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Philosophy of Science

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The Philosophy of Science


The road to modern scientific philosophy is rocky and torturous, from the tribal shaman of prehistory to the present day research scientist. It's not without its dead ends and byways, and even a few alternate routes. It is an attempt to codify a way of thinking, a way of seeing the world, that goes as far as it can to eliminating subjectivity and personal bias while encouraging the development of knowledge.
But how important is this Philosophy? Is it 'just another religion', as others would assert? Is it the key to a deterministic understanding of reality? Well, it's probably neither. The opponents of the current, more-or-less prevailing Philosophy of Science (not to be confused with what other Philosophies say about science) would have you believe the former, while many of its proponents would have you believe the latter. Both indicate that the opponent/proponent in question has not apprehended the Philosophy of Science, and is more interested in 'winning the debate' than 'discerning accurate information'.
Regardless, there is a reason that the highest scientific degree one may obtain is "Doctor of Philosophy".

Is Science a Religion?

This is a heavily loaded question. Many would like for you to answer in the affirmative, and many reasonable people do so. They would have you believe that it's just another process that scientists 'take on faith'. There are, however, several salient objections to this viewpoint.
  1. The dictionary definition of 'religion' specifies supernatural powers, worship, etc; all are specifically related to a "theism". One might certainly make science a religion; but as such, it would cease to be science in anything but name. Some consider this a purely semantic argument.
  2. Religions are based almost entirely on faith, in the sense of 'Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence'; The Philosophy of Science is the antithesis of faith.
  3. Many scientist and philosophers acknowledge that all knowledge is based on a few axiomatic assumptions; the philosophy of science is to reduce that number to the absolute minimum necessary to produce useful knowledge. Theism adds to that number unneccessarily. This is not to say that a scientist may not be a theist of one sort or another; instead, it's to note that the Philosophy of Science and the Scientific Method operate independently of that belief.
  4. Religion tends to produce absolute answers. Science produces only probabilistic knowledge, and the Philosophy of Science acknowledges that any Theory may be falsified at some point in the future; that the current explanations are simply and only the best current explanation.
There are those who teach science as though it were religion. They are not a part of the Philosophy of Science, but some oddball offspring that might in fact be considered a religion of sorts, with faith and dogma.

Scientific Knowledge

Attempting to address the concept of "Scientific Knowledge" in a wiki article of this brevity is hubris most bold. However, certain summations can be made. The body of Scientific Knowledge consists of a collection of information that seems to correspond with observable and experimental data. This collection of data is a long series of probabilistic assertions. The Philosophy of Science dictates that all Scientific Knowledge is subject to observation and experimental verification, and as such, can be changed at any time by new information from experiments or observation.
It's possible (in fact, almost certain) that there may be knowledge that is in fact true, but not subject to the Scientific Method. Any assertions that are not subject to testing, fasifiability, and repeatability must remain outside the purview of the Scientific Method and the philosophy of science, and remain in the domain of Faith.

Separating 'real' Science from "psuedoscience"

There is a lot of information available from many sources that claims to be "scientific knowledge" produced by "scientific inquiry", but in fact is either not scientific (unfalsifiable) or blatant hogwash; normally it can be spotted by the fact that it entertains no uncertainty in its process. These sources of information will claim to have 'incontrovertible evidence' ( another word for unfalsifiable ) or will base their claims on objections to another's hypothesis. They will use many 'scientific' words, and describe experiments and observations that all (conveniently) support their agenda. The one thing they will not do is consider the possibility that new data could falsify their claims. This is central to 'real' science.
The first step in separating the two is to ask the proponent of the hypothesis in question what the parameters for falsification of their hypothesis are. What evidence they would require to accept that their hypothesis is, in fact, false. This is a good general question whenever you're researching an hypothesis; it will help grasp the mindset of the researcher. But reason must be applied to the answer. For instance, if one presents the hypothesis that "all frogs are green", and the circumstances of falsification are something like "The King of the Frogs must show up in my lab and tell me that he has Magenta Frogs at home in his harem" rather than the more prosaic, but much more scientific and logical answer "I must find a frog that is verifiably a frog and verifiably not green", run away.
Another good tactic is to analyze the claims made and the hypothesis for consistency and logic, along with the experiments and observations. It's possible that one might make an accurate claim based on a false hypothesis and then draw incorrect conclusions based on it. This is actually a fairly common technique, and is more often a failure of logic or intent (ie, dishonesty) than a mistake in process. I might, for instance, claim that the earth's rotation caused gravity, and build experiments that appeared to support it (were I careful enough), and then make the assertion that, were the earth's rotation to stop, electricity would cease to function. This fails several factual and logical steps in our analysis.
Follow the money. Money is a powerful motivator in our world. One must become careful not to allow this to become an ad hominem attack; no matter who pays for it, 'good science' ( considered herein to be science that follows the Philosophy of Science and some rational formulation of the Scientific Method ) the results must be considered; however, when one discovers that the chief researcher for an Atomic Energy company has verified experimentally that human beings can drink plutonium contaminated water safely, it's wise and well considered to pay extremely careful attention to every facet of the supporting evidence.

This field is about overall questions of science, including such questions as:

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