Where does "Scientist" end and "debunker" begin?

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I think it's a mistake to say there's a clear separation between "scientists" and "debunkers". You can do both things. You can do science and you can debunk. They are different things. Debunkers use science, they sometimes (arguably) do science, but they also just do fact checking, research, and use skills like image analysis.

Perhaps more interesting is where "scientist" ends and "amateur scientist" begin? Or how about "citizen scientist", or "independent scientist" (aka "gentleman scientist")

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_science
Citizen science (also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, volunteer monitoring or networked science) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. Formally, citizen science has been defined as "the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis."[1]
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_scientist
An independent scientist (historically also known as gentleman scientist) is a financially independentscientist who pursues scientific study without direct affiliation to a public institution such as a university or government-run research and development body. The expression arose in post-Renaissance Europe[1] but became less common in the 20th century as government and private funding increased.
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And then of course there's the contested designation of pseudoscience and "crank scientists"
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/hermits-and-cranks-lesson/
How can we tell if someone is a scientific crank? Gardner offers this advice: (1) "First and most important of these traits is that cranks work in almost total isolation from their colleagues." Cranks typically do not understand how the scientific process operates—that they need to try out their ideas on colleagues, attend conferences and publish their hypotheses in peer-reviewed journals before announcing to the world their startling discovery. Of course, when you explain this to them they say that their ideas are too radical for the conservative scientific establishment to accept. (2) "A second characteristic of the pseudo-scientist, which greatly strengthens his isolation, is a tendency toward paranoia," which manifests itself in several ways:

(1) He considers himself a genius. (2) He regards his colleagues, without exception, as ignorant blockheads....(3) He believes himself unjustly persecuted and discriminated against. The recognized societies refuse to let him lecture. The journals reject his papers and either ignore his books or assign them to "enemies" for review. It is all part of a dastardly plot. It never occurs to the crank that this opposition may be due to error in his work....(4) He has strong compulsions to focus his attacks on the greatest scientists and the best-established theories. When Newton was the outstanding name in physics, eccentric works in that science were violently anti-Newton. Today, with Einstein the father-symbol of authority, a crank theory of physics is likely to attack Einstein....(5) He often has a tendency to write in a complex jargon, in many cases making use of terms and phrases he himself has coined.
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Ultimately it's best to judge people by their deeds, or simply judge the deeds themselves. Arguing if someone is or is not a scientist can quickly devolve into a semantic dictionary argument.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
In a way, the scientific method consists of the removal of bunk from our understanding of the world around us.
Partly, but it's more about creating accurate theories that best explain the world. The bunk removal is a (necessary) side effect.
 

tadaaa

Senior Member
mmm, this can get confusing, new terminology can be a minefield

the description above has the term citizen scientists having rather benign concept, but to someone like James Delingpole it has an altogether different meaning.

it simply seems to mean someone with a contrarian view and access to the internet and YouTube, JD seems to denigrate actual science, in favour of the "citizen scientists"

here he is in a revealing interview with Sir Paul Nurse - where he explains his view on conventional "science" and the scientific method contrasted with the the role of "citizen" scientist.

he eschews peer review and favours peer to peer review, via the internet

 

Hama Neggs

Senior Member.
mmm, this can get confusing, new terminology can be a minefield

the description above has the term citizen scientists having rather benign concept, but to someone like James Delingpole it has an altogether different meaning.

it simply seems to mean someone with a contrarian view and access to the internet and YouTube, JD seems to denigrate actual science, in favour of the "citizen scientists"

here he is in a revealing interview with Sir Paul Nurse - where he explains his view on conventional "science" and the scientific method contrasted with the the role of "citizen" scientist.

he eschews peer review and favours peer to peer review, via the internet


It's like arguing over who is a "REAL Christian".
 

Hama Neggs

Senior Member.
The scientific method goes well beyond the removal of bunk. It aims at providing a more accurate explanation of observational data.

I'm not sure I see the difference. Bunk and misconceptions are pretty much the same thing and the opposite of accuracy.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I'm not sure I see the difference. Bunk and misconceptions are pretty much the same thing and the opposite of accuracy.

Science is creating accurate understandings. That does not mean simply showing that some other understanding is wrong (although that might be a side effect).

For example, the study of bacteria and viruses might debunk early theories of disease spread, but there's a vast amount of knowledge that has been discovered by science about how bacteria and viruses work that has nothing at all to do with misconceptions - it's things we did not know, and sometimes did not even know we did not know them.

Debunking is about demonstrating that things are wrong. Science is about discovering things that seem to be true - or at least fit the available evidence very well.
 

tadaaa

Senior Member
medicine science is an interesting one - I was talking to a doctor friend of mine the other day and said that quite a lot of medical theory has been overturned in the last 50 years
 

NoParty

Senior Member.
I don't think I really understand the phrase "citizen scientist."

Are there any requirements at all to achieve this?

Am I a "citizen NFL star" if I'm interested, but have no NFL experience I could put on my résumé?
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
I don't think I really understand the phrase "citizen scientist."

Are there any requirements at all to achieve this?

Am I a "citizen NFL star" if I'm interested, but have no NFL experience I could put on my résumé?
i dont know what your last sentence means. But one would have to use the scientific method. For instance, if we could get a chemtrailist to actually photograph the sky in one area every two hours for two weeks I would consider that data collection using the scientific method to prove their claim that the chemtrails are always covering the sun.

If my boys football coach invented a 'new play', I could record data of the results of that play everytime over a set period of time and 'prove' (or help the analysis process) as to whether the 'new play' is effective.

In behavior modification... say youre dealing with a tantrumming child. a parent can (and should) collect data to 'see' if the consequence they are using is effective or not.

I think that's what it is anyway.
 

Herman Aven

Member
Debunking is about demonstrating that things are wrong. Science is about discovering things that seem to be true - or at least fit the available evidence very well.

How does falsifiability fit in here? As in: The criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.Karl Popper.

Wouldn't science, at least for an important part, be about formulating theories which provide pathways to internal challenges? All attempts to demonstrate these scientific theories are (possibly) wrong by further experimentation or refutation belong then still to that same scientific process. Debunking is then perhaps more concerned with singular ideas or statements than with any larger theoretical framework. And the ideas which are the subject of debunking efforts often don't provide easy means to falsify, conveniently, and the debunker has to insert and execute that possibility for the world.
 

Whitebeard

Senior Member.
I don't think I really understand the phrase "citizen scientist."

Are there any requirements at all to achieve this?

Am I a "citizen NFL star" if I'm interested, but have no NFL experience I could put on my résumé?
From my take on it citizen science is a way that interested citizens can help scientists collect data and advance scientific understanding in certain fields of research.

Now this does not mean that any one can build a mini CERN or HAARP array and search for sub atomic particles or ionize the atmosphere above their house. Its more along the lines of mass data collection and event observation. The BBC here in the uk are big backers of citizen science.

A couple of examples...

A couple of times a year the BBC run a series of programs called 'Stargazing Live' which of late have featured citizen science projects, the first was hunting for exo-planets by hooking up with an existing project run by the Planet Hunters organisation, and a second involved looking for certain features on the surface of mars.

During the 2012 series, viewers were encouraged to help locate possible exoplanets, planets orbiting stars outside the Solar System, by volunteering some time on the Planet Hunters[7] online citizen science project. This led to the discovery of a new Neptune-sized exoplanet by two amateur astronomers, one in Peterborough, England, to be named Threapleton Holmes B.[8]

The third series returned with another three episodes. As with the last series, a "Back to Earth" chat was held after each episode. A citizen science project was again featured, this time asking viewers to help in identifying areas of interest in aerial photographs of the surface of Mars. Another feature which ran across the three nights involved the construction of a modern version of William Herschel's 20-foot telescope at the University of Derby.[9]
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from - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stargazing_Live

Another BBC long running project is the 'Watch' series of natural history programs that air several times a year. (Spring Watch, Autumn Watch, Winter Watch). Their citizen science element normally involves projects like mapping the distribution of certain species across the UK, plotting bird and insect migration, recording mating behaviour of fauna etc
Here's a link to the BBC Spring watch pages with details of their latest citizen science project.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/natureuk/entries/ec03f10b-aa7e-46a4-8671-67d8f9069bec

All interesting stuff, and there are a couple I've been involved with. Every year I take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, and in 2003 my then girlfriend and I took part in the Time Team 'Big Dig' where we sank a 1mx1m test pit 6 feet into her back garden (we found fuck all!)

Bottom line citizen science isn't about any Tom, Dick or Dutchy coming up with half baked ideas or doing an basic battery experiment and claiming they are real scientists. Its about people with a real interest in certain fields of science - astronomy, natural history and archeology are the key ones, although other disciplines like rocketry etc are also involved; coming together with the real 'paid' scientist to expand research, data collection, etc in order to expand coverage and push knowledge forward. And also remember that there are certain fields, ornithology and astronomy in particular, where the 'amateur' is often as clued up as the professional, and often has local knowledge that the professional can not lay claim to.

And finally here is the work of one citizen scientist, a guy who is a mate of mine. Pete is a FRAS* and has been photographing the sun now for several years and plotting sun spots, flares etc. He now works with several professional solar astronomers, providing them with raw data and the like.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/pjwastro



(*Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society)
 

Steve Funk

Senior Member.
Evaluating and testing hypotheses that are often considered fringe or pseudoscience is one area where I believe citizen scientists can do useful work, because professional scientists may not get involved. Publishing an experimental result in Metabunk is a form of peer review, the last step in the scientific method, since other amateur or professional scientists are free to attack or defend the experimental methods. Publishing in Geoengineeringwatch is not peer review since that forum does not publish dissenting comments.
 
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