Skepticism, Science, and the Empirical Approach
•Scientists do not unquestioningly accept anyone’s intuition, including their own,
nor do they allow a person’s prestige or authority cause them to accept on faith
what they pronounce.
•Scientific skepticism means that ideas must be evaluated on the basis of careful
logic and results from scientific investigations.
•The fundamental characteristic of the scientific model is empiricism – knowledge
is based on direct observation.
•Goodstein (2000) describes an “evolved theory of science” that defines the
characteristics of scientific inquiry:
-Observations accurately reported to others. The public can then try to
replicate methods used and obtain the same data. Fabricating data is unethical
and dealt with by strong sanctions.
-Search for discovery and verification of ideas. They develop theories and
argue that existing data supports their theories, conducting research to increase
confidence in their theories.
-Open exchange and competition among ideas. Supporters and those who
oppose the theory can present their research findings to be evaluated. Good
scientific ideas are testable, they can be supported or disproved by data – they
are falsifiable. In science, ideas must be tested on the basis of available evidence
that can be used to support or refute the ideas. Even if an idea is disproved, it
advances science because it can spur new ideas.
-Peer review of research. It is used to ensure only the best research is published,
not flawed research. Before a study is published in a scientific journal, it must be
reviewed by other scientists who have expertise to carefully evaluate and
recommend what should be published.
Integrating Intuition, Skepticism, and Authority
•The advantage of the scientific approach is that it provides an objective set of
rules for gathering, evaluating, and reporting information. It is an open system
that allows ideas to be accepted or refuted by others.
•Authority and intuition are not unimportant. Scientists often rely on intuition and
assertion of authorities for ideas for research, and there is nothing wrong with
accepting the statements of authority (ie putting blind faith in religion) as long as
we do not take them as scientific facts.
•There is nothing wrong with presenting opinions as long as they are not presented
as facts, however, we should ask whether the idea can be tested or if evidence
exists to support it.
•When someone claims to be a scientist, should we be more willing to accept what
they say? Look at the credentials of the individual and the reputation of the
institution represented by the person or the researcher’s funding source.