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Extraordinary claims etc.

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#26 russell23

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 08:07 PM

A lot of good points have been made on this thread.

Here is the problem as I see it: Regardless of what Sagan was thinking, you can make a good case (as Glenn did) that Sagan’s “Extraordinary claims” statement is useful when communicating with scientific laymen – and by this I mean people that aren’t even well read amateurs. However, to use the “Extraordinary claims” statement when scientists are talking among scientists or when well-read amateurs are talking about research based literature is ridiculous. The “Extraordinary claims” statement is not a scientific principle. The word “extraordinary” is a vague, subjective term that scientists should avoid when constructing a scientific argument.

I have long held the view that Glassthrower pointed out when it was stated that “There is no such thing as extraordinary evidence. Either it is evidence or it is not.” I have made this point in discussions on other forums. A hypothesis/model/theory either has evidence that supports it or it does not. If it is consistent with known relevant scientific facts then it is a viable idea whether it is the mainstream idea or not. If there are empirical facts at odds with the idea then either the idea must be modified or it must be abandoned. At no point in the scientific reasoning and decision making regarding the viability of a scientific idea is “extraordinary” of any relevance. “Extraordinary” is a purely human emotional reaction to a proposed idea.

Unfortunately, as correctly pointed out by Danny, when engaged in discussions about scientific ideas published in the scientific journals that are at odds with mainstream thinking (MOND, intrinsic redshifts, …) the “Extraordinary evidence” statement is lazily brought out as if it is a relevant scientific principle for the purpose of handwaving away the evidence the supporter of the against the mainstream idea is trying to have a discussion about.

Another example of this argument technique is the meaningless use of Occam’s Razor in such discussions. Occam’s Razor is another idea that is more relevant in pointing out obvious reasoning flaws in the proponents of pseudoscience than it is in distinguishing competing scientific ideas. “Simplicity” is another subjective term. What is meant by simplicity? Ockam talked about not multiplying hypothesis beyond the minimum needed to explain a phenomenon. But how does that help us in deciding whether dark matter or MOND is a better explanation? Empirical evidence and the ability to make successful predictions are what decide the viability of scientific ideas. If the more complex idea better fits the data, then the more complex idea is the more viable idea.

Simplicity is not a scientific objective. Models that can explain known observational facts and predict previously unobserved phenomenon are a main scientific objective. Over time as new observations more precise than the old observations come in most models must either become more complex to maintain consistency with the refined observations or the models are abandoned. Yet if you try to discuss Milgrom’s MOND or Arp’s intrinsic redshift ideas you will at some point encounter lazy or uniformed “debaters” that simply throws Occam in your face rather than make a substantive contribution to the discussion.

I’m not implying that I think Milgrom and Arp are entirely correct in their ideas, but both have scientific evidence that are worthy of discussion and you will be hard pressed to find hard core mainstream supporters with enough familiarity of Milgrom’s and Arp’s published literature to intelligently discuss their ideas. Such mainstream hawks will typically seek to stamp out the discussion quickly lest some less informed layperson should fall victim to believing erroneous ideas. So if the discussion continues the “hawks” will inevitably fall back on “Extraordinary evidence” and “Occam” as their profound case against Milgrom and Arp and ...

Dave

#27 Joad

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 09:00 PM

I think you are right that scientists shouldn't be using this phrase which was designed for a popular cultural audience.

Perhaps it should be rephrased: "extraordinary claims require evidence."

To take "intrinsic red shift" for a moment. It is a hypothesis devised in opposition to the standard interpretation of quasars. But there is no evidence for it by definition because it isn't even defined. No theory of "intrinsic red shift" exists; only a claim that it must exist in order to explain why it looks like quasars are speeding away from us. That's why deSitter wants more attention paid to the Arp galaxies: in the hope that some evidence will appear. But for the moment there isn't any evidence; only Arp's dissatisfaction with the standard interpretation.

Now let's return to the quote that inaugurated this thread. Jed Rothwell maintains a website devoted to the discussion of cold fusion. I think it is safe to say that he is a believer. Cold fusion is an extraordinary claim, so it requires evidence. Rossi and his followers say that he has provided that evidence in strictly controlled "demonstrations." What people are asking for is a relaxation of those controls so the evidence can be evaluated. According to a number of people on this forum whose judgment and objectivity I trust (Jarad, for example), that evaluation could be easily accomplished through a rather simple analysis not only of Rossi's device but also of its reactive byproducts. If such an evidentiary search was allowed and produced evidence of some sort fusion reaction after all (beyond the appearance of generated energy), then a lot of disbelievers would become believers.

The situation is not really different from a magician who levitates someone on a stage. The extraordinary claim ("look, I can violate the ordinary laws of gravity") requires more evidence than a simple view from the audience.

#28 buddyjesus

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 02:24 AM

Having said that, though, I admit that I'm really tired of seeing it repeated ad nauseum, too. But I disagree with the notion that Sagan was mystically inclined. I think it more likely that he had a good imagination, and felt connected to the universe in a personal way; and he was good at expressing these feelings. We're all like that to some degree, I think.


I agree. I think he was pretty strongly convincing against the case of mysticism in the seventh episode of Cosmos. He convinced me enough to dump religion all together. I think he was excellent at pointing out that you can have wonder and spiritual experiences even without it. The universe is a beautiful place to see and to understand!

https://www.youtube....?v=Mfa2lUj6TS0

I come from the medical field and there are different strengths of evidence. Anecdotal evidence being the weakest and least scientific(as it doesn't involve repeatability). This is what he was referring to with this quote.

You can't blame a guy for other people bastardizing what he said or meant after he is dead. :roflmao:

#29 Jarad

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 06:42 AM

I come from the medical field and there are different strengths of evidence. Anecdotal evidence being the weakest and least scientific(as it doesn't involve repeatability). This is what he was referring to with this quote.



I agree. If you do an experiment that confirms the existing theory, most people aren't going to bother to try to repeat it, or examine how you got it too closely. If you do an experiment that produces an extraordinary result, that won't be the case. The others in the field will want to examine in great detail how you got the result so that they can repeat the experiment, make sure they get the same result themselves, and make sure that there is no mistake in the setup, controls, or assumptions that could cause an erronious result.

A perfect example of this was the recent "neutrinos going faster than light" episode. That was an extraordinary result, which resulted in extraordinary scrutiny of the test setup and calculations, which resulted in finding out that the neutrinos did not, in fact, go faster than light.

Jarad

#30 deSitter

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 07:55 AM

You would be amazed at how ossified people become in their thinking. I am having a discussion now of the topic - "Does Inflationary cosmology violate Einstein's equation?" (aside - which one? the one for specific heat? photo effect? efficient shopping procedure? calling it 'Einstein's equation' is already a bad sign. They mean, general relativity...) The point of the discussion depends essentially on the idea of energy conservation. I pointed out that in GR, there is no well-defined concept of energy conservation, because the source term, the energy-momentum density of the matter distribution, satisfies an equation that is NOT interpretable as a tensor conservation law. To get a conservation law of any sort, you must invoke the "pseudo-tensor of energy and momentum of the gravitational field". Pseudo-tensor is a kind phrase for "non-tensor". Now, if something does not obey a tensor equation in GR, then it will depend on what coordinates you choose to express it, and that includes the energy-content of the gravitational field.

All of this is well-known since the late 19-teens and was common knowledge by the 1920s. Yet despite repeating the argument 4 times in differing ways, the same person kept intoning, like an enraptured monk, that the energy was well-defined, GR passes experiment, quoted Wikipedia to me, etc. etc. The actual argument was not read, was not absorbed, was not even relevant to his position, which was based on authority, comfort, familiarity etc. - emotional supports.

Occam and Sagan are invoked in cases like this - they are not scientific principles, they are emotional crutches that are intended to throw the argument askew, in the manner of the Sophists. The point is not to get to facts, but to win arguments.

-drl

#31 llanitedave

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 10:34 AM

Welcome to the internet, Danny.

#32 Glassthrower

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 11:01 AM

I agree. I think he was pretty strongly convincing against the case of mysticism in the seventh episode of Cosmos. He convinced me enough to dump religion all together. I think he was excellent at pointing out that you can have wonder and spiritual experiences even without it. The universe is a beautiful place to see and to understand!


I had similar feelings after reading Brocas Brain. Sagan struck me as someone who was very logical, yet very open to the idea that there may be forces at work in the universe that our sciences cannot explain now, or perhaps ever. I don't think he was flirting with mysticism, but was instead trying to show that things which seem mystical are just things our best logical minds haven't explained yet. In other words, fire was magic to cavemen and now it's in your pocket with your car keys.

I found Sagan's thoughts on the so-called "near death experiences" to be interesting and along the lines we just discussed. He acknowledged that *something* was apparently going on, while mostly dismissing mystical explanations.

Best regards,

MikeG

#33 Rick Woods

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 01:31 PM

You would be amazed at how ossified people become in their thinking. I am having a discussion now of the topic - "Does Inflationary cosmology violate Einstein's equation?" (aside - which one? ...)


Given the general nature of most people's understanding of these things, I'd guess that person was referring to "e=mc^2" as "Einstein's equation".

#34 deSitter

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Posted 13 April 2013 - 09:32 PM

You would be amazed at how ossified people become in their thinking. I am having a discussion now of the topic - "Does Inflationary cosmology violate Einstein's equation?" (aside - which one? ...)


Given the general nature of most people's understanding of these things, I'd guess that person was referring to "e=mc^2" as "Einstein's equation".


No, these are people with active research programs. The discussion reminds me often of the medieval Scholastics discussing the properties of God. The spirit of inquiry that replaced this point of view during the Renaissance seems to have gone missing.

As a complete aside - I was just reviewing the old series "Ascent of Man" by Jakob Bronowski. I cannot recommend this highly enough. All 13 episodes are, for now, to be found on YouTube.

-drl






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