Deep Time Journey Forum › Is deep time in danger of becoming a fad in a "post-fact world" ?
- January 4, 2017 at 1:27 pm #17471
I would submit that without a definition of what is meant by science or being science-based, an understanding and appreciation of deep time is impossible.
Deep time for the Universe is measured from the theoretical Big Bang or for the Earth from the theorized accretion of the Earth during the Hadean eon in addition to the Geological Time Scale based on the rock record that stretches back approximately 3900 million years. Deep time has become a hot topic due to new fields, such as Earth systems science (ESS), Big History, and a new concept, biological relativity, that replaces what is commonly referred to as the theory of evolution (i.e., the Modern Synthesis or neo-Darwinism or the gene-centered worldview as popularized by Richard Dawkins in his many books, including The Selfish Gene). Deep time is also an organizing principle for other efforts, such as Deep Time Journey Network. What is shared by many of these efforts is a criteria that includes being science-based, but how is that defined?
I would like to suggest the conception of science proposed by the late Oxford paleontologist, Martin Brasier, which defines science as a unique system for the measurement of doubt. This provides the necessary nuance and distinction that facts in science are approximations and never certain. Unlike the absolute Truth, science facts are corrigible in the light of new evidence, better measurement or revised conceptions. Thus Newtonian mechanics wererevised by quantum mechanics when this level or scale of reality was explored.
The uncertainty or doubt in science does not mean that science knowledge does not have power. Our modern world is based on science facts and technology that is based on the predictability of science. Most of this science is derived from a method called reductionism which reduces things and processes down into parts and then studies the parts. There is also a method called systems or systems thinking that attempts to model and understand processes or systems as whole dynamic phenomena. These methods are complimentary and each has both strengths and shortcomings.
As Patrick Moynihan once remarked, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own set of facts,” However, there are now those who disagree with science facts and contend that their beliefs, opinions, or all sides in disagreements among scientists have equal measurement of doubt. Among logical fallacies, there is false equivalency which is demonstrated when it is argued that not a science or scientists agree on global climate change as conclusive proof that climate change is a hoax. That 99% of scientists agree that there is climate change caused by human activity is also not evidence, it is only consensus or the logical fallacy of an argument from authority. What is important is that 99% of the scientific studies and evidence supports the conclusion that there is climate change caused by humans. I point this out to indicate that science also relies on logic so it is very important not to be convinced by rhetoric, generalities, and logical fallacies that something with a great deal of doubt against it, or a definition that excludes it, or very little supporting evidence is equivalent to being science-based. One common rhetorical trick is to quote-mining. This is cherry picking quotes and/or a quote out of context by a recognized authority as proof of something. The problem is that other quotes or reading the quote in context show that the authority does not support the point being made. The best evidence in science is the peer-reviewed publication of data, methods, and conclusions that have been replicated by other independent scientists.
How do the various forum discussions, training, and other offerings on the Deep Time Journey Network stand up as science-based when we measure them for doubt? I believe there is a serious danger that science-based understanding of deep time gets lost and deep time becomes little more than buzz words of a fad in a post-fact world.January 5, 2017 at 10:55 am #17475
Thanks so much for your post Jim. I DO think that we need to have a definition of “science-based” for all the reasons you site, particularly in this fast emerging “post fact” world of wild assertions, distortions and outright lies being issued daily. Your distinctions about climate change, and systems thinking vs. reductionism are of utmost importance. So YES, let’s create a page that explains these extremely important nuances you talk about in this post and I’ll link it to the term “science-based.”
Would you be willing to take an initial stab at that? Then I would like to get others to comment, such as science writer Michael Lemonick and others. This would be extremely important for our right community now.January 9, 2017 at 5:48 pm #17503
In answer to your question, yes, I would be willing to take a stab at a definition of science (I am sure other scientists can improve and augment what I will write). It would then follow that “science-based” is material based on science.
I would recommend that when statements of science are made on DTJN that the author of those statements cite a recognized source to back up what they are claiming is science-based. When scientists speculate or give their opinions, that is not necessarily science. The best sources are reference works, peer-reviewed primary science papers or reviews of science in prestigious science journals. Remember science facts can change so it is always good to see if there is new information if your source is a few years old. Science also has various methods (not a single method) so it is always good to understand if the facts being presented are from reductionist methodology or systems methodology. It is always good to get both views. Historically we have relied on reductionism, but more and more we are coming to understand that a systems approach for anything that is a process is required. Biology has been for 70 years a very reductionist field, but is now being revolutionized by systems biology. I highly recommend Denis Noble’s new book, Dance to the Tune of Life: Biological Relativity where he applies systems or biological relativity to evolutionary biology.
It is also good to have an idea of what are called logical fallacies or informal fallacies in argumentation. Sometimes arguments are made where these fallacies are employed (often unconsciously) by some authors. One example is false dichotomy where it is stated that a question has only two answers when there are more possible. Another example is false equivalency where two things are presented as being of equal importance when that can be shown not to be the case. Quote-mining, which is cherry picking a quotation, often out of context, as authoritative when the author has a very different stance than one would draw from the quote. There are also things like arguments from concensus or authority as evidence when these are not. Mistaking correlation for causation is another logical fallacy. It is circumstantial, but is not in and of itself proof. You might think that buzzards are the cause of road kill because you often see a buzzard around road kill, but the killer was a car not a buzzard even though you never see the car that did the killing. Just some examples of pitfalls when things get presented as science-based when they are not.
Even science peer-review is not infallible. It is always good to know if the observations, experiments, measurements, methodology, data and conclusions in a peer-reviewed article have been independently reproduced.
Just some of my thoughts. I will see what I can come up with for a definition.January 10, 2017 at 6:18 pm #17513
Excellent Jim. I suggest that you start with a simple definition and then have different categories covering nuances, such as the ones you talk about in the last post. Formatting will be important to make this page as easy to read as possible. Why don’t you start Jim, and then I’ll take a crack at it and send it back to you. Then, we’ll invite others. You can insert your piece right into a post so we can see how it develops. This effort is really a continuation of what we started inside the Living Universe forum discussion. Once we have a good draft, I will also put it under “About” on the menu bar, and link it to mentions of “science-based” on the site.February 12, 2017 at 2:08 pm #17708
Here is a first draft of Jennifer’s request for “a simple definition and then have different categories covering nuances, such as the ones you talk about in the last post.”
I am concerned that this forum topic seems to have garnered little interest from the DTJN community. Perhaps it needs better PR. It should be a very hot topic because I would venture that there is quite a bit of content posted on DTJN that is not science-based and some that is contradicted by science. Facts really do matter and it is critical that people understand what sets facts supported by scientific knowledge apart as the most reliable, useful and reproducible compared to other ways of knowing. Here is the draft:
What Makes Science the Most Practical and Reproducible Way of Knowing?
“Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.
Contemporary science is typically subdivided into the natural sciences, which study the material universe; the social sciences, which study people and societies; and the formal sciences, which study logic and mathematics. The formal sciences are often excluded, as they do not depend on empirical observations. Disciplines which use science, like engineering and medicine, may also be considered to be applied sciences.” – Wikipedia
What is scientific knowledge?
Science can be done by anyone with a sound mind regardless of his or her nationality, language, race, gender, sexual preference, creed, religion or atheism. Science does require faith, but it is faith that nature is knowable through empiricism, the idea that what we know comes through our senses and is based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation, experience, and measurement. Unlike religion, science does not claim to know the absolute Truth. In fact, all science knowledge is approximation based on the best evidence available. Scientific debates are generally over disagreements about what constitutes the best evidence available and what conclusions can be drawn based on that evidence.
Formal sciences that use deductive logic and mathematics are certain, universal, necessary and timeless, but natural scientific knowledge is different and most often acquired by induction that works from many particular instances towards general principles. No matter how accurate and precise natural science knowledge is it can always be improved or disproved and replaced by new observation and evidence. Therefore, natural science is uncertain, particular, relative and corrigible. This is strength, not a weakness.
Martin Brasier, an Oxford scientist, defined science as “a unique system for the measurement of doubt.” So while scientific knowledge may not be certain, it has been shown to have the least doubt about its veracity. It is the most reliable way of knowing when it comes to describing, predicting and providing control of natural phenomena. The evidence of this is our modern world with its constant innovation and technology based in science.
We tend to be partisan toward our own ideas and often hold uninformed opinions. Most of us seek out those things that simply reinforce our cherished beliefs. Scientists are human too, but there is a strong motivation to prove or falsify one’s own ideas. Supporting ideas that do not hold up is very bad for a career in science, while pointing out error in someone else’s study enhances a career. It is much better to find the flaws in one’s own work before anyone else does.
The word theory in common vernacular is used as synonymous with a guess, but that is far from the scientific meaning. A theory is a statement about nature based on what is already known that also extends that knowledge by providing a framework the can suggest new research and predict certain results. A theory has to be testable in ways that will support or falsify it. Theories often suggest further questions and research, and may provide control of something in nature.
Natural scientists must maintain a balance between skepticism and open-mindedness in order to judge evidence. Scientists must avoid the “temptation of certainty,” the idea that any idea represents an end to investigation. For this reason, giving something a name that is a conclusion without investigation, such as junk DNA or something natural is the product of an Intelligent Designer are not science.
Scientists recognize that as humans they have implicit bias that will tilt results. Consequently, their studies and experiments employ blinding so prevent the researcher or analyst from introducing their bias into the results.
To learn about nature, natural science uses observation and measurement. Experiments are designed to produce some answer. Often an experiment is compared to a control. A control allows observation and measurement of the same procedure without the parameter being tested in the experiment. In a blind study, the scientists do not know if they are working with the control results or the test results.
There are two primary methods used in science, reductionism and systems. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Reductionism arbitrarily reduces, or takes apart, a complex system or phenomenon into parts or pieces and then studies these independently. Sometimes a model of the object of study is substituted for the actual phenomenon in order to make disassembly and reassembly possible. This examination of components is a strategy that yields a great deal of useful information about the various parts of the process. When those parts are reassembled, an understanding of how the complex whole functions can be gained that would have been extremely difficult or impossible to achieve from the actual phenomenon. Most of our modern world of scientific knowledge, technology and innovation is based in the reductionist method of study.
Systems science attempts to study the system as a whole or a model of the system. The complexity and dynamics of systems can obsure observation or make measurement difficult. Our ability to study whole processes or systems, such as the weather, has been very limited until the advent of modern technologies and super computing. Now, we can model, study, measure and predict highly complex systems that were once thought to be chaotic. Systems are “more than the sum of their parts.” The more is not a thing, rather it is the system’s emergent properties, such as it’s autonomous organization, performance, dynamics, and interrelationships. These are often vanish when a whole is imagined and studied as parts, or overlooked in the design of a model.
Natural science requires a balance of both of these approaches, reductionism and systems science to produce the best and most complete models and understandings of nature. A model is not the actual phenomenon and consequently the limitations of a model must always be recognized. Because whole natural systems do not consist of parts, reductionism is limited in the answers it can provide. When a whole system is reduced to parts, it is easy to begin to think of a dynamic process as an assembly of static things. A system is requires all of its parts and none can be privileged, whereas reductionism can lead to certain parts being given more importance or mistaken as being the active cause of the system. In both systems and reductionism, there is also the tendency to conflate a model with the actual phenomenon under study.
The results of studies are reported in a primary science journal after undergoing a process of peer review by a panel of scientific experts in the field. The report, or paper, must meet rigorous guidelines for discussion, citation of references, the materials and methods used, the results, including the margin of error, and what conclusions are provided. Peers examine the paper for errors and omissions in the science and the researchers conclusions. It is the journal and reviewers’ reputations that are at stake when a paper is published. Then the scientific community the paper and weighs in with its criticisms. Finally, the results must be reproducible by other independent and often competing scientists using the same materials and methods as described in the paper. It is only after results are confirmed as reproducible that scientific knowledge is accepted as having been proven.February 24, 2017 at 11:15 am #17785
Dear James & Jennifer,,,
You certainly approach a very important topic James. And I agree with all you mentioned wholeheartedly.
Please forgive me if my comment would seem misinformed or naive; my background is in political science, not natural science. And although the social sciences have certainly went through a period “behavioralism”, in which they attempted vigorously to adopt the rigorous measurements of natural sciences, now there are trending approaches in the social sciences like “critical constructivism”, “anti-foundationalism”, & “feminism”, that criticize this previous attempt of behavioralists, because the social/human world is much more complex & relative than to be reduced into mere statistical figures.
I want to add four comments to your posts:
1* Although I’m not an expert in natural and formal sciences, it seems to me that as more scientific advancements take place, scientists find that natural phenomena are more complex than they previously assumed, & hence the percentage of doubt & uncertainty increases. This perhaps exemplified in the simple Newtonian mechanics, that scientists later found out are much more complex, represented in quantum mechanics. Or the previously dominant reductionist approach, which scientists later found out that phenomena are too complex to be reduced into parts, that they developed the systems approach. However scientists try to develop their rigorous measurements & controls to study a phenomena, they always end up finding that the Universe/existence phenomena are much more complex to be “wholly” measured & controlled by scientific means. But that of course doesn’t mean that scientists should stop developing more & more advanced & objective scientific methods of studying, because after all, as humans, we strive to know everything as facts, & we don’t satisfy with having “unknowns”!
2* Deep Time Journey or Universe Evolution, etc., I think, is supposed to be “holistic”. It’s not just supposed to include natural, formal, & social sciences, but also religion, humanities, arts, music, etc. I don’t know, but to me, the Universe is not just a science, it’s a holistic mind-set, or knowledge paradigm, or world-view, that determines the human’s approach to everything in her/his life, whether to science, society, faith/religion, artistic sensibilities, etc. That’s the real beauty & power of the Deep Time/Universe; it’s not just a new scientific framework, it’s a whole cognitive world-view, that determines the human’s knowledge approach, attitudes toward her/himself & her/his surroundings, & values.
For ex., you say that the difference between science & religion, is that the former gives space to uncertainty, & the latter claims that it holds the ultimate truth. But the Universe Evolution changes that as a “holistic” world-view to existence. This is something from my own personal experience. I previously thought that my religion, Islam, holds the ultimate truth. But after reading Big History, which includes the evolution of different religious needs & beliefs throughout human history, according to ecological, socio-economic, & political circumstances at their times; I couldn’t help but “integrate” everything together in the “whole” Universe story, integrating science with religion, in a form of constant transformation & evolution toward a higher complexity… So the Universe evolution story, turns the truths of religions, into circumstantial ideas in specific spaces & times during the Universe evolution, which makes religion, like science, succumbing to a greater space of doubt & uncertainty… Religion turns from “truths” & “beliefs”, to “speculations”, “imagination”, “spirituality”, & “uncertainty”… In other words, by the power of the “New Universe Story”, the traditional sets of world religions, transform into agnostic spirituality. And with these new religious doubts & uncertainties, the door becomes wide open for science to speculate the realm of the psychic & spiritual world, & try to search for facts, to decrease the space of uncertainty in the psychic realms, like it does in the material realms.
3* I also think it’s important for the Universe Evolution story to integrate science, with philosophy, morality, spirituality, etc., because in this juncture of (perhaps the end/extinction) of human history, we are in need to “unite” people in their values & world-views, & the Universe story is the only paradigm that has the immense potential for that, precisely because it is based on “scientific facts & discoveries” that have been made by scientists for centuries, rather than a specific philosophical or spiritual thought developed by some persons in a specific set of culture.
All previous philosophical writings in history have been preceded by scientific discoveries, & because previous scientific discoveries were “partial”, philosophical & spiritual writings following them were particularistic to specific cultures, or historical phases. Now, we finally reached the point when we have the “whole scientific story of the whole Universe” in front of us, & this necessitates forming a likewise universal philosophical approach to existence that supersedes all previous philosophical writings, to build on the immensity & universality of this New Story that is revealed to us, & its potential to unite the Earth community, regardless of their various particular cultures. This is something that our dire circumstances on an Earth that is near destruction makes it necessary for our survival.
It comes from my personal experience as well, when a very influential professor of mine, discussed to us how international relations theories that are determining the policies on which our global system is being directed now: realism, liberalism, marxism, critical constructivism, are all Western theories, that have been developed by the effect of historical developments in the West, especially its Judeo-Christian religious world-view heritage. She called this the “Western knowledge paradigm”, & added that, on our side, we need to build an alternative independent “Islamic knowledge paradigm”, with theories & concepts that build on the history & intellectual heritage of the Islamic civilization. She was influenced by the writings of Samuel Huntington, talking about the “Clash of Civilizations”, the Judeo-Christian West, the Islamic, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Orthodox Slavic, the African, the Catholic Latin American, & the Hindu.
I’ve been in conflict within myself, as the conflict that is going on in the world, between ideas & values. But when I happened upon the Universe story, it was like a blow to me. I immediately realized the triviality of all those cultural/civilizational clashes, & the huge potential of this Universe Evolution story to form an over-arching knowledge paradigm that can finally unite all peoples, viewing the immense unifying history of their whole Universe, & the smallness & relativity of their particular cultures within this huge evolution history. The global brain of the internet that is providing the technological basis for globalizing peoples’ communication & culture is already providing us with the solid base for taking this unifying-paradigm step.
4* I’m not sure if I’m correct in this, but it seems to me that the Universe Evolution / Big History is already based & filled with scientific studies, peer-reviewed articles, etc. What I feel is lacking is propagandizing it as a “trend” among people. The Universe Evolution seems to me to be currently only known or widespread within the scientific & academic community. But what about the people, the lay persons, the poor workers, the kids who’re obsessed with Star Wars & Vampires?!
We should determine whether we want to develop the Universe evolution as “only” a scientific framework of study, or as a popular world-view that attracts the interest of all people, of different educational levels, ages, & backgrounds? If we suffice with it as a scientific framework of analysis, it will lose its chance to effect drastic change in the way lay people (publics) think, their values & attitudes, & therefore their action to change our present grave global condition.
This is how philosophical views & religions affected drastic changes in the course of human history evolution, by appealing to the desires, emotions, & imagination of the masses. Science & technology change material conditions, & that’s it! But philosophical views, ideologies, & religions change the way people think, behave, & therefore driving change of their socio-political systems, & ultimately the global system, & this is what determined the “direction” to which science & technology are used & for what “purpose”, which is far more important…
To appeal the masses to the Universe evolution story, science would definitely be the “base”, but added to it, there has to be arts, novels, music, spirituality, games, movies… in other words, “imagination” has to lay comfortably side by side with “science”, to produce a “holistic” approach to existence…February 25, 2017 at 12:31 pm #17790
Thanks for your comments Noha. DTJN is definitely about a holistic approach, as articulated in our mission statement (under “About”). Jim is attempting to clarify evidence-based science within the larger holistic picture. In our fact challenged world, particularly now in the US with Trump, we’re having clarify what makes an evidence-based statement. He is now drafting a shorter statement statement describing some fallacies. It would be great to get your thoughts once he puts that up. Hope all is going well with you Noha. Please do send a message sometime about new developments for you. JenniferApril 20, 2017 at 11:48 am #18331
Dear James, I got an email containing an excerpt of a reply that you added here in the topic, but I can’t find it here. Would you please repost it here so I can be able to read it? So sorry for this confusion 🙂
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