Ethics in Science


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In the topic "Can Morality be Objective?" Brant Gaede said simply:

Posted 26 December 2009 - 01:04 AM

Morality is the foundation of the scientific method. Objectivity demands objectivity. Right demands truth; truth demands reason, reason demands reality. Reality is indifferent.


Although I do not need the class for graduation, I signed up for a seminar in "Ethics in Physics." The book we are reading is Plastic Fantastic by Eugene Samuel Reich. I got Robert Boyle's Skeptical Chymist and a book of Francis Bacon's essays from the library, as both are cited as originators of the scientific method.

If you google "Ethics in Physics" it is at once nice and sad that the first hit is to a seminar at EMU 15 years ago. I like my school and all, but it is pretty much a middling kind of place in the midwest. The class I am taking is for seniors (another grad student in there with me). And they say they never studied these problems before. I posted a link on the class board to Ayn Rand's "Objectivist Ethics." As a school of thought, objectivism (small-o) is synonymous with rational-empiricism, which is the scientific method.

Facts must be explained by theories. Theories must be supported by facts. Moreover, you must show your methods: methods are results. Also, now, following Popper, we demand falsifiability: you must state what it would take to prove you wrong; you cannot just leave the challenge hanging in the air -- lack of disproof is not validation. There are many statements of the scientific method, as three, five, eleven steps.

The scientific method is the best way yet discovered for winnowing the truth from lies and delusion. The simple version looks something like this:

1. Observe some aspect of the universe.

2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.

3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.

4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.


Take your pick or argue them as you will. My favorite is this one from the founder of Edmund Scientific, the mail order house. Edmund's process is called SM-14 because it has fourteen steps:

Steps or Stages of the Scientific Method

1. Curious Observation

2. Is There a Problem?

3. Goals & Planning

4. Search, Explore, & Gather the Evidence

5. Generate Creative & Logical Alternative Solutions

6. Evaluate the Evidence

7. Make the Educated Guess (Hypothesis)

8. Challenge the Hypothesis

9. Reach a Conclusion

10. Suspend Judgment

11.Take Action

Supporting Ingredients

12. Creative, Non-Logical, Logical & Technical Methods

13. Procedural Principals & Theories

14. Attributes & Thinking Skills

Over the years, I have settled on these observations for myself.

All truths support other truths. You cannot have an isolated statement that is true in one case, but leads nowhere and comes from nowhere. Conversely, if something fails, it does so many ways, not just one. One case is enough to disrpove, but no false theory has only one fact in contradiction. Moreover, if that were the case, that a theory seems sound except for one problem -- and just one -- then the theory would have to stand and the one problem would beg a better definition.

Dichotomies do not exist. This comes from the Aristotlean statement by Ayn Rand that contradictions do not exist. There is no moral-practical dichotomy; no social-individual dichotomy; no economic-political dichotomy. (In economics classes, it is said that the government should provide public goods that are unprofitable for businesses. As all truths support other truths, I assert that the unprofitable is immoral.) We here all know that there is no empirical-rational (analytic-synthetic; logical-experiential...) dichotomy. That is why the scientific method works, because reality is non-contradictory. Even in that murky realm of Congressional Policy, there can be no argument between monetary policy and fiscal policy -- though there always seems to be, and with predictably disastrous results. In other words, in a world of competing currencies, if the government of the USA issued its own commodity money and balanced its incomes and expenses against its assets and liabilities, then its currency would encourage international trade according to comparative advantages. This is not hard to understand, for us. For much of the rest of the world, it seems impossible.

Truths are better than validities. When something seems right, but is not rigorous, it is valid. The rightness of it has not been tied to other truths. Objectivists (capital-O) recognize that life has "chocolate versus vanilla" issues because there is no proof that one is better than the other. The issue is not "chocolate versus cyanide." So, vanilla is a valid flavor of ice cream and Switzerland can be a nice place to live, though, myself, I prefer chocolate and the USA.

A good merchant never argues religion with his client. I got that from Ernst Samhaber's Merchants Make History. And it supports the thesis of Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. The world does not need to change for you to live better. In fact, the inverse-square law warns that the farther you get from your own life, the less you know about what to do next. So, if you work on your own problems, you get better results than working on other people's problems.

For myself, however, I cannot reconcile that with another seemingly contrary (or contradictory) truth that I accept, to give no sanction to one's destroyers. In another thread, I asked rhetorically about what to do when you fill up at a gas station and go inside to pay and see a religious talisman behind the clerk. Do you never shop there again? Is that in your best interest? Where do you draw the line? If I bought Middle Eastern food from a shop with Osama Bin Ladin on the wall, I'd be an idiot, but I spent a lifetime enjoying good pizza from places with John XXIII and John Kennedy on the wall. I guess, it all comes down to the devil you know versus the devil you don't. And for that contradiction, I have no resolution.

Does anyone have an experiment?

Edited by Michael E. Marotta
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Not true.

I would let that go by, Old Dragon, but your brief remarks on the scientific method were also a consideration in my posting. I only did not cite them, though I did read them. So, I must beg you to consider an expansion of your view above. Is there something we missed?


Mike M.

Michael E. Marotta

"tossing a nymph into the air"

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Not true.

I would let that go by, Old Dragon, but your brief remarks on the scientific method were also a consideration in my posting. I only did not cite them, though I did read them. So, I must beg you to consider an expansion of your view above. Is there something we missed?

Yes. Some things are true by definition and some things are true because they assert facts. Very different kinds of truth.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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The processes of validation are slightly different for empirical data and conceptual/thought-based data, although both are "real." It's not a dichotomy per se (no need to set up a polar distinction), the information and processes are just different.

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