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Who is the Leader of Science?
Posted: 20 August 2007 05:29 PM   [ Ignore ]
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This is (somewhat of) a rhetorical question aimed at talking about the democratic - and, I would even say Anarchistic - spirit of Science.

There is no Dictator, King, President, Prime Minister or particular Party that represents science. It is there for All. In fact, to a large degree politics is removed from it. (Which has long been an aim for Anarchism and society.)

Laymen can be just as important - especially in the Naturalist field of Biology and even Astronomy - as professionals, and possibly in the near future we will see Citizen Scientists taking up larger roles in helping the advancement of Science since the number of professionals can barely keep up with changes.

I have been thinking about this and I think there is a strong argument to be made: Science is a successful example of Anarchism and quite possibly the greatest; and, anyone familiar with the theories of Anarchism can’t help but notice the similarities with the functionalities of General Science.

Far from being perfect or an absolute. There is something here to discuss. Perhaps some realizations and understandings.

Anyway…

What are Your thoughts and opinions? What do You see as in/valid comparisons and differences in the structure, process and functions of Science and Democracy?

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Posted: 20 August 2007 05:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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truthaddict - 20 August 2007 05:29 PM

In fact, to a large degree politics is removed from it.

Unless of course one is relying on central funding to pay for research…

Try getting a grant for stem cell research in the USA!

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Posted: 20 August 2007 05:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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NecAsperaTerrent,

Very good point. I was hoping someone would bring this up. I was speaking generally and acknowledged that it is not absolute, which is why I put “to a large degree.” There is a lot more I want to say, but I am about to head out for the day. Please, share more. See you ladies and germs tomorrow!

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Posted: 20 August 2007 06:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Well, there are well defined rules such as the laws of thermodynamics, the whole disciplines of the physical, biological and social sciences, that one pretty well has to function within if one hopes to break new ground.  There is a heirachy of scientists such that a newby with a great theory will probably be shot down.  It may take decades before it is found to be correct and then accepted.  Remember that what we now take for granted named the “big bang” was a pejorative, insulting phrase one of the top scientists tagged the theory with when it was first proposed.

I’d say, at its best, science operates as a democracy.  Everyone has a voice and a vote, but they all have to follow all or most of the rules of the sciences.  Only if they are trying to show that one of the rules is wrong and should be replaced can they ignore that rule.  So, I can’t buy science as anarchy.

Occam

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Posted: 20 August 2007 06:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Funny, since in many ways science is one of the least democratic belief systems. It’s basically an oligarchy of the best-informed. Scientific results aren’t up for public vote. To the extent that they are up for a vote, it’s only within the very rarified atmosphere of the small group of scientists who actually do work on one particular area. To know about the latest results in cosmology, the opinion of a biologist is worthless. And vice versa, of course.

And even within a particular area, the votes of the group of scientists are not equal. Some are titans in their field whose opinions matter a great deal, and others (perhaps at less prestigious universities) are ignored, sometimes with good reason. Science can be very meritocratic.

It can also, of course, be just as nasty, petty and political as any other human enterprise.

There is another issue, of course. That is that modern science, with its community of practitioners and system of peer review, depends on many, many aspects of centralized government. First and foremost is, of course, funding. Much of it comes from the NIH, NSF, DOD, DARPA, et cetera. Also the culture that surrounds us depends on a very tightly regulated and complex society, from state and federal funding for education, to such mundane but crucial things as trash collection and water, electricity and telecom regulation.

While I can’t claim to be an authority on the myriad forms of anarchy that are out there, it seems to me manifestly implausible that a non-centralized government could do any of that effectively. Most likely it would devolve into chaos, and chaos is fatal to any sort of modern scientific enterprise.

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Posted: 21 August 2007 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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yeah, im speaking more of the “scientific method” and I completely recognize(d) that the statement of mine shouldnt be taken absolutely in every single aspect of the broad spectrum of science.

my comment is largely influenced by some of the things I first read by Carl Sagan (A Demon Haunted World) and Richard Dawkins (either The God Delusion or Unweaving the Rainbow; maybe both) and just things I have noticed in “general” about science.

the catalyst that got me to make the comment was a couple of passages from Edward O. Wilson’s, The Creation; An Appeal to Save Life on Earth:

“Every person deserves the option to travel easily in and out of the complex and primal world that gives us birth. We need freedom to roam across land owned by no one but protected by all.”

“The power of science comes not from scientists but from its method. The power, and the beauty too, of the scientific method is its simplicity. It can be understood by anyone, and practiced with a modest amount of training. Its stature arises from its cumulative nature. It is the product of hundreds of thousands of specialists united by the one binding commonality of the scientific method…. Science has become the most democratic of all human endeavors.”

“The information from citizen scientists is needed, now more than ever, and it has permanent value. The data will not be treated as redundant or merely confirmatory to knowledge already aquired. There are just too many organisms and too few professional scientists to study them for anything approaching saturation.”

—————-


Doug,

You know I REALLY respect your opinion, but I think your comment about Anarchism and de-centralized authority was too much conjecture. And, you admitted that by saying youre not an authority. One of the hard things about Anarchism was an acceptable definition. In the introduction to Daniel Guerin’s book, Anarchism; From Theory to Practice, Noam Chomsky begins by saying:

“A French writer, sympathetic to anarchism, wrote in the 1890s that ‘anarchism has a broad back, like paper it endures anything’—including, he noted those whose acts are such that ‘a mortal enemy of anarchism could not have done better.’ There have been many styles of thought and action that have been referred to as ‘anarchist.’”

My intentions for this thread was not to discuss Anarchism, so I wont go into a largely detailed post on it (I suggest reading up on the classics by folks like Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Goldman, Berkman, Malatesta, Bookchin, Chomsky, Guerin, etc), and I concede that an Anarchist society has not yet existed in a modern industrialized society to the point where it can address these issues. However, I do think it is something that can be easily dealt with and managed cooperatively.

To me, Anarchism is not necessarily about dissolving the state or ANY form of centralized government in its entirety. The most important feature - IMHO - is the ability of the general public to participate in the management of their own affairs on a local, regional, national and global level (what I would say is the ultimate concept of democracy) either directly or through some form of controlled and mandated representative(s); and in the forums of political, social and economic. To do so would definitely infringe on the powers of states and centralized authority, but I wouldnt say it means doing away with it completely.

Anyway, I would also stress that democracy is not about voting (people voted under Saddam Hussein but I wouldnt say Iraq was a democracy), so the comment about not voting on results is pretty much meaningless and/or moot. What im referring to is the method, functionality and structure of Science. There is no particular leader, party, ideology or dogma within Science. What is accepted today could change tomorrow, and in an admirably legitimate process. This experiment with the search for empirical truths that explain the natural world - and its myriad of branches - is something that soceity as a whole can learn from and benefit by applying to itself. I think Science would benefit more greatly by more democratized societies than the other way around.

NecAsperaTerrent brought up the great point of stem cell research. Perhaps recognizing the democratic features of how Science operates could in the future lead to resolving how these issues are addressed; democratizing not just the method, but the issues and topics Science investigates, researches, explores, etc.

What are the benefits and costs to such a concept?

What other issues can be addressed; how better to tweak the functions of Science to be more effective while ensuring accountability to the public?

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Posted: 21 August 2007 10:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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truthaddict - 21 August 2007 09:47 AM

What im referring to is the method, functionality and structure of Science. There is no particular leader, party, ideology or dogma within Science. What is accepted today could change tomorrow, and in an admirably legitimate process. This experiment with the search for empirical truths that explain the natural world - and its myriad of branches - is something that soceity as a whole can learn from and benefit by applying to itself. I think Science would benefit more greatly by more democratized societies than the other way around.

Right, well the thing that is special about science is that the decisions that scientists come to are not based on personal whim or political avarice but on the data and the facts. If a “powerless” scientist in an unknown university designs a good experiment and comes up with an unexpected result, he or she can vault to prominence in a single step. (It may take several years and rounds of experiment to convince, of course, but scientists do appreciate genius, from wherever it comes).

Society can learn from this example of science. It can learn by having politicians and voters who focus more on the data and the facts than on a blinkered lust for power and greed. The problem is that the scientific community has a self-correcting mechanism to weed out false gods—peer review, and experimental repeatability. If I publish a false result in order to get more money for my lab, this will be discovered in due course, and in short order if the result was at all important. Other labs will try to duplicate the result and fail, and I will essentially be ostracized. There is no similar self-correcting mechanism in life or politics, unfortunately. The voters can vote someone out, but we all know that that’s no sure answer.

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Posted: 21 August 2007 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I love you CFI!  Such entertaining topics to keep me from my work.  I have no concrete thoughts on this subject, yet, but I am very interested.  It sounds like there might be a method for improving on the secularity of our government if we diagnose parallels to the scientific method?

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Posted: 21 August 2007 11:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Honestly, from a historical perspective I see Anarchism & Modern Democracy, and Science as sharing similar values that largely culminated during the Age of Reason and Enlightenment. I would think that plays a large role in the similarities.

In Noam Chomsky’s short book/speech from the early 1970s, Government in the Future, he draws some similarities between Classical Liberalism and Libertarian Socialism, which is mostly rooted in the Age of Reason and Enlightenment.

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Posted: 21 August 2007 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Well, as far as the Age of Enlightenment goes, its clearest fruits in government (ones that persist until today) were the american Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Constitution’s framers were all Enlightenment figures, steeped in the values of that age, from Jefferson to Madison to Adams to Ben Franklin, and we shouldn’t forget the genius of Tom Paine as background ...

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Posted: 21 August 2007 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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retrospy - 21 August 2007 10:33 AM

I love you CFI!  Such entertaining topics to keep me from my work.

Yes, I love this forums, too. I have a lot of things to do, while I am writing this… at least I could say that I am excersing my second language! wink

It sounds like there might be a method for improving on the secularity of our government if we diagnose parallels to the scientific method?

Well, I guess the statement ‘nature cannot be fooled’ is a good framework for political decisions, not only for design lab. experiments. Of course, sometimes is hard to tell what is ‘nature’ and what are our perceptions or desires, but anyway, I think it is important to remind that we couldn’t fool nature.


Doug, you said:

There is no similar self-correcting mechanism in life or politics, unfortunately. The voters can vote someone out, but we all know that that’s no sure answer.

I guess the vote fails to be the self-correcting mechanism because we want to fooled. And it is not pejorative, I guess developing a rational mind (which is not easy for me) has a lot to do with developing the hability to distinguish between our desires and reality. What I tend to see in elections is that we sometimes don’t want to listen a real diagnosis and a description of the long and hard way to the solution, we want another man who is willing to promise another magical solution.

I think a lot of education is needed to get rid off this wishfull thinking, and it is no easy (at least, it is no easy for me).

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Posted: 21 August 2007 11:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Barto - 21 August 2007 11:15 AM

I think a lot of education is needed to get rid off this wishfull thinking, and it is no easy (at least, it is no easy for me).

I absolutely agree. That’s why my motto has been: get educated, get organized, get active! I also think we can see this kind of reasoning in Science too. There is a discipline to making a good science: inquiry, getting prepared, testing and peer review to check, re-check, scrutinize, inspect, etc. That is the kind of discipline we need in an informed citizenry; education, participation, cooperation, etc.

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Posted: 21 August 2007 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Science, though we properly laud those features of it that lead to a reliable understanding of the material world, is a process derived from and dependant on the human mind, and its exercise is largley a social activity. As such, it shares in the flaws of government/politics and other human institutions. As Doug pointed out, the promise of the basic idea is not always realized due to the failings of the people enacting it. That said, I think it has some useful attributes that could be borrowed by other systems or institutions.

There is collegial competition, which harnesses competitiveness (be first to a discovery, be famous for disproving the work of a well-regarded figure, etc) within an overall framework of working towards a true understanding accessible to all. Capitalism also harnesses competitiveness, but without extensive regulation it can more easily be destructive because there is not the same sense of collegiality, of working towards a shared goal of greater knowledge and understanding for everyone to share.

There is an element of democracy (in theory more than in practice) in that a true finding has to be respected as such regardless of its source. But I’m not sure I agree that active participation in science (as opposed to scientific literacy and a reasonable understanding of the method and approach) can really be available to the population at large. There is a great body of knowledge to master before the cutting edge questions can really be addressed, and though I think interdisciplinary approaches are rightfully getting more popular and common, there is of necessity a lot of specialization and specialized training needed. Practically, this wo’t be available to everyone, and in fact likely won’t be to everyone’s liking. Part of the greatness of science is the true aesthetic pleasure scientists gbet from their work and the matter they study. Not everyone feels this way, and that’s ok.

As for science as anarchism, I see the resemblance, but I do think it’s a bit of a stretch.

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Posted: 21 August 2007 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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mckenzievmd - 21 August 2007 01:03 PM

Capitalism also harnesses competitiveness, but without extensive regulation it can more easily be destructive because there is not the same sense of collegiality, of working towards a shared goal of greater knowledge and understanding for everyone to share.

Good point.  The majority of scientists do share a bond for truth and, if they are creditable, welcome criticism.  Business tends to eliminate criticism & competition.  I think this economic model is taking a gradual shift.  Gallup, for instance, has programs promoting positive business.  Also, open source models are proving to be sucessfull.

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Posted: 21 August 2007 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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brennen,

I completely concede that there are certain scientific fields where citizens couldnt have as large of a role. thats why I only mentioned two: natural biology and astronomy. obviously, more so for naturalism. finding new species or fossils are things citizens can do to aid science.

perhaps alot - or even most - of the democratic aspects of science are theoretical. the same is true for science itself! i think alot of the democratic aspects of the scientific method are its strongest points.

maybe there are other “theoretical” areas of scientific practice we should look at democratizing for the purpose of making it better. youre a very bright and reasonable person, can you (or anyone else) think of any examples?

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Posted: 21 August 2007 03:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Whilst the layman can do science, it takes a hell of a lot of study of the state of the art in a particular field in order to perform a philosophic advance within science, especially if you have not studied the basics that underpin it. Sometimes, even extremely good and solid theories provoke very strong opposition from other scientists and it takes a tenacious person to ride it out and win through.  I would urge you to read the history of the “non-classical carbocation contraversy” that was played out by H. C. Brown on Wittigen (I think!) within the field of chemistry, and go back through the open correspondence that followed in the journals.  It was viscious!

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