Talk:Scientific method/Archive 9

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Proposal for the impasse

While preparing my submittal for the scientific enterprise, and reading Baconian method, natural philosophy,scientific revolution, history of science and technology, science, history of physics, Benjamin Franklin, etc., I was struck by some clear statements which suggested a way out of the impasse: The banner has rested on the article for months; therefore there must be some missing piece which is causing the impasse - and I hypothesize that a missing piece is the role of the scientists themselves; you have to have the right people (their persona, etc.) who are playing by rules of the scientific method, before you get science.

What I mean is just as it takes a mathematician to understand a mathematical proof (of Fermat's Last Theorem, for example); similarly, it takes a scientist to understand the issues (of some scientific enterprise, for example).

Now I admit, that if a scientist takes the time to explain the issues to a layman, then others can understand the issues. But the point is that it takes a working scientist, reading some account of an advance in a scientific topic in his/her field, to read the claims, to think of a crucial experiment which will either corroborate the claims or disprove them, perform the work, and publish it. Michael Faraday spoke of the aura of understanding that surrounds a scientific experiment as the scientist is performing it; the issues "G" which are completely glossed over during the retrospective publication are lost, until someone publishes an account of "G".

The missing critical mass of scientists/method would explain why science did not arise in China, for example; it is undeniable that scientific advance occurred in China before European Renaissance; but where was their Royal Society and their Cambridge University and their Isaac Newton? Newton was the linchpin of the entire scientific revolution. Therefore even if China wished to advance scientifically, China would have to nurture its Isaac Newtons up to critical mass, just to keep up.

Another possible explanation for the impasse is that there are too many pieces in the article, and that some pieces need to be removed, in order to clear the banner. Ancheta Wis 10:26, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)

(William M. Connolley 12:35, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)) The current article is essentially philosphical and represents philosphical POV not a scientific one. Thats my main objection to it (nb: the POV header "owner" is ww, I think, not me - perhaps you should have left in the bit where he explains why it is there), or perhaps why I feel it is inadequate, and what I hope sci enterp might fill. But I'm not going to try to originate sci ent in the near future: good luck to you if you have a go. I also agree that there is too much in the current article.
copied from Archive 8 in response to WMC comment above
AC, To the extent that I'm responsible for the notice (it's hard to remember just who put it back the last time), this is not so. I belive this article is NPOV because it overly stresses one philosophical account of scientific method (ie, a post modern one, more or less) at the expense of at least one other. Nothing whatsoever about an secular v non secular root. Unless you feel that objecting to elision of one account of scientific method betrays a religious bias. Nothing there I recognize as religious, nothing in my motivation that's religious, .... I think this is a fox that's going to get entirely away. ww 16:09, 19 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Ancheta Wis 02:19, 20 Jun 2004 (UTC) Thank you for identifying the motivation for the NPOV banner. What items should be added to make the article more balanced for you. Perhaps we can all cooperate to add them in, or to note where other views than post-modern ought to be added, such as a note in italics?

AW, (sorry about the AC abbrev used prior, it was one of those right in front of one's eyes things that got missed.) I have several times attempted to add material to reduce the one sidedness I see. In general these attempts have been reverted on grounds of 'inadequate authority'. This has mostly seemed to me to be both inappropriate scholasticism and unevenly applied as regards to other sides in this taffy pull.

This appears disingenuous. Please, add whatever content you wish, but expect it to be critically assessed. You have never shirked an argument before, which has led to much interesting discussion and even some improvement in the content.Banno

Does this answer your question? ww 15:24, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)

My thanks to TonyClarke for his work on the scientific enterprise article. Ancheta Wis 01:08, 30 Jun 2004 (UTC) It has more on the iterative and recursive nature of the concepts and processes in science, as well as the nature of risk, the factors of publication and funding, ethical issues and the historical relationship of Science to the State.

Intuitionistic logic

Intuitionistic logic may be another path out of the impasse, in which Mathematics is used not for ontological purposes, but merely mechanical construction: a very concrete point of view and somewhat anti-ontological. Ancheta Wis 22:09, 1 Jul 2004 (UTC)

It seems the role of risk may be a sticking point from the point of view of academia as well. Ancheta Wis 22:09, 1 Jul 2004 (UTC)


In the citation above, ww says that I believe this article is NPOV because it overly stresses one philosophical account of scientific method (ie, a post modern one, more or less) at the expense of at least one other. Banno 06:39, Jul 2, 2004 (UTC)

Firstly, none of the authors cited in the article are considered to be 'post modern'. Their arguments have been purloined by various thinkers, including certain French intellectuals and American literary critics. In much the same way they have borrowed from topology, quantum mechanics, set theory, and so on - an extensive list of intellectual pursuits, and used it to bolster peculiar antirealist and social constructivist notions. Their use of notions of topology does not make topology a part of some postmodernist conspiracy; nor does their use of their ideas make Feyerabend, Kuhn or Popper post-modern. Banno 06:39, Jul 2, 2004 (UTC)

Secondly, what is the other account of the scientific method that is not presented? As I’ve asked before, please present it, and remove the banner. Banno 06:39, Jul 2, 2004 (UTC)

Banno, I have embedded short discussions in
scientific enterprise#A scientific enterprise does science and
scientific enterprise#One iteration of the scientific method Ancheta Wis 21:33, 2 Jul 2004 (UTC)
These discussions of scientific method are as simple and as precise as I know how to make them, without over-simplifying some crucial points.

The method in the article cited does not appear to differ in any significant way from the one in this article. Banno 22:50, Jul 2, 2004 (UTC)

That lack of difference is a good thing. The way that science progresses is not by an unending cycle of point counterpoint, but from general agreement about the main points. Then researchers can build on each other's work as a foundation, instead of tearing down what the other has built. Ancheta Wis 23:52, 2 Jul 2004 (UTC)

I’ve asked what the other account of the scientific method is, and you point me to an identical account. I don’t understand why. You appear to be talking about something else… Banno 00:49, Jul 3, 2004 (UTC)

My two recent edits are intended to implicitly deny that the argument here is supportive of the postmodernist views that (1) reality is socially constructed and that (2) all theories are of equal value. Banno 08:03, Jul 2, 2004 (UTC)

I reverted the addition of "Some scientists believe that the essential elements of the scientific method are conventionally described as follows:". It was not an improvement. Saying conventionally described already provides all the qualification needed to make the statement factual, and the additional weasel-language just makes the writing less effective. Furthermore, I would submit that not only some scientists, but also some non-scientists, describe the elements of the scientific method this way. --Michael Snow 18:18, 2 Jul 2004 (UTC)
No explanation is needed to revert trolling. Thanks. Banno 00:49, Jul 3, 2004 (UTC)

proposed article without the banner

Here is a proposed version of the article without the banner. Any objections? Ancheta Wis 06:34, 3 Jul 2004 (UTC)

The following content is 31KB long: so I removed it... (Banno)

Ancheta, that is way to long to post in the discussion. It is also difficult to locate the changes you have made. Just post your new version into the main article, so we can compare it with the old. Then we will be able to see what you have done. By the way, I applaud your efforts. Banno 08:21, Jul 3, 2004 (UTC)

Regarding scientific method#Definition - a nexus of Observation, Perception, Thought, Cognition - Banno, it appears we have a philosophical difference here: the word definition has a connotation of human action, an active shaping of the world, rather than the connotation of perception which is the base for an observation. We need a word that encapsulates definition, perception, observation Without the empiricism which is immanent in the word observation, we lose the link to experiment. With logic only, we stay in the world of man and not in the bigger world of nature. Ancheta Wis 10:09, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC) What about a compromise for the name of the first step of the scientific method: Observation / Definition

An interesting perspective. I hadn’t supposed that definition had a connotation of not taking observation into account. I was thinking in terms of information literacy. When we define something we don’t change the world, but we do change the way in which we see the world. Certainly observation is not a passive act. Banno 00:28, Jul 10, 2004 (UTC)
I have difficulty in seeing why observation could be thought to have primacy at this stage of the process – although I don’t deny that it is a part of the defining stage, it is not the whole of the process. A scientist looking for a new research subject is going to spend time reading journals rather than making random observations. And when she makes some observations, she will be guided by her previous reading. Banno 00:28, Jul 10, 2004 (UTC)
My suspicion is that there is an assumption of foundationalism here, perhaps resulting from listening to aphorisms such as 'the scientific method begins with observation'. It doesn’t, nor is foundationalism necessary to the successful implementation of the method. Banno 00:28, Jul 10, 2004 (UTC)
Would a good name be: '_Recognition_ of the problem'? That seems like a term that covers 'observation' and 'definition'. TonyClarke 10:29, 9 Jul 2004 (UTC)
Recognition is OK, but perhaps characterisation (which is already in the article) would be better.Banno 00:28, Jul 10, 2004 (UTC)
The classic examples of the primacy of observation stem from the scientific revolution: a bored Galileo in the cathedral, watching the motion of a chandelier; he timed the period of this harmonic oscillator, using his pulse, and found the period to be constant, thus discovering a fundamental fact about its motion.
2nd classic example: Galileo discovering the features of the moon, by looking through his telescope, thus discovering that this celestial body had defects; this got him into hot water with the Aristotelians who had political power at that time: the church.
Now I admit that if characterization were the umbrella term for recognition, realization, perception, conception, cognition, imagination, definition ... then Galileo's observations certainly would fit into characterization. Ancheta Wis 02:57, 10 Jul 2004 (UTC) Thus if characterization were the definition for the collection of the above terms, then that would be a great name for the first step.

I revived a comment from archive 8 which amplifies on the differences between historians and scientists: Induction is for the present looking at the future (and the unknown); deduction is for the present looking at the past; I suppose that hypothetico-deduction is for the future (and the unknown) looking at the present Ancheta Wis 11:09, 3 Jul 2004 (UTC) That may be one reason for the success of the scientific method: researchers like Albert Einstein, determined to disprove theories like quantum mechanics, invent scenarios which then become the science and technology of the future, even if their own personal viewpoints get submerged by the work of future researchers.

One entertaining application of this is John Archibald Wheeler's Law without Law, which proposes an experiment in which the present influences events in history, even billions of years in the past. Ancheta Wis 14:25, 3 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Commencing with observation is the exception, not the rule. It would be misleading to say that all applications of the method commence with observation. The telescope example is interesting, since it is used as a prime example of the way in which observation is dependent on theory. Banno
The difficulty with a position observation is dependent on theory is political - an agency with political power (such as a chieftain) could then construct a theory which ignores some crucial fact (by this I mean observation), without which the self-corrective process cannot occur. The perfect example is the discovery that the Chinese language is tonal, and the illustration to the emperor was 5 identical words said in 5 tones. Suppose the emperor had previously theorized that the Chinese language is atonal, and had prescribed punishment for disbelievers; then the discoverer would have been punished for uttering 5 identical words said in 5 tones, just like Galileo (for his observations and his exhortation to look thru the telescope at the moon) or Giordano Bruno (who was burned alive for his theory about the heavens).
Historically, astronomy was the first science; it began with observations of regularities - the recognition that the sun rose at at a specific part of the horizon, year after year. When these early astronomers kept their tally of the days, The first astronomers did not have telescopes. Their observatories were circular, like Stonehenge, to prove that the sun rose year after year from the same location on the horizon. These concrete observations were not theoretical; they embodied eons of tallies, just to establish the period of the solar year.
After the period of the solar year was approximated (probably 360 days, by men of Ur in what is now Iraq) the definition of the year could then be established (probably in multiples of 6 and 10 - they had a base-60 number system). Logically, then, definition of the 360-day year would have had to come after tally of observations. Then these astronomers would have had to deal the corrections - 365 days per year - 365.25 days per year - etc. I am not making this up. It's in the references. (It is amazing to me that all these words are here merely to justify the name of one step in the scientific method) At least one of the references at the foot of this article indeed lists observation as the first step. If we were talking about the problem-solving process, then I would not be so adamant, because that would be a different article; but scientific method is intimately tied with scientific revolution, historically. Here I will make an assertion: scientific method is a type of problem-solving process, but obviously not the only one, and not even the first. Heuristics must have had many methods before scientific method arose. Just look at the many types of legal trials - trial by tribunal, trial by flotation, trial by divination, trial by jury, etc. And look at how humane the concept of trial is; a chieftain could have simply decreed that a man be executed without trial. Then compare to scientific method, where trial by experiment is the test of theory (by this I mean hypothesis).

Ancheta Wis 12:04, 10 Jul 2004 (UTC) Just to compare and contrast:

Process Column O Column D
1. Setting the stage Observation, e.g., record that the sun rises at position X at day T of the year Definition - define the beginning of the year to be the Vernal equinox
2. Theory Hypothesis about an observation (the sun will again rise at position X on day T) Hypothesis about a definition (Vernal equinox does / does not ...)
3. Deduction - more theory, stemming from the hypothesis Prediction - the error in X and T will be ... Prediction - Vernal equinox will occur again
4. Experiment - observation for corroboration Experimental result (the error is ... ) Experimental result (Vernal equinox occurred again)

Note how column O emphasizes result, or error. Note how column D emphasizes concept. Eventually column O's error decreases, with greater and greater precision and accuracy of the observations in steps 1 and 4, a distinct form of progress, with each iteration. But column D will simply reify the concept. The best that column D can come up with is tautology, which is empty of content, after the process. Or, more likely, a cycle of assertions would occur. Historically, it is obvious that a method following column D must have evolved before column O, but I submit that column O is one iteration of the scientific method. What is the difference? Column O is of the form OTTO: observation, theory, theory, observation; whereas column D is of the form TTTO: theory, theory, theory, observation.

Again, if we were discussing the problem-solving process, then my argument would be different. Right now, the fuzziness of the link between steps 1 and 2 cries out for more investigation. But that would be another article.


The philosophy section was first written as a counterpoint to the section on the idealise scientific method . Ancheta’s removing that section meant that the philosophy section could be re-written to be less aggressive. Banno 01:24, Jul 10, 2004 (UTC)

Some material has been removed from the experiment and hypothesis sections, since it was either repetitive or was dealt with better in the main articles on each. I’ve kept evaluation and iteration together; Each step of the process can be evaluated at any time, and the result would be a re-iteration, so they are almost inseparable. The philosophy section has been re-worked to reflect the independence of a few of the ideas presented. Banno 01:24, Jul 10, 2004 (UTC)

I would characterise the discussions that have occurred on this page as a clash between those who came here expecting to see an explanation of the practice of science, and those who come here expecting to see an explanation of the logic of science. Typically the former are science students or practicing scientists, and the later are from a philosophical or social studies background.Banno 01:24, Jul 10, 2004 (UTC)

The criticisms of logical positivism and empiricism are damming. Very few professional philosophers would advocate either position. Yet other circles naively accepted that philosophically defunct foundation, often on the mistaken supposition that the only alternative is scepticism or the hocus-pocus of post structuralism. The alternative is to admit that science is a social activity, but to point out that it works. The arguments that support a scientific theory are not found in philosophy, or in some all-powerful methodology, but in the detail of each of the sciences themselves. Science does not need an all powerful method in order to justify itself. It is justified whenever someone turns on a computer or takes a pill. Banno 01:24, Jul 10, 2004 (UTC)

The scientific method is self-correcting; that is the secret of its power, in the same sense as feedback in process control, which works by eliminating error.Ancheta Wis 03:33, 10 Jul 2004 (UTC)


Congratulations to all! I can live with this article now. The first step scientific method#Characterization now has a wonderful connotation: the character of the researcher. By working on a subject, the researcher infuses the statement of the subject with his/her spirit (This concept is due to a comment I once heard from Andrew Joseph Galambos). Thus a careful characterization of gravitation forbade Isaac Newton from hypothesizing about the nature of gravitation; a direct statement of what not why, because he honestly could go no further, and he "left the rest for others who were to come after him". Due to the precision and honesty of his wonderful mind, we enjoy his work today in the workings of our civilization. Ancheta Wis 14:26, 10 Jul 2004 (UTC)