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Rev

I'm a Scientist, and I Don't Believe in Facts

27 posts in this topic

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/im-a-scientist-and-i-dont-believe-in-facts/

 

They say that we have found ourselves in a world lost to emotion, irrationality, and a weakening grasp on reality. That lies don’t faze us, and knowledge doesn’t impress us. That we are post-truth, post-fact. But, is this actually a bad thing?
I’m a factual relativist. I abandoned the idea of facts and “the truth” some time last year. I wrote a whole science book, The Memory Illusion, almost never mentioning the terms fact and truth. Why? Because much like Santa Claus and unicorns, facts don’t actually exist. At least not in the way we commonly think of them.


We think of a fact as an irrefutable truth. According to the Oxford dictionary, a fact is “a thing that is known or proved to be true.” And where does proof come from? Science?


Well, let me tell you a secret about science; scientists don’t prove anything. What we do is collect evidence that supports or does not support our predictions. Sometimes we do things over and over again, in meaningfully different ways, and we get the same results, and then we call these findings facts. And, when we have lots and lots of replications and variations that all say the same thing, then we talk about theories or laws. Like evolution. Or gravity. But at no point have we proved anything.

..... Continued in the link

 

There's an epistemological claim and a pragmatic, semantic claim bunched in here and I'm indifferent to the latter but totally opposed to the former. 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Rev said:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/im-a-scientist-and-i-dont-believe-in-facts/

 

 

 

 

There's an epistemological claim and a pragmatic, semantic claim bunched in here and I'm indifferent to the latter but totally opposed to the former. 

 

 

 

 

I think I am reading your opinion right, but to put it into more laymans terms...."There are no facts" means a fuck ton of difference when someone is just making shit up in a news story as opposed to scientists saying, "Yeah, we can't be sure that the universe wasn't created 2 seconds ago with the illusion of extreme age meticulously inserted throughout".

 

And when one considers the "sides" of these arguments, conflating the two is mind bogglingly stupid. Seemingly laying cover for a fundamental Christian to say that Pizzagate is just as true as evolution because maybe the Devil just buried those bones to trick people into believing in transitional fossils!

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Eh, I get it but much of this is just word play. We could say axioms if its preferable? The quest for knowledge is potentially endless and likely something that can be improved for eternity, but there is a difference between pulling shit out of your ass and carefully studying some system, element, or entity to better predict is function or value to our species. The post truth. post fact issue is that people are just pulling shit directly from their ass and making it a platform for reality. That is likely to causes some damn bad results! My sky guy says I can do all of these things because I don't do those things = I'm basically untouchable and don't need to question my impact on society cause I'm cool with Jesus! 

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Yeah, here are a few of my responses to her (more in the thread along with her responses):

 

 

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Ftr, she does pretty good work outside of this so I don't want to come down on her too hard for this piece.

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1 minute ago, Rev said:

Ftr, she does pretty good work outside of this so I don't want to come down on her too hard for this piece.

 

 

I don't know who she is, but a lot of scientists unfamiliar with the skeptical movement have been known to do damage to "the cause".

 

For example, poor, naive evolutionary biologists who show up to campus debates with a creationist expecting the other side to care about things like intellectual honesty and *chuckle* productive discourse.

 

 

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Every generation, Someone amongst  the scientific community must make science more approachable for the masses, which is what I think this is an attempt to do. That said, click bait titles don't help, and this WRITER/Scientist had err in favor of attention over caution and thoughtfulness.  

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Just now, Chairslinger said:

 

 

I don't know who she is, but a lot of scientists unfamiliar with the skeptical movement have been known to do damage to "the cause".

 

For example, poor, naive evolutionary biologists who show up to campus debates with a creationist expecting the other side to care about things like intellectual honesty and *chuckle* productive discourse.

 

 

Yeah, I don't even know if she's consciously targeting the skeptical movement. My guess is she knows very little about it but I expect she'll be bombarded with criticism for this piece as it is. She was really respectful to me in her responses though.

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At the beginning she praises the scientific method but then uses the following as a counterpoint:

 

You need just to look back through history to see the different iterations of facts to make this insight seem obvious. Aristotle thought that the heart was the home of intelligence, and believed that the brain was a cooling mechanism for it. Of course now this seems ridiculous, but give it time and I’m sure some of our facts today will seem equally misinformed.

 

Because Aristotle used the scientific method to arrive at this, obviously. She fucking kidding with that BS?

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I think she's just a bit out of her depth philosophically here. Realizing that we may be wrong about everything and that we can't reasonably be 100% certain about any proposition is only the first step and there's been a ton of work done past that observation. She should have made this an entirely semantic argument (e.g. "Don't use the term "fact" to describe propositions as 100% incontrovertible because they aren't and it makes you look closed-minded") or something. I still would be, at best, indifferent to her argument but it'd be sound.

 

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3 minutes ago, Rev said:

I think she's just a bit out of her depth philosophically here. Realizing that we may be wrong about everything and that we can't reasonably be 100% certain about any proposition is only the first step and there's been a ton of work done past that observation. She should have made this an entirely semantic argument (e.g. "Don't use the term "fact" to describe propositions as 100% incontrovertible because they aren't and it makes you look closed-minded") or something. I still would be, at best, indifferent to her argument but it'd be sound.

 

Exactly the point Rev! You've hit the nail on its oh so sore head! I suspect there were alterior motives though as this reads like the part of a debate class where you have to flip the argument and debate all the points you just made simply to show you can! Do not like... 

 

Edit: do I seem cranky? I feel slightly more cranky then usual today! :P

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3 minutes ago, Mr.Vic20 said:

Exactly the point Rev! You've hit the nail on its oh so sore head! I suspect there were alterior motives though as this reads like the part of a debate class where you have to flip the argument and debate all the points you just made simply to show you can! Do not like... 

Yeah, there might be. Her primary work is in memory and seems pretty solid. I don't know if she's religious or anything like that. 

3 minutes ago, Mr.Vic20 said:

Edit: do I seem cranky? I feel slightly more cranky then usual today! :P

Lol, no, not to me .

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2 minutes ago, markot said:

Pointless philosophising about the nature of truth for 100 Alex.

 

 

Answer:  D1P poster, known as the "Slav" consistently posts irrelevant, unintelligible assertions based on his lack of understanding mathematical formulas.

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I'm not going to say much different than others here, but I'll throw it out there anyway.

 

She's not wrong that we can't ever really claim to have the truth on basically anything, but that seems to be beyond the point. I'm an epistemic skeptic, but I still use the word "know" a lot in discourse. It's okay for words to be a bit more fuzzy so that we can more succinctly convey the general idea. When people say "post-fact" they're referring to the idea that people either don't care or don't know how to find good information. Instead, they're drawn to emotional descriptions that they want to be true, and then assert them as on the same level as actual useful information. The line of thinking they are objecting to is a line of thinking that is as antithetical to scientific thinking as you can get. As an advocate of science, that should bother her greatly as well.

 

 

I could also take contention with the term "factual relativist" but I think that would be a similar mistake of missing the problem that she's making :P 

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Gonna respond to the whole thing here :

 

Quote

 

They say that we have found ourselves in a world lost to emotion, irrationality, and a weakening grasp on reality. That lies don’t faze us, and knowledge doesn’t impress us. That we are post-truth, post-fact. But, is this actually a bad thing?


I’m a factual relativist. I abandoned the idea of facts and “the truth” some time last year. I wrote a whole science book, The Memory Illusion, almost never mentioning the terms fact and truth. Why? Because much like Santa Claus and unicorns, facts don’t actually exist. At least not in the way we commonly think of them.


We think of a fact as an irrefutable truth. According to the Oxford dictionary, a fact is “a thing that is known or proved to be true.” And where does proof come from? Science?

 

 

I covered this in my tweet but I think this is conflating three questions:

1. Does truth exist?

 

2. Is truth attainable in practice?

 

3. If it is attainable, will we ever be able to 'know' that we've successfully attained it?

 

I doubt she'd say no to 1 after reading these questions in order, but she heavily implies that it doesn't in the article. It's important to distinguish these different ways of talking about epistemology because there are many people who will use her argument to support crazy propositions.

 

Quote

 

Well, let me tell you a secret about science; scientists don’t prove anything. What we do is collect evidence that supports or does not support our predictions. Sometimes we do things over and over again, in meaningfully different ways, and we get the same results, and then we call these findings facts. And, when we have lots and lots of replications and variations that all say the same thing, then we talk about theories or laws. Like evolution. Or gravity. But at no point have we proved anything.
 

 

But we've increased the probability of them objectively. Knowledge may be unattainable but there are *objectively* better and worse approximations of it and when approximations of it are incredibly good, we call those facts. They're "almost surely" true or at least very close to that.

 

 

Quote

 

Don’t get me wrong. The scientific method is totally awesome. It is unparalleled in its ability to get answers that can help us extend life, optimize output, and understand our own brains.

 


Scientists slowly break down the illusions created by our biased human perception, revealing what the universe actually looks like. In an incremental progress, each study adds a tiny bit of insight to our understanding.
But while the magic of science should make our eyes twinkle with excitement, we can still argue that the findings from every scientific experiment ever conducted are wrong, almost by necessity. They are just a bit more right (hopefully) than preceding studies.


That’s the beauty of science. It’s inherently self-critical and self-correcting. The status quo is never good enough. Scientists want to know more, always. And, lucky for them, there is always more to know.
You need just to look back through history to see the different iterations of facts to make this insight seem obvious.

 

 

This is all great up to here imo.

 

Quote

 

Aristotle thought that the heart was the home of intelligence, and believed that the brain was a cooling mechanism for it. Of course now this seems ridiculous, but give it time and I’m sure some of our facts today will seem equally misinformed.

 

 

This seems like a clear mistake. Aristotle didn't use the scientific method to tease out these 'facts.' They're just beliefs or hypotheses. It seems like a pretty clear false equivalency to say these propositions are anything like what scientific consensus considers facts in 2016.

 

Quote

 

Our understanding can always be improved upon. Even if it is wrong, it doesn’t make a preceding insight bad, it is often the necessary intermediary step to get our insight to where it is today.

 


So, it’s ok that society is post-fact. Facts are so last century.

 

 

Semantics are arbitrary, and I'm mostly indifferent to the semantics here, but if we take away the term "fact" for describing almost surely true propositions, what will we replace it with? Will we just no longer have a name for these propositions or will we allow fact to be simultaneously applied to them along with all other beliefs people think are absolutely true? Insofar as this is a semantic argument, these are a couple of the questions we need answers to imo.

 

Quote

 

But let’s make it our job as a society to encourage each other to find replicable and falsifiable evidence to support our views, and to logically argue our positions. In the process, please stop saying “because, science” to justify your argument, and using “FACT” as a preface to your statements. These are just the grown-up versions of “because I said so.” We need to remind each other to stay on our toes and to actually backup our claims.

 

 

There seems to be another false equivalency here too. Quoting scientific consensus and calling it a fact isn't like saying "because I said so." If a proposition makes it far enough in scientific consensus to be considered a fact in 2016, that is an extremely significant observation in support of its probability. Much more significant than "because I said so." Again, I think her intentions are good, but this line of argumentation can be consistently used to support absurd propositions too.

 

Quote

 

Knowledge is like Schrödinger’s cat. Simultaneously reality and delusion. Truth and lie. The role of scientists is to slowly break into the box, listen to it, study it, so maybe, one day, we’ll find out whether our insights are dead or alive.

 

I like the poetic license here but I worry this seems to suggest that until that fated day we find out whether our insights are dead or alive, all of our insights have the same validity or probability. They don't. Most of our insights are based on myopic intuition and shouldn't be on or anywhere near the same footing as scientific consensus.

 

edit: changed a couple modifiers.

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The blowback must be pretty universal. She tweeted she's taking a week break from Twitter. :/

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11 minutes ago, Rev said:

The blowback must be pretty universal. She tweeted she's taking a week break from Twitter. :/

 

That's unfortunate. She does cool stuff and I think the intent of her position is right on, but misdirected in its response.

 

EDIT

Wait, are you basing that just on this tweet:

 

 

That might be unrelated since the holidays is a disruption.

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8 minutes ago, legend said:

 

That's unfortunate. She does cool stuff and I think the intent of her position is right on, but misdirected in its response.

 

EDIT

Wait, are you basing that just on this tweet:

 

 

That might be unrelated since the holidays is a disruption.

I'm basing it on that and reading through her mentions and seeing some of the arguments she was in right before that like this one:

 

 

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I took this as a call to be mindful of your own bias, there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

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5 minutes ago, Rev said:

I'm basing it on that and reading through her mentions and seeing some of the arguments she was in right before that like this one:

 

 

 

 

I think there was some backlash, but I think it's hard to say whether she's taking a break due to it. It could be entirely "innocent."

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FTR

The people behaving irrationality in response to this is amusing, it's almost as if someone insulted their religion. 

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7 hours ago, kaberle said:

FTR

The people behaving irrationality in response to this is amusing, it's almost as if someone insulted their religion. 

Did anybody here do that? 

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7 hours ago, kaberle said:

FTR

The people behaving irrationality in response to this is amusing, it's almost as if someone insulted their religion. 

I'm having a hard time finding the irrational behavior in regards to this?  

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16 hours ago, Rev said:

Did anybody here do that? 

No not here, but the responses I've seen directed towards her from people claiming the superiority of science is hilarious in many aspects.

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