Every day, we see and hear numerous statements about how things work – about how things relate to each other. Science is normally thought of as the way of conduct that provides certainty about such relationships. However, beliefs and statements that are not sufficiently substantiated can often be seen – also within science.
So what are the principles of science then? It is hard to say. One might imagine that such set of principles already exists. I dare say that it don´t. It seems like many people think they have some kind of understanding about the principles of science, but a well-defined and compact set of principles does not seem to be readily available.
This position seems to be supported by the following quote “The basic and particular principles that guide scientific research practices exist primarily in an unwritten code of ethics. Although some have proposed that these principles should be written down and formalized, the principles and traditions of science are, for the most part, conveyed to successive generations of scientists through example, discussion, and informal education.” Ref.: Responsible Science, Volume I: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process; Panel on Scientific Responsibility and the Conduct of Research, National Academy of Sciences;” http://www.nap.edu/catalog/1864.html
This work is nothing less than a bold attempt to provide a set of fundamental principles for science. Principles that can be used to distinguish knowledge from beliefs.
The principles provided here have not been taken out of thin air. Some principles may be recognised as sound scientific principles phrased in various ways in various sources. Other principles are distilled from existing international standards. However, this is an original work that provides a unique and essential set of well-defined principles.
This work itself, or parts thereof can be proven wrong simply by identifying a logically invalid principle or definition. The work can also be proven wrong by identifying a concept that is known to be validated, that can not be put forward in a way that complies with relevant principles, or by identifying a concept known to be wrong that complies with relevant principles.
Principles that are clearly irrelevant for a propounded statement can be disregarded for that statement. If it is not clear to an opponent that a principle is irrelevant, this might become the origin of a discussion.
The first section of this work provides the principles and the associated definitions. The first section is self-contained.
The reason why almost all terms are defined is that there are many different dictionaries available at the fingertips of any reader. This work cannot rely on undefined terms or terms having various definitions as a changed definition will change the conclusions that can be drawn on basis of this work or even make it logically invalid.
The second part of this work provides the essential arguments for each principle.
If you like this set of principles – hit the “like” button and spread the word about this work. If you find something wrong, have an idea about an improvement or just want to discuss a particular aspect – tell me about it by leaving a comment at the original site: https://rulesofscience.wordpress.com
This work may be reproduced on the condition that the principles are not detached from the definitions and that the reproduction includes a link to the original work.
1 The principles of science
§1 A scientific argument consists of clearly stated premises, inferences and conclusions.
§2 A scientific premise is verifiable. Premises and their sources are identified and readily available for independent verification.
§3 A scientific inference is logically valid.
§4 A scientific conclusion is deduced by an explicit application of axioms, definitions and theorems or measured properties and scientific concepts that have already been verified or validated.
§5 A scientific concept consists of statements that are logically valid conclusions deduced from premises that are themselves logically valid conclusions, axioms, definitions or theorems.
§6 A scientific concept is well-defined and has a well-defined capability of prediction within a well-defined context.
§7 A scientific concept can only be validated by comparison of predictions deduced from that concept with measurement results. Whenever predictions differ from measurement results, by more than the combined uncertainty of the measurement results and the claimed capability of the concept, there must be something wrong with the concept – or the test of it.
§8 A scientific concept can only be referred to as validated for the context covered by the validating tests.
§9 A scientific statement is based on verifiable data. Data and precise information about how that data was obtained are readily available for independent verification. Whenever data are corrected or disregarded, both uncorrected and corrected data are provided together with a scientific argument for the correction.
§10 A scientific measurement report contains traceable values, units and stated uncertainty for well-defined measurands in a well-defined context.
§11 A scientific prediction report contains values, units and claimed capability for well-defined measurands in a well-defined context.
Definitions for The principles of science
|argument: a conclusion inferred from a set of premises|
|axiom: a statement that is self-evidently true and accepted as a true starting point for further deduction|
|calibration: comparison of a measurement with a reference having a known uncertainty|
|capability: maximum difference between predictions and measurements|
|comparison: quantification of the difference between|
|concept: any expression of a relationship between two or more measurands|
|conclusion: a statement inferred from one or more premises|
|context: a set of those things that have an influence on a measured or predicted value|
|corrected: replace a measured or predicted value with another value|
|data: measured or predicted value of a measurand or relationship between measurands|
|deduction: logically valid combination of premises into a conclusion by means of mathematics and logic|
|definition: identification of a set of properties that distinguish a thing from all other things|
|disregard: remove a value from a series of data that is used as a premise|
|document: an identified collection of words, numbers and symbols|
|explicit: stated in a manner that is only open to the intended interpretation|
|false: a statement that can be contradicted, within the defined context, by a logically valid statement based on true premises|
|hypothesis: a propounded statement or concept that has not been verified or validated|
|independent: not under influence of the party propounding a concept|
|inference: logical connection between premises and conclusion|
|logically valid: the truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion – it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion nevertheless to be false.|
|mathematics: a consistent and logically valid system of symbols and operations on these symbols|
|measurand: well-defined property that can be quantified by a measurement|
|measure: quantify a measurand by establishing the ratio between that measurand and a references that serves as a unit – and assign a number representing that ratio, and the associated unit, to that measurand|
|measurement (result): a measurand quantified by a value and an associated unit|
|nature: any thing and any relation between things|
|non-contradictory: either true or not true|
|observe: conclude if an attribute is in accordance with a definition|
|precise information: sufficient for replication by an independent person using equal tools|
|prediction: quantification of a measurand without any foreknowledge about an eventual measurement result|
|premise: a statement used to infer a conclusion|
|property: an attribute that can be observed or measured|
|prove: verify a statement by means of theorems.|
|readily available: available without further request|
|reference: a measurement device or procedure that has an unbroken chain of calibrations to the definition of the unit|
|relationship: a quantified change in measurand A is followed by a quantified change in measurand B|
|source: identified document containing a premise|
|statement: a logical proposition that can be either true or false within the defined context|
|test: an activity that can verify or validate|
|theorem: a concept that has been proven and that can now be used as the basis of other proofs.|
|thing: whatever that can be defined|
|traceable: having an unbroken chain of calibrations to the definition of the unit|
|true: a statement that can not be contradicted by a logically valid statement based on true premises|
|uncertainty: quantified accuracy|
|unit: a well-defined quantity that has one unique value|
|validate: demonstrate the truth of a concept within a well-defined and applicable context|
|verify: demonstrate the truth of|
|wrong: not true|
2 Arguments for the principles of science
It should be noted that the intention with this work has been to provide the fundamental principles of science in a comprehensive but still compact manner. A significant effort has been invested in limiting the amount of text to an essential minimum.
Regarding §1 A scientific argument consists of clearly stated premises, inferences and conclusions.
The constituents of an argument should be recognisable in §1 and the associated definitions. The essential part of §1 is that all parts of a scientific argument should be clearly stated.
Without a clearly stated argument, other interpretations than the intended interpretation will be possible. It can then be expected that judgement of the argument will be suspended, or that the argument will be questioned or disregarded. If on the other hand the argument is accepted, it will be on the basis of some kind of fallacy – some kind of belief as the interpretation may be another than the intended.
Regarding §2 A scientific premise is verifiable. Premises and their sources are identified and readily available for independent verification.
If a premise can not be verified, the argument can only be accepted on the basis of a belief in the authority of the proponent of the argument. The intention with §2 is to emphasise that a premise can only be verified if it is properly referred to. Both the premise itself and the source containing the premise should be identified, and the source should be available for verification. If not, the premise can not be verified, hence it can only be accepted on the basis of some kind of belief.
Regarding §3 A scientific inference is logically valid.
If an inference is not logically valid, it follows from the definitions that the truth of the premises does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion – it is possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion nevertheless to be false. Hence, the conclusion can then only be accepted as true on the basis of some kind of belief.
Regarding §4 A scientific conclusion is deduced by an explicit application of axioms, definitions, theorems or measured properties and scientific concepts that have already been verified or validated.
Any collection of words, numbers and symbols is an abstract construction that may or may not correspond with observations and measurements of nature.
In the case of science, this collection of words, numbers and symbols will have to be a non-contradictory construction – a logically valid construction – simply because knowledge can not both be true and not true at the same time. We can not know if a statement is true if, at the same time, it is both true and not true.
A logically valid construction that ends up in a conclusion has to be based on something, a basis. That basis is here identified as axioms, definitions, theorems or measured properties and scientific concepts that have already been verified or validated.
In the case of abstract constructions like theoretical mathematics, the basis for the construction will be axioms, definitions and theorems.
In the case of constructions intended to provide a correspondence between an abstract construction and observations and measurements of nature (like physics), the axioms, definitions and theorems may be about nature or about the correspondence between the abstract construction and nature. In this case, the construction may also be based on observed or measured properties or scientific concepts that have already been verified or validated.
As an example, it will normally be acceptable to base a scientific conclusion on a concept like Newton´s laws of motion within their validated context. It will normally also be acceptable to base scientific conclusions on a measured property like the gravitational acceleration (approximately 9,8 m/s^2 on earth). The application of a property will dictate how accurate that measured property will have to be – whether 9,8 m/s^2 is sufficiently accurate or if a more accurate value is required.
A scientific conclusion may be applied in an argument for or against a propounded concept, or as a part of a scientific concept.
Regarding §5 A scientific concept consists of statements that are logically valid conclusions deduced from premises that are themselves logically valid conclusions, axioms, definitions or theorems.
The intention with this principle is to emphasise that the entire concept will have to be a logically valid construction that has a well-defined and true basis. If there are any logical fallacies in a construction, the result will be that the concept can only be accepted as true on the basis of some kind of belief.
A concept that is under construction and has not yet been validated should be clearly identified as an hypothesis to avoid premature application of the concept.
Regarding §6 A scientific concept is well-defined and has a well-defined capability of prediction within a well-defined context.
Even if a concept complies with §5, there is no guarantee that a concept is a complete construction without any errors in it and that it also provides a correspondence between the concept and observations and measurements of nature.
To facilitate independent judgement, the concept itself will have to be well-defined. If the concept is not well-defined it can not be tested by an independent party. The independent party would not know what to test and how to test it. Further, if it can not be tested by an independent party, the concept can only be accepted on basis of a belief in the party propounding a concept.
Concepts are only valid within a context. For example classical physics: “Beginning at the atomic level and lower, the laws of classical physics break down and generally do not provide a correct description of nature.” (Ref.: Wikipedia; classical physics; at the date of publishing this work). Hence, to facilitate judgement of a concept by an independent party, the context for which the concept is claimed to work well will have to be defined by the party propounding a concept.
Many concepts got a capability of prediction of the value of a measurand, but not exactly. A concept may have a capability of prediction with some uncertainty. To facilitate judgement of a concept, the capability of the concept will have to defined by the party propounding that concept. If not, there is no way to tell if the concept performs as claimed or not, or whether it is useful for an intended use or not.
Regarding §7 A scientific concept can only be validated by comparison of predictions deduced from that concept with measurement results. Whenever predictions differ from measurement results, by more than the combined uncertainty of the measurement results and the claimed capability of the concept, there must be something wrong with the concept – or the test of it.
A concept may or may not correspond with observations and measurements of nature. Within many areas of human expressions, like in politics, religion, love, hate, humour or whatever; it may not matter if an expression corresponds with nature. Within science, on the other hand, an essential characteristic of a useful scientific concept is that of a non-contradictory correspondence between predictions of that concept and measurements of nature.
A scientific concept that is supposed to correspond with nature will have to be true in its correspondence with nature. A concept that can be contradicted by a logically valid statement based on true premises can not be true – that follows from the definition of true used in this work.
There are many possible errors in a concept. Even if a concept complies with §1 to §6, there is no guarantee that the concept is a complete construction that also provides a correspondence between that concept and observations and measurements of nature. We can not know that the concept is complete, that there are no errors in it, that the concept is correctly constructed or that the concept has the claimed capability of prediction.
The only way to know that a concept actually performs within the claimed capability within a defined context is to deduce predictions from that concept, measure nature in the same context and see if the difference between predictions and measurements is within the claimed capability of the concept. In judging the results of the test, the uncertainty of the measurement will have to be taken into account. Repeated tests are required to ensure that the results are representative.
It is worth mentioning that there are may ways to adjust a concept to match measurements. Many kinds of curve fit, parameterisation, change of definitions or addition of theorems can be used to adjust a concept to measurements. Basically, that is what many scientists do while making a concept. The problem is that adjustment of a concept to match measurements will hide that the concept does not have the claimed capability within the applicable context. If a concept really has the claimed capability to predict the value of a measurand, there should be no reason to adjust the concept so that it match measurements.
The reason why it is so useful to compare predictions with measurements is that all kinds of adjustments to the concept to match measurements are logically impossible. It is impossible to adjust a concept to match something that is not yet known. Prediction excludes all kinds of adjustments of the concept to match the measured values. There may be other ways to validate a concept, but all other ways leave a possibility that the concept has been adjusted to match measurements. Hence all other ways to validate a concept should also be followed by a scientific argument proving that the concept has not been adjusted to match the measurements of that particular test. Without such proof, the concept can only be accepted on the basis of a belief that the concept has not been adjusted particularly for that test.
Regarding §8 A scientific concept can only be referred to as validated for the context covered by the validating tests.
A test is performed within a context. Obviously, the test is only valid for that context. As a principle, the concept can only be referred to as validated for the context covered by the validating test.
It may be that interpolation or extrapolation can not be contradicted by a logically valid statement, but that is not normally the situation. However, the party propounding a concept might be able to put forward a scientific argument for the validity of interpolation of extrapolation, and it might be that no opponents are able to put forward a scientific counterargument. Anyhow, extrapolation or interpolation should be followed by a scientific argument.
Regarding §9 A scientific statement is based on verifiable data. Data and precise information about how that data was obtained are readily available for independent verification. Whenever data are corrected or disregarded, both uncorrected and corrected data are provided together with a scientific argument for the correction.
Whenever a statement is based on predicted or measured values or a relationship between measurands, the data should be readily available for independent verification. If not, the statement can only be accepted on the basis of a belief.
Further, errors may have been made in the experiment that produced the data. Such errors can possibly be revealed by an investigation into how the data was obtained or by independent replication of the experiment. Anyhow, the statement can only be verified if precise information about how that data was obtained is readily available. If not, the statement can only be accepted on the basis of a belief in the proponent of the statement.
Finally, it can be irresistible to disregard or correct data. There may be scientific arguments for doing that. If so, those arguments should be verifiable. If not, data should not be corrected, discarded or disregarded.
Regarding §10 A scientific measurement report contains traceable values, units and stated uncertainty for well-defined measurands in a well-defined context.
Obviously, a measurand will have to be well-defined, how else can anybody know exactly what has actually been measured? Obviously, the measurement result will also have to be provided with a value and the associated unit. A value without a unit is meaningless.
By using a unit in accordance with the International System of Units, the unit will already be well-defined. If the unit is a non-standard unit or even a hitherto unknown unit, the unit will have to be properly defined in the measurement report.
Whenever a measurement is performed by some kind of measurement device, the measurement device should be traceable by an unbroken chain of calibrations to the definition of the unit. Without a traceable measurement device, there is no way to know if the measurement is accurate, there is no way to quantify the uncertainty of the measurement.
Regarding the uncertainty of a measurement, the introduction to the following freely and readily available guideline: “Guide to the expression of uncertainty in measurement; JCGM 100:2008 explains why quantification of uncertainty is essential: “When reporting the result of a measurement of a physical quantity, it is obligatory that some quantitative indication of the quality of the result be given so that those who use it can assess its reliability. Without such an indication, measurement results cannot be compared, either among themselves or with reference values given in a specification or standard.”
In the principles provided here, it is regarded sufficient to state that it is essential that the uncertainty of a measurement is provided in the measurement report. Obviously, there are benefits in providing the uncertainty in accordance with an international standard or guideline. By not providing the uncertainty in accordance with a standard or guideline, there is a risk that the measurement report is regarded insufficient and that no judgements can be made on basis of that report.
Finally, it is also essential that the context for the measurement is well-defined. All the things that are known to have an influence on the value of the measurand should be identified.
Regarding §11 A scientific prediction report contains values, units and claimed capability for well-defined measurands in a well-defined context.
This principle is an analogue to §10 about measurement reports, this should be no surprise since predictions are supposed to be comparable with measurements. A claimed capability may be expressed and documented in the same way as the uncertainty of a measurement.
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