Scientific “Correctness” vs. Scientific Progress

I came across the following brief 8-minute video and accompanying article shortly after my last post on Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  The writer does a very good job of eloquently explaining how scientific “correctness” impedes scientific progress, thereby dovetailing and supporting the very behaviors (and dangers/risks) that are outlined in Kuhn’s book.

In this context “scientific correctness” refers to the scientific establishment’s adherence to the dominant paradigms at the exclusion of all other competing paradigms (and refusal to even consider other possibilities).

The Video

The comments below the video on its YouTube page are entertaining as well.   🙂

 

The Article

Article by Mel Acheson that served as the video’s original source and transcript:

Scientific Correctness

 

Much the same as outlined by Kuhn, Acheson identifies the properties of a paradigm.  The paradigm’s framework serves to guide the paradigm’s inquiries as well as set its limits. This can be viewed both from a positive and negative aspect.

A paradigm . . .

  • defines what a scientist will look for and where to look for it;
  • sets a standard for what is acceptable with regards to the worthiness of a research topic or problem;
  • and defines what is acceptable as a solution to the problem.

“One of a paradigm’s greatest benefits is also one of its greatest liabilities: It provides guidelines (or excuses) for what to ignore.”   – Mel Acheson

Scientific “correctness” assumes its paradigm is the correct and best picture of the truth, only needing minor tweaking to stand the test of time. It is more akin to an “establishment of a catechism.” This assumption “becomes absolute and straightjackets further discovery. It leads to stasis and intellectual death.”

Acheson mentions the case of Halton Arp and his red-shift/quasar evidence that opposes the existing expanding universe (big-bang) paradigm:

“A recent example of [scientific correctness] is the behavior of the astronomical establishment toward Halton Arp. His observations of connections between quasars and galaxies put the brakes on the expanding universe and exploded the Big Bang hypothesis. But instead of saying, “Here’s an interesting observation; we don’t have time for it, but let’s see what he can make of it,” the reaction was, “Deny him telescope time and refuse to publish his findings and crop out quasars on photos of galaxies.”

Not a very scientific response.

 

Domain of Validity

Acheson shares a fascinating concept he calls “domain of validity.

As opposed to scientific correctness, domain of validity describes a process where scientists assume and expect their favored paradigm has its limits; that observational anomalies will overflow the paradigm’s ability to fully explain nature. Humility is needed to allow a paradigm to bring in its own replacement.  Science can become a toolbox of many paradigms that can be used for whatever specific application and problems they’re best suited.

Now that sounds like good science!

 

Pertinent Quotes

All, of course, by the author Mel Acheson . . . .

“The history of science provides many examples of a new discipline making little progress, squabbling over fundamentals, until a paradigm is adopted. But at the other end, when a paradigm is becoming obsolete, the ignoring of alternatives results in “paradigm paralysis” that wastes time and resources trying to force-fit big anomalies into the undersized clothes of the established paradigm.”

“Scientific correctness – The (proper) concern that a theory is “correct” or “right” or “true”, that it “fits” or explains the relevant data, becomes confused with a pseudo-religious “Right” or True” that exceeds the cognitive domain of the paradigm. All other ideas come to be judged by the standards of the one. “Crackpot” becomes a term of dismissal rather than one of mere differentiation. The process of discovery gets lost in defensiveness.”

“Scientific correctness masquerades in the dress of science, but it’s only a mannequin without the vitality of science. In contrast with the three aspects of cognition, scientific correctness refuses to look at new observations, refrains from considering new ideas, and disdains to verify new insights. It’s essentially anti-intelligent. It confuses verification with conformity; it replaces the innovations of intelligence with the parroting of dogma; it lacks the provisionality that keeps science always on the move. It’s a tyrant of stasis.”

 

Keep questioning & searching!

 

 

 

 

 

Total Solar Eclipse – August 2017

Since I just posted about this week’s Lunar Eclipse, I may as well also post about our 2017 Total Solar Eclipse experience. The United States was treated to a rare opportunity to see a total solar eclipse as it traveled across the continent on August 21, 2017. I promised myself when I was a kid while watching the 1970 eclipse on TV, that I would make a point of directly experiencing the totality of the next one in 2017.

The path is noted here:

Path of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse – by USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0

Since the path was so close to us here in Kentucky, I decided to book a hotel room nine months before the event. I wanted to find something in Hopkinsville, KY where the maximum totality on the continent would be experienced. Even with very little media press nearly a year ahead of the eclipse, all hotel rooms in Hopkinsville were already booked. Amazing. I found a hotel nearby in Clarksville, TN which was still in the path of totality for a duration of 2-1/2 minutes.

My wife Debbie, brother Steve and his wife Amanda took the trip. I also took along my 6-inch Celestron Dobsonian telescope with solar filter. It’s not proper equipment for solar eclipse photography (which I don’t own), but it would help get a closer view of the impending totality as the moon slowly crept across the solar disk.

We arrived the day before and spent a little time wandering around Hopkinsville (aka Eclipseville):

After spending the night in Clarksville, we decided to stay there in the hotel parking lot rather than try to drive up towards the insanity in Hopkinsville. Our hotel owners were very pleasant and had no problem with us hanging around, so we set-up for picnicking and refreshments under the shade:

We set-up the telescope with its filter, donned our solar eclipse glasses and waited for the moon to start covering the sun:

After awhile, others who decided to hang around came to visit with us and look at the progress through the telescope:As we got closer to the time of totality, we started seeing crescent shadows as the sunlight filtered through tree leaves:

Here’s a photo a bystander took through the eyepiece of my telescope. You can see the orb of the moon covering about 80% of the sun disk:

Our family looking at the eclipse just before totality:

Totality!  Unfortunately, my phone’s camera just couldn’t take an acceptable picture of the sun’s corona glowing around the dark disk.  Had I been less excited I may have had the presence of mind to remove the solar filter on the telescope and try to shoot a pic through the eyepiece; but that didn’t happen.  🙁

Again, this pic of totality doesn’t correctly show the dark disk with corona:

And this is what totality looks like. I incorrectly expected near-total darkness. Instead, it’s mostly dark (like very late dusk) but there’s a gold/red glow on the horizon that you see all 360-degrees around you:

And this photo during totality is much brighter than it was in reality.  You can see that everyone removed their eclipse glasses and are looking directly at the sun during totality.  We had to make sure to put those glasses back on as we approached the end of the 2-1/2 minutes of darkness:

Totality finished, the bright sun returned, and eclipse glasses back on our eyes:

We didn’t hang around to watch the moon’s shadow recede off the sun.  We knew traffic back to Louisville would be nuts, so we loaded up and hauled ourselves back home. And, yes, traffic was horrendous on the return trip.

Was it worth it?  Oh, yes – – VERY worth it!  We found out from friends that if you weren’t actually in the direct path of totality, the sun still looked relatively normal with essentially no darkening of the sky (even though 95%-plus of the sun was covered for their location).  So, definitely worth it to be in the actual path.

I’m SO pleased we took the plunge and made the trip into totality.  We’re already planning to travel to near my brother in Evansville, IN for the next total solar eclipse in April 2024.

Carpe diem my friends!

 

Cognitive Dissonance

Another critical barrier to “Proper Thinking” and intellectual integrity is the theory of Cognitive Dissonance.

It’s important to understand that this cognitive weakness can be the reason for us to default to other barriers to accurate thinking such as Confirmation Bias and Rationalization. As part of our Knowledge Adventuring it will always serve us well to be aware of these thinking biases and adapt our attitude and approach to the pursuit of enlightenment and truth.

 

What is it?

Cognitive Dissonance is a theory developed by Leon Festinger in 1957 and essentially holds that we as human beings experience mental stress and discomfort when we either:

  • hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas or values at the same time, or
  • perform an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values, or
  • are confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

We have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid disharmony (dissonance) as it is psychologically unpleasant.  We seek consistency between our expectations and reality so we are motivated to attempt to reduce the dissonance.

The degree of dissonance will vary with the importance and level of ‘investment’ of our beliefs and values, with the degree of inconsistency between our behavior and this belief, and our inability to rationalize and explain away the conflict.

It is most powerful when it is about our self-image.  We don’t want to feel foolish or immoral so those feelings are a sign of dissonance within.  The greater the dissonance the more you will be motivated to resolve it.

“People don’t like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions. Conclusions are not always pleasant.”   – Attributed to Helen Keller

We deal with Cognitive Dissonance in one of a few ways:

  1. Try to change one or more of our beliefs, values or behaviors involved in the dissonance.
  2. Justify behavior or beliefs by acquiring new information that outweighs the dissonant beliefs (Confirmation Bias).
  3. Ignore or deny any information that conflicts with existing beliefs (Rationalization).

 

#1 is extremely difficult and not likely to occur unless a person is open to change and adapting new information. This isn’t the natural tendency for us.  Our beliefs and values tend to stay the same or even strengthened as they are (in the same direction), and our cognitive biases naturally rally against this course of action.

#2 is when we want to eliminate the discomfort from dissonance by seeking out confirming evidence to support our existing beliefs and values. We don’t consider disconfirming evidence, as that would only increase the dissonance.

#3 is when we want to eliminate the discomfort from dissonance but can’t quite find enough confirming evidence to support our position (or too lazy to find it), so we ignore, reject or rationalize it to ourselves and others.  If we can’t make an honest case for our stance, we may dismiss the dissonant information as insufficient or fraudulent.

 

Why do we do it?

We all have cherished beliefs that have developed over a lifetime of cultural/societal ‘education’ and conditioning.  We usually go to great lengths to protect those beliefs – particularly the longer we’ve invested effort and ownership in them.  It is extremely hard to change a belief that has grown to be a person’s entire soul, fiber and character (their self-identity).

So, when faced with information that might rock the foundation of those beliefs, we knee-jerk react to the dissonance created.  Instead of stepping back, viewing everything objectively and with an eye for obtaining the most accurate and true picture, we default to being an arrogant and incompetent thinker – via irrational thinking.

The fundamental tendency of human behavior is to be irrational much of the time. So when the unpleasantness and tension of cognitive dissonance hits us we would rather be close-minded than be informed and deal with the repercussions of it.

Even people who erroneously think their beliefs are scientific may come by their notions gradually and their commitment may escalate to the point of irrationality..

 

How to fight it?

Out of the three methods listed above for dealing with Cognitive Dissonance, we should ideally try to adopt #1 (Try to change one or more of our beliefs).  This is, assuming of course, an objective review of evidence and information indicates our beliefs, values, behaviors are probably in error and in need of adjusting.

#2 and #3 are only mental gymnastics and are attributes of incompetent thinking.  Do you want to be an incompetent thinker?

Don’t ignore or deny the evidence. Consider it honestly and humbly. Is it telling you something?  Can you achieve a more accurate picture of reality if you commit to changing when needed?  Don’t knee-jerk rationalize or attack the evidence attempting to destroy it from your psyche.

If the topic of the dissonance is of importance, particularly if it’s something you feel STRONGLY about, do some investigation.  Decide for yourself that you honestly want to review all the evidence in an objective manner – that you want to achieve accuracy and truth.

Step back, take some time to dig into it – again with honesty, refusing to bend to your natural biases.  Make sure you don’t default to Confirmation Bias and Rationalizations.  Objectively include opposing evidence and assess it with equal fairness and judgment as confirming information. Weigh all the evidence from all sides and come to a conclusion.

Where is the evidence leading?  Might my beliefs and assumptions in life be in need of refinement – no matter how long I’ve held them or how ingrained and orthodox they are to the mainstream herd?

Know that your conclusions shouldn’t be cast in concrete and held as irrefutable.  New evidence may come to light which would lead to further refinement. The goal, instead, should be a continual path of discovery and refinement as you learn and grow.

 

Bottom Line . . .

Do you want to go through life as an incompetent thinker with little-to-no intellectual integrity? Do you want to be a walking error?

Or do you want the adventure of enlightenment – continually refining your knowledge, beliefs and values with ever more accurate and representative of the truth?

Choosing the latter is a formula for an amazing life of continual adventure and discovery!  There is a huge liberating feeling and realization you get when you refine, change and grow.

Admit you’re beliefs, values and behaviors may need refinement.  Discover the most accurate information you can. Approach your discoveries with a humble attitude of wanting to know – regardless of where the road leads.

 

Don’t deny reality.

 

 

 

Some decent online sources: (there are many others of course)

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

Rationalization

Another personal impediment to “Proper Thinking” is Rationalization.  If we want to improve our intellectual integrity and thinking prowess we need to be on guard from making rationalizations.

What is it?

I like Neel Burton’s definition:

The use of feeble but seemingly plausible arguments either to justify something that is difficult to accept (sour grapes) or to make it seem ‘not so bad after all’ (sweet lemons).

We do something not so smart (a bad decision or behavior), or hold conflicting ideas (beliefs vs evidence), or feel uncomfortable about something we find difficult to accept, so we make excuses to ourselves and others.  However, these aren’t genuine explanations. They’re manufactured excuses that are false or unauthentic yet masquerading as logical reasons.

We try to justify and explain after the fact, avoiding the true explanation by using self-serving reassurances that seem logical but really aren’t.

 

Why do we do it?

Each of us has a world-view and self-image.  We have a knee-jerk reaction to protecting that self-image at all costs.  It’s not human nature to admit our shortcomings and mistakes.  We have an innate desire to defend.

Rationalization is an ego defense mechanism used to protect our self-identity. It’s used to reduce psychological discomfort of holding contradictory beliefs or thoughts.  We don’t want to be embarrassed or feel like an idiot for making a bad decision, taking a stupid action or being mistaken about the beliefs we hold. We want to feel good on the inside that we’re maintaining consistency across actions, thoughts and beliefs.

It’s a natural reaction to an emotional conflict.  We need to explain away any discrepancy.  Yet it’s also a self-deception.  By rationalizing we don’t come to terms with reality.  We hide our true motives and shortcomings from oneself and others. We want to make reality fit our emotions.

“Questioning our own motives, and our own process, is critical to a skeptical and scientific outlook. We must realize that the default mode of human psychology is to grab onto comforting beliefs for purely emotional reasons, and then justify those beliefs to ourselves with post-hoc rationalizations.”  – Steven Novella

 

How do we fight it?

We have an innate difficulty:   Human beings are not rational. We are by nature rationalizing animals.  Thinking and changing represent major threats to the beliefs that make up our sense of self.

Any large change in a person’s outlook is only going to occur incrementally over a long period of time. This is critical to understand.  A person can’t jump from point A to point Z in one fell swoop.  It’s difficult enough to simply move from A to B; and then only if the person wants to adapt and change.  We have to embrace the concept of finding fault in our own thoughts and beliefs, and wanting to improve their accuracy.  Refine, refine, refine.  It should be a continuous process.

Some tips:

  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Be humble. Admit and take ownership for your shortcomings and mistakes.
  • Don’t self-delude.
  • Don’t deny reality.
  • Stop making excuses.
  • Decide for yourself you want to change and adapt.
  • Adapt, change, refine.

By doing so, you’ll gain self-esteem, courage, and integrity.  You’ll also grow as an individual, have a more accurate picture of reality and practice a high level of intellectual integrity.

“I mean by intellectual integrity the habit of deciding vexed questions in accordance with the evidence, or of leaving them undecided where the evidence is inconclusive. This virtue, though it is underestimated by almost all adherents of any system of dogma, is to my mind of the very greatest social importance and far more likely to benefit the world than Christianity or any other system of organized beliefs.”
Bertrand Russell

Bottom Line . . .

Embrace accuracy and change.  Refine, improve, grow.

 

 

 

Some decent online sources: (there are many others of course)

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.