Posts Tagged With: science/pseudoscience

Popper on pseudoscience: a comment on Pigliucci (i), (ii) 9/18, (iii) 9/20

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Jump to Part (ii) 9/18/15 and (iii) 9/20/15 updates

I heard a podcast the other day in which the philosopher of science, Massimo Pigliucci, claimed that Popper’s demarcation of science fails because it permits pseudosciences like astrology to count as scientific! Now Popper requires supplementing in many ways, but we can get far more mileage out of Popper’s demarcation than Pigliucci supposes.

Pigliucci has it that, according to Popper, mere logical falsifiability suffices for a theory to be scientific, and this prevents Popper from properly ousting astrology from the scientific pantheon. Not so. In fact, Popper’s central goal is to call our attention to theories that, despite being logically falsifiable, are rendered immune from falsification by means of ad hoc maneuvering, sneaky face-saving devices, “monster-barring” or “conventionalist stratagems”. Lacking space on Twitter (where the “Philosophy Bites” podcast was linked), I’m placing some quick comments here. (For other posts on Popper, please search this blog.) Excerpts from the classic two pages in Conjectures and Refutations (1962, pp. 36-7) will serve our purpose:

It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory–if we look for confirmations.

Popper

Popper

Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is [if the theory or claim H is false] we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory [or claim]….

Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability, but there are degrees of testability, some theories are more testable..

Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory, and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory. (I now speak of such cases as ‘corroborating evidence’).

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Categories: Error Statistics, Popper, pseudoscience, Statistics | Tags: , | 5 Comments

The Amazing Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge

09randi3-master675-v2-1The NY Times Magazine had a feature on the Amazing Randi yesterday, “The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi.” It described one of the contestants in Randi’s most recent Million Dollar Challenge, Fei Wang:

“[Wang] claimed to have a peculiar talent: from his right hand, he could transmit a mysterious force a distance of three feet, unhindered by wood, metal, plastic or cardboard. The energy, he said, could be felt by others as heat, pressure, magnetism or simply “an indescribable change.” Tonight, if he could demonstrate the existence of his ability under scientific test conditions, he stood to win $1 million.”

Isn’t “an indescribable change” rather vague?

…..The Challenge organizers had spent weeks negotiating with Wang and fine-tuning the protocol for the evening’s test. A succession of nine blindfolded subjects would come onstage and place their hands in a cardboard box. From behind a curtain, Wang would transmit his energy into the box. If the subjects could successfully detect Wang’s energy on eight out of nine occasions, the trial would confirm Wang’s psychic power. …”

After two women failed to detect the “mystic force” the M.C. announced the contest was over.

“With two failures in a row, it was impossible for Wang to succeed. The Million Dollar Challenge was already over.”

You think they might have given him another chance or something.

“Stepping out from behind the curtain, Wang stood center stage, wearing an expression of numb shock, like a toddler who has just dropped his ice cream in the sand. He was at a loss to explain what had gone wrong; his tests with a paranormal society in Boston had all succeeded. Nothing could convince him that he didn’t possess supernatural powers. ‘This energy is mysterious,’ he told the audience. ‘It is not God.’ He said he would be back in a year, to try again.”

The article is here. If you don’t know who A. Randi is, you should read it.

Randi, much better known during Uri Geller spoon-bending days, has long been the guru to skeptics and fraudbusters, but also a hero to some critical psi believers like I.J. Good. Geller continually sued Randi for calling him a fraud. As such, I.J. Good warned me that I might be taking a risk in my use of “gellerization” in EGEK (1996), but I guess Geller doesn’t read philosophy of science. A post on “Statistics and ESP Research” and Diaconis is here.

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I’d love to have seen Randi break out of these chains!

 

Categories: Error Statistics | Tags: | 3 Comments

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