When experts disagree

How does science work? And what's all this about quantum mechanics?

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When experts disagree

Post by Alchemyst » Fri May 09, 2008 2:11 am

This happens in every area of scientific enquiry. The main current example is climate change, with a minority arguing that human activity is having little impact.

Does logic dictate that we should always side with the majority of experts against the minority? Does our intuituion have a role to play?

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Post by Psychonaut » Fri May 09, 2008 3:08 pm

I think in this consideration we have to take into account temporally distant and hypothetical experts.

At the moment the majority of experts would say the Earth is round.
I know this is a fallacy, but let us suppose for a minute that the majority of experts through history would say that the Earth is flat.
Hence, if we went with the majority of experts we would discount what the current experts believed.

Further, even if all experts past and present were in accord about something, we could imagine an expert who would disagree with them. If we really wanted, we could probably 'create' such an expert in the future by some means or other.

Also, the truths of today were the mavericks of yesteryear, and no truth of tomorrow will come about without first being a maverick today. That isn't to say all mavericks are right, 99% are lunatics good and proper, but some are either geniuses, or lucky lunatics.

The point is, the argument to authority is never a sufficient argument for why someone might be convinced of something.

Anyone who is convinced that Global Warming is real because the majority of scientists say so is a culpable idiot, and anyone who thinks they should be convinced on this basis is a smug moron.

However, having said this, I think there is room for argument to authority within social decision-making processes. This is primarily because society has so far failed to throw up a tenable alternative; such as one where like an individual decision-making is done on a rational basis that may discount majority opinion.
This is mainly because, no matter how much people may acknowledge rationality, they will always see primacy in self-determination, and are unlikely to be willing to shed their self-determination for a process that they do not understand.

This is perhaps an argument for enforced plurality, except that supposedly the actions of some polluters have consequences for us all. So, while they may have the right to self-determination in deciding to pollute because they don't think it harms anyone, someone else can, in the name of their self-determination, believe they are harmed and act against them.

Is there a way out of the problem of people's conflicting views on whether there is a conflict of interest? Probably not.

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Post by aloysius » Fri May 09, 2008 3:21 pm

Concerning a subject of which I have little knowledge, I must rely on those who are knowledgeable - the "experts".

But when the experts disagree, I think it prudent to withhold judgment. I would not side with the majority opinion unless it was utterly overwhelming.

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Post by Psychonaut » Fri May 09, 2008 3:35 pm

You can always withhold belief pending greater knowledge. To do otherwise is irresponsible: you could be throwing in your lot with people whose very intent is to manipulate you towards their ends.

How do you identify experts? Are experts necessarily going to use their expertise to relate an unbiased truth to you?
Are there experts on experts that you can go to ask?

We can still act on an 'experts' conveyed information without ever believing it or attributing truth value to it. Such as when we go to get our cars fixed. We would be stupid either to rule out allowing them to do the fixing, or to think for a second that we aren't being taken for a ride.

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