Never simply rely on authority figures

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Q-reeus, Feb 15, 2017.

  1. Q-reeus Valued Senior Member

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    Hopefully the following will be a useful example to some here. Came across it while searching for suitable references to add to a recent thread in Physics & Maths. Back in 2010, findings covered in the following article were hailed as a breakthrough achievement:
    Most precise test yet of Einstein’s gravitational redshift - Berkeley News http://news.berkeley.edu/2010/02/17/gravitational_redshift/
    A revealing passage:
    This was not exactly a no-name endeavour. We tend to implicitly trust such credentialed experts especially if the theory details are only accessible to experts.
    So it got to be published in the prestigious journal Nature: H. M¨uller, A. Peters, and S. Chu, Nature 463, 926 (2010)
    Unpaywalled preprint at: https://arxiv.org/abs/1009.2485
    With a lengthy list of contributors. And of course having passed peer review by eminently qualified referees appointed by a panel at Nature.

    One expects that pretty well guarantees reliability. Not in this case. A rebuttal came out the following year:
    https://arxiv.org/abs/1012.1194
    Also with a significant list of contributors. At the end of it all, the nay crowd were vindicated, as briefly commented on here:
    https://www.emis.de/journals/LRG/Articles/lrr-2014-4/articlese2.html
    More bluntly, the original team including a Nobel prize winner in the relevant field, made a fundamental conceptual blunder that made it past prestigious peer review.
    Such relative rarities happen from time to time. Unfortunately some are in the habit of giving lip service to but never taking the underlying lesson to heart. Respect expert's opinions and conclusions but always keep an open mind.
     
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  3. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    Right. A fundamental of the application of the Scientific Method is that no one claim or result is to be taken as gospel. It takes time, repitition, and multiple independent corroborations, before a new brick is added permanently to the foundation of our knowledge.

    No one should think otherwise.
     
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  5. river Valued Senior Member

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    Agreed

    But the problem comes about when who has access to the lab ?
     
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  7. Q-reeus Valued Senior Member

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    In the case considered above, there was no question of fudging results to fraudulently obtain a desired outcome. Valid experimental data was misinterpreted owing to erroneous theoretical assumptions. See Conclusion, and even just the last main para there will give you the correct flavour.
     
  8. river Valued Senior Member

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    Authority , is a mindset .
     
  9. Q-reeus Valued Senior Member

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    PhD's are generally hard earned especially in say physics. So respect for those who have such letters after their name should be the default position. They may be hard earned in areas like political science too, but as a general rule I would place far less trust in pronouncements from holders of PhD's in such 'disciplines'.
     
  10. river Valued Senior Member

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    True.
     
  11. river Valued Senior Member

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    The problem is ; when can PHD's breakaway from the paradigm of the past thinking ?

    In order for authority to progress ; one must break , authority thinking ; hence a paradox .

    Authority vs progress of thought .
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2017
  12. Q-reeus Valued Senior Member

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    The difficult trick is to be able to hold a position strongly but not so strongly as to be closed to well-presented alternate evidence.
    Without sufficient background knowledge and skill in what's already taken as gospel, seeing beyond it is nigh impossible. Actual cranks/crackpots/crazies ignore that.
    Hmm... this is getting to be more philosophical than science per se.
     
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  13. river Valued Senior Member

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    PHD , is philosophy .
     
  14. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    A current TV program, QI, running on satellite is not so current, being old programs recycled

    The one I watched today was a review of the shows previous programs correcting information, facts, shown in those previous programs

    It was stated that at estimate about half of what we know or understand as facts now will be found not to be correct in about 10 years time

    This will be due to further research and discoveries

    The problem is that while we sort of understand only 50% of what we know is probably incorrect we don't know which 50%

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  15. Q-reeus Valued Senior Member

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    About the most notorious example of that imo is the ever see-sawing dietary guidelines owing to new studies that regularly overturn 'conventional wisdom' only to be in turn overturned by an even newer study. Witness the semi-regular cycles of butter vs margarine or eggs are healthy/not-healthy or red wine does/does-not protect from heart disease or vitamin supplements are useless....etc. etc.

    But even in the hard sciences, misconceptions can persist for decades before being uncovered. Many times owing to 'weight of authority'. Classic case von Neumann's 'impossibility proof' dismissed as nonsense by Bell some 3 decades later. With others since in turn challenging Bell's theorem or even the fineries of his demolition job on von Neumann.
     
  16. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    Agree agree agree

    But I would put the see/saw down to fashion fads and gurus trying to flog the latest miracle all singing all dancing cure which is a one size fits all

    Of course some responsibility lays with the person's who keep the see/saw going, the consumers

    And just because the person dressed in a white label coat looks like a scientist does not mean they are

    Nor do the impressive looking charts and stats mean anything remotely scientific took place in the trials paid for by company flogging the fad

    While not exactly hard science my best example would be dissection of the human body when visual inspection of the male skeleton showed 24 ribs (12 pair) at the same time students were being told males only had 23 due to one being removed to be put to another use

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  17. Xelasnave.1947 Valued Senior Member

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    I often wonder what folk one thousand years from now think of our theories our interpretation.
    Alex
     
  18. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    I can almost hear the chuckles and guffaws echoing back to us

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  19. Q-reeus Valued Senior Member

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    Gee, I wonder what the Genesis of that last idea could have been?

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    Are there still medical colleges stuck in a time warp that bad? Or someone is taking a pot-shot at religious types here? Yeah, I go for that last one.
     
  20. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    Medical colleges are not doing it NOW but it wasn't so long ago

    Your spot on with the pot-shot

    It was just to easy a target sorry

    In 1632 Galileo and the catholic church had a bit of a disagreement

    I can understand the pope having trouble understanding the evidence of mechanics and calculations Galileo presented showing the Earth went around the Sun

    Visually it was obvious that the Sun went around the Earth

    Visually got it wrong

    However opening up body after body and always finding 24 ribs must give anyone pause to think may be the teachers were wrong to teach 23

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  21. Q-reeus Valued Senior Member

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    Have you not allowed for that the Papacy may simply have been extreme Lamarckian's but ahead of Lamarck's time? And simply too squeamish to take a peek. How unkind!
     
  22. Michael 345 Valued Senior Member

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    Not sure how Lamarck fits in

    Also not sure if the pope was to squeamish to peek

    Almost sure he wasn't teaching medical students

    Fairly certain he held the dogma position about modifying a rib

    Comfortable with the idea of teachers of medical students going along with the dogma and using it in classes

    Suspect some were giving a wink to students to follow their (students) observations but keep hush hush so popey doesn't get upset

    Kind enough?

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  23. Q-reeus Valued Senior Member

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamarckism
    I did say an extreme form!
    As long as it's not too close to Genesis strict 'after their kind' sort of kindness. You know - descent without modification nonsense. My turn at a shoot into the air at random pot-shot.

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