Can we scientifically disprove something?
Posted: 28 January 2012 12:53 PM   [ Ignore ]
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That is an interesting question that got me thinking and because my volume of grey matter is small it often gives me terrific headaches when I do that thinking stuffff.

http://machineslikeus.com/news/how-does-one-scientifically-disprove-something

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Posted: 28 January 2012 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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deros - 28 January 2012 12:53 PM

That is an interesting question that got me thinking and because my volume of grey matter is small it often gives me terrific headaches when I do that thinking stuffff.

http://machineslikeus.com/news/how-does-one-scientifically-disprove-something

I think he’s huffing pretty hard to make a mountain out of a molehill. Science disproves stuff all the time: when an experiment fails to confirm some hypothesis, the hypothesis is typically treated as disconfirmed (= “proven false” in normal parlance), unless there is already a lot of evidence in favor of the hypothesis and there is a reasonable chance of experimental error of some kind.

E.g., every time a new drug is tested and fails, the hypothesis that that drug was an effective treatment for that disease has been proven false.

Now, if by “proven false” you mean something like logically or mathematically proven, or proven literally impossible, then I would argue science never proves anything false. But that’s an abuse of the word “prove”, since we typically don’t use the word that way in daily life. We say that the police proved that so-and-so was the murderer. This doesn’t mean that it is impossible that they could be wrong!

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Posted: 28 January 2012 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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To be more precise, tests designed to examine a hypothesis can have three results:  1. tend to validate, 2. tend to invalidate, 3. inconclusive.  However, it doesn’t take more than a few replications to pretty well reach a proved or disproved conclusion.

Hypotheses: A) Aspirin cures headaches; B) Aspirin cures cancer; C) Aspirin causes stomach ulcers.  We give a thousand people with headaches aspirin and 90% of the headaches fade away far more quickly than they do if left untreated - Conclusion:  Hypothesis A) is validated and we accept that as proved.  We do the same with a thousand people with cancer and they all die of cancer - Conclusion: Hypothesis B) is invalid and we accept it as disproved.  We do the same with a thousand people without stomach ulcers and identify a thousand people who won’t get aspirin - 4.1% of the people who took aspirin get ulcers while 4.0% of the control got ulcers - We didn’t prove or disprove the hypothesis. 

This definitely proved or disproved argument is about the same as Doug and my argument about faith versus certainty when both are based on 99.9999% likely.  that is, it’s nitpicking and not really worth arguing about, and I agree with Doug that he’s making a mountain out of a very tiny molehill.

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Posted: 18 February 2012 06:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Is this the same question as not being able to prove a negative?

Prove that: 1. God exists, or 2. God does not exist.

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Posted: 18 February 2012 11:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Not quite.  I think the statement you mentioned is certainly correct in deductive logic, but in science one has more freedom.  Silly example: 
1. hypothesis:  The earth is composed entirely of cheddar cheese.
2. test: Analyze a shovelful of dirt. 
3. Result:  It’s dirt, not cheddar cheese.
4: Conclusion:  The hypothesis is disproved.

Even when things aren’t as conclusive as that, when the results show that the probability of a hypothesis being true is less than, say,  0.000000000000001, scientists take it as disproved (that is unless they are in the employ of some company that can profit by it not being considered false. LOL  )

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Posted: 18 February 2012 11:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks Occam.  I was at a celebration of my daughter’s graduation as a vet at Cornell University (she was accepted to go much further and has completed her internship, and is nearly finished working in her first year of three more as a surgical resident.  She is the only Cornell vet student to have received the right to do her internship at the same school that she graduated at as a vet and now she has gone further and has become the only student in the history of the school who was accepted in the same school to complete her work as a surgical resident (they accept one a year).  I apologize for talking about her but she is wonderful and I like spreading her genius around a bit.


Anyway, as I was saying, at the celebration one of the students was waxing intelligent about the God who is (and can be proved to be as such), and the God who isn’t (and whose non-existence cannot be proved.) 

These days - in my twighlight - I tend to allow the young to throw their academic weight around - listening more than I used to do, and throwing in the odd comment to stoke the coals: and sometimes I even get a fire.

I am still convinced that a positive statement can be proved.  But a negative statement cannot.  So when I say to these students in the middle of their tirade, “Prove that Gods exist, then you must follow with the corollary prove that Gods do not exist.”  I enjoy their brightly straining eyes in their bursting faces with blood vessels standing out in their necks as they try.  What fun!

[ Edited: 18 February 2012 11:57 PM by Fat Man ]
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Posted: 19 February 2012 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I agree, F,M.  First, your daughter sounds like an amazing person.  Second, you are right that any statement that is posited has the obligation of being proved when challenged.  The difficulty is that it’s essentially impossible to prove (disprove?) a negative statement completely.  Even though we can show that the probability of it being incorrect is microscopic those who are arguing for the positive can always point to that and say, “OK, the probability may only be 0.00000000000000000001, but you have to admit that you didn’t completely disprove it.”  Most of us recognize how silly this argument is, but if the believers need a straw, that’s it.

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