Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Quote of the Time Being #9

A classic:
In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.

[Galileo Galilei]
Needless to say, I get annoyed at arguments from popularity.

28 comments:

Randy Kirk said...

What if all the folks in the poll are experts? Say global warming?

Bronze Dog said...

The concept behind the phrase is that one person using superior reasoning and evidence trumps sheer popularity.

The 'authorities' of Galileo's time used magical thinking, rather than science.

I don't know as much about global warming as I do about evolution and medicine, but thus far, my limited experience shows relatively little reasoning behind the dissenters.

Tom Foss said...

All the folks supporting global warming do so with reasoning and evidence, not just guesswork and magical thinking. So, they are the humble individuals.

Proteus454 said...

I love it. And the best part? Now whenever tries that "They laughed at Galileo too" bullshit, I get to go "First of all, he was RIGHT unlike you, and since you care about his opinion so much..."

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

A great (and true) quote. I believe it applies perfectly to Darwin...

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

Damnit! That was ambiguous, wasn't it?

Darwin being "the individual."

TheBrummell said...

Of course, the first comment seems to make the assumption that since one individual was right against a large number who were wrong, then the underdog is always right when faced with popular dissent.

I don't know much about global warming either - but what I've seen of the dissenters is not impressive.

Rockstar Ryan said...

Most of the global warming dissenters use silly fallacies. The most common I've encountered is the old "appeal to science was wrong before". Their arguments are right up there with the dickheads saying second hand smoke is harmless.

xiangtao said...

The other main argument I see against global warming is the cry that warming and cooling trends are historically cyclical. What they ignore is that the temperature cycles follow carbon cycles which are currently skyrocketing past any previous levels.

Tom Foss said...

Sorry to derail, but have you noticed that the "recent comments" widget is showing comments which are anything but recent?

Randy Kirk said...

Everyone seemed to get off on defense of the majority here. The question I posed was waht if all the people being polled are experts. The global warming was just an example. It could as easily have been any topic where experts largely agree, but other experts of equal or even superior education, experience, etc., are totally on the other side.

Tom Foss said...

There's a distinction that you don't seem to be making. Expertise doesn't matter; evidence does. It just happens that the experts are the ones who are best at understanding and evaluating the evidence.

If all the physicists in the world stood up tomorrow and said "the speed of light in a vacuum is a constant 45 mph," their expertise wouldn't change the fact that the speed of light is 3x10^8 m/s. The evidence is what matters, period.

There's an old saying, and I can't remember the source for it right now, that goes "for every Ph.D. there is an equal and opposite Ph.D." I think you'll find that when the vast majority of experts from a variety of fields all come to the same conclusions from different evidentiary sources, the "experts" who speak out against them are usually unreliable, as in the case of global warming. The simplest way to check is to look at the evidence and the reasoning.

Randy Kirk said...

Tom,

We are all lay persons in some sphere. I know a bunch about selling and motivating. I might even be an expert. You might not be. When a lay person comes into a situation where they must make a decision, they are not always able to become an expert themselves. Thus they have to rely on experts.

So, for the purposes of the laity on any given subject, all we can do is look at what the experts are saying, and use our own judgement.

For the other PhD, is in a different quandry. He looks at the other PhD and wonders why he is skewing evidence, not paying attention to his great proofs, wondering of theres money or power issues, etc.

So, it would be neat if it all came down to some issue of what is real, but it just doesn't. And the more money and power involved, the more likely there is going to be a struggle of truth.

Tom Foss said...

We are all lay persons in some sphere. I know a bunch about selling and motivating. I might even be an expert. You might not be. When a lay person comes into a situation where they must make a decision, they are not always able to become an expert themselves. Thus they have to rely on experts.

So, for the purposes of the laity on any given subject, all we can do is look at what the experts are saying, and use our own judgement.


And in most cases, that's fine. When an expert in Physics says something about Physics, and other experts in Physics agree, there's a very high chance that what he's saying is true (given the current evidence). You can almost always rely on the majority opinion of the experts in a given field, not because they are experts, but because of the knowledge of evidence which makes them experts.

But this is all rather to the side of the original quotation, which contrasts authority with reason. The reason experts in Physics (or climatology or environmental science) are experts in those fields is because they have done the research and they know the reasoning and can follow the evidence to conclusions. You don't get to be an expert in the sciences without knowing the evidence, the theories, the conclusions, and how to arrive at them.

Rev. BigDumbChimp said...

BD way off topic, but fresh off his drubbing at the hands of Orac and his commentors, DaveScot just got his ass handed to him by Kevin over at Joan Bushwell's Chimp Refuge.

I'm sure merriment will ensue.

JanieBelle said...

It's always so much fun when Davey sticks his head above the parapets of UD.

And no matter how many times he gets thumped, there will always be a next time.

That's the best part.

Tom Foss said...

Smacking down nutjobs is a lot like Whack-A-Mole. It looks like it should be tedious and repetitive, but it sure is fun.

Randy Kirk said...

You know, now that you say it that way, and I go back and study the quote, I see that I missed the point. However, in order to get the point, potentially there would be more of a lead up or context. Authority could have been science. Reason could be the wise layperson who gets it right while authority is too ivory towerized to see outside the box.

Of course, if you take into consideration who was making the quote, then it becomes contextualized.

Having admited my faux pas, I still think there is merit in the "within the trade" argument.

If the authority of 100,000 scientists all insist that we are headed into an ice age(1970), but there are a 1000 scientist, or even 100, that say that regardless of the "science," the extrapolation must be based on reason, and they don't agree, might Galileo side with the 1000?

Tom Foss said...

If the authority of 100,000 scientists all insist that we are headed into an ice age(1970), but there are a 1000 scientist, or even 100, that say that regardless of the "science," the extrapolation must be based on reason, and they don't agree, might Galileo side with the 1000?

I'm not sure what you mean; science is based on reason. What scientists have made the claim? What scientists make the counter-claim? And most importantly, what evidence supports each claim?

Randy Kirk said...

I'm having a heck of a time with that quote. I keep getting it backwards.
Again, lets look at GW. Read it for yourself. There is plenty of evidence on both sides. Evidence by very highly trained folks with real experiments and everything. : )

However, the current authority would be that we will be up 6 degrees in 50 years. Would Galileo take the side of the scientists that are being hounded out of their jobs?

Akusai said...

Would Galileo take the side of the scientists that are being hounded out of their jobs?

I think you're missing part of the nuance of the quote. The answer to that question is "Who gives a damn which side Galileo is on?" It's irrelevant. What matters is the evidence, not the majority or the minority or the establishment or the contrarians. It doesn't matter if an idea is popular or not, it matters if it is supported by evidence.

Tom Foss said...

Akusai's got it right.

Again, lets look at GW. Read it for yourself. There is plenty of evidence on both sides. Evidence by very highly trained folks with real experiments and everything. : )

I've looked at the evidence, and it seems to me that everything from math to data to reason to Occam's Razor is on the side of the anthropocentric carbon dioxide emission crowd. You have yet to answer my question as to what kind of scientists are proposing the alternate explanations. Are they climate scientists, meteorologists, and environmental scientists? Or are they something else? There are engineers who support Intelligent Design and Psychologists who deny vaccination, but they don't have the credentials to speak with authority on those issues.

Davis said...

If the authority of 100,000 scientists all insist that we are headed into an ice age(1970)...

That's actually false; this is one of the common fallacies pushed by the global warming denialists (as part of an appeal to "science was wrong before, so it's wrong now"). As a challenge, go out and try to find peer-reviewed journal articles from the 70s (i.e., Newsweek doesn't count) predicting an imminent ice age. They don't exist.

More here.

Randy Kirk said...

Here is a series of short articles referencing some of the scientists on the other side of GW, including their credentials. If you need more, I can provide them.
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/story.html?id=22003a0d-37cc-4399-8bcc-39cd20bed2f6&k=0

This is not quite as helpful on the subject of the coming ice age, but I think it makes my point. There doesn't need to be peer reviewed articles for the public to be convinced by science that we need to "do something no 'cause the sky is falling."
Journalists took the threat of another ice age seriously. Fortune magazine actually won a “Science Writing Award” from the American Institute of Physics for its own analysis of the danger. “As for the present cooling trend a number of leading climatologists have concluded that it is very bad news indeed,” Fortune announced in February 1974.

http://www.businessandmedia.org/specialreports/2006/fireandice/fireandice.asp

Randy Kirk said...

Sorry,

In my last post the section starting with the word journalists is a quote from the article linked.

Davis said...

Randy, your URL doesn't seem to work.

There doesn't need to be peer reviewed articles for the public to be convinced by science that we need to "do something no 'cause the sky is falling."

If there are no peer-reviewed articles, then the public isn't being convinced by science -- it's being convinced by arguments from authority. That gets to the heart of the point of the quote in this post. "Science" isn't just whatever happens to come out of a scientist's mouth; at the very minimum, an argument needs to be backed up by peer-reviewed articles, so that it can face the scrutiny of the scientific community.

This is why the "impending ice age" was unscientific alarmism, and it's why the "the other side" of AGW is largely unscientific -- most of the scientists on "the other side" are putting their arguments into the media, and not into peer-reviewed journals (there are a scant few such articles seriously questioning AGW).

Randy Kirk said...

The URL's work, they are just continuing off the page. Double click (or whatever the equivelent of that is in PC)on the left of the URL and it will capture the entire thing. Then copy and paste.

I admit to being less than clever at using HTML and other such on these blog comments. Seems every time I try to use it, I lose it.

Randy Kirk said...

The URL's work, they are just continuing off the page. Double click (or whatever the equivelent of that is in PC)on the left of the URL and it will capture the entire thing. Then copy and paste.

I admit to being less than clever at using HTML and other such on these blog comments. Seems every time I try to use it, I lose it.