Monday, October 24, 2011

Responses 006 (Nov 2012)

The final question in the Nov 2012 list of topics is this: The ultimate protection against research error and bias is supposed to come from the way scientists constantly re-test each other’s results. To what extent would you agree with this claim in the natural sciences and the human sciences?

I like the way this question sets up little traps. 'Ultimate', 'supposed', 'the way', 'constantly' — these are all potential pitfalls. For a start, 'ultimate' ought to mean 'to the farthest extent of one's range'; 'supposed' implies that it isn't always so; 'the way' implies there is only one way; and 'constantly' implies this continues to happen all the time. You can create a little counter-argument involving each of these.

I'm not going to deal with those in detail, but I will add that if a homogeneous class (e.g. 'scientists' all using one 'way' to 'constantly' do something) does anything, there is necessarily a built-in bias, against which there is no defence. I will also add that to suppose anything requires someone to do the supposing. Who do you suppose does the supposing here? Scientists?

Hopefully, at this point, I have succeeded in convincing some of my readers that this topic requires great care and detailed planning. For those who have survived this, I will now add a note about 'natural sciences' and 'human sciences'.

These superclasses of disciplines are difficult to define for some people. I have given a quick summary of what they include towards the end of this earlier post. Let me now define them in slightly more detail.

The natural sciences are the spawn of natural history (i.e. the empirical observation and recording of natural phenomena in chronological order) and natural philosophy (i.e. the development of theory based on induction from natural phenomena or deduction from reasonable rules based on empirical observations). They include astronomy, geology, biology, chemistry and physics — disciplines which in general are considered to have objective content even in the absence of human activity or existence. Some of these disciplines may produce results that are difficult or impossible to re-test.

The human sciences deal with human affairs in terms of human activities. By analogy with the natural sciences, human sciences are the spawn of human history and human philosophy. These would concern the observation, recording, analysis and theory of matters social, political, economic, religious, and military. They thus include linguistics, sociology, political science, economics, anthropology, psychology, management and other such 'soft' sciences. These disciplines would be much deprived by an hypothetical absence of humanity. These disciplines tend to produce results which are often difficult to re-test.

Neither group would include many varieties of applied science, technology and engineering — these are not natural but are not generally considered human sciences either. The two groups would exclude mathematics, history, and philosophy because these are either tools or precursor disciplines; they would exclude the arts as well.

Well, you now have some of the basic elements of an answer. Give the topic a good try. This will be an educational experience.

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Blogger hellppp said...

care to expand on what you agree with and how counter arguments cna be used. this will be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, April 13, 2014 2:23:00 pm  

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