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Crowdsourcing and Scientific Truth

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the truth-by-committee dept.

Science 62

ygslash writes "In an opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review, Jack Hitt states that comments posted to on-line articles, and elsewhere on line, have de facto become an important factor in what is accepted as scientific truth. From the article: 'Any article, journalistic or scientific, that sparks a debate typically winds up looking more like a good manuscript 700 years ago than a magazine piece only 10 years ago. The truth is that every decent article now aspires to become the wiki of its own headline.'"

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Science as a social construct (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908081)

is well known and studied topic. Before NYT noticed...

Re:Science as a social construct (4, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908149)

Since you're our resident first-poster for this article you're forgiven for not having RTFAed. :) The article actually sings the praises of comments sections in their ability to dissect evidence more efficiently than one or a handful of time-constrained professionals, points out how similar annotations in old books gave rise to the first dictionaries, argues that we need to treat 'comments' sections more respectfully as a result (and call them perhaps 'glosses', borrowing the term used for said mediaeval–Renaissance marginalia), and then insinuates that the original article was undoubtedly in error, particularly since the bird has been "sighted" very several very convenient times in the past when conservationists' efforts were frustrated.

Re:Science as a social construct (5, Insightful)

ApharmdB (572578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908177)

Is the article author aware of how pervasive astroturfing is in the comments sections? Perhaps if the article is about a subject that no one has a financial or political interest in, comments sections could serve this way. But as soon as someone's got an interest to protect, you can't trust the comments to be anything other than posts made by paid people creating fake personas to do so. Slashdot has had articles about this type of astroturfing before.

Re:Science as a social construct (4, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908241)

Definitely not. In that sense, it's very predictably naive. I mean, you can trust me on it or RTFA, your choice. :) If only NYTimes had a non-paywalled, publicly-accessible comments section so we could tell them...

Re:Science as a social construct (4, Insightful)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909589)

What's common is the accusations of astroturfing by fans of competing products, theories, or systems. It's become the "in thing" to claim that any dissenting opinion is astroturfing.

Unfortunately for those who like to use terms without understanding their meaning, it's only "astroturfing" if you're compensated for broadcasting a statement. People are entitled to share their opinions as they see fit provided they're not paid to take a side.

Even if they disagree with you.

Re:Science as a social construct (4, Informative)

ediron2 (246908) | more than 2 years ago | (#39910861)

Astroturfing is creating a grassroots appearance when no such grassroots movement existed previously. Money doesn't have to change hands as directly as you hint at, and certainly not 'if you're compensated for broadcasting a statement'.

Here's the difference: Astroturfing is also the term for when a well-funded interested party creates and funds a 'think tank' or 'activist group' that has the unstated mission of forwarding their goal. The astroturfing group can recruit people that share an interest, track membership, fund gatherings, push information to assist their membership, and promote spokespeople without giving any of these people money. Every person that appears on behalf of that position has their activist efforts easier due to all these little helpful moments, but can be completely unaware that they're 'funded'.

A mob that splits the work and cost among many members to lighten the load, and lacks deep pockets behind the scenes is a 'grassroots' organization.

An org with deep-pockets supporters lightening the load is astroturfing.

Having (insert celebrity) call attention to your case isn't astroturfing.

Having (insert celebrity or wealthy benefactor) provide substantial direct funding is astroturfing.

There are many shades of grey between these two, but I'd venture that a key detail is whether wealthy benefactor(s) want to use grassroots' perceived lack of economic motive to hide an existing economic motive, and/or to hide their financial backing.

Sorry this went long; am interested in the topic-- I'm willing to concede this was written ad hoc, so other views / opinions are welcome.

I just occasionally see 2nd-order astroturfing firms (for lack of a better term) out there that do as I've described: surround themselves with unpaid teammates and pretend like they're so good at all the hassles of a campaign because of supporters or great karma, rather than the cash that funds all the background efforts that otherwise would take considerably more volunteer supporters.

Re:Science as a social construct (1)

ghostdoc (1235612) | more than 2 years ago | (#39911551)

so an organisation like GetUp! (http://www.getup.org.au/) is astroturfing or not? it is funded by small donations, but also by unions. It pushes a very definite political agenda.

I can see an argument both ways, so I'm curious about whether that would be classed as an astroturfer or not...

Re:Science as a social construct (3, Insightful)

lars_stefan_axelsson (236283) | more than 2 years ago | (#39912931)

I would say "no". To my mind there has to be malice, i.e. a hidden agenda for an expression to count as astro turfing. I.e. it's a fake, grass roots movement. An organisation/special interest group that is open with the fact that that's what they are, cannot thus be astro turfing.

Re:Science as a social construct (1)

KhabaLox (1906148) | more than 2 years ago | (#39916843)

What's common is the accusations of astroturfing by fans of competing products, theories, or systems. It's become the "in thing" to claim that any dissenting opinion is astroturfing.

Spoken like a true shill for Big Nylon Grass.

Re:Science as a social construct (1)

sgt_doom (655561) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909939)

Excellent points, Ms. Sam! If the Web had existed when I was a kid, I would have early on learned about G.F.B. Riemann, and hence known enough to have studied real physics: GFB Riemann > > Paul Dirac > > David Boehm > > John Bell (Bell's Theorem or Inequality > > Julian Barbour (and skipped Bohr and Einstein). The Web over Internet is a true cognition multiplier.

True, but... (2)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 2 years ago | (#39910023)

The Web over Internet is a true cognition multiplier.

Very true, the only problem is that the multiplicative factor is highly variable and in many cases can be much less than 1.0.

Re:Science as a social construct (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39910059)

Somehow I don't think we're exhaustively on the same page here. That's just a summary of the article—in practice the web is as full of bugs and dirt as anything else. Wikipedia notes that Dr. Barbour's theory of timeless physics is considered controversial, and the fact that he stopped publishing academically in the late sixties suggests that his work may not have been put through rigorous critique. If anything what you're saying highlights the greatest danger of the web: it becomes trivial to avoid critical analysis of what you're looking at if it makes you uncomfortable, and it's hard to be certain of the authoritativeness of a given statement.

Re:Science as a social construct (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39910149)

Well, there's sometimes a question as to whether one stops publishing academically or is not being published academically?

Also, if you are familiar with Riemann's thesis on quantum geometry, perhaps Barbour would appear more cogent?

sgt_doom

Re:Science as a social construct (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39911853)

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with anything of Riemann's work beyond his sums, so I can't really comment on the subject matter from the position of an expert. What cursory research I have done on Barbour suggests his theories are now getting more attention. (Still, I'm a little troubled by the statement that you felt reading Einstein was unproductive—one of the few things I do definitely know about theoretical physics is that his work is considered absolutely essential.)

You're correct there's a distinction between a decision to leave academia and trouble getting published, but it still means that the theory hasn't been subjected to criticism with the same rigour as one that has been published.

You would be amazed!!! (1)

sgt_doom (655561) | more than 2 years ago | (#39922795)

(Still, I'm a little troubled by the statement that you felt reading Einstein was unproductive—one of the few things I do definitely know about theoretical physics is that his work is considered absolutely essential.)

You would be amazed at what you would understand after reading Riemann, and why I mentioned about skipping Bohr and Einstein --- who (especially Einstein) were essentially repeating Riemann. Very enlightening.....

Online Scientific "Discussions" (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39910661)

"Yes it is"
"No it isn't"
"You are an idiot"
"I am the smartest person in the world!"

Repeat until the next subject is posted.

science as a social construct (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908095)

is a well known theory. Before NYT noticed...

Re:science as a social construct (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908541)

Well known bullshit. See 'Alan Sokal'.

Social 'scientists' should shut the fuck up before further embarrassment results.

Re:science as a social construct (4, Informative)

jc42 (318812) | more than 2 years ago | (#39912179)

Heh. We all can have fun mocking the "social science" sort.

But there's the perspective of the old wise crack, attributed to various singers (Louis Armstrong, Bill Broonzy, et al.) when asked if what he was singing was folk music: "I ain't never heard a horse sing a song.".

Similarly, all known science is done by gangs of humans, so it is inherently a social construct. Various historians of science have elaborated on this, by explaining that the scientific method has been rediscovered many times in many societies, but only one of them has developed a successful "science". The reason is that, in all the others, scientific methods have been developed by very small groups of people, typically in a "guild" or sorts, who hold the information very close and don't share it or their methods with outsiders. Eventually a small group dies out, and their knowledge dies with them.

The founders of modern, Western "science" developed not because they also discovered scientific methodology. Rather, their success was from their process of open publication. This enabled the "standing on the shoulder of giants" phenomenon, as Isaac Newton put it. But even that quip wasn't original with him; he just found a more elegant and memorable way of expressing it than his predecessors. It was published, so we remember it. With open publication of methods and results, Western science became a social construct that slowly spread to a large population. With that population, plus all the published material from previous generations, it all snowballed into the world-changing system that we see today.

No single human could have ever done this. It required a social system, with massive sharing of information. Calling it a "social construct" is merely an elegant way of saying all this. It's why modern science has been so more successful than previous local, personal development of knowledge. It's also much of what gave a small, local population on the western fringe of a continent so much control over the rest of the world.

As the biologists have been telling us, the dominant species tend to be the social ones. And it's their social behavior that makes them win over their less-social relatives. We see this within our own species with the sub-population that developed the social construct that we call "science".

Of course, I wouldn't deny the fun we had when Alan Sokal managed his publication feat. That was hilarious. Nobody says that social things are always correct. The history of science is full of mistakes and dead ends. Open publication means that society can learn from them, and not repeat them.

Re:science as a social construct (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39943407)

I hate to tell you this, but the social 'scientists' didn't learn a lesson from Sokal. They hate him for pointing out they are wear no clothes. But they aren't putting on any clothes.

Re:science as a social construct (1)

jc42 (318812) | more than 2 years ago | (#39945099)

Well, yeah, but note that they're not "scientists"; they're publishers. ;-)

I can assure you, from personal contacts, that at least some actual social scientists thought it was hilarious. As did many other kinds of scientists, of course.

Not that this means much. I've forgotten who said it, but someone has observed that "All we learn from history is that people don't learn from history." Hmmm ... Google's not much help here. It turns up over 36,000 matches for that sentence, but the first several pages don't seem to contain any attributions.

OTOH, Newton's famous "on the shoulders of giants" comment is well known and also widely attributed to him. And it's not difficult to find lists of similar comments by his predecessors. This is a fairly clear statement that sometimes people actually do learn from history, though Newton probably said it mostly as a form of humility.

Re:science as a social construct (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955863)

Sokal's point wasn't that publishers/'peer reviewers' are too stupid to realize that they are being mocked.

Sokal's point was that 'Social Scientists' are a faith based group. _Everything_ is socially constructed is their primary axiom. They are wrong and too narrow minded to even accept the possibility.

long true, but more public/pervasive now (4, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908123)

It's long been true that a top reason to go to academic conferences isn't only for the paper presentations, but rather for the hallway/dinner/bar conversations about those papers. More formally, many scientific journals will publish short letters or commentaries about papers they've previously published, and that practice used to be even more widespread (at some journals a "letter" has morphed into a mini-paper, but they used to really be letters to the editor).

The same is now true online with something like Terence Tao's blog [wordpress.com] : it's interesting as much for what other mathematicians post in reply, as for what Tao himself posts (though his posts are quite interesting). The main difference as I see it is that the number of people participating is much greater (which has good and bad parts), and, in comparison to hallway conversations, the conversations persist and get referenced back to more, since they're in a semi-durable written medium (that's the "wiki-like" aspect the article discusses).

Re:long true, but more public/pervasive now (1)

Takionbrst (1772396) | more than 2 years ago | (#39910517)

Some examples from my intellectual neck of the woods-- the comments sections were particularly interesting during the whole OPERA snafu, though with Lubos' blog in particular you have to deal with some pretty half-baked political ideologies.

http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ [utexas.edu]
http://motls.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

Re:long true, but more public/pervasive now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39912051)

I can't read the article at the moment (it's acting weird), but I think there's an important difference between conversations between mathematicians on one mathematician's blog, and comments by the general public on an article written by a journalist.

There's nothing wrong with non-mathematicians commenting on a mathematician's blog, but the composition of the commenting community is important. Not all articles are scientific, not all people writing scientific articles really know what they're writing about, and the comments on those articles aren't necessarily useful.

To carry your conference analogy further: most discussions on the web aren't like conferences. They're like English majors talking loudly with friends about something they saw on their iPad at a lively coffeeshop, and having people nearby join in with their commentary. It might be interesting conversation to the people involved, and those people may be intelligent, but it doesn't mean that the people understand the material well, that the conversation is helpful to the field, or that it would be interesting to experts in that area.

Maybe this isn't relevant to the article, though--it would be nice to read it.

Re:long true, but more public/pervasive now (2)

l3v1 (787564) | more than 2 years ago | (#39912987)

It's long been true that a top reason to go to academic conferences isn't only for the paper presentations, but rather for the hallway/dinner/bar conversations about those papers.

There is nothing similar between researchers talking with each other at a conference, and average commenters posting comments on a blog. Some will hate me for this but I have to say this is the same thing as comparing journalism with blogging (oh my, how many long and idiotic quarrels about this are out there). It is absolutely relevant, who participates in the discussion and who leaves the comments.

This line of thought inthe article in the parent comment seem very similar to thoughts some people are preaching about how scientific publications should be evaluated and judged by the wide public in a wiki/blog-like format. Both suggest the originators' ignorance about research, researchers and science in general.

Re:long true, but more public/pervasive now (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 2 years ago | (#39916629)

Great link! Though I fear I've been on Slashdot too long: I misread his name as Terence Taco...

What does this mean? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908171)

looking more like a good manuscript 700 years ago than a magazine piece only 10 years ago

What does this even mean? I can't parse it and its early Sunday morning but I'm not that drowsy or stupid (although some would disagree with the latter).

Obviously its relevant that he references GOOD 700 year old vs just "a" 10 year old. Obviously its important that magazines are time filling fluff for the masses / chewing gum for the mind, and in the old days manuscripts held real individual contributions of science work (like a modern journal / preprint archive / e-journal). Manuscripts didn't do much for complimentary copy other than the occasional thank god here and there, but magazines are almost all complimentary copy now?

Re:What does this mean? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908361)

He is referring to marginalia, or the practice of a scribe adding his comments and thoughts into the margins of a manuscript as he was copying it out. These notes would then be copied by the next scribe, how might add notes of his own. This could get rather extensive and later, during the high medieval period, it gave rise to the idea of a full glossary.

Re:What does this mean? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908611)

So how is this different than the modern magazine 10 years ago? You take a newswire story, add some local color, someones blog mentions it, etc.

Re:What does this mean? (4, Informative)

DingerX (847589) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909741)

In truth, marginalia practicaly never make it into proper glosses. Glosses are usually assembled from authoritative texts that discuss the passage in question. And very few texts get the Gloss treatment: in the Latin world, it's the Bible, Corpus Iuris Civilis and Decretals above all. Some other texts might get glosses, but they rarely get a glossa ordinaria-class treatment.

And to the midrashim comment in TFA, I'd point out that Rashi did a bang-up job himself in Hebrew.

For the scholastic Middle Ages, criticism usually took the form of "one doctor says this ..., for these reasons. I disagree, rather saying this, for these reasons. To his reasons, I reply..."

Same as it ever was.

Re:What does this mean? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909893)

"What does this even mean?"

Hard to tell for several reasons... among them that New York Times website is broken. To would-be OPs: please don't link to articles there. When I click on a link it tells me to log in, which is fine, but then it only gives me front page, never the article referenced by the link. And then, once logged in, if I click the link again (thinking it might take me there), it tells me to log in again even though I am already logged in!. Major, and I really mean major, web fail.

But aside from that, it still doesn't mean much. "What is accepted as scientific truth" has absolutely nothing to do with what appears in the news or blog articles. What is "accepted" as scientific truth -- even though it may take a while to soak in and be accepted -- is what the actual scientists tell us.

It has taken well over 80 years for the public to start accepting the realities of quantum physics, even though many of their household gizmos and even appliances make use of them every day.

Wikis are founts of information, but they are not authorities.

Well, Welcome to Slashdot (1)

ifiwereasculptor (1870574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908179)

'Any article, journalistic or scientific, that sparks a debate typically winds up looking more like a good manuscript 700 years ago than a magazine piece only 10 years ago.

Not here. Two or three lines of summary are usually enough for the equivalent in comments of a thermonuclear war.

Re:Well, Welcome to Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908275)

Why don't you write code on a software that belongs in the 80's and prefers to do it in a different software that belongs in the 80's? You're crazy, man!

Cornell woodpecker sighting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908189)

Good thing the debunking campaign wasn't led by a Slashdot poster, otherwise the home page would've been "this-woodpecker-is-dead.com"

Astroturfing (3, Informative)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908217)

Its interesting to observe how much commentary on articles is devoted to shouting down the opposition rather than making observations and/or corrections of the original content. Given the accelerated pace of such discussions on-line, the utility of spurious research in support of questionable legislation has been reduced significantly. In other words, if you spot an ivory-billed woodpecker today, your claim might not survive long enough to secure funding or implement conservation measures. That is; without your supporters declaring that the time for further research and comments is over and now its time to act.

Today's crowdsourcing serves to reduce the half-life of bad science.

Re:Astroturfing (2)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908283)

Ultimately the refutation of bad science depends on data, not blog entries.

The arsenic based DNA article published in Science was not finally laid to rest by blog entries, but by a careful analysis of the DNA.

Re:Astroturfing (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908571)

"Ultimately" being the key word here. Its true, you have to do the science properly to refute bad research and publication. But some of that bad research facilitates bad legislation or case law. And in these cases, its critical to call BS fast enough to stop such poorly conceived responses. Once bad law is in place, its supporters don't give a damn about its basis anymore. Often, the fight to rescind it is never undertaken.

From TFA:

Alex Sanders, who as a member of South Carolina's House of Representatives fought to preserve the land, told me that when people ask him where the ivory-bill is, he says, "I don't know where he is now, but I know where he was when we needed him."

Do you think they abolished that national park they created when the woodpecker proved to be a no-show? I don't think so.

Re:Astroturfing (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39911935)

What makes you think that objections raised in that manner are going to be any more accurate than the original work?

If legislatures are incompetent enough not to fix their errors this process can cause harm in either direction; through action or inaction.

Re:Astroturfing (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39912453)

What makes you think that objections raised in that manner are going to be any more accurate than the original work?

Because, given time, science tends to progress from a state of less knowledge to one of more knowledge. Otherwise we'd be losing the wheel, fire, and TV dinners.

What is the value of comments? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908221)

Jack Hitt makes an excellent point. The value of comments are to provide context to the article. What is the value of comments? Is is (the value of Web 2.0) - (the value of Web 1.0).

Comments contextualize the article. The questions raised in comments are the test by which the article itself is valuable or not. Does the article speak to the questions? If yes, the article is valuable.

"Scientific truth" vs "Popular perception", Etc. (3, Insightful)

Gimbal (2474818) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908239)

There is a huge difference between scientific truth and, alternately, popular perception. I don't even want to try to explain that, it's so obvious - and there may some be more pertinent matters to address, in this.

I think we can accept that comments sections do not make much of a forum for development of scientific anything. Comments are comments. Comments are not journal articles. Comments can be said to be peer reviewed, to some extent, but then again, comments are not journal articles, comments need not follow any specific format for reporting of questions and results, comments are just comments.

I'm afraid that that all may be beside any points raised in the linked article, however. What the article looks like to me, in all my sense of bias: It looks like a way of trying to excuse a lack of significant content in articles, in lieu of some kind of perceptual bias about comments. It think it's just as well for the birds, though I know it's been said, "It's the thought that counts."

Re:"Scientific truth" vs "Popular perception", Etc (5, Informative)

nashv (1479253) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908409)

Comments are comments. Comments are not journal articles. Comments can be said to be peer reviewed, to some extent, but then again, comments are not journal articles, comments need not follow any specific format for reporting of questions and results, comments are just comments.

I did not RTFA. I second your point. But even if we were to take a more generous view of commenting sections, the problem of noise filtering remains. Comment sections are a perfect example of what Asimov said best :

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

The amount of effort required to parse through comments to find gems of significant value is enormous. I know that this is that age of the crowd and so on, but there are certain issues on which the opinion of the crowd has on average very little value because of the complexity of the topic and the years of experience required to make informed conclusions. The trade-off between expert opinion and open crowdsourcing varies widely depending on what is the topic under discussion, and the userbase of the particular site. Vaccines and autism on a Californian site, for example.

Re:"Scientific truth" vs "Popular perception", Etc (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908751)

Don't worry, it's an article-writer noticing that the internet is doing something (crowd-sourcing research, which it did in this example), and trying to take credit for himself, in his own comment section.

This article is the soul-searching of an author, trying to find relevance in the post-newspaper world.

Re:"Scientific truth" vs "Popular perception", Etc (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39914083)

I think we can accept that comments sections do not make much of a forum for development of scientific anything.

So what? You don't need much of a forum for "development of scientific anything". There's a means to publish scientific knowledge via arXiv and a means to discuss it via blogs and community discussion sites. This argument boils down to "but they don't have formal peer review". Put that in and journals become obsolete.

www.psikolojikanaliz.com (0)

psikolojikanaliz (2632953) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908331)

very good

Those who disagree (3, Insightful)

ygslash (893445) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908709)

As OP (here on /., not the author of the article), I'd like to re-raise here in the comments a point in my original post that got edited out:

There are many who disagree with the thesis of TFA. It is interesting to note that they are trying to make their point - where else? - in the comments on the article, in comments here on ./, and elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Re:Those who disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39912079)

As OP (here on /., not the author of the article), I'd like to re-raise here in the comments a point in my original post
that got edited out:

There are many who disagree with the thesis of TFA.
It is interesting to note that they are trying to make their point -
where else? -
in the comments on the article,
in comments here on ./,
and elsewhere in the blogosphere.

And yet, we're not discussing a scientific article, are we?

The fact you're confusing science with opinion speaks to the problems with the thesis.

Science cannot prove historical events. (1)

AmazinglySmooth (1668735) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908883)

Since "science" cannot prove historical events, the only thing left is opinion. By definition, if something is repeatable or testable, it cannot be "proven" by scientific methods. All you are left with is belief.

Re:Science cannot prove historical events. (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909563)

Of course, it can. If there are ruins of a city somewhere, it is very much scientific conclusion that city was at some point founded and at some point destroyed. One does not have to build and destroy a city to "reproduce" it -- it's sufficient that anyone can look at the same ruins.

Now, a question if the rulers of the city were insufferable assholes, mostly result in knowledge of opinions that are in no way scientific, even though most likely answer is yes.

Re:Science cannot prove historical events. (4, Insightful)

jc42 (318812) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909569)

Since "science" cannot prove historical events, the only thing left is opinion. By definition, if something is repeatable or testable, it cannot be "proven" by scientific methods. All you are left with is belief.

It'd be difficult to find a more misleading characterization of science.

First off, as various historians and theoreticians of science have observed, scientific methods rarely (if ever) "prove" anything. Scientific methods are all based on 1) proposing explanations for observations, and the 2) attempting to disprove those explanations. After sufficiently many such attempts at disproof have failed, an explanation gets promoted to "hypothesis", and then to "theory". But these are only tentative, with further attempts at disproval continuing whenever anyone can come up with a new test that hasn't been tried.

As part of this, an explanation that is untestable isn't considered scientific at all. It's neither true nor false by scientific standards, until someone comes up with tests that could possibly disprove it. Some explanations (e.g., "God did it") have remained in this state for centuries.

Actually, there is one situation where there is a sort of scientific "proof". This is dealing with negative claims of the form "There are no X".A canonical example is the old "There are no Black Swans". This was disproved by the discovery of a species of swan that is (mostly) black. It lives in Australia, so at one time it was Unknown to Science. You can rephrase this in the positive form, "There are Black Swans", and such existence statements can be "proved" by simply presenting examples. But this is generally classified as data collection, which is understood to always be incomplete. And such negative claims are generally not taken seriously by scientists unless you can give good reasons why X can't exist, based on previously accepted theories. Even then, a single (non-fraudulent) example can suffice to shoot down your reasoned argument against X existing.

In any case, "proof" is something done by mathematicians, not scientists. If you reject science that doesn't present proof, you reject all science, since proof isn't what science does.

If all you have left is belief, then you are susceptible to being defrauded by anyone who comes along with a new belief. But history shows that science's testing process has been pretty good at disproving most beliefs. In the process, the leftover ("not disproved") beliefs that fell out of the process have led to all the technical advances of the previous several centuries, something that the earlier purveyors of belief systems ("religions") have failed to do for as long as we have recorded history.

Subconsciously already noticed this (4, Funny)

belthize (990217) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909251)

In thinking about how I look at articles and commentary I realized I factor in comments almost as much as the article itself, particularly any inherently subjective article, for example one that discusses the social or economic impact of a scientific discovery.

The article itself is likely to have a good signal to noise but suffers from bias, the comments typically have very poor signal to noise but can often correct or at least expose the original biasing. Taken together I at least feel like I have a better sense of 'truth', particularly if the subject is likely to expose my own bias.

In other words, yeah the article makes sense initially but I'll reserve judgment till more people have posted about it on slashdot.

Re:Subconsciously already noticed this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39915239)

Are you implying you actually read the articles?

objective subtext (2)

Sebastopol (189276) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909419)

Although the author set out to analyze the role comments play, I found his objective disposition of woodpecker sightings' impact on environmental fundraising. Almost bordering on cynical, the author does point out the suspicious nature of theses sightings in a way that I'm sure will ruffle the feathers of many set-in-stone environmental saviors.

Truth... (1)

J'raxis (248192) | more than 2 years ago | (#39910377)

I thought science looks for "consensus" nowadays, not "truth."

Re:Truth... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39910681)

Close. Science looks for funding, and always has. Only the amateur scientists do it for the lulz, and that's why a surprising number of "out there" discoveries have been made my amateur scientists.

Ironic? (2)

Lord of the Fries (132154) | more than 2 years ago | (#39912267)

Is it just me, or is it quite ironic that at the time of writing this, this will be only the 47th comment on a subject active for 12 hours on slashdot. Apparently metacrowdsourcing (crowdscourcing about crowdsourcing) isn't all that popular.

For reference sake, there have been 7 more articles up (at least by my filters) which have already garnered the following amounts of comments. Notice that the less scientific seems to be where more, er, uh "crowdsourcing" happens. :)

...older...
Is Google the New Microsoft? --> 366
Study Aims To Read Dogs' Thoughts --> 113
Apple Security Blunder Exposes Lion Login Passwords In Clear Text -- >144
Biochemist Creates CO2-Eating Light That Runs On Algae --> 76
Some USAF Pilots Refuse To Fly F-22 Raptor --> 191
Ask Slashdot: What Language Should a Former Coder Dig Into? --> 229
Unblocking The Pirate Bay the Hard Way Is Fun --> 51

OK, a scientific hypothesis is falsifiable, (1)

onebeaumond (1230624) | more than 2 years ago | (#39915551)

and different media can be used to discuss the falsifying data. So, what does "type of media" have to do with "scientific truth"? (hint: nothing) I guess the author's main point is that "crowd sourcing" is being ignored by the "elite scientific media". NYTimes, not your best moment here...

Get real (1)

NewYork (1602285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39917317)

Consensus != Truth

LOL (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | more than 2 years ago | (#39917477)

Comment boards and science don't mix. Comment boards are the new religion, spreading FUD and turning nonsense into science simply because "enough" people have drunk the Kool-aid.

Simple fallacy (1)

Lhooqtoo (876551) | more than 2 years ago | (#39933103)

Appeal to authority, whether the authority is a crowd or a bearded man in a white robe, is a logical fallacy.
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