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How to Think About Weird Things 6: Science and Its Pretenders

05/19/2013

By far the most useful chapter in the book as far as actually evaluation claims goes. It’s a very useful overview of the scientific method, and what makes it better than less reliable methods of investigation.

One section I’m definitely mulling over, which is the one on scientific methodology. The authors claim that data collection in the absence of a hypothesis is of little or no scientific value, because it is the only way to give people a guide to where to start, and how to catalog the data. Hypotheses, according to the authors, focuses our investigation into fruitful areas. Is this true? If humans landed on an alien planet, there are definitely hypotheses worth investigating, like whether there is a source of water, whether there is life, etc. But couldn’t scientists simply go out and look around, taking pictures of the landscape, and based on what they see creating hypotheses later? Maybe this would be too preliminary to be science, or maybe there are hypotheses one could reasonable test even at this level, like whether there are mountains or not, whether there is life, etc.  I feel like someone has a good counterexample somewhere.

The Criteria of Adequacy are the best part of the book, and they are similar to Dawes’ views in Theism and Explanation. Testability, fruitfulness, scope, simplicity, and conservativism all come into play when evaluating explanations, which is what the authors consider different hypotheses to be. If the hypothesis explains the data best, then it is considered to be the most likely to be correct. These criteria are useful in looking at pretty much any controversial scientific or philosophical explanation. I think Dawes shows one of the best applications, which is to theism, which tends to fail on nearly all the criteria. Of course the traditional pseudoscientific ideas also fail on most accounts as well.

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