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Thread: What "theory" means in science

  1. #41
    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by rogue06 View Post
    "Sheltered"? I doubt that would be the correct word. As the multiple sources that I cited in the OP demonstrate (and I could have provided more but figured those I did cite would be sufficient) there is a proper scientific definition for the word theory that differs from how it is generally used by the public at large.
    You posted multiple statements about the proper definition of "theory" in science. I'm looking for some evidence that those statements are correct. Because, as I said, they do not seem to me to reflect real scientific usage. And if scientists don't use the word in the way the definitions claim, then they don't represent the proper definition after all.

    Where there are well-defined terms in science, you can find scientists arguing about their application. It's trivial to find scientists arguing about whether two populations represent different species or not, or to find scientists arguing about what constitutes an appropriate null hypothesis. Can you find any cases of scientists arguing whether some construct is a "theory" or not? Any place in the scientific literature where applying the word "theory" is an issue at all? The actual use I see, including in the literature, does not match the definitions you posted -- and I posted some examples previously.

    If there are scientists who actually apply those definitions, great. There's lots about scientific practice I don't know, and I enjoy learning new things. But I want to see some evidence that they exist.

  2. #42
    tWebber shunyadragon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lao tzu View Post
    He's posted his a link to his publication record before. It appears you're not aware of it.
    If this is indeed true, then why is confused and sheltered concerning how and why 'theory' is defined, used and understood among scientists?

    Note the confusion?!?!?!?

    Quote Originally Posted by sfs1
    If there are scientists who actually apply those definitions, great. There's lots about scientific practice I don't know, and I enjoy learning new things. But I want to see some evidence that they exist.
    Last edited by shunyadragon; 04-03-2015 at 05:15 AM.
    Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
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  3. #43
    radical strawberry
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    Quote Originally Posted by shunyadragon View Post
    If this is indeed true [...]
    There is no "if" here. It's simply true. I've been following his posts for years, Frank. Trust me on this. He's an evolutionary biologist with an extensive publication record ... who also, by his own account, which I have no reason to distrust ... finds that scientists are far less strict in their usage of the word "theory" than a formal definition would suggest.

    There's an analogue in mathematics. Formally, we often differentiate between large, expansive theorems and "small" theorems called "lemmas." But that didn't keep Zorn from calling his eponymous discovery a lemma, and that's the usage we still keep today, despite the fact it's since been shown equivalent to both the axiom of choice and the well-ordering principle.

    In my experience as well, academics, and especially elite academics, generally feel free to break the rules. And that goes beyond academics, too: "Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal."

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  5. #44
    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by shunyadragon View Post
    If this is indeed true, then why is confused and sheltered concerning how and why 'theory' is defined, used and understood among scientists?
    I'm not sheltered, and didn't say I was; you really do have difficulty keeping what I say straight. I'm confused because the definitions offered early in the thread don't match my (quite extensive) experience in science. You keep ignoring those definitions, ignoring the actual question I'm asking, and attacking me for unknown reasons.

    Meanwhile, no one has offered any evidence that scientists restrict theories to be big ideas that incorporate many hypotheses, or to models that have been thoroughly tested. In other words, will all of these posts, no one has answered the only question I've asked.

    Note the confusion?!?!?!?
    No. Where did I express confusion there? I have unusually wide experience in science: I've worked in two major fields (high energy physics and genetics) and several subfields (infectious disease, population genetics, medical genetics, evolutionary biology). So I have first-hand experience with how scientists in those fields use the word "theory". But there are large areas of science in which I have no first-hand experience. I'm asking for feedback from other scientists who have any relevant information to offer on the subject. For some reason that offends you.

  6. #45
    tWebber shunyadragon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lao tzu View Post
    There is no "if" here. It's simply true. I've been following his posts for years, Frank. Trust me on this. He's an evolutionary biologist with an extensive publication record ... who also, by his own account, which I have no reason to distrust ... finds that scientists are far less strict in their usage of the word "theory" than a formal definition would suggest.

    There's an analogue in mathematics. Formally, we often differentiate between large, expansive theorems and "small" theorems called "lemmas." But that didn't keep Zorn from calling his eponymous discovery a lemma, and that's the usage we still keep today, despite the fact it's since been shown equivalent to both the axiom of choice and the well-ordering principle.

    In my experience as well, academics, and especially elite academics, generally feel free to break the rules. And that goes beyond academics, too: "Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal."
    Your response is reasonable, but no, sfs1's confusing argument is without constructive meaning. Yes, as you note, there is variation and diversity of views of what theory means and how it works. The reality is that hypothesis, theory, and the variations work perfectly well in science within the human limitations over time.

    Also, the definition from the Oxford Dictionary he cited is unnecessarily vague and useless as far as how scientists consider and use 'theory.'

    The following is confusing hogwash.

    Quote Originally Posted by sfs1
    Meanwhile, no one has offered any evidence that scientists restrict theories to be big ideas that incorporate many hypotheses, or to models that have been thoroughly tested. In other words, will all of these posts, no one has answered the only question I've asked.
    Last edited by shunyadragon; 04-03-2015 at 02:29 PM.
    Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
    Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
    But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

    go with the flow the river knows . . .

    Frank

    I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

  7. #46
    tWebber Roy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lao tzu View Post
    There is no "if" here. It's simply true. I've been following his posts for years, Frank. Trust me on this. He's an evolutionary biologist with an extensive publication record ... who also, by his own account, which I have no reason to distrust ... finds that scientists are far less strict in their usage of the word "theory" than a formal definition would suggest.
    Agreed. This is merely the difference between (ahem) theory and practice. Most scientists don't discuss the meaning of "theory" for the same reason that most civil engineers don't discuss the meaning of "bridge" and most software developers don't discuss the meaning of "programming". They're more interested in doing than philosophising.

    Roy
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  9. #47
    tWebber Roy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sfs1 View Post
    But there are large areas of science in which I have no first-hand experience. I'm asking for feedback from other scientists who have any relevant information to offer on the subject. For some reason that offends you.
    For what it's worth computer scientists don't talk about "theories" much at all.

    Roy
    Jorge: Functional Complex Information is INFORMATION that is complex and functional.

    mikewhitney: What if the speed of light changed when light is passing through water? ... I have 3 semesters of college Physics.

    Mountain Man: First of all, the Bible is a fixed document.

  10. #48
    tWebber
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    There is a good bit of theory in computer science, though large portions of it is a closely related to other disciplines like mathematics or EE and Physicis. Examples: graph theory, computational systems, algorithm complexity (NP-Hard/Complete etc), networks, language theory, cryptography : or physics/electrical engineering (chip design etc, RF communications etc). Some of it is uniquely compsci, like OS design and principles,compiler/linker design, OO langauage theory and design, testing theory, theories governing run-time and static analysis, or vulnerability analysis and so forth.

    There is even theory associated with program design and maintenance, overall system design. Psychology enters in when it comes to GUI design.

    Plenty of theory in CompSci.

    Jim
    Last edited by oxmixmudd; 04-03-2015 at 03:57 PM.
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  11. #49
    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by oxmixmudd View Post
    There is a good bit of theory in computer science, though large portions of it is a closely related to other disciplines like mathematics or EE and Physicis. Examples: graph theory, computational systems, algorithm complexity (NP-Hard/Complete etc), networks, language theory, cryptography : or physics/electrical engineering (chip design etc, RF communications etc). Some of it is uniquely compsci, like OS design and principles,compiler/linker design, OO langauage theory and design, testing theory, theories governing run-time and static analysis, or vulnerability analysis and so forth.

    There is even theory associated with program design and maintenance, overall system design. Psychology enters in when it comes to GUI design.

    Plenty of theory in CompSci.

    Jim
    Plenty of theory, but not many theories. That's the distinction I was drawing between theory as mass noun and as count noun.

  12. #50
    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by shunyadragon View Post
    Your response is reasonable, but no, sfs1's confusing argument is without constructive meaning. Yes, as you note, there is variation and diversity of views of what theory means and how it works. The reality is that hypothesis, theory, and the variations work perfectly well in science within the human limitations over time.

    Also, the definition from the Oxford Dictionary he cited is unnecessarily vague and useless as far as how scientists consider and use 'theory.'

    The following is confusing hogwash.
    You know, I get the feeling that shunyadragon just doesn't like me.

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