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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Proper Use of Scientific Ideas

   
Author Topic: Proper Use of Scientific Ideas
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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A post that defines a few terms the way scientists use them (for those who want to use believable scientists as characters):

http://io9.com/10-scientific-ideas-that-scientists-wish-you-would-stop-1591309822

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JSchuler
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...that gets "theory" wrong. What he describes in his short definition is a hypothesis. Theories aren't simply testable systems of thought: they have withstood the tests repeatedly through observation and experimentation; that's not simply a quality of the "best" ones.
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Brendan
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As a scientist, number 10, organic, and number 5, natural, are my biggest peeves. I also liked his points on Statistically Significant, which I work with all the time and usually should be interpreted as "I now have a big enough sample to see a very small difference".

However, I would disagree with number 8, survival of the fittest. From the explanation, he seems to be limiting survival of the fittest to natural selection. But survival of the fittest is a mechanism, and it equally can be applied to natural selection as to directed selection (such as breeding for certain traits).

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Brendan
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quote:
Originally posted by JSchuler:
...that gets "theory" wrong. What he describes in his short definition is a hypothesis. Theories aren't simply testable systems of thought: they have withstood the tests repeatedly through observation and experimentation; that's not simply a quality of the "best" ones.

Or is that the definition of a Law? I would put an hypothesis as a testable idea. A theory can be an hypothesis that meets all current observation and experimental observations, plus makes predictions that haven't been tested (though can be). Thus, in string theory, we have a range of concepts that have not yet had any predictions tested, yet we still call them theories.
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JSchuler
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quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:
Or is that the definition of a Law?

Laws and Theories are different in that Laws are descriptive, while Theories are explanatory. E = mc^2 is a Law. Relativity explains why that relationship is true. A Hypothesis can become a Theory, but neither a Hypothesis or a Theory can ever become a Law.
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ForlornShadow
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quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:
However, I would disagree with number 8, survival of the fittest. From the explanation, he seems to be limiting survival of the fittest to natural selection. But survival of the fittest is a mechanism, and it equally can be applied to natural selection as to directed selection (such as breeding for certain traits).

I disagree with you on one point. Survival of the fittest is not a mechanism by itself. It is a way to describe the mechanism of natural selection. Which by a very crude definition/explanation is the process by which organisms that are better adapted to an environment tend to have more offspring than ones that are not. Whether that be because of the environment changing, behavioral patterns, or the random mutation of gene.
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Brendan
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JSchuler said: Laws and Theories are different in that Laws are descriptive, while Theories are explanatory.

Nice point.

Forlorn Shadow said: I disagree with you on one point. Survival of the fittest is not a mechanism by itself. It is a way to describe the mechanism of natural selection.

In order to adequately counter the point I made, you need to address why "survival of the fittest" is limited to natural selection, and excluded from directed selection. I entirely agree with your later descriptions about its use in natural selection, but cannot see why that counters my original point or leads to a disagreement.

To further lay the foundations to this argument, where some of the confusion exists is in understanding the subject of the phrase "survival of the fittest". It is not the individual creature's survival that is paramount, but the combination of certain traits INTO successive generation. Of course, if the individual doesn't survive long enough, then this too fits the concept in a negative sense, but that is only one case of the concept. The misconception is that this is the only case that fits the concept - the survival of the individual. Other cases exist, such as the individual surviving to a ripe old age, but never passing on its genes, or such as the combination of traits being recessive, and despite being passed on, never again coming into the survival equation.

In terms of directed selection, part of the fitness equation is what "fits" the director's expectations of a trait. The director has control of the breeding phase of selection. This is very different to natural selection, because it includes purpose within the selection directions. But this still incorporates "survival of the fittest" as its mechanism.

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ForlornShadow
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Brendan: I can agree with you on how you define fitness in both natural and directed selection. I can also see how survival of the fittest could be a mechanism; however, if you're going to define survival of the fittest as a mechanism you can't include natural selection or directed selection in its definition as they are both mechanisms of evolution.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:

However, I would disagree with number 8, survival of the fittest. From the explanation, he seems to be limiting survival of the fittest to natural selection. But survival of the fittest is a mechanism, and it equally can be applied to natural selection as to directed selection (such as breeding for certain traits).

While your point is well-taken, I think it's somewhat tangential to the point the article is trying to make. People assume that evolution by natural selection creates species that are better in some objective sense, as opposed better fitted to prevailing conditions; that primitive species are replaced by species that are more advanced (even scientists are prone to using this language). This conflation of "fitter" with "better" pervades peoples' thinking, and of course it's pseudoscience.

A good counter-example to the idea that fitter equals better is the phenomenon of "Insular Dwarfism". When a population is restricted to a small range (for example an island), natural selection favors smaller individuals. At one time there were elephants on the islands of the Mediterranean. In some of those populations the typical size of an adult was only 1.5m. This is not because smaller elephants are better, or more "advanced" than large elephants. It's because small ranges favor small elephants just as big ranges favor big elephants.

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Reziac
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My personal fave is "organic food". It always makes the biochemist in me ask where the "inorganic" food is. [Wink]
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MAP
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Table salt? I know it's a seasoning not technically a food, but it is inorganic. [Smile]
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by MAP:
Table salt? I know it's a seasoning not technically a food, but it is inorganic. [Smile]

"Electrolytes -- It's what plants crave."
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
My personal fave is "organic food". It always makes the biochemist in me ask where the "inorganic" food is. [Wink]

The antonym of "organic food" would be "non-organic food", rather than "inorganic food".

"Organic" originally meant "pertaining to an organ of the body"; later it came to mean "pertaining to living things". That in turn led to both sense of the word we're using here: "organic" in the sense of compounds of carbon and nitrogen, and "organic" in the sense of produced using fertilizers from living sources.

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