Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy of Science’

American Scientists Plan March against Trump

January 28, 2017

After the massive numbers of people involved in the women’s marches against Trump held around the world last weekend, American scientists are also planning to organise their own demonstration against the Orange Caudillo in protest at his disastrous environmental and health policies.

In this video, TYT Nation’s Jeff Waldorf discusses a report in Forbes’ discussing the formation of the new group of scientists planning this march. The group has it’s own internet page, and in five days its members grew from 200 to 200,000 +. The group says it will include non-scientists as well as scientists, and is intended to advocate the greater involvement of science in government. It’s purpose is to defend climate science, evolution, and alternative energy. Waldorf states that he too believes strongly that science should be more involved in government. He also quibbles with the phrasing in the Forbes’ article, taking issue with the magazine’s description of the scientists as ‘believing’ in the environmental damage caused by the fossil fuel industries. Waldorf argues that scientists’ in these areas don’t believe, because they have proof that oil pipelines, such as DAPL, can rupture, creating massive oil spills and environmental destruction.

Waldorf also argues that, although he understands why people in America’s coal country wish to retain the industry for as long as possible for the sake of their jobs, renewables are now becoming cheaper than oil for the first time. It’s time to move from the horse and buggy to the automobile, is the metaphor he uses. He also notes that 75 per cent of Trumps’ own supporters are also in favour of solar and wind power, and natural gas. Waldorf himself is not in favour of natural gas, as it’s still a fossil fuel, with the environmental problems that poses. At the moment, the movement is still in the planning stage, but hopes to issue a mission statement soon. In the meantime, they state that a government that sacrifices science to ideology is a threat not just to America, but also the world.

I wish the scientists the best of luck in their campaigns against Trump’s attack on climate change and green energy. I think, however, Waldorf has a rather too optimistic view of science. There’s quite a debate in the philosophy of science over what constitutes ‘proof’. In one view, articulated by the great philosopher of science, Karl Popper, science advances through falsification. You can’t prove a particular theory. What you do instead is show that other explanations are false. In many areas of science, the observable effects of experiments, may be tiny and ambiguous. This is why scientists have developed very sophisticated statistical methods for sorting through their observations in search of factual evidence that will support or disprove their theories. Thus, at the risk of nit-picking, it might be fairer to say that climate change and environmental damage by the fossil fuel industry is far better supported by the available evidence, than the minority view that no such change or damage is occurring.

I also think you have to be careful about relying too much on science to solve social problems. The British philosopher, Mary Midgeley, in one of her books pointed out that in some areas, what is needed is a social and industrial solution to a particularly issue, rather than scientific innovation. For example, it could be argued that in the struggle against world hunger, what is needed is not new, genetically engineered crops which produce vast yields, but better transportation methods and infrastructure to supply people with the food that has already been grown.

Despite these very minor quibbles, it is true that orthodox, respectable science in the above areas has been under attack for a long time to serve powerful interests in the fossil fuel industries. Trump this week imposed gagging orders preventing scientists and government workers in the Environmental Protection Agency from revealing their findings. Climate change is happening, and is a real danger to America and the globe. But this awareness frightens the Koch brothers and their wealth in the petrochemical industry. So they, and millionaires like them, are spending vast sums to keep the facts from ordinary peeps. America’s scientists are right to challenge this. Let’s hope their march in support of proper science goes ahead and is well-attended.

Kittysjones on the Philosophical and Methodological Errors in the Tories’ Austerity Myth

August 6, 2013

Kittysjones over on her blog has an interesting piece dissecting the very basic errors of philosophy and methodology underpinning the Tories’ promotion of austerity. It’s entitled Austerity is a Con, the Tories are Authoritarians and They Conflate the Fact/Value Distinction. I disagree with none of this. She argues from her own experience of studying sociology at university. She notes that sociology is not a hard science, and so does not have the same claim to be presenting objective fact. The researcher’s own personal views can colour their interpretation of a given situation, and their choice of methodology can determine the results of their research to give a partial and biased picture of the situation. She also notes that the Conservatives also violate one of the major rules in philosophy: that one cannot derive values from facts. For example, violence is a part of human nature. Observation of chimpanzees hunting suggest that aggression and violence have been part of humanity’s biological heritage since our hominid ancestors. One could not, however, go from that fact to promote violence and aggression as a necessary value. The Tories have violated this basic distinction, and their demands for cutbacks to welfare spending are motivated not by empirical research, but through simple class interest and Neo-Liberal ideology. Kitty’s piece begins:

One of the first things I realised as an undergraduate is that social “sciences” aren’t. My very first essay was on the topic of the “scientific” basis of sociology and its methodology, and my reading took me deep into the labyrinth of history and philosophy of science. I concluded that science itself isn’t as “scientific” as we are led to believe, let alone a discipline that aims at the study of inter-subjectively constructed human behaviours in a social context. I’ve been attempting to rescue anyone that has succumbed to the mythical, positivist, fraudulent chimera called “objectivity” ever since.

As a critical interpretivist, I believe that social reality is not “out there” waiting to be discovered: we are constructing and reconstructing it meaningfully. However, politically there’s been a marked shift away from understanding the lived experiences of real people in context: a systematic dehumanisation. The Tories have depopulated social policy. This is a characteristic of authoritarianism, and other hallmarks include stigmatisation of social groups, moral disengagement, moral exclusion, impunity, and a societal “bystander apathy”. See also Allport’s ladder, which is a measure of the manifestation of prejudice and discrimination in a Society. It’s also an explanation of the stages of genocide, and how the Holocaust happened.

There’s a lot of philosophy of science in Kitty’s article, as she mentions the Verification Principle, Logical Positivism, framing, Wittgenstein and so on. Don’t let that put you off. It demonstrates the basic violations of philosophical and scientific methodology and reasoning that permeates the whole of Tory reasoning in this debate. There are points I could add to it. I’m not quite so negative as Kitty appears to be in her analysis of sociology and its shortcomings. What she says is true – it is not comparable to the hard sciences, and there is always the danger of the researcher’s personal beliefs determining both the research itself and its conclusions. Sociologists themselves, however, strive for objectivity. In feminist circles this is replaced by ‘trustworthiness’, as the latter term is believed to validate social and political activism in a way, which objectivity does not. The point is the same. One is expected to conduct the research to present an accurate description of the situation, which other researchers would also find. Sociologists and ethnographers have set up a series of methodologies, as well as ethical regulations in how to deal with ethnographic informants, in order to present a fair and ethical description of their subjects. See James P. Spradley’s The Ethnographic Interview (Orland: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1979), for example.

Which just makes the Tories’ flagrant violations of these codes and rules even more disgusting.

This adds a bit more intellectual ammunition to attacking the Tories on these issues. No doubt it will be disregarded by the type of Tory that shrugs arguments like these off on the ground that it comes from academics and intellectuals, ‘who don’t live in the real world’ and therefore don’t know anything. It is still very definitely a great attack on the Tories from the viewpoint of the philosophy of science, and is at