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“In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.”*…

Kirsten Thompson, the lead scientist on the Arctic Sunrise, takes water samples for eDNA sampling near Paulet Island at the entrance to the Weddell Sea. Photo by A Trayler-Smith/Greenpeace/Panos

If you ask philosophically minded researchers – in the Anglophone world at least – why it is that science works, they will almost always point to the philosopher Karl Popper (1902-94) for vindication. Science, they explain, doesn’t presume to provide the final answer to any question, but contents itself with trying to disprove things. Science, so the Popperians claim, is an implacable machine for destroying falsehoods.

Popper spent his youth in Vienna, among the liberal intelligentsia. His father was a lawyer and bibliophile, and an intimate of Sigmund Freud’s sister Rosa Graf. Popper’s early vocations draw him to music, cabinet making and educational philosophy, but he earned his doctorate in psychology from the University of Vienna in 1928. Realising that an academic post abroad offered escape from an increasingly antisemitic Austria (Popper’s grandparents were all Jewish, though he himself had been baptised into Lutheranism), he scrambled to write his first book. This was published as Logik der Forschung (1935), or The Logic of Scientific Discovery, and in it he put forward his method of falsification. The process of science, wrote Popper, was to conjecture a hypothesis and then attempt to falsify it. You must set up an experiment to try to prove your hypothesis wrong. If it is disproved, you must renounce it. Herein, said Popper, lies the great distinction between science and pseudoscience: the latter will try to protect itself from disproof by massaging its theory. But in science it is all or nothing, do or die.

Popper warned scientists that, while experimental testing might get you nearer and nearer to the truth of your hypothesis via corroboration, you cannot and must not ever proclaim yourself correct. The logic of induction means that you’ll never collect the infinite mass of evidence necessary to be certain in all possible cases, so it’s better to consider the body of scientific knowledge not so much true as not-yet-disproved, or provisionally true. With his book in hand, Popper obtained a university position in New Zealand. From afar, he watched the fall of Austria to Nazism, and commenced work on a more political book, The Open Society and its Enemies (1945). Shortly after the war, he moved to the UK, where he remained for the rest of his life.

For all its appealing simplicity, falsification was quickly demolished by philosophers, who showed that it was an untenable way of looking at science. In any real experimental set-up, they pointed out, it’s impossible to isolate a single hypothetical element for disproof. Yet for decades, Popperianism has nonetheless remained popular among scientists themselves, in spite of its potentially harmful side-effects. Why should this be?

The notion that science is all about falsification has done incalculable damage not just to science but to human wellbeing. It has normalised distrust as the default condition for knowledge-making, while setting an unreachable and unrealistic standard for the scientific enterprise. Climate sceptics demand precise predictions of an impossible kind, yet seize upon a single anomalous piece of data to claim to have disproved the entire edifice of combined research; anti-vaxxers exploit the impossibility of any ultimate proof of safety to fuel their destructive activism. In this sense, Popperianism has a great deal to answer for.

When the constructive becomes “deconstructive”– Charlotte Sleigh (@KentCHOTS) explains how a powerful cadre of scientists and economists sold Karl Popper’s “falsification” idea to the world… and why they have much to answer for: “The abuses of Popper.”

See also: “Why ‘Trusting the Science’ Is Complicated.”

* Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery

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As we re-engage with epistemology, we might recall that it was on this date in 1997 that Ian WilmutKeith Campbell, and their colleagues at the Roslin Institute (part of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland) announced that they had successfully cloned a sheep, Dolly, who had been born on July 5, 1996. Dolly lived her entire life at the Institute, where (bred with a Welsh mountain ram) she gave birth to six lambs. She died in February, 2003.

 Dolly’s taxidermied remains

 source

“Oh happy people of the future, who have not known these miseries and perchance will class our testimony with the fables”*…

 

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The Plague of Florence as Described by Boccaccio, an etching (ca. early 19th century) by Luigi Sabatelli of a plague-struck Florence in 1348, as described by Petrarch’s friend Giovanni Boccaccio — Source.

 

The Italian poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch [see almanac entry here] lived through the most deadly pandemic in recorded history, the Black Death of the 14th century, which saw up to 200 million die from plague across Eurasia and North Africa. Through the unique record of letters and other writings Petrarch left us, Paula Findlen explores how he chronicled, commemorated, and mourned his many loved ones who succumbed, and what he might be able to teach us today…

Love, death, and friendship in a time of pandemic: “Petrarch’s Plague.”

* Petrarch, from a 1347 letter to his brother, who lived in a monastery in Montrieux

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As we learn from history, we might recall that it was on this date in 1986 that the British government banned the slaughter and movement of lambs in parts of Cumbria, Scotland and Wales; heavy rainfall in those areas had showered fallout from the Cernobyl nuclear disaster onto farms there.  (The transfer of radionuclides to sheep and goat products is greater than to cattle.)  As the ban lifted, animals’ radiation levels were monitored before they were allowed to be sold at market. The number of failing animals peaked in 1992, but some still recorded higher levels of caesium as recently as 2011.

Sheep and Lambs source

 

Written by LW

June 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Either you get eaten by a wolf today or else the shepherd saves you from the wolf so he can sell you to the butcher tomorrow”*…

 

Sheep on the loose in Huesca. Screen grab: Policia Local Huesca

… or you make a break for it:

A flock of over 1,000 sheep was spotted roaming through the city centre of Huesca, northeastern Spain on Tuesday after escaping from their shepherd when he fell asleep.

Police were alerted to the sizable flock making its way through the centre of the city at around 4.30am when a local resident called the emergency number 112.

The shepherd was supposed to be guiding his sheep onto the pastures of the Pyrenees, where they will spend the summer, when he dozed off…

More at “Sheep invade Spanish city after shepherd takes a snooze.”

* Ogden Nash, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

As we wonder of the shepherd was counting his flock when he dozed off, we might recall that this a big day for animals in the street:  the start of the annual fiestas of San Fermin are celebrated in Irunea/Pamplona, the centerpiece of which is the well-known “Encierro” (running of the bulls).

The Encierro takes place from July 7th to 14th and starts at the corral in Calle Santo Domingo when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes eight o”clock in the morning. After the launching of two rockets, the bulls charge behind the runners for 825 metres, the distance between the corral and the bullring. The run usually lasts between three and four minutes although it has sometimes taken over ten minutes, especially if one of the bulls has been isolated from his companions… [source]

 source

 

 

Written by LW

July 7, 2016 at 1:01 am

“All things are subject to decay and when fate summons, monarchs must obey”*…

 

from Startape PhotoGraff, Flickr

 

from 95wombat, Flickr

 

From the collection of over 11,000 photos in the Flickr pool “Old Factories and Industrial Decay Around the World.”

* John Dryden

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As we celebrate the beauty in the ephemeral, we might recall that it was on this date in 1997 that Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, and their colleagues at the Roslin Institute (part of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland) announced that they had successfully cloned a sheep, Dolly, who had been born on July 5, 1996. Dolly lived her entire life at the Institute, where (bred with a Welsh mountain ram) she gave birth to six lambs. She died in February, 2003.

Dolly’s taxidermied remains

 source

 

 

Written by LW

February 22, 2015 at 1:01 am

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