Barbara Forrest: The Trojan Horse at Dover

In science, we don’t assume methods, hypotheses, statistical analyses, and so forth.

That is not what I do when I do science. I actually measure stuff.

So what forms the basis of how a plumber will design a plumbing system for a home, or diagnose and solve a problem when a system is malfunctioning? Does he contemplate the poetry of William Blake? Does a god come down and reveal to him the solution? Or what?

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And when you measure stuff, how do you perform those measurements?


Depends on the method I am using, which I would also publish alongside the measurements.

That would be engineering, much of which comes from science, but that doesn’t constitute doing science.

Only in rare cases would plumbing involve hypothesis testing, while auto mechanics do it daily.

Okay. Give an example of an instrument you use.

An ELISA might be a good example. I don’t simply look at the plate and say some wells have more color than others. I measure the absorbance. I also wouldn’t say that an ELISA test was positive without describing the methods used and the controls that were used. If I were comparing two groups I would use statistical tests to see if there was a significant difference between them instead of simply saying they look different.

How do you know what the absorbance is?

By measuring the transmittance of light in a filter based spectrophotometer.

That’s what the plate reader is doing, not you. How do you know what the absorbance is?

I use the plate reader to make the measurement, just as you would use a ruler to measure length or a balance to measure mass. This is an objective test that can be repeated by others as required by the scientific method. It isn’t, “well, some of the wells were bluer than others”.

Okay, so when you use a ruler to measure some length, how do you tell what length you’re measuring?

In my experience everyone with functioning eyes can look out of their window to see if it’s raining.

You determine which pip is closest to what you are measuring. You don’t say, “well, it looks really long”.

And to determine which pip is closest to what you’re measuring, you… look at it, and say “well, looks like it’s this one”. Right?

Just as anyone else can do using the same method, and then get the same results. It is an objective and repeatable measurement.

I agree.

My point is merely this: I think everyone agrees that the reliability of the conclusions we draw from empirical observations go up when they are repeated by others, and we establish more rigorous methodologies for what counts as useful or trustworthy observations, and what does not.

But that does not mean that it you haven’t, essentially, done scientific work, when you have read a length off your ruler, read a number you take to be absorbance off a digital display on your spectrophotometer, or seen rings form and expand in a patch of water on the ground. Even before anyone else has had a chance to repeat and assess that work (which would improve the reliability of your conclusions should they confirm them), you’ve still done scientific work. You’ve done science.

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What I am trying to say is that science isn’t just observing stuff. There’s more to it than that. There needs to be some empiricism and hypothesis testing somewhere in the mix.

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Sure, but as I said I think empirical hypothesis testing is implicit in much of what we do in our everyday lives.

Is my coffee still warm? I taste it (an empirical measurement), or hold the cup for a few seconds (another empirical measurement). There’s an implicit testing of a hypothesis there. I have a hypothesis about what I expect to taste or feel if it is warm, and what I should taste or feel if it is not.

Now, the reliability of my conclusions about the coffee might be good enough for my own satisfaction, and they would certainly go up a lot of I got many different individuals to repeat the test. But they do no less conform to the “recipe” of scientific hypothesis testing if I do not go through and have others repeat them. I have, in fact, performed an empirical test of a hypothesis, by holding my cup in my hand.


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Just published the article for this here:

We will be discussing it here: Barbara Forest: Is ID Science or Not?

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