History of Science and Technology/follow up

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QUESTION: as all experts limits the follow ups I can make, I had to create a new questions.

Well but about medicine the point isn't about which medicine will work for you. it's to what standards should a medicine be held for it to be recognizable by authority and the answers I had in my mind was for it to be a scientific medicine

you said it's results but I isn't it actually repeatable empirical results? hospitals won't approve of tea as a medicine for cancer IFFF somehow someone did get cured of cancer by drinking tea *miraculously"
also   I was always under the impression in the US separation of church and state had meaning way more than religion as it extends to pseudo science. also what's the difference between *univeraslist" and objective? cause from what you described they seem similar

another  point is you talked about astronomy not being empirical but it stems from empirical results.
No educated person would equate astrology and astronomy for example as 2 none empirical methods of looking at the universe because astronomy follows from knowledge of physics.

sorry I am trying to raise multiple points due to limitations of follow ups

ANSWER: These are all really good questions—it makes me happy that people think about these things, because I think these issues are really important.

‘Well but about medicine the point isn't about which medicine will work for you. it's to what standards should a medicine be held for it to be recognizable by authority and the answers I had in my mind was for it to be a scientific medicine’

Remember medicine is not a science; these are sciences:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicine#Basic_sciences

Medicine is a technology, with the goal of ‘the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease’.  If you read my paper, you may get the idea that medicine is actually a craft, and that the practice of craft depends on the ability to work with uniqueness.  There is no way for medicine to be scientific; we decide as a culture (through governments—‘recognisable by authority’ is the key here) what medical techniques are ‘scientific’ or not, and different people/groups/cultures will include or exclude different medical techniques.  What’s ‘scientific’ actually comes down to a value judgment based on culture—this is a difficult thing to appreciate, but we do need to get out of the habit of thinking it’s possible to break out of our own heads, or our own programming (the best we can do is recognise that this programming exists!).

‘you said it's results but I isn't it actually repeatable empirical results? hospitals won't approve of tea as a medicine for cancer IFFF somehow someone did get cured of cancer by drinking tea *miraculously"’

We seem happy to accept the word of large pharmaceutical companies selling drugs for enormous profits that these drugs do what the manufacturers claim...even though the manufacturers themselves organise the tests that demonstrate ‘repeatable empirical results’!  OK, it’s not quite as bad as that, governments set requirements and standards for these tests and evaluate the methodologies manufacturers propose, but the fact is governments are overstretched and (sometimes) influenced by manufacturers, so saying a new drug has been demonstrated effective through repeatable empirical results in preventing or treating something doesn’t mean as much as we’d like it to.  Heck, there are certainly cases of ‘scientifically tested’ and approved drugs that have been proved effective at killing people:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenfluramine/phentermine

Re repeatability—this is another issue Collins addresses in his book.  Isaac Newton carefully wrote out his ‘experimentum crucis’ (where he showed that white light consists of a spectrum of colours), and this description was published in the transactions of the Royal Society...but as it turns out this experiment is actually very difficult to repeat as Newton described it and a lot of people, being unable to repeat it, discounted his results.  Repeatability is not as easy as we tend to think it is—and (OK here we go!) since experimental science is ITSELF a craft, often important experiments can be fully accepted by the scientific community without being repeatable!

‘also   I was always under the impression in the US separation of church and state had meaning way more than religion as it extends to pseudo science. also what's the difference between *univeraslist" and objective? cause from what you described they seem similar’

‘Religion’ has a specific meaning in American law, and that meaning is periodically challenged in and adjudicated by the courts.  Pseudoscience is not included in the various legal exemptions that religious entities receive, e.g. not having to pay property tax or being allowed to kill certain endangered species.

‘Universalist’ means ‘making statements that are always true no matter what the circumstances’; although not typically specified this generally means ‘true of all people’.  Both science and religion value, and say they make, universal statements.  ‘Objective’ is ‘free of any personal influence’, in other words, if my sister has cancer and I support funding for cancer research I’m not being objective, because I have a personal interest in making cancer research a priority.  I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think it’s possible to be completely objective very often, since not only our thoughts and decisions but also our actual perceptions are filtered through our personal experience and our culture:

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/12/28/is-the-sky-blue/
http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/its-not-easy-seeing-green/?_php=tru

though there are some techniques we can use in certain situations to make our decisionmaking more objective.

‘another  point is you talked about astronomy not being empirical but it stems from empirical results.
No educated person would equate astrology and astronomy for example as 2 none empirical methods of looking at the universe because astronomy follows from knowledge of physics.’

The basis of astronomy is observation and classification, not experimentation—I don’t know too many people who can experiment on stars and galaxies!  A lot of astronomical knowledge is extrapolated from physics and chemistry, which are experimental sciences.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: What do you think of my view on your cat issue.

You said why isn't it science that you know what your cat will do with food, but since science is impersonal, you need to make a passive statement about that all cats sharing specific characteristics X (such as those in your cat) will do actions Y with respect to cans of food  with Z characterstics. such that as long as X , Z remain the same Y has to always be the same action, but then you wouldn't be able to call what most people do science?
For example if you said X would be black cats, Z being cans with salty food Y would be eat it, then all black cats (ill/healthy), (hungry/full) would always eat any can with salty food

But all the natural sciences can live to those standards right? My point is yes people can predict something specific but it can't be generalised nor could it be impersonal

Answer
Well this relates to the drive for universalism--when you make an observation, or do an experiment, how widely can you apply what you’ve learned?   In our emotionally-motivated desire for universalism both researchers and ordinary people often mistakenly apply observations and experiments too widely.  If a child is attacked by a dog, for example, she may be afraid of all dogs, however friendly.  For a scientific example, it is only shockingly recently that researchers began to appreciate that medical tests on men may not be applicable to women.

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2010/07/drug_p

Applying things true of men to women is actually very widespread—sometimes it makes sense, often it doesn’t.  

I’m actually working on a paper on this subject now—something I’m calling the principle of interchangeability, in other words, ‘if X and Y are in the same category, then X is the same as Y.’  We believe this for a lot of things—you typically don’t say ‘I want THAT coin, not THAT coin’—but we also don’t believe it for a lot of things—we do typically say ‘I love THIS person, not THAT person.’ Our intuition tells us there are limits to interchangeability, and we don’t actually live our lives as if interchangeability were true—for example, no one could successfully pursue any kind of craft, including experimental science, using interchangeability--but it’s a foundational principle of scientific work.  Here’s a bit from the paper:

‘It seems that all of these systems—science, capitalism, and religion--have in common the necessity for different things to be interchangeable.  Interchangeability is a tool that simplifies the world enough to allow us to apply rules of logic to it. But interchangeability is a tool, not a truth about the world.   Although it's certainly possible, and clearly useful, to apply the principle of interchangeability to create knowledge about the world, the truth is that every individual thing in the world is different than every other individual thing, due to unique location, history and relationships. Because we uncritically accept the principle of interchangeability, we don't realise that it's a creation of our own culture.   Other cultures, present as well as past, do not employ it to the degree or with the lack of understanding and consciousness that we do.’

Robert K. Merton includes universalism in his four ideals of science:

•Communalism – the common ownership of scientific discoveries, according to which scientists give up intellectual property in exchange for recognition and esteem.
•Universalism – according to which claims to truth are evaluated in terms of universal or impersonal criteria, and not on the basis of race, class, gender, religion, or nationality;
•Disinterestedness – according to which scientists are rewarded for acting in ways that outwardly appear to be selfless;
•Organized skepticism – all ideas must be tested and are subject to rigorous, structured community scrutiny.

The question we should be asking is how far these ideals are realised in practice (not as far as we’d like to think) and perhaps how far these ideals are possible for humans to meet.

History of Science and Technology

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Carolyn Dougherty

Expertise

I can probably answer most general questions about the history of science, technology and engineering from ancient to current; if I don't know a specific answer I can probably refer a questioner to an appropriate source. I have done original research in the history of computing and in British science and engineering in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.

Experience

I am a PhD student at the University of York, writing about the carrying trade in the 18th century; my previous work at the university includes the early history of plate railways. I have taught courses in the history of science and engineering at York and other universities, and have presented several papers on various subjects in this field at academic conferences. I am also a practicing civil engineer.

Education/Credentials
BA--Berkeley, MSc--Berkeley, MA--York, currently working on a PhD at York.

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