (0+ / 0-)

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 04:41:23 PM PDT

  •  Thank you guys for all of the useful comments. (0+ / 0-)

    I am working on some popular science writing - and this discussion has been very helpful..  I will apply much of what I have learned here.   Although I will not change my mind on the #1 bugaboo ... my nom de plume is The Bad Boy Scientist, after all, and it simply would not do if a Bad Boy were to speak excessively correctly ;)

    Thanks again!

    -- illegitimi non carborundum

    by BadBoyScientist on Tue Mar 11, 2014 at 11:20:34 AM PDT

  •  My sister just sent me this joke - it is relevant (0+ / 0-)

    A Roman walked into a bar and ordered a 'martinus'

    The Bartender asked "Do you mean a 'martini'?"

    The Roman said, "If I wanted a double, I'd have asked for it!"

    -- illegitimi non carborundum

    by BadBoyScientist on Tue Mar 11, 2014 at 11:35:10 AM PDT

  •  Facts are specific; theories are general (0+ / 0-)

    Facts are specific things which can be checked. Scientific facts, political facts. That the Democrats carried DC by wide margins ever since it has had electoral votes is a fact.

    That Blacks are liberal is a generalization. That doesn't make it false; it merely takes it out of the realm of fact.

    The legal world, which is horrible about "theory," is helpful about "fact."

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site