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Thread: Almost Science

  1. #1 Almost Science 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    I came across a new concept in the latest New Scientist. That of an 'almost science'.

    The author suggests three types of science related ideas.

    1. Good science. That which can be tested by objective empirical predictive methods.

    2. Pseudoscience. Which we all know and do battle against. eg. Intelligent design.

    3. Almost science. These are ideas that are based on good science, and may become good science in the future. But for now are untestable in the proper scientific way.

    Under the third category, the author lists three topics.
    Evolutionary psychology.
    Super string theory, and related theories.
    SETI - the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.

    Do other people consider this a good classification?
    Any other topics we should include in 'almost science'?


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  3. #2  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    I think these topics can be considered "science" as long as the methods of science are used. Take the search for extraterrestrial life, for instance. The methods employed are scientific. No claims of extraterrestrials are started with. The people conducting the search filter the data carefully, avoiding bias and signals of earthly origin. Their standards are rigidly set and they admit that they've not yet come across evidence for intelligent life.

    I don't think there is an "almost" science. Either you're being scientific or you aren't. Studies of certain "alternative" medicines, for instance, are clearly pseudoscientific in that they only seek that data which are confirming, ignoring data which are not, which is why they do so poorly in double-blind studies. The same is true for "parapsychology," which is largely a pseudoscientific endeavor. While there were some legitimately scientific researchers working in the field of "parapsychology" a few years back, they've mostly abandoned their work for other endeavors after finding no effect. The ones that continued do so because their poor methodologies, their pseudoscientific methodologies, allow for positive results.


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    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Skinwalker

    Being an anthropologist, you should have some interest in evolutionary psychology. Would you not agree that it is something other than good science, or pseudo-science?

    While there is no simple definition for 'science', we can certainly outline some of its basic principles. The predictive test for a hypothesis, using empirical and objective methods, must be the most important. Without that test, how can something be science?

    Evolutionary psychology has no such testing process, so cannot be good science. Ditto for SETI, although they are trying. Ditto for superstring theory.
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  5. #4  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    SETI isn't science it is technology. It is the application of technology in pursuit of a scientific goal. The pursuit is perfectly sound science - "if intelligent life exists elsewhere it might be attempting to communicate via the electromagnetic spectrum. Let's listen in." What is unscientific about that? It's sound basic observational science.
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  6. #5  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    Skinwalker

    Being an anthropologist, you should have some interest in evolutionary psychology. Would you not agree that it is something other than good science, or pseudo-science?
    [...]
    Evolutionary psychology has no such testing process, so cannot be good science. Ditto for SETI, although they are trying. Ditto for superstring theory.
    I'm not a physicist or a math geek, so I really couldn't give an informed comment on string-theory, but it has always struck me as more of a set of hypotheses rather than a "theory" in the sense that evolution is a theory.

    But SETI and evolutionary psychology both have researchers who are following strict, scientific protocols. And, there is a bit of testing that can be done in EP. This is mostly through the generation of hypotheses that make predictions then finding if the predictions hold true or not.

    The interest I have in EP is as an archaeologist (through cognitive archaeology -see some of the more recent articles on my blog), but there is a lot of good, scientific work being done and scientific protocols are being met to a degree that might not be the case in experimental sciences like chemistry where you can design an experiment that has an outcome. The degree of rigor among cognitive archaeologists and those studying cognitive evolution is undoubtedly in expectation of the criticisms it might get otherwise. Very much like evolutionary biology, cognitive archaeologists (and evolutionary psychologists) have a limitation imposed on them due to the nature of their subjects. They can't exactly run experiments on subjects who have been long dead.

    I've been aware of some criticisms to cognitive archaeology, most of which were abandoned a decade or two ago, but I'm not aware of any critiques that specifically refer to either cognitive archaeology or evolutionary psychology as pseudoscience. In the article your read, was there a citation to someone? Even the Wikipedia page on EP doesn't cite any direct critics. I haven't read Alcock's book, The Triumph of Sociobiology, but it seems more in support. Perhaps they cite it as a source to others who are critical.

    Anyway, no time to continue now... must get to work.
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  7. #6  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    SETI isn't science it is technology. It is the application of technology in pursuit of a scientific goal. The pursuit is perfectly sound science - "if intelligent life exists elsewhere it might be attempting to communicate via the electromagnetic spectrum. Let's listen in." What is unscientific about that? It's sound basic observational science.
    It's also a philosophy isn't it? People want to make contact with other intelligent species.

    That would make it fit with science. and pseudoscience. and any human activity.
    "Kill them all and let God sort them out."

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  8. #7  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    The New Scientist article was in relation to a book, called "Nonsense on Stilts."

    http://www.amazon.com/Nonsense-Stilt.../dp/0226667863
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  9. #8  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    I actually have that book but its in my summer reading stack. I'll have to check it later and see what it says. Massimo has been a skeptic I've followed for some time -he turned me on to Paradigms Lost by John Casti many years ago, which I highly recommend.
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