: Errors in science range along a spectrum from those relatively local to the phenomenon (usually easily remedied in the laboratory) to those more conceptually derived (involving theory or cultural factors, sometimes quite long-term). One may classify error types broadly as material, observational, conceptual or discoursive. This framework bridges philosophical and sociological perspectives, offering a basis for interfield discourse. A repertoire of error types also supports error analytics, a program for deepening reliability through strategies for regulating and probing error.
In the 1950s–60s biochemists searched intensively for a series of high-energy molecules in the cell. Although we now believe that these molecules do not exist, biochemists claimed to have isolated or identified them on at least sixteen occasions. The episode parallels the familiar eighteenth-century case of phlogiston, in illustrating how error is not simply the loss of facts but, instead, must be actively constructed. In addition, the debates surrounding each case demonstrate how revolutionary-scale disagreement is sometimes resolved by differentiating or (...) partitioning empirical domains, rather than by replacement of one theory by another. (shrink)
Several diagrams and tables from review articles during the Ox-Phos Controversy serve as an occasion to assess the nature of competition in models of theory choice in science. Many models follow "Super-Bowl" principles of polar, either-or, winner-take-all competition. A significant alternative highlighted by this episode, however, is the differentiation of domains. Incommensurability and the partial divergence of overlapping domains serve both as signals and context for shifting frameworks of competition. Appropriate strategies may thus help researchers diagnose the status of competition (...) and shape their research accordingly. (shrink)
Paul Boyer shared a Nobel Prize in 1997 for his work on the mechanism of ATP synthase. His earlier work, though (which contributed indirectly to his triumph), included major errors, both experimental and theoretical. Two benchmark cases offer insight into how scientists err and how they deal with error. Boyer's work also parallels and illustrates the emergence of bioenergetics in the second half of the twentieth century, rivaling achievements in evolution and molecular biology.
We describe here an interdisciplinary lab science course for non-majors using the history of science as a curricular guide. Our experience with diverse instructors underscores the importance of the teachers and classroom dynamics, beyond the curriculum. Moreover, the institutional political context is central: are courses for non-majors valued and is support given to instructors to innovate? Two sample projects are profiled.
Appeals to human nature are ubiquitous, yet historically many have proven ill-founded. Why? How might frequent errors be remedied towards building a more robust and reliable scientific study of human nature? Our aim is neither to advance specific scientific or philosophical claims about human nature, nor to proscribe or eliminate such claims. Rather, we articulate through examples the types of errors that frequently arise in this field, towards improving the rigor of the scientific and social studies. We seek to analyze (...) such claims rhetorically, cognitively, and epistemically. Namely, how do we think about human nature? Claims about human nature, we show, are susceptible to widely exhibited deficits in cognitive tendencies such as framing, confirmation bias, satisficing, and teleological perspectives, as well as motivated reasoning. Such missteps foster methodological, empirical, and psychological mistakes and biases. Specifically, they promote the naturalizing error, whereby cultural ideology and values are projected onto an apparently objective description of nature. Concrete remedies are offered to aid scientists in conducting and reporting their research goals and findings more responsibly and effectively (relevant also to educators and other communicators who convey these findings publicly). Recommendations include acknowledging that human nature claims are often context-dependent, seeking multiple critical perspectives, and explicitly labeling uncertainties. (shrink)
We describe an error type that we call the naturalizing error: an appeal to nature as a self-justified description dictating or limiting our choices in moral, economic, political, and other social contexts. Normative cultural perspectives may be subtly and subconsciously inscribed into purportedly objective descriptions of nature, often with the apparent warrant and authority of science, yet not be fully warranted by a systematic or complete consideration of the evidence. Cognitive processes may contribute further to a failure to notice the (...) lapses in scientific reasoning and justificatory warrant. By articulating this error type at a general level, we hope to raise awareness of this pervasive error type and to facilitate critiques of claims that appeal to what is “natural” as inevitable or unchangeable. (shrink)
I highlight a category of experiment-what I am calling 'demonstrations'-that differs in justificatory mode and argumentative role from the more familiar 'crucial tests'. 'Tests' are constructed such that alternative results are equally and symmetrically informative; they help discriminate between alternative solutions within a problem-field, where questions are shared. 'Demonstrations' are notably asymmetrical (for example, "failures" are often not telling), yet they are effective, if not "crucial," in interparadigm dispute, to legitimate questions themselves. The Ox-Phos Controversy in bioenergetics serves as an (...) integral case study. (shrink)
Credibility in a scientific community (sensu Shapin) is a vicarious selector (sensu Campbell) for the reliability of reports by individual scientists or institutions. Similarly, images from a microscope (sensu Hacking) are vicarious selectors for studying specimens. Working at different levels, the process of indirect reasoning and checking indicates a unity to experimentalist and sociological perspectives, along with a resonance of strategies for assessing reliability. The perspective sketched here can open dialogue between philosophical and sociological interpretations of science and resolves at (...) least one tension regarding the "primary" factors by which scientists evaluate claims. (shrink)
The concept of dominance poses several dilemmas. First, while entrenched in genetics education, the metaphor of dominance promotes several misconceptions and misleading cultural perspectives. Second, the metaphors of power, prevalence and competition extend into science, shaping assumptions and default concepts. Third, because genetic causality is complex, the simplified concepts of dominance found in practice are highly contingent or inconsistent. The conceptual problems are illustrated in the history of studies on the evolution of dominance. Conceptual clarity may be fostered, I claim, (...) by viewing diploid organisms as diphenic and by framing genetic causality modestly through individual alleles and their corresponding haplophenotypes. (shrink)
Here, in textbook style, is a concise biological account of the evolution of morality. It addresses morality on three levels: moral outcomes (behavioral genetics), moral motivation or intent (psychology and neurology), and moral systems (sociality). The rationale for teaching this material is addressed in Allchin (2009). Classroom resources (including accompanying images and video links) and a discussion of teaching strategies are provided online at: http://EvolutionOfMorality.net.
Acupuncture, the traditional Chinese practice of needling to alleviate pain, offers a striking case where scientific accounts in two cultures, East and West, diverge sharply. Yet the Chinese comfortably embrace the apparent ontological incommensurability. Their pragmatic posture resonates with the New Experimentalism in the West--but with some provocative differences. The development of acupuncture in China (and not in the West) further suggests general research strategies in the context of discovery. My analysis also exemplifies how one might fruitfully pursue a comparative (...) philosophy of science that explores how other cultures investigate and validate their conclusions about the natural world. (shrink)
Values intersect with science in three primary ways. First, there are values, particularly epistemic values, which guide scientific research itself. Second, the scientific enterprise is always embedded in some particular culture and values enter science through its individual practitioners, whether consciously or not. Finally, values emerge from science, both as a product and process, and may be redistributed more broadly in the culture or society. Also, scientific discoveries may pose new social challenges about values, though the values themselves may be (...) conventional. Several questions help guide disciplined inquiry into ethics and values. (shrink)
James Hutton defended the doctrine of phlogiston in two lengthy dissertations 1792 and 1794. Empirical, biographical and disciplinary contexts jointly explain his position. Observationally, Hutton based his argument on facts about heat, light and the storage of energy, explicitly contrasting them to concerns about weight relationships. Hutton's intellectual development shows how he found these particular problems centrally relevant, and focusing on phlogiston indicates how his better known geology fits into more fundamental thinking about the natural economy. The resonance of Hutton's (...) views with many contemporaries highlights the significance of his views, and suggests how we might reconsider the role of phlogiston in late-eighteenth-century chemistry. (shrink)
How do we characterize theoretical disagreement and how does this translate into strategies for practicing scientists? I integrate Kuhn’s (1962) notions of paradigms and problem-fields with Hull’s (1982,1988) concept of populational variation and Shapere’s (1974) characterization of domains in interpreting the Ox-Phos Controversy in bioenergetics (1961-1977). The analysis highlights the differences between intraparadigm disagreement (based on proposed solutions to shared problems) and interparadigm disagreement (based on the problems themselves and views of relevant domain).Kuhn (1959,1962) introduced the notion that a single, (...) uniform paradigm guides ‘normal science’. He further suggested that scientific communities undergo gestalt-like changes in research focus, implying that all disagreement is based on ‘incommensurable’ paradigms. Philosophers and historians of science concerned largely with how consensus is established (see Laudan 1984; Laudan and Laudan 1989) have found this problematic as a universal model (e.g., Lakatos and Musgrave 1970; Laudan 1977). (shrink)
This book examines sociobiology’s validity and significance, using the sociobiological theory of the evolution of mating and parenting as an example. It identifies and discusses the array of factors that determine sociobiology’s effort to become a science, providing a rare, balanced account—more critical than that of its advocates and more constructive than that of its critics. It sees a role for sociobiology in changing the way we understand the goals of evolutionary biology, the proper way to evaluate emerging sciences, and (...) the deep structure of scientific theories. The book’s premise is that evolutionary biology would not be complete if it did not explain evolutionarily significant social facts about nonhumans and humans. It proposes that explanations should be evaluated in terms of their basis in underlying theories, research programs, and conceptual frameworks. (shrink)
Recent studies now provide a relatively robust explanation of how moral behavior evolved, perhaps not just in humans. An analysis of current biology textbooks shows that they fail to address this critical topic fully. Here, I survey resources—books, images, and videos—that can guide educators in meeting the challenge of teaching the biology of morality.
Acupuncture, the traditional Chinese practice of needling to alleviate pain, offers a striking case where scientific accounts in two cultures, East and West, diverge sharply. Yet the Chinese comfortably embrace the apparent ontological incommensurability. Their pragmatic posture resonates with the New Experimentalism in the West--but with some provocative differences. The development of acupuncture in China further suggests general research strategies in the context of discovery. My analysis also exemplifies how one might fruitfully pursue a comparative philosophy of science that explores (...) how other cultures investigate and validate their conclusions about the natural world. (shrink)
Kuhn's distinction of within- and between-paradigm thinking can be extended using his notion of a problem-field. Hull's notion of populational variation applies within paradigms; his type specimen approach allows one to analyze disagreement and identify the problem-field. Categories of questions or problem frames can also partition debate, establishing interparadigm variation. A case where multiple simultaneous paradigms compete highlights the role of empirical domains. The Ox-Phos Controversy in bioenergetics (1961-1977) serves as a case study. Conclusions are framed as strategies for scientists.