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What "theory" means in science

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  • #31
    Originally posted by sfs1 View Post
    Good we agree. So the statement, "To be a scientific theory, a theory must be tested a large number of times, by many different scientists in many different places, and must pass the test every time," is one that you disagree with. Even though you just quoted that statement, I assume with approval.
    The statement is incomplete and too brief to be taken out of context. If you read the description. I avoid a selective reading.

    Theories are indeed subject to repeated testing over time continuously, but a hypothesis can be proposed as a basis of a theory, and often called the theory over the time it is being tested. Also a theory, can be modified and evolve when some aspects of the Theory are falsified, and new knowledge.


    I'm looking for some evidence that the supposed scientific serious view of theory actually exists.
    Simply read the scientific literature published over time for any given theory. The Theory of Relativity is a good example. The initial hypothesis and math proof was proposed by Albert Einstein with limited knowledge. Over time more research tested the hypothesis of Albert Einstein and confirmed it as the Theory of Relativity. The research continues today. Other theories cited in the reference and by you follow the same pattern.

    If I'm picking frog hairs, they're on your frog. You said that the Standard Model wasn't a theory. Presumably you meant something by that. Why can't you tell me what you meant? What does the Standard Model lack to be a scientific theory? You could have answered in one sentence. Instead you give me long descriptions of what a theory is, without telling me the Standard Model isn't one.
    I will accept the Standard model may be called a theory. It has indeed gone through the long and continuing process of testing and research for falsification. I consider it to be more complex and involve more then one theory and related hypothesis to be tested. I consider your point splitting frog hairs, because the process of proposing hypothesis, testing hypothesis with repeated research over time has confirmed, but also modified the Standard Model when new knowledge becomes available through testing and research. This a process that is very real in science, and recognized as the process that results in 'theories.'


    Let me get this straight: I objected to inadequate definitions. You jumped all over me for doing so because . . . not all definitions are good? Huh?
    True, some definitions are incomplete and one you cited too vague for science, and some are just plain no good for definition theory in science. The may be ok in generic uses of theory. Your selective objection to some definitions was not meaningful, because you still objected to the use of 'theory' in science without a coherent argument that there is problem within science and among scientists.
    Last edited by shunyadragon; 03-30-2015, 10:00 PM.
    Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
    Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
    But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

    go with the flow the river knows . . .

    Frank

    I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

    Comment


    • #32
      I’ve got a theory that it’s a demon! A dancing demon? No something isn’t right there.
      "Faith is nothing less than the will to keep one's mind fixed precisely on what reason has discovered to it." - Edward Feser

      Comment


      • #33
        Originally posted by Soyeong View Post
        I’ve got a theory that it’s a demon! A dancing demon? No something isn’t right there.
        Okay, that's a little spooky: I just shut my Netflix window as it was playing "Where do we go from here?", came here, and read that response. It must be midgets.

        Comment


        • #34
          Originally posted by sfs1 View Post
          My only problem with these official definitions of what "theory" means in science is that I suspect they're a bunch of hooey. Has anyone seen a study of how scientists actually use the word "theory", and whether they actually conform to these definitions? In my experience, scientists mostly describe broad, well-supported explanatory frameworks as theories for historical reasons. In contemporary usage, "theory" is all over the map. Endosymbiotic theory and the neutral and nearly neutral theories of evolution were all called "theories" long before they were widely accepted or well supported, and they still don't really have the breadth that the definition of "theory" might suggest. In particle physics, heavy quark effective theory and lattice gauge theory were mathematical approaches for doing approximate calculations, calculations that couldn't be done in the full theory, which isn't called a theory -- it's the Standard Model. Technicolor and supersymmetric models are often called theories, even though they have zero experimental support.

          So do any scientists actually use the word "theory" in the way that's proposed? How do other fields use the word?
          Being people like everyone else some scientists do tend to use the word "theory" in the more general sense rather than the more strict scientific definition, especially when communicating to the public in a less than professional manner. Just like some astronomers and cosmologists use the terms "sunrise" and "sunset" or paleontologists describe something as being a "missing link." Just because they upon occasion use imprecise terminology does not change what the proper definition is.

          I'm always still in trouble again

          "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
          "Overall I would rate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as by far the best thing Biden's done" --Starlight
          "Of course, human life begins at fertilization that’s not the argument." --Tassman

          Comment


          • #35
            Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
            Being people like everyone else some scientists do tend to use the word "theory" in the more general sense rather than the more strict scientific definition, especially when communicating to the public in a less than professional manner. Just like some astronomers and cosmologists use the terms "sunrise" and "sunset" or paleontologists describe something as being a "missing link." Just because they upon occasion use imprecise terminology does not change what the proper definition is.
            I'm questioning the notion that there is a "proper" definition. There's certainly no formal definition, i.e. it's not a technical term. In my time in science, I've read (well, looked at) thousands of scientific papers and attended thousands of talks; I've spent three decades eating lunch with scientists, drinking beer with scientists, doing crossword puzzles with scientists. I've heard scientists talk about hypotheses and hypothesis testing, about p-values, about ascertainment bias, about correlation and causality, about Bayesian statistics, about the anthropic principle, about the Red Sox, about who's slept with whom, about whether "data" is singular or plural. But in all that time I've never seen or heard any discussion at all about whether a construct counted as a theory or not, or what the correct meaning of "theory" was. Have I just been unusually sheltered?

            Comment


            • #36
              Originally posted by sfs1 View Post
              Note: I was hoping to get some feedback about others' experience with the use of "theory" in science. I was not hoping to get into another exchange with shunyadragon.
              In math, a theory is a set of theorems. I understand scientists are more flexible with their definitions, and that's okay.

              We can't all be mathematicians.

              Comment


              • #37
                Originally posted by lao tzu View Post
                In math, a theory is a set of theorems. I understand scientists are more flexible with their definitions, and that's okay.

                We can't all be jerks in league with the devil.
                FIFY n/c

                I'm always still in trouble again

                "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
                "Overall I would rate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as by far the best thing Biden's done" --Starlight
                "Of course, human life begins at fertilization that’s not the argument." --Tassman

                Comment


                • #38
                  Originally posted by sfs1 View Post
                  I'm questioning the notion that there is a "proper" definition. There's certainly no formal definition, i.e. it's not a technical term. In my time in science, I've read (well, looked at) thousands of scientific papers and attended thousands of talks; I've spent three decades eating lunch with scientists, drinking beer with scientists, doing crossword puzzles with scientists. I've heard scientists talk about hypotheses and hypothesis testing, about p-values, about ascertainment bias, about correlation and causality, about Bayesian statistics, about the anthropic principle, about the Red Sox, about who's slept with whom, about whether "data" is singular or plural. But in all that time I've never seen or heard any discussion at all about whether a construct counted as a theory or not, or what the correct meaning of "theory" was. Have I just been unusually sheltered?
                  Hanging out with scientists is not science. You do not appear to have ever been particularly involved with science itself. The sheltering is self imposed.

                  Like Buddha at the river crossing pointing the way. Many stand on the bank and look, some get their feet wet wading on the edge, but few take off their clothes and get wet.

                  When mediocrity rains,
                  no one gets wet!
                  Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
                  Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
                  But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

                  go with the flow the river knows . . .

                  Frank

                  I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

                  Comment


                  • #39
                    Originally posted by sfs1 View Post
                    I'm questioning the notion that there is a "proper" definition. There's certainly no formal definition, i.e. it's not a technical term. In my time in science, I've read (well, looked at) thousands of scientific papers and attended thousands of talks; I've spent three decades eating lunch with scientists, drinking beer with scientists, doing crossword puzzles with scientists. I've heard scientists talk about hypotheses and hypothesis testing, about p-values, about ascertainment bias, about correlation and causality, about Bayesian statistics, about the anthropic principle, about the Red Sox, about who's slept with whom, about whether "data" is singular or plural. But in all that time I've never seen or heard any discussion at all about whether a construct counted as a theory or not, or what the correct meaning of "theory" was. Have I just been unusually sheltered?
                    "Sheltered"? I doubt that would be the correct word. As the multiple sources that I cited in the OP demonstrate (and I could have provided more but figured those I did cite would be sufficient) there is a proper scientific definition for the word theory that differs from how it is generally used by the public at large.

                    I'm always still in trouble again

                    "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
                    "Overall I would rate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as by far the best thing Biden's done" --Starlight
                    "Of course, human life begins at fertilization that’s not the argument." --Tassman

                    Comment


                    • #40
                      Originally posted by shunyadragon View Post
                      You do not appear to have ever been particularly involved with science itself.
                      He's posted his a link to his publication record before. It appears you're not aware of it.

                      Comment


                      • #41
                        Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
                        "Sheltered"? I doubt that would be the correct word. As the multiple sources that I cited in the OP demonstrate (and I could have provided more but figured those I did cite would be sufficient) there is a proper scientific definition for the word theory that differs from how it is generally used by the public at large.
                        You posted multiple statements about the proper definition of "theory" in science. I'm looking for some evidence that those statements are correct. Because, as I said, they do not seem to me to reflect real scientific usage. And if scientists don't use the word in the way the definitions claim, then they don't represent the proper definition after all.

                        Where there are well-defined terms in science, you can find scientists arguing about their application. It's trivial to find scientists arguing about whether two populations represent different species or not, or to find scientists arguing about what constitutes an appropriate null hypothesis. Can you find any cases of scientists arguing whether some construct is a "theory" or not? Any place in the scientific literature where applying the word "theory" is an issue at all? The actual use I see, including in the literature, does not match the definitions you posted -- and I posted some examples previously.

                        If there are scientists who actually apply those definitions, great. There's lots about scientific practice I don't know, and I enjoy learning new things. But I want to see some evidence that they exist.

                        Comment


                        • #42
                          Originally posted by lao tzu View Post
                          He's posted his a link to his publication record before. It appears you're not aware of it.
                          If this is indeed true, then why is confused and sheltered concerning how and why 'theory' is defined, used and understood among scientists?

                          Note the confusion?!?!?!?

                          Originally posted by sfs1
                          If there are scientists who actually apply those definitions, great. There's lots about scientific practice I don't know, and I enjoy learning new things. But I want to see some evidence that they exist.
                          Last edited by shunyadragon; 04-03-2015, 08:15 AM.
                          Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
                          Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
                          But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

                          go with the flow the river knows . . .

                          Frank

                          I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

                          Comment


                          • #43
                            Originally posted by shunyadragon View Post
                            If this is indeed true [...]
                            There is no "if" here. It's simply true. I've been following his posts for years, Frank. Trust me on this. He's an evolutionary biologist with an extensive publication record ... who also, by his own account, which I have no reason to distrust ... finds that scientists are far less strict in their usage of the word "theory" than a formal definition would suggest.

                            There's an analogue in mathematics. Formally, we often differentiate between large, expansive theorems and "small" theorems called "lemmas." But that didn't keep Zorn from calling his eponymous discovery a lemma, and that's the usage we still keep today, despite the fact it's since been shown equivalent to both the axiom of choice and the well-ordering principle.

                            In my experience as well, academics, and especially elite academics, generally feel free to break the rules. And that goes beyond academics, too: "Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal."

                            Comment


                            • #44
                              Originally posted by shunyadragon View Post
                              If this is indeed true, then why is confused and sheltered concerning how and why 'theory' is defined, used and understood among scientists?
                              I'm not sheltered, and didn't say I was; you really do have difficulty keeping what I say straight. I'm confused because the definitions offered early in the thread don't match my (quite extensive) experience in science. You keep ignoring those definitions, ignoring the actual question I'm asking, and attacking me for unknown reasons.

                              Meanwhile, no one has offered any evidence that scientists restrict theories to be big ideas that incorporate many hypotheses, or to models that have been thoroughly tested. In other words, will all of these posts, no one has answered the only question I've asked.

                              Note the confusion?!?!?!?
                              No. Where did I express confusion there? I have unusually wide experience in science: I've worked in two major fields (high energy physics and genetics) and several subfields (infectious disease, population genetics, medical genetics, evolutionary biology). So I have first-hand experience with how scientists in those fields use the word "theory". But there are large areas of science in which I have no first-hand experience. I'm asking for feedback from other scientists who have any relevant information to offer on the subject. For some reason that offends you.

                              Comment


                              • #45
                                Originally posted by lao tzu View Post
                                There is no "if" here. It's simply true. I've been following his posts for years, Frank. Trust me on this. He's an evolutionary biologist with an extensive publication record ... who also, by his own account, which I have no reason to distrust ... finds that scientists are far less strict in their usage of the word "theory" than a formal definition would suggest.

                                There's an analogue in mathematics. Formally, we often differentiate between large, expansive theorems and "small" theorems called "lemmas." But that didn't keep Zorn from calling his eponymous discovery a lemma, and that's the usage we still keep today, despite the fact it's since been shown equivalent to both the axiom of choice and the well-ordering principle.

                                In my experience as well, academics, and especially elite academics, generally feel free to break the rules. And that goes beyond academics, too: "Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal."
                                Your response is reasonable, but no, sfs1's confusing argument is without constructive meaning. Yes, as you note, there is variation and diversity of views of what theory means and how it works. The reality is that hypothesis, theory, and the variations work perfectly well in science within the human limitations over time.

                                Also, the definition from the Oxford Dictionary he cited is unnecessarily vague and useless as far as how scientists consider and use 'theory.'

                                The following is confusing hogwash.

                                Originally posted by sfs1
                                Meanwhile, no one has offered any evidence that scientists restrict theories to be big ideas that incorporate many hypotheses, or to models that have been thoroughly tested. In other words, will all of these posts, no one has answered the only question I've asked.
                                Last edited by shunyadragon; 04-03-2015, 05:29 PM.
                                Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
                                Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
                                But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

                                go with the flow the river knows . . .

                                Frank

                                I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

                                Comment

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