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How can people evaluate scientific questions when they don't understand the science?
#1
This was raised in another thread, but is something I have been wondering about recently.

The question is how we can form a view on scientific questions when we don't have the training, knowledge or expertise to understand the scientific arguments. In a way it's a fairly fundamental question for this site, whose name is a combination of Psi and Science.

I can imagine various views on this:
(1) A denial of the premise - as so much information is available through the Internet, anyone who makes the effort can inform him/herself sufficiently to understand the scientific arguments.
(2) If we can't understand the scientific arguments we shouldn't form a view either way.
(3) If we don't understand the scientific arguments we should follow the scientific consensus.
(4) We can judge the credentials and trustworthiness of individuals who oppose the scientific consensus, and follow their views.
(5) We can proceed on the basis of intuition.
(6) We have just as much right to an opinion as anyone else, even if we don't understand the scientific arguments.

Actually, I don't think there's an easy answer to this question, but I think it's better to reflect on how we make these decisions, rather than doing it without thinking about it.
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#2
(09-30-2017, 11:22 AM)Chris Wrote: This was raised in another thread, but is something I have been wondering about recently.

The question is how we can form a view on scientific questions when we don't have the training, knowledge or expertise to understand the scientific arguments. In a way it's a fairly fundamental question for this site, whose name is a combination of Psi and Science.

I can imagine various views on this:
(1) A denial of the premise - as so much information is available through the Internet, anyone who makes the effort can inform him/herself sufficiently to understand the scientific arguments.
(2) If we can't understand the scientific arguments we shouldn't form a view either way.
(3) If we don't understand the scientific arguments we should follow the scientific consensus.
(4) We can judge the credentials and trustworthiness of individuals who oppose the scientific consensus, and follow their views.
(5) We can proceed on the basis of intuition.
(6) We have just as much right to an opinion as anyone else, even if we don't understand the scientific arguments.

Actually, I don't think there's an easy answer to this question, but I think it's better to reflect on how we make these decisions, rather than doing it without thinking about it.

Are you Chris C the author ?
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#3
(09-30-2017, 11:28 AM)tim Wrote: Are you Chris C the author ?

No, I'm not.
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#4
(09-30-2017, 11:37 AM)Chris Wrote: No, I'm not.

Okay, thanks, Chris.
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#5
(09-30-2017, 11:22 AM)Chris Wrote: This was raised in another thread, but is something I have been wondering about recently.

The question is how we can form a view on scientific questions when we don't have the training, knowledge or expertise to understand the scientific arguments. In a way it's a fairly fundamental question for this site, whose name is a combination of Psi and Science.

I can imagine various views on this:
(1) A denial of the premise - as so much information is available through the Internet, anyone who makes the effort can inform him/herself sufficiently to understand the scientific arguments.
(2) If we can't understand the scientific arguments we shouldn't form a view either way.
(3) If we don't understand the scientific arguments we should follow the scientific consensus.
(4) We can judge the credentials and trustworthiness of individuals who oppose the scientific consensus, and follow their views.
(5) We can proceed on the basis of intuition.
(6) We have just as much right to an opinion as anyone else, even if we don't understand the scientific arguments.

Actually, I don't think there's an easy answer to this question, but I think it's better to reflect on how we make these decisions, rather than doing it without thinking about it.

It's a fair question. My answer would be do the best one can with the tools one has (I'm using the term "one" because if I use "you" it's sounds patronising but then again using "one" I sound the like the ruddy Queen)

I don't automatically listen to someone or take heed of what they say just because they have a PHD or an MD but of course some of the sceptics on here would certainly accuse me of doing that. I would say "collectively" we should be able to get at the truth by bouncing off each other like we're doing on this exceptionally good forum. (better than the previous one) Wink
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#6
(09-30-2017, 11:51 AM)tim Wrote: It's a fair question. My answer would be do the best one can with the tools one has (I'm using the term "one" because if I use "you" it's sounds patronising but then again using "one" I sound the like the ruddy Queen)

I don't automatically listen to someone or take heed of what they say just because they have a PHD or an MD but of course some of the sceptics on here would certainly accuse me of doing that. I would say "collectively" we should be able to get at the truth by bouncing off each other like we're doing on this exceptionally good forum. (better than the previous one) Wink

Yes, that's a fair point. Two heads are better than one, and so on - especially if some of the heads have some relevant knowledge or expertise and are able to communicate them (though I don't think it helps much if they claim to have expertise and expect people to take their conclusions on trust).
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#7
(09-30-2017, 11:22 AM)Chris Wrote: This was raised in another thread, but is something I have been wondering about recently.

The question is how we can form a view on scientific questions when we don't have the training, knowledge or expertise to understand the scientific arguments. In a way it's a fairly fundamental question for this site, whose name is a combination of Psi and Science.

I can imagine various views on this:
(1) A denial of the premise - as so much information is available through the Internet, anyone who makes the effort can inform him/herself sufficiently to understand the scientific arguments.
(2) If we can't understand the scientific arguments we shouldn't form a view either way.
(3) If we don't understand the scientific arguments we should follow the scientific consensus.
(4) We can judge the credentials and trustworthiness of individuals who oppose the scientific consensus, and follow their views.
(5) We can proceed on the basis of intuition.
(6) We have just as much right to an opinion as anyone else, even if we don't understand the scientific arguments.

Actually, I don't think there's an easy answer to this question, but I think it's better to reflect on how we make these decisions, rather than doing it without thinking about it.
To answer a few.

They can't give an informed opinion. Take for instance climate change. The science is very complicated and an informed opinion can't be said by a layperson. I forget who said this: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. Intuition works only when it can be backed up by objective evidence. No indivual expert should be trusted if they are expressing their opinion. They should be when they are expressing what is known in their particular area of expertise. It seems to me folks sometimes can't tell the difference. Trust of any particular expert should not be a standard. The standard should be their work.
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#8
(09-30-2017, 12:55 PM)Steve001 Wrote: To answer a few.

They can't give an informed opinion. Take for instance climate change. The science is very complicated and an informed opinion can't be said by a layperson. I forget who said this: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. Intuition works only when it can be backed up by objective evidence. No indivual expert should be trusted if they are expressing their opinion. They should be when they are expressing what is known in their particular area of expertise. It seems to me folks sometimes can't tell the difference. Trust of any particular expert should not be a standard. The standard should be their work.

I agree with most of that, but the question I was asking is a slightly different one.

What I'm getting at is this - when we are faced with a scientific question and we don't understand the scientific arguments about it, how should we decide what to believe? (Or should we decide not to believe anything?)
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#9
(09-30-2017, 01:23 PM)Chris Wrote: I agree with most of that, but the question I was asking is a slightly different one.

What I'm getting at is this - when we are faced with a scientific question and we don't understand the scientific arguments about it, how should we decide what to believe? (Or should we decide not to believe anything?)

The very latter, absolutely (for me anyway)
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#10
Read opinions on both sides. Look for written debates where one side replies and they go back and forth. You can often detect who is not arguing in good faith (they focus on minor points, are deliberately obfuscating, their misrepresentations are easily refuted, they attack straw men, etc.). Sometimes they agree but are arguing small differences, sometimes they are arguing different points entirely.  Both sides can be right or wrong.


Study the list of logical fallicies. Understand when they apply and when they don't because some people will falsely accuse the other side of using them when they don't apply.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

UPDATE: (I made this point in a subsequent post but it is relevant here: When both sides are arguing in good faith and the experts don't agree, there is no generic method to find the truth.) If you can't decide for yourself based on the science, then you can only try to look for ingenuous arguments and reject them.

“When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” ― Socrates
The first gulp from the glass of science will make you an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you - Werner Heisenberg. (More at my Blog & Website)
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