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Open Society Series Article #2: The Poverty of Authoritarian Science
It's not difficult to understand that limited viewpoints yield limited understanding. Here's an analysis that with a little effort will show us why Faucian science leads to relative impoverishment.
When Karl Popper created his formal calculus to describe how science works, he refused to include the subjective scientist in the equation. For many, this was a flaw because, objectively, we know that while scientists are beings who strive (or should strive) for objectivity, they also are still individuals, and, as such, are subjective.
Don’t be afraid of the following, it’s short-hand, not math. But Popper’s equations looked something like this:
Given a hypothesis H, conduct critical test T to yield evidence E in an attempt to falsify H (in modern lingo, attempt to show that H is “wrong”).
Interpret H in light of E given B, that background knowledge. If E indicates H is falsified, reject H, and update B. Otherwise, H is corroborated, and gains in verisimilitude.
In this exercise, T must be a true, potentially fatal test of H.
A few other dynamics: If B already makes H very likely, T may not be a hard test to pass, and thus the passing of H by T may yield only a moderate amount of corroboration because H already is imbued with high verisimilitude.
By contrast, if B makes very unlikely, and T is truly a critical test of H, and evidence E indicates that H has survived the potentially fatal test T, the result comes with a measure of Surprise (S). For Popper, the more surprising the fact that H survived T is a good measure of the degree of corroboration H should be afforded.
Note in Popperian science, we are never trying to prove something; rather, we are focused on disproving the hypothesis, challenging it, no matter how clever or dear to our own preferences and preconceptions.
In other words, let the evidence carry the day.
Popper eschewed bringing the subjective scientist into the mix because he considered that the community effort to interpret H in light of E from T would ensure more objectivity. As we will see, the issue is that there is nothing that guarantees or predetermines a 1:1 correspondence between what most scientists think and reality (truth). We are left with the idea that hopefully most of the time science when done this way, will get it right.
Popper’s description is not a prescription for Science as much as it is an attempt to describe it as a process. It was obvious to me as a graduate student - and it still is today - that as long as everyone involved is an honest broker, the subjective roles of scientists are important because their collective background knowledge will be larger as a group than as any individual, and thus the earnest attempt to interpret (H|T, E) in light of B is more likely to succeed when Science is done in an open manner because it increases the likelihood that that group will have the right collective B to properly and accurately interpret the evidence from a test.
The Poverty of Authoritarian Science
By now, it should be clear that part of the source of the poverty of top-down enforced understanding of science is that limited viewpoints will restrict the ability of Popper’s algorithm for science to work. But where? Where in the process is this impoverishment manifested?
It turns out that the top-down, single-authority model of authoritarian science restricts the interpretation of E from T, and thus the revisiting of H given E from T. This view of science, which we can call Faucian science, leads to relative empirical impoverishment because the authority has limited background knowledge B and the interpretation of E|T that allows consideration of (H|E, T) depends entirely on ((H|E, T)|B).
In English, the interpretation of the evidence given the test outcome that allows the consideration of the hypothesis given the evidence and the (or from the) test depends entirely on the interpretation of the hypothesis given the evidence from the test in light of the background knowledge.
Ways An Authoritarian Gets It, or Makes It Wrong
In Faucian science, a desired outcome is predetermined, and there are few tactics therefore that are available to distort the Popperian algorithm.
Misinterpret E, with a caricature misrepresentation of B, distorting the interpretation of H|E, T. A good example is Fauci’s willful misrepresentation of the Henry Ford Study on Hydroxychloroquine plus Corticosteroids.
Misrepresent E (lying about the outcome of a test). This can be done by refusing to make evidence E public or scientific fraud. The effect is the same.
Claim fault with T. Studies that go against the official narrative can be nullified by attacking the validity of T.
Refusing to fund T.
We’ve seen all of these examples, and the net result is relative empirical poverty: that is, we have learned less than we should.
Authoritarian Faucian Science stifles innovation and hampers scientific progress by restricting intellectual freedom and discouraging open inquiry. Enforcing rigid conformity to a particular ideology or authority limits the diversity of ideas and perspectives necessary for breakthrough discoveries and advancements.
The Poverty of Authoritarian Faucian Science undermines the principles of objectivity and impartiality that are crucial for scientific inquiry. When science becomes subservient to political or ideological agendas, it risks distorting or disregarding empirical evidence, leading to biased conclusions and a flawed understanding of the natural world.
Authoritarian Faucian Science undermines the credibility and integrity of scientific findings by prioritizing conformity over rigorous scrutiny and peer review. When dissenting opinions and alternative hypotheses are suppressed, the scientific community loses the valuable checks and balances that ensure the accuracy and reliability of research outcomes.
We even have a Logical Fallacy known as the Appeal to Authority Fallacy (aka argument from authority), which refers to how some people use statements made by authority figures to support a conclusion. Usually, this occurs when someone falsely assumes that something must be true because someone who is a recognized expert believes it to be true as if no other evidence is needed. It’s a really a submission to authority; when seen in this light, the diktats of authority figures who prey upon the public’s dependence on their technical expertise should especially be scrutinized.
In contrast to Faucian Science, Open Science, which encourages transparency, collaboration, and the free exchange of ideas, fosters robust scientific progress and encourages independent critical thinking. By embracing the diversity of thought and promoting intellectual autonomy, Open Science empowers researchers from all walks of life to challenge prevailing notions, explore unconventional paths, and contribute to the collective knowledge in a more meaningful and less biased way.
We will see in a future article that intentionally adversarial systems are highly valuable for rendering empirical wealth (advances in knowledge) and that true scientists value, above all, earnest critical analysis of their work.
Medical research in academia often completely confuses controversy with “bad reputation”, and nothing could be further from the truth. The ideal outcome for a good study is Surprise - because at least we’ll have something to talk about, and someone is going to learn something new.
Purposively adversarial systems provide a proving ground for ideas, and Faucian Science stifles discussion, disagreement, and discourse.
Faucian Science leads to relative ignorance in as certain mathematical terms as can be imagined. If we are to succeed in any scientific endeavor, we must understand The Tyranny of Consensus, The Falsity of Propaganda, The Wisdom of the Minority, and the Value of Informed Dissent, which will be the subject of our next articles in this short series.
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Open Society Series Article #1: The Open Society and its New Enemies: Shutting the Back Door to Tyranny
Open Society Series Article #2: The Poverty of Authoritarian Science
Open Society Series Article #3: The Tyranny of Consensus
Open Society Series Article #4: The Falsity of Propaganda
Open Society Series Article #5: The Wisdom of the Minority, and the Value of Informed Dissent