Science

Science and Public Knowledge

Do you know what research is done at your local university? When was the last time you asked a scholar about his research and its implications? In an age of “Fake News” and “alternative facts” it is even more important, to provide the public with essential knowledge. knowledge

Science needs a good PR team

I am reading Philip Kitcher’s “Science in a Democratic Society” and I have to say, the problem of public knowledge and how to provide the public with scientific knowledge, so they can participate in a democratic society is a pressing one. Kitcher analyses the reigning sceptical attitude that the public has in respect to science and scientists. It is not only all the post-modernism, that was popular in the philosophy and literature departments of the past decades. In the wider public many not even noticed the “Science War”.

There are some more factors that are responsible for the skepticism. One is for example scientism itself. Scientists and philosophers proclaiming that they know everything about the world, and everyone else just has to listen closely, is often interpreted as arrogance. On the other hand, science itself made promises but could not keep them. We had the decade of the brain, that promised to help us to understand human behavior in every aspect. We had the promises of genetics to help us to prevent or cure every disease. But these projects were much too ambitious.

One more thing Kitcher mentions, is the idea that science should be a value-free endeavour. But actually, scientists are entangled in value and descriptive judgments everyday. What research is worth to conduct? Which data is important for my hypothesis? Is my research leading to practical consequences? All this are value questions, and science is not even imaginable without them. But if the scientist is entangled in values, like everybody else, how is it possible to provide objective knowledge? Here is the point where science needs a good PR team, and I think philosophers can help to do the job.

We need to talk about the epistemic division of labor

Lets pretend you want to get some solar panels for you house. What you do is to call an expert. Not everybody can learn every skill there is on the world. The same goes for knowledge. The amount of knowledge nowadays is so big that we need experts for different areas. Philip Kitcher calls this the epistemic division of labor. Also, there are some questions everybody should have his own opinion. That are usually important ethical and political questions about how we should organise our society.

But to build yourself your own opinion in these regards you need access to the knowledge you need to know to answer these questions. What will you do? You cannot do the research all by yourself and you cannot read all these research papers by yourself. You need someone who channels the information. That is what public knowledge is good for. It provides you with up-to-date knowledge about the world. Here it is important that you know who to trust. That is another part where philosophers can help. They can try to help teach people how to differentiate between genuine science and pseudo-science, between knowledge and manipulation.

Of course that means scientists and philosophers need to provide resources that can be channeled by the media. We need good popular science writing!

Philosophy Chunks #6

Here are some reading suggestions for you:

Learning styles are a neurobiological myth, it seems:

No evidence to back idea of learning styles

 

Karl Popper has still some things to teach us. For example how we handle the science vs. relativism debate:

In Search of a Better World: Karl Popper on Truth vs. Certainty and the Dangers of Relativism

 

Great, long and fascinating feature about Daniel Dennett:

DANIEL DENNETT’S SCIENCE OF THE SOUL

 

Can academics influence public opinion? If they start to do it they may:

Academics can change the world – if they stop talking only to their peers

 

Why do we believe in obvious untruths? Answer: The distribution of knowledge:

Why We Believe Obvious Untruths

 

Have fun getting a bit smarter!

The Manifest Image: How our common sense ontology is fake (sometimes)

Wilfrid Sellars framed the conflict between common sense and science, that arouse since the flourishing of the natural sciences, with the concepts of the manifest and the scientific image of man in the world. The manifest image is our common sense image, which includes colors, chairs, institutions etc. The scientific image is what the natural sciences tell us the world is like. These images can sometimes contradict each other.

For me, the aim of philosophy is threefold: 1) We should try to critically accompany the sciences and try to connect different parts of our scientific image. (Which means also parts in the scientific image can be in tension.) 2) We should connect the scientific image and the manifest image as far as we can. (How is it possible to connect folk psychology and neurophysiology?) 3) We should inspect the manifest image. What is worth having in our manifest image (folk psychology, for me at least) and what not (racism for example).

So philosophy is wedded to the scientific image as well as to the manifest image. Both images have their own problems and both have their own merits. A lot is written about our scientific image. But actually not so much explicitly about our manifest image. I will try to examine some traits of our manifest image in some posts to follow.

Let’s make a start. We hold often some beliefs of our common sense ontology that seem so obviously right that we do not even question them. At least, until someone comes with a crazy, astonishing experiment. For example, I think it is natural to think that the sound a balloon produces when he gets popped is to a large degree an internal property of the balloon. If you pop a balloon it is just loud. But watch this video, which shows what happens if you pop a balloon in an anechoic chamber:

An anechoic chamber is a room that is designed to completely absorb reflections of sound. And if you pop a balloon in one of these chambers it produces barely any sound at all. So the loud sound of a popping balloon is not an internal property of the balloon. What makes the sound so loud are the properties of the surroundings.

So you can see that some beliefs of our common sense are just mistaken. Of course that does not mean that they are not useful. Under normal circumstances popping a balloon produces a loud sound but that is actually not the balloons fault.

Philosophy Chunks #5

Actually, I want to write more on this blog. But for now there are just some more reading suggestions.

A long but very interesting interview with Martha Nussbaum. Fascinating woman.

On Anger, Disgust, and Love

Another great interview with a great philosopher. Daniel Dennett on his new book and Trump and stuff.

Daniel Dennett: ‘I begrudge every hour I have to spend worrying about politics’

A little bit older but a great read. And a reason why not to show overconfidence in science.

SCIENTIFIC REGRESS

Guest contribution at Grasped in Thought

You may have realized that I did not write much here lately. Other than that I am working for the planning of my PhD thesis I was writing an article for the Grasped in Thought blog. There I try to draw some connections between the american pragmatist tradition and the form of liberal naturalism that I have in mind.

Check out my article here: Pragmatism and Two Forms of Naturalism

Check also the blog in general and other contributions to it and the podcast.

Philosophy Chunks #4

Here is some crazy philosophy and science stuff for you to read, yeah:

If you want to know what it is all about that Westworld is so philosophical and stuff, check out this article about the philosophical ideas in the series:

Westworld and the Meaning of Life

There is a saying that we are actually all made of starstuff. You know the Big Bang and stuff. Jennifer Johnson now has made a periodic table that shows where all the stuff in the universe comes from.

This awesome periodic table shows the origins of every atom in your body

If you are interested in logic and where it comes from, this is for you. Kant thought the logic he knew and learned from Aristotle is all there is to know. But actually logic has a significant history of changes nowadays.

What is logic?

There is a debate if serious science can do without evidence. Mostly, because there are some physicists who say that there is no evidence for String Theory to have and that is not a problem for physics. Here is a debate between Massimo Pigliucci, Tara Shears and Rupert Sheldrake.

Missing Evidence – Does physics still need experiment?

By the way, Sheldrake is complaining about, that researchers who do investigate telepathy do not get any funding anymore. Maybe that is not because the scientific community is dogmatic and ignorant about the subject, but because research that was done in that field was showing that telepathy is not a thing?! Just guessing so…

The Edge 20th Anniversary Annual Question: Introduction

Every year Edge poses a question to some of the most important scientists in the world. The question and the answers should help to popularise scientific concepts. This years question is: What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?

I really like the introduction of John Brockman. He emphasis, that often sciences is only understood as the hard natural sciences, like physics, chemistry and molecular biology. This happens because people think science is only where experiments are made. But you cannot do experiments in every branch of science.

He, therefore, tries to sketch a broader view of science. As Massimo Pigliucci he mentions the latin word “scientia” which means knowledge. Knowledge acquisition is different for different sciences. In physics you can do experiments and mathematical modelling. In the social sciences often you cannot do any experiments that are similar in reliability to these of physics.

So we should adopt a broader view of science. A view that endorses all reliable ways of knowledge acquisition. That includes psychology, social sciences, history and maybe even philosophy. By the way, that is also the reason why I think naturalists should abandon epistemological naturalism. First, that sounds paradoxical but if you have to adopt such a broad view of science, including other sciences than only the natural sciences, where is the “natural” in “naturalism” gone, when it does not refer to the natural sciences? So I propose: As a naturalist. we should be liberal scientists, not epistemological naturalists.

I will read the contributions to the question and maybe make some further posts about the answers.