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Getting to the truth


by daniel archibald

 

The scientific process is concerned with uncovering the truth. By using the existing body of knowledge as their foundation, a good researcher will look to map out what is currently known and will look to fill in some of the gaps of what we don't know. But adding to this body of knowledge is harder than it sounds.  

Knowledge
Epistemology is concerned with the theory of knowledge. For most of us, knowledge is knowledge, but for philosophers, knowledge can be a varied mix of beliefs and truth. In reality, there are an infinite amount of propositions that could be made. Some of these would be true. Some of these would be a belief. Some would be only one or the other. Knowledge is thought to reside in the space where both truth and beliefs overlap. For example, let's think of propositions relating to bananas and general levels of truth and beliefs:

Proposition

Truth

Belief

Knowledge

All bananas are red

No

No

No

All bananas are yellow

No

Perhaps

No

Most bananas are yellow

Likely

Likely

Need more research

Some bananas are red

Perhaps

Unlikely

Need more research

Bananas are yummy

Yes

Yes

Yes

A researcher or scientist is interested in investigating those propositions that we are not sure about. Many of these research projects will be involved in challenging existing beliefs, while some will be about proving correctly held beliefs. Only once a proposition is both shown to be true and is actually believed, might it be deemed to be knowledge. Components such as justifiability, infallibility, indefeasibility, and reliability, may also be important ingredients in determining what should be counted as knowledge. The scientific process is not only good at uncovering the truth, but also in changing widely held beliefs. 

Significant research
A very important aspect, relating to the value of the scientific process, is significance. It would be great to gain knowledge regarding the existence of red bananas, but it may not be overly useful to anyone. Research not only needs to answer questions we do not know, but it needs to be something that can hold a worthwhile place in the body of knowledge. In particular, it should be knowledge that a future researcher can reliably build upon. 

Bad science
In fact, the body of knowledge can be thought of like a wall of bricks. Each piece of robust and authoritative scientific research adds to the wall. And it grows higher and stronger as more bricks are added. However, it can also be weakened when poorly built research is plastered into the structure. The issue of one bad piece of research may not be overly problematic, especially if it is a niche area with little ramifications for the real world. However, bad science can have large ramifications if it relied upon for future research or if it turns correct beliefs into incorrect beliefs.
For the most part, the scientific process struggles to prove the "truth" of many of the most valuable propositions or beliefs. The best it can do in most circumstances is to place some level of statistical significance behind findings. For example, my research may show that there is statistical significance in relation to the statement that more than 50% (most) of bananas are yellow. However, behind every statistical inference there is the potential for error (or some probability that the proposition is, in fact, wrong). Even if that probability of being wrong is 0.0001% (and hence the statement is extremely likely to be true), there is still the remote chance that it is not a "truth". Hence why many things remain theories and not knowledge.
Is it possible to mislead with statistics? Yes - that is an undeniable truth. Much of the bad science out there, or the propositions that get incorrectly gleaned from the scientific process, is formulated by misreporting statistical data or mis-analysing it altogether. Contentious issues of the day, such as climate change or vaccines, seem to be awash with poor scientific approaches and erroneous analyses. In order to find the truth it is important to have the ability to both understand the research process and statistical conclusions. 

Humankind has progressed and excelled through the attainment of knowledge and pushing the boundaries of understanding through the scientific research process. There is still a lot of things out there that we do not know, and many of these truths have the potential to dramatically change the future of the planet for the better.

 

LBW Wealth Management is an Authorised Representative of Wealthsure Financial Services Pty Limited AFSL 326450

This article has been prepared by LBW's investment committee based on its understanding of current regulatory requirements and laws. It is not considered advice and provides general information pertaining to our ideology surrounding future asset allocation strategies. It does not take into account each client's individual objectives, financial situation or needs. If you would like to know how LBW's understanding of the current environment impacts on your portfolio please contact a Financial Adviser and to discuss your options or before making an investment decisions. 

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