Proven experience

An expression often used is “according to science and proven experience”, for example when we want to give authority to what we have chosen to do or when we argue for something (or against it). In the previous post on this blog I made a comment on what science is and who is a scientist. The second part of the expression, proven experience, is worth commenting on as well.

Knowledge is always imperfect, dependent as it is on previous knowledge, which also is imperfect. That’s why science says:

“This is true, as far as we know today”.

The science knowledge is coming from following the scientific rules in making tests and discussing the results, often with statistics.

“Proven experience” is knowledge obtained through other means than scientific tests, often from experience during many years getting the same results when doing things the same way. Is it false knowledge or bad knowledge? Of course not. That’s why it’s used by scientists, and used others as well.

If for example no advice would be given concerning anything until you had scientific tests confirming methods or descriptions, not many advices would be given. And not much would be done if there were nothing done until science had to say anything on the topic from relevant scientific tests.

There is much that is not confirmed or contradicted by science that concerns what we do in everyday life. And yes, many things we do may be completely or partially incorrect. And even advices we follow from scientists change after a number of years, sometimes radically,  when they and we know better. This is also the case with proven experience.

When it comes to scientific tests, after some time we may realize that tests done are designed with lack of knowledge concerning some important facts. If these had been known the tests had been designed differently and results had maybe been different.

Sadly, sometimes also scientists (as all other types of people) have been revealed to cheat. (Why do people cheat anyway?) One way of doing this is to consciously design a test so that you most probably will not get a clear result. With bees and varroa tests you just keep what you call control colonies and test colonies enough close to each other (within 2 km [1.5 miles] from each other) and let the mite populations raise high enough. Reinfestation between these colonies will more or less even out varroa populations. As a result, you will find it more difficult to see differences in varroa resistance traits between bee colonies.

Scientist or not a scientist

Science is a method of how to investigate the world.

The scientists work according to scientific rules. Those who work according to those rules are those that can be called scientists, whether they have an academic degree or not. What is not so often realized is that you can have degree and anyway not work scientifically. And you can lack a degree and anyway work scientifically.

You get an idea how things can be connected and explain some phenomenon. You form a test to try to confirm it. If it’s already a “good” idea, or after the first confirming test you can call it a hypothesis. You go on with other tests to confirm or reject the hypothesis. The hypothesis can then be so well grounded that you can call it a theory.

 

What is a scientific theory?

(Information retrieved from the Chemical Resource Center (KRC) in Sweden)

A scientific theory is a well-functioning model, which explains a natural phenomenon. A scientific theory is not rejected because it does not “envision it”, it is rejected only on experimental grounds. We say that the natural sciences are empirical, ie. They must work in experimental situations.

What characterizes a scientific theory? How do we know it’s a scientific theory? The most important criteria are that it is

  • Falsible. Ie It must be possible to find experiments that contradict the theory if it is incorrect.
  • Predictive, ie Results can be predicted, which is called prediction. It should be possible to make predictions about the future based on it.

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish a scientific theory from a pseudoscientific theory. Then there are some things that are worth checking out. Pseudoscience is characterized by

  1. Belief in authorities
  2. Lack of repeatability
  3. Hand-picked examples
  4. Dismissal of contradictory facts
  5. Non-falsible theories
  6. Inadequate explanation value
  7. Ad hoc hypotheses – customize the hypothesis to explain a particular phenomenon

The scientific method only works with what can be observed in the natural world. It though doesn’t say other objects can’t exist.

Many scientists today embrace the philosophy of naturalism, which is not science. According to naturalism cosmos consists only of objects studied by the natural sciences, and does not include any immaterial or intentional realities.

The scientific method does not take any stand if there are any additional ways than the scientific method to obtain knowledge.

The philosophy naturalism says that the reality can not involve any immaterial or intentional realities, for example a creator outside the world.

Scientism is another philosophy that goes one step further and says there are no other ways to obtain knowledge than through the scientific method.

What is often forgotten is that according to the scientific method, the answers that you get are dependent on knowledge of today, what you have perceived about the world so far and how your tests are designed with these facts as a base. So the answers we get today are not 100 % truth, they are the most probable truth depending on what we know today. When knowledge increase, the most probable truth may change to something else.

Anecdotal science

The expression ”anecdotal science” may well be a contradiction, as an anecdote can be far from scientific. When we are discussing bees, varroa, varroa resistance, bees behavior and similar things it may be a good thing to think about how we argue, the quality of evidences for different things, how we draw conclusions and what truth is. This is an extensive area for discussion. But I will here restrict myself to discuss little about the difference between anecdotes and science.

If someone has another opoinion than you he may try to dismiss what you say by calling it an anecdote. By that he gives the impression that reports can be either anecdotal or scientific, as if there are just two distinct divisions of accounts, either it is anecdotal and thus not of any real value when drawing correct conclusions. Or it’s scientific and a good help in knowing the truth.

Reality isn’t that simple. There aren’t just two different options when characterizing an account, an anecdotal or a scientific report.

Anecdote

An anecdote is a brief, revealing account of an individual person or an incident. It is used to illustrate a point the author want to make.

Evidence

Evidence is anything presented in support of an assertion. The strongest type of evidence is that which provides direct proof of the truth of an assertion.

Scientific evidence

Scientific evidence consists of observations and experimental results that serve to support, refute, or modify a scientific hyphothesis or theory, proposed explanations for a phenomenon.

Prediction and falsifiability

The best hypotheses lead to predictions that can be tested. The strongest tests of hypotheses come from carefully controlled and replicated experiments that gather empirical data. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable, implying that it is possible to identify a possible outcome of an experiment that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, the hypothesis cannot be meaningfully tested.

Reproducibility

Reproducibility is one of the main principles in science. It is the ability of an entire experiment or study to be dublicted, either by the same researcher or by someone else working independently.

Statistics

Often today when you are producing papers of tests, statistics play an important role when presenting results. If you get what is called a statistical significance you are said to have a result that can be trusted when used to draw conclusions. It is a difficult field and discussed in different ways.

The value of a report

There’s not just two options, anecdote and scientific report. There’s a whole range of different characteristics of a report qualifying it to be placed somewhere in between the two ”extremes”. Even these two can be difficult to clearly define.

Example

An anecdote far away from being scientific could be what often is called a testimony, a story of an event, and in this case a conclusion: ”I have a bee colony that is very aggressive. It produced double the amount of honey compared to my other colony. Aggressive colonies are more productive than calm colonies.”

Then you have a scientist that got inspired by this anecdote and formed a hypothesis of the last sentence in the anecdote above: ”Aggressive colonies are more productive than non-aggressive colonies.”

The first important issue is to define ”aggressive”. But let’s say he used a definition that everyone can recognize to be true. The next problem is to decide how many colonies to be used in the test, and the heritage of the queens in the colonies (should they be sisters for example). About half of the colonies should be aggressive and the rest non-aggressive. The colonies should be of the same strength (from when) and have the same health statues. The worker bees should be very much dominated by the queens offspring (when should the queen have been introduced).

These things I mention here are taken in consideration to avoid error sourcesto be able get a correct result. There are surely more error sources to avoid.

In the ideal situation there will be enough obtained data to produce a statistical result that falsify or supports the hypothesis. If it supports the hypothesis you can draw the conclusion that according to the knowledge we have today the most probable conclusion that comes closest to truth is that the hypothesis is true. But the result does not exclude the possibility that future result will anyway falsify the hypothesis. New knowledge may enlighten how to better design a test and avoid an error source not previously known, for example. That’s science. It always leave open for new knowledge to change the conclusions made today, in a minor or major way.

If no statistical significance has been obtained the results may anyway be pointing in a certain direction and a conclusion may be that the hypothesis is correct but more research is needed, probably with better designed tests.