Challenges to Science

English: A game of Tug of War during College R...

English: A game of Tug of War during College Royal at the University of Guelph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wrote this paper about 30 years ago for the HiC magazine. I welcome comments on it now. Has anything changed over those many years?

Next week I want to consider some of the current problems we face: climate change deniers, beginning and end of life issues, distribution of scarce resources, and others.


Humanist in Canada, Summer 1983; by Bob Lane

   – ©2005, 2007 Bob Lane

Over the past two hundred years science has proved itself to be the most powerful intellectual method yet devised. The “scientific method” has become the paradigm for all disciplines which deal in empirical fact. Observation, generalisation, falsification, repetition of experiments have become orthodox methodology which is rarely questioned and not often understood.

Today there are several challenges to science. In the United States, and to some degree here in Canada, one of the centerpiece theories of contemporary science — evolution — has come under strong attack by a group of fundamentalist Christians who call themselves “creationists”. They are trying to get creationism taught in the school system as a scientific theory on equal footing with evolutionism.

A second challenge comes from those who believe in paranormal phenomena: ESP, out-of-body travel, clairvoyance and the like. The tremendous interest in this area of “psychic” phenomena is witnessed by the procession of movies, books, television shows, and newspaper columns devoted to the mysterious powers of people who can, seemingly, bend spoons with mind power alone, predict events before they occur, and, in general, are tuned in to some dimension of reality that the rest of us, bound by our five senses, can only vicariously experience. Are any of these phenomena real? Or are they merely hoped for evidence of some spirit world that promises us immortality? Or are they, more seriously, hoaxes perpetrated on a gullible audience for very non-scientific reasons, like greed?

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SS: on finding truth

There are several competing religions, and each claims it has the Truth. We read daily of clashes between Sunnis and Shia. The last time I counted there were 144 different flavours of Christianity. How could they all be true at the same time? How would one determine which, if any, has a corner on truth? I think the most damning criticism of religion comes out of considerations like this one. David Hume pointed this out long ago in his essay on religion. Is there any truth to the claims of religion?

And what about science? Does it do any better? One day coffee is said to be good for you and a week later it is bad for you. Is sunshine good or bad?  Is global warming real or just “the sky is falling” fear mongering? Compare religious claims with scientific claims. Religious claims depend on authority. What is different about scientific claims? Don’t they too depend upon authority?

One of the strengths of science is its capacity to resolve controversies by generally accepted procedures and standards. Many scientific questions (especially more technical ones) are not matters of opinion but have a correct answer.

Scientists document their procedures and findings in the peer-reviewed literature in such a way that they can be double-checked and challenged by others. The proper way to challenge results is, of course, also through the peer-reviewed literature, so that the challenge follows the same standards of documentation as did the original finding. [Source]

Also on topic is this discussion between Krauss and Dawkins.

CO₂

Screenshot_2018-06-08 Dig seeks site of first English settlement in the New WorldCarbon dioxide (CO2) can be sucked out of the atmosphere for less than $100 per ton, a price tag less than one-sixth the cost of previous estimates for the geoengineering technique known as direct air capture, scientists report this week in Joule. David Keith, a physicist at Harvard University and co-founder of the startup Carbon Engineering, and his colleagues analyzed the output of a pilot plant in British Columbia in Canada that uses a four-step chemical process to capture CO2. A liquid takes in the gas initially, then releases it as a concentrated stream of gas that the plant combines with hydrogen to make gasoline and other fuels. Keith’s team projected that a large commercial plant using similar technology could capture CO2 for between $94 and $232 per ton. At that price, Carbon Engineering claims fuels could be made for about $1 per liter. Fuels based on carbon removal could be cost-effective in regions such as California where regulations allow them to command a premium price, says Stephen Pacala, an ecologist at Princeton University who is leading a study about CO2 removal technologies for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

SOURCE.