Scientific Arguments

Sometimes, I publish things on this website that are not entirely correct (and when I do, I’ll own up to it). Sometimes other people do on theirs. There are bad ways and good ways to argue these points, ranging from name-calling to explicitly explaining where the flaws are in one’s arguments, and what the corrections are.

And I had no idea how I was going to articulate this. But then Lucas pointed this chart out to me, and it does a better job of explaining it than I ever could.

You know who could explain this? Captain Picard. Imagine you got to be a Starfleet officer. Here’s what he has to say about searching for the truth:

The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based! If you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!

And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re after. If you disagree with what I’ve written (or anyone else, ever, for that matter), try to do it in a way that brings us closer to the truth. I’ll continue to do my absolute best to respect all of you in the same exact way.


  1. #1 V. H. Hammontree
    May 13, 2008

    Good chart…where did you find it?

  2. #3 Lucas
    May 13, 2008

    I have a huge problem with this particular installment and that is your source for a number of articles lately, namely me. I find it unfortunate and disagreeable that you find inspiration in conversations with other human beings when you could be endlessly searching the internet buried in your lap top being a shameless prick. I really wish you would more properly represent the field of science and stop being someone with a personality!!! I find it offensive to the stereo type of scientist and will not allow any more of this behavior!!!
    In short fun science is not acceptable!!! I will no longer tolerate it, and will use all of my commenting powers and all of the sarcasm my small body carries to strike you down!!!
    …and explanation points!!!
    lots of explanation points!!!
    I’m going to go stumble you now.
    Thumbs up!!!

  3. #4 Brian
    May 14, 2008

    I’ve noticed you tend to stumble more with mistakes in your posts when you step outside your area of expertise. You might miss an important nuance of the topic that could actually change the conclusions of your posting. Coming from an earth/planetary science background, I tend to notice these mistakes more readily in your posts related to those fields. This shouldn’t discourage you from branching out from astrophysics, but I think it should teach you to be more careful when posting information that you might have found in only one source, particularly if that source is the Internet. Without an established familiarity in the literature on a given topic, you run the risk of latching on to one idea without being aware of the wider issues or competing studies.

  4. #5 ethan
    May 14, 2008

    Lucas, to quote strong bad, “keep on sending me your questions, and I’ll keep making fun of your punctuation and spelling, I mean, answer them.”

    Brian, I don’t mind making mistakes; it gives me a chance to learn! And I don’t take it personally when you, or anyone else, corrects me. It’s the only way I’ll learn. But I’m fully aware that my expertise is in gravity, cosmology, and the simplest concepts of physics. Sometimes I just apply them to situations where there are more complicated things going on that I’m unaware of; when that happens, that’s usually where I’m wrong.

  5. #6 benhead
    May 14, 2008

    I’m pretty sure all the sentences in that Picard quote didn’t end in exclamation points!

  6. #7 Brian
    May 14, 2008

    Picard was pretty mad when he was chewing out Wesley in that quote. The exclamation points are probably reasonable.

  7. #8 Yoyo
    May 16, 2008

    So where do I fit on the triangle Ethan? 🙂

  8. #9 ethan
    May 16, 2008

    I always try to start at the counterargument stage or higher. Only you can assess yourself accurately. 😉 I thought you would get a kick out of this post, though!

  9. #10 Yoyo
    May 16, 2008

    Thanks, I did. I really, really tried to remain polite when talking to LF but didn’t quite manage it. I can see why argument from astronomical observation has difficulties, since we can’t examine or recreate this stuff in the lab, and it’s possible for there to be a range of plausible interpretations. On the other hand, demonstrating a mathematical inconsistency in the collection of equations she holds dear (using a few lines of high-school algebra) should have prompted a re-think of the equations, or a response telling me where my misunderstanding was. Instead, the inconsistency is touted as predicting the fraction of baryonic matter in the Universe. Well, you can’t do much with someone who insists that 2 + 2 = 5 despite all evidence to the contrary.

    (anyway, Captain Kirk is way better that Captain Picard 🙂

  10. #11 alex
    December 9, 2008

    save to my Bookmarks )

  11. #12 Rob
    August 6, 2013

    I don’t like this. You are an ass hat… 🙂

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