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by Dr. James Lyons-Weiler, PhD, Popular Rationalism, reposted with permission

(May 27, 2023) — [Read Part 1 in this series here or here. – Ed.]

When Karl Popper created his formal calculus to describe how science works, he refused to include the subjective scientist in the equation. For many, this was a flaw because, objectively, we know that while scientists are beings who strive (or should strive) for objectivity, they also are still individuals, and, as such, are subjective.

Don’t be afraid of the following, it’s short-hand, not math. But Popper’s equations looked something like this:

Given a hypothesis H, conduct critical test T to yield evidence E in an attempt to falsify H (in modern lingo, attempt to show that H is “wrong”).

Interpret H in light of E given B, that background knowledge. If E indicates H is falsified, reject H, and update B. Otherwise, H is corroborated, and gains in verisimilitude.

In this exercise, T must be a true, potentially fatal test of H.

A few other dynamics: If B already makes H very likely, T may not be a hard test to pass, and thus the passing of H by T may yield only a moderate amount of corroboration because H already is imbued with high verisimilitude.

By contrast, if B makes very unlikely, and T is truly a critical test of H, and evidence E indicates that H has survived the potentially fatal test T, the result comes with a measure of Surprise (S). For Popper, the more surprising the fact that H survived T is a good measure of the degree of corroboration H should be afforded.

Note in Popperian science, we are never trying to prove something; rather, we are focused on disproving the hypothesis, challenging it, no matter how clever or dear to our own preferences and preconceptions.

In other words, let the evidence carry the day.

Popper eschewed bringing the subjective scientist into the mix because he considered that the community effort to interpret H in light of E from T would ensure more objectivity. As we will see, the issue is that there is nothing that guarantees or predetermines a 1:1 correspondence between what most scientists think and reality (truth). We are left with the idea that hopefully most of the time science when done this way, will get it right.

Popper’s description is not a prescription for Science as much as it is an attempt to describe it as a process. It was obvious to me as a graduate student – and it still is today – that as long as everyone involved is an honest broker, the subjective roles of scientists are important because their collective background knowledge will be larger as a group than as any individual, and thus the earnest attempt to interpret (H|T, E) in light of B is more likely to succeed when Science is done in an open manner because it increases the likelihood that that group will have the right collective B to properly and accurately interpret the evidence from a test.

The Poverty of Authoritarian Science

By now, it should be clear that part of the source of the poverty of top-down enforced understanding of science is that limited viewpoints will restrict the ability of Popper’s algorithm for science to work. But where? Where in the process is this impoverishment manifested?

It turns out that the top-down, single-authority model of authoritarian science restricts the interpretation of E from T, and thus the revisiting of H given E from T. This view of science, which we can call Faucian science, leads to relative empirical impoverishment because the authority has limited background knowledge B and the interpretation of E|T that allows consideration of (H|E, T) depends entirely on ((H|E, T)|B).

In English, the interpretation of the evidence given the test outcome that allows the consideration of the hypothesis given the evidence and the (or from the) test depends entirely on the interpretation of the hypothesis given the evidence from the test in light of the background knowledge.

Read the rest here.

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