Friday, August 27, 2010

The Scientific Method

As of late there has been a lot of discussion about so-called "proto-scientists" like Ray Stanford at the Paracast discussion forums. Most of it has come from Christopher O'Brien, of "trickster" fame, who has made the statement, on one of the threads there, that:

Ray breaks the mold and re-defines what we know about reality in an impressive fashion in several scientific realms, and he has demonstrated that conventional scientific thinking is woefully inadequate... Ray has impeccably documented his investigative process and IMO he is the most impressive, forward-thinking, seasoned expert we have in this proto-scientific field we grudgingly refer to as ufology. (original post at #48)
Somewhere, my friend Dick Hall is spinning in his grave. You see, the big problem with Stanford (well, one of them), is that he claims to have lots and lots of earth-shattering, ground-breaking evidence - but none of it seems to be available for anyone to have a look at, i.e. meaningful peer review. And it's not like Stanford just found this "evidence" - apparently, he's been accumulating it for decades.

Of course, Stanford is far from unique in this "I have evidence, and will release it soon" bait-and-switch game that goes on amongst the worst self-promoters and charlatans in ufology - Steven Greer takes the cake, with his alien babies and vectored spaceships and so on. But whatever you want to call all of this, you can't call it "science", and you can't blame science for not wanting to have any part of it (well, Stanford and Greer can, and do, but that's all tied up with the Cosmic Watergate and so forth...).

So, I thought it might be useful to remind these guys, should they stop by here, of exactly how the scientific method works. I took a look on the Internet for a good, concise statement, and found one, at a site called I thought it best to keep things reasonably simple, so that Stanford, and Greer, and their defenders / promoters, could begin to understand at least the basics (hint: key word = "evidence"). So, here we go (original here):

Learning about the scientific method is almost like saying that you are learning how to learn. You see, the scientific method is the way scientists learn and study the world around them. It can be used to study anything from a leaf to a dog to the entire Universe.

The basis of the scientific method is asking questions and then trying to come up with the answers. You could ask, "Why do dogs and cats have hair?" One answer might be that it keeps them warm. BOOM! It's the scientific method in action. (OK, settle down.)

Just about everything starts with a question. Usually, scientists come up with questions by looking at the world around them. "Hey look! What's that?" See that squiggly thing at the end of the sentence? A question has been born.

So you've got a scientist. When scientists see something they don't understand they have some huge urge to answer questions and discover new things. It's just one of those scientist personality traits. The trick is that you have to be able to offer some evidence that confirms every answer you give. If you can't test your answer, other scientists can't test it to see if you were right or not.

As more questions are asked, scientists work hard and come up with a bunch of answers. Then it is time to organize. One of the cool things about science is that other scientists can learn things from what has already been established. They don't have to go out and test everything again and again. That's what makes science special: it builds on what has been learned before.

This process allows the world to advance, evolve, and grow. All of today's advancements are based on the achievements of scientists who already did great work. Think about it this way: you will never have to show that water (H2O) is made up of one oxygen (O) and two hydrogen (H) atoms. Many scientists before you have confirmed that fact. It will be your job as a new scientist to take that knowledge and use it in your new experiments.

Experimental evidence is what makes all of the observations and answers in science valid (truthful or confirmed). The history of evidence and validations show that the original statements were correct and accurate. It sounds like a simple idea, but it is the basis of all science. Statements must be confirmed with loads of evidence. Enough said.

Scientists start with observations and then make a hypothesis (a guess), and then the fun begins. They must then prove their hypothesis with trials and tests that show why their data and results are correct. They must use controls, which are quantitative (based on values and figures, not emotions). Science needs both ideas (the hypothesis) and facts (the quantitative results) to move forward. Scientists can then examine their data and develop newer ideas. This process will lead to more observation and refinement of hypotheses.

There are different terms used to describe scientific ideas based on the amount of confirmed experimental evidence.

- a statement that uses a few observations
- an idea based on observations without experimental evidence
- uses many observations and has loads of experimental evidence
- can be applied to unrelated facts and new relationships
- flexible enough to be modified if new data/evidence introduced
- stands the test of time, often without change
- experimentally confirmed over and over
- can create true predictions for different situations
- has uniformity and is universal

You may also hear about the term "model." A model is a scientific statement that has some experimental validity or is a scientific concept that is only accurate under limited situations. Models do not work or apply under all situations in all environments. They are not universal ideas like a law or theory.
Science isn't the enemy of real UFO research - it's the only reasonable way forward (one should never confuse science with "scientism"). It's self-proclaimed "proto-scientists" like Stanford, and their ardent defenders like O'Brien, who undermine real UFO research, and have done so for decades now. This is the result of their complete lack of understanding of the scientific method, and their concomitant lack of respect for it.

Paul Kimball


Ryan P. said...

Looks like the kid gloves have come off. Good for you. It's nice to see you back on form, calling out people on their ridiculous crap.

christopher o'brien said...

Thanks for the grade-school primer on "the scientific method," Paul. Your opinion of Stanford is just that, your opinion. Ray has published papers in scientific journals--you forgot to mention this fact. How could this be so, if he wasn't aware of the "scientific method?" Why is his (non-UFO related) scientific work on permanent display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum? How come one of the world's top scientists co-authored a paper w/ Stanford? Because he doesn't know what he is doing?
You also forgot to mention that a true scientist doesn't present their hypothesis and conclusions in the media before publishing for peer review. Stanford has decided that his UFO related scientific work is too important to publicize before he is absolutely ready to publish. Sorry dude, everyone (including me) will just have to wait until he published the results of decades of hard, SCIENTIFIC work.

Paul Kimball said...

How many articles on UFOs, citing evidence, has Stanford published in legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific journals? None. His amateur work collecting donosaur fossils is certainly worthwhile, but let's not pretend that it makes him the next Darwin, or Einstein, or even Sagan, and let's also not pretend that it has anything to do whatsoever with his decades of making unsubstantiated claims about the UFO phenomenon, particularly when it comes to having the evidence that will change everything.

He's been running a bait-and-switch for a long time now, and everyone with any common sense has figured it out. Which tells us what we need to know about you, Chris, and your common sense.

And if his work is too important to publicize, then why is he going on radio programs to publicize it? I think we all know the answer - his ego, which is the one thing that Stanford clearly does present evidence for.

Anonymous said...

I understand where Chris O'Brien is coming from: Stanford and Louis Jarvis (and others, like Linda Moulton Howe), are friends of his, and it's tough to go against your friends, because you want to believe them or give them the benefit of the doubt at least. That's a commendably human reaction.

But it isn't good research, and there's the problem. Without revealing who I am, let me just say that I'm (a) a friend of Paul's, and (b) I've butted heads with him frequently over the years, and he's been very critical of some of my ideas and work. You know what - I respect that, and I respect him for it. I know others who he counts as friends, like Stan Friedman, Nick Redfern, and Rich Dolan, do as well. And that's why, despite our disagreements, I still read Paul's blog, and I'll always watch his films. Because he's earned my respect, precisely because he's disagreed with me.

Chris seems to work differently. As I said, it's a very understandable, human reaction. It's also wrong for a serious researcher, and even more wrong for someone hosting a paranormal radio show that claims to be "the gold standard".

Anonymous said...

Always remember when using the scientific method properly to begin with observations and experiments before even forming the hypothesis. Never leap into an invalid hypothesis unless you wish to spin your wheels and waste valuable time and money. The preliminary work is the most important,otherwise you will be the Engineer that proposes the new jet engine made of balsa wood. Most new research doesn't even make it to theories and laws. Scientists spend most of their time testing and making observations about the real world not speculating with invalid hypotheses that would lead to nowhere.