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About beliefs and "scientific impotence"

post #1 of 150
Thread Starter 

I read an interesting article today, here are some excerpts:

 

Quote:

It's hardly a secret that large segments of the population choose not to accept scientific data because it conflicts with their predefined beliefs: economic, political, religious, or otherwise. But many studies have indicated that these same people aren't happy with viewing themselves as anti-science, which can create a state of cognitive dissonance. That has left psychologists pondering the methods that these people use to rationalize the conflict.
 
A study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology takes a look at one of these methods, which the authors term "scientific impotence"—the decision that science can't actually address the issue at hand properly. It finds evidence that not only supports the scientific impotence model, but suggests that it could be contagious. Once a subject has decided that a given topic is off limits to science, they tend to start applying the same logic to other issues.

 

Quote:

To get at this issue, Munro polled a set of college students about their feelings about homosexuality, and then exposed them to a series of generic scientific abstracts that presented evidence that it was or wasn't a mental illness (a control group read the same abstracts with nonsense terms in place of sexual identities). By chance, these either challenged or confirmed the students' preconceptions. The subjects were then given the chance to state whether they accepted the information in the abstracts and, if not, why not.

Regardless of whether the information presented confirmed or contradicted the students' existing beliefs, all of them came away from the reading with their beliefs strengthened. As expected, a number of the subjects that had their beliefs challenged chose to indicate that the subject was beyond the ability of science to properly examine. This group then showed a weak tendency to extend that same logic to other areas, like scientific data on astrology and herbal remedies.

A second group went through the same initial abstract-reading process, but were then given an issue to research (the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to violent crime), and offered various sources of information on the issue. The group that chose to discount scientific information on the human behavior issue were more likely than their peers to evaluate nonscientific material when it came to making a decision about the death penalty.

 

 

DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00588.x

post #2 of 150

People in science learn not to believe. You can't believe anything in science. All scientists know this.

post #3 of 150
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott_Tarlow View Post

People in science learn not to believe. You can't believe anything in science. All scientists know this.

 

This doesn't make sense to me.

What do you mean by that and how is it connected with that article?

post #4 of 150

Science is sadly not devoid of belief. Since people are the ones doing research and ALL people have their prejudice and whole scientific paradigms can be based on certain ideologies. Case in point: Eugenics which was all the rage from the early 20th century until well into the 1960ies. Eugenics aimed at "improving human genetic qualities" (sorry for the Wikipedia link, but now most people use that for reference). Eugenics is of course most known from nazi-Germany, but it was practiced in all of the west.

 

Is Eugenics science? Another Wikipedia quote (sorry): Science "...is a systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories."

This is an idealized view of science. As it should be. Simply an instrument to try to gain some tangible knowledge about the world around us.

Sadly science in practice can be more or less influenced by certain "dogmas" that scientists more or less are out to confirm. Data which contradicts this are disregarded.

Ideally science is supposed to use empirical research to confirm or falsify theories, and these change according to the results of empirical tests.

 

I am not out to start a big discussion about science, not am I a "belief is all, science is nothing", person. I am just aware that although science ideally is a neutral instrument, no person is neutral. People are run by their subjective perception in all that they do, be it good or bad, and that has to be taken in consideration.

 

Now for some philosophical critique of the concept of science:

 

Philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend holds the opinion that:

Quote:
the idea that science can or should operate according to universal and fixed rules is unrealistic, pernicious and detrimental to science itself. (source Wikipedia of couse, my remark)

 

Psychologist Carl Jung on a contradiction of science:

Quote:
though science attempted to understand all of nature, the experimental method imposed artificial and conditional questions that evoke equally artificial answers. (same source as above, my remark)

 

Sorry again for the Wikipedia links, but if you want to find something fast, it is a good source. These sources seems correct as well to me as I have studied philosophy, the history of ideas and anthropology at the university. So I am familiar with the work of the persons I am quoting.

 

Anyway, I just want to point out that a small amount of skepticism toward science and authority is not a bad thing seeing as how different ideologies have used science to work against their goals.

It should be obligatory for all scientists to study a bit of philosophy and perhaps idea of history so that they become aware that underlying prejudices can influence the research and ultimately the results.

 

This was just a small note. Not the beginning of a long discussion. And it does have nothing to do with sound science as the forum this thread is in is called. Just science and humans in general.

post #5 of 150

I've observed this in people for years, most recently in the Sound Science forum.  Most people, I've found, aren't interested in the truth of anything, as it would require too much self-examination, threatening their built-up personas. 

post #6 of 150

The rise of pseudoscience and our willingness to believe in all sorts of mumbo jumbo is well documented.

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=pseudoscience&x=16&y=16

 

post #7 of 150
Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post

I've observed this in people for years, most recently in the Sound Science forum.  Most people, I've found, aren't interested in the truth of anything, as it would require too much self-examination, threatening their built-up personas. 


What is "truth"? A difficult word to define indeed!

post #8 of 150
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post

Most people, I've found, aren't interested in the truth of anything, as it would require too much self-examination, threatening their built-up personas. 


Actually this is the thing I primarily intended to talk about here and imo fits well here, Danneq. This is not some science bashing thread, heh.

 

 

What I find the most interesting is that: "Regardless of whether the information presented confirmed or contradicted the students' existing beliefs, all of them came away from the reading with their beliefs strengthened."


Edited by xnor - 5/28/10 at 6:24am
post #9 of 150
Quote:
Originally Posted by Danneq View Post

What is "truth"? A difficult word to define indeed!


Reality 

post #10 of 150
Quote:
Originally Posted by Head Injury View Post


Reality 


Okay, then explain what is "reality"?

post #11 of 150
Quote:
Originally Posted by Danneq View Post

Okay, then explain what is "reality"?


What has currently been measured, to the best of our ability.

post #12 of 150

Why would anyone bash science? Just some of the prejudices that those who work within science might have.

I have never looked badly on science as it is basically just an instrument*. Nothing more, nothing less. However, ALL people have their basic beliefs and prejudices.

 

Already people in this thread have started using absolute words like "truth" and "reality" without bothering to define them. Do words have an absolute meaning? I though this was only the case in religion...

 

*Edit: To clarify, when I write "instrument", I am hinting at the scientific method, and also to science at a whole in trying to understand the world around us.


Edited by Danneq - 5/28/10 at 7:27am
post #13 of 150


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Head Injury View Post


What has currently been measured, to the best of our ability.


But is this "reality" as an entity separate from our mind, or is it something that is formed in our mind? The results and what they imply might be agreed upon by many, but it is difficult for me to see a real connection between the results of measurements and the theories that are formed. Well, in this many real philosophers might disagree. But I am more in the Ludwig Wittgenstein school of thought (more the "early Wittgenstein" than the "late Wittgenstein").

 

Anyway, true theories (now I use an "absolute" word as "true") should be falsifiable, i.e. in controlled tests they should be able to be tested to be "true" or "false". In this context "true" and "false" basically has got a simple binary meaning.

If the measurements contradict the theories, the theories have to be changed in accordance to the results.

 

My basic underlying point in ALL my discussions is that ALL people are prejudiced and have their beliefs. The trick is to be aware of your prejudices and try to not let them control you.


Edited by Danneq - 5/28/10 at 7:17am
post #14 of 150

Eugenics is a science, and does have results, ie. primitive Tongans' sexual selection for height. But I distrust modern people's ability to practice it intelligently, they'll probably just cripple humanity the same way they've crippled many modern livestock, and probably give them the same behavioral traits heh heh. Knowledge is a dangerous tool like fire, and the problem is some people think it's right to set things on fire or sterilize people for very wrong reasons. It's not fire's fault, and it's not science's fault, it's people's fault, and it's people's fault again for not trying to stop the misuse, even more so when they claim to speak for "science".

post #15 of 150

So long as actual science remains dominant in areas such as medicine we should be OK in the future. Medicine is one area where psudeoscience is followed by many people. From faith healers to dietitians to homeopathic medicines to acupuncture, there are many who get bogus qualifications and behave in a manner which suggests there is evidence beyond placebo and feel good, welfare, caring factors to justify their 'cures'. At least most of the time they do little harm and many do feel better from the attention they get.

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