My recent philosophical musings along with Ben Hale’s suggestion that climate change conflicts can partially be explained in terms of philosophy has got me wondering. What, exactly, are the relevant philosophical ideas that scientists should know? I’m clearly biased, but I think disunity is a pretty key idea. I don’t completely understand why we speak of science as if it’s one thing that follows a single set of rules. Methodological diversity is rarely if ever discussed.
The difficulty (if not impossibility) of demarcating science from non-science and the limits of falsification also deserve more attention. I’ve engaged in and witnessed enough debates over the definition of science to realize how uninformed most of us (myself included) are on these matters. Check out the comment thread on this old Prometheus post to see how heated the debate can get.
The subjective nature of these debates is, I believe, the most important lesson from all this. There are simply no clear data telling us how we should define science and what constitutes persuasive evidence. Oftentimes the answer depends on the questions we’re interested in and there can be reasonable disagreement. In the end, there are few scientific answers to questions about science.