Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Reconceptualizing Science

Reconceptualizing science involves thinking about science and relevant concepts differently. It involves concept change, or at least concept modification. There may be some disagreement regarding at what point does change mean new concept. Or, how much does a concept need to change in order to be considered a new concept, rather than a modified concept.  Concepts change and are modified over time. Water, earth and air were once classified as elements, now they are known to be compounds consisting of element combinations. Science is replete with examples of concept change. Scientific information is tentative; it changes according to evidence. The change, ideally, is in congruence with converging evidence and demonstrates a high level of explanatory coherence. Science, its conceptualizations and operationalizations are concerned with good epistemic values. Good epistemic values as described by Paul Thagard (2012) are those of evidential quality; knowledge values that are in line with logic and evidence (essentially epistemic rationality characteristics).

Defining concept: There is a large range of definitions for the term concept. Defined as: concepts are abstract entities, concepts are replicas of sense impressions, concepts are mental representations fo units or categories, concepts are distributed neural representations, and so on. Terminological confusion can lead to misconception. Of course, this isn't unique to the term concept.  Three of the main interpretations of concepts, as studied in cognitive science, are those of prototypes, exemplars and explanatory theories. Another interpretation, the semantic pointer, is one put forth originally by Chris Eliasmith. "A semantic pointer is a kind of neural representation whose nature and function is highly compatible with what is currently known about how brains process information" (Thagard, 2012, p.304). Thagard asserts that exemplar, prototype and explanatory elects of concepts can be understood in the view of semantic pointers. More on semantic pointers:

Abstract (Blouw, et al., 2015)
"The reconciliation of theories of concepts based on prototypes, exemplars, and theory-like
structures is a longstanding problem in cognitive science. In response to this problem, researchers have recently tended to adopt either hybrid theories that combine various kinds of representational structure, or eliminative theories that replace concepts with a more finely grained taxonomy of mental representations. In this paper, we describe an alternative approach involving a single class of mental representations called “semantic pointers.” Semantic pointers are symbol-like representations that result from the compression and recursive binding of perceptual, lexical, and motor representations, effectively integrating traditional connectionist and symbolic approaches. We present a computational model using semantic pointers that replicates experimental data from categorization studies involving each prior paradigm. We argue that a framework involving semantic pointers can provide a unified account of conceptual phenomena, and we compare our framework to existing alternatives in accounting for the scope, content, recursive combination, and neural implementation of concepts."

Full paper - http://scholar.google.com/scholar_url?url=https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/51fa/7ddfd385d451e5f17cd21cf551896688057b.pdf&hl=en&sa=X&scisig=AAGBfm3_WSTiqx_kvIo8vvxSOipwLKtGiw&nossl=1&oi=scholarr

When talking about concepts with students I define the term as follows: mental representation of a unit, reflected as patterns of synaptic activity. Read more about the study of concepts- The Cognitive Science of Science (2012) by Paul Thagard   Cognition (2013) by Daniel Reisberg
 Discussions on science are often short circuited when science is over simplified. Science is concept-complex; it consists of multiple components (represented conceptually as in converging evidence reflected as complex neural circuits- refer to semantic pointers, ). When discussing the implications and value of science it is important that its complexity is appreciated. That doesn't mean all discussions related to science have to be complex; what it means is, the related concept or concepts being discussed or analyzed should be clearly stated. As an example, when talking about research methodology, a component of scientific thinking, is being discussed. But, only a portion, scientific thinking is much broader than just research methodology. When speaking of scientific literacy (derived scientific literacy), it is important to not confuse this with domain specific scientific knowledge. As an example, exercise literacy (knowledge in science of exercise) is not synonymous with scientific literacy. There are those who rate high in exercise literacy and also scientific literacy, point is, they are not interchangeable.  Proponents of science and science educators do a disservice when they misrepresent science. 
Scientific Literacy and Scientific Cognition

Discussions involving scientific literacy are ubiquitous. Scientific literacy is conceptualized and operationalized in various ways. Examples used in defining scientific literacy include: understanding science and its applications, knowledge of what counts as science, general scientific knowledge, knowledge of risks and benefits of science, making informed decisions regarding science and technology, etcetera (DeBoer 2000; Brennan 1992). A precise, standard conceptualization of scientific literacy has not been demonstrated since the origin of the concept (DeBoer 2000). In the context of this article, scientific literacy is synonymous with general scientific knowledge. Scientific literacy in this form involves remembering scientific facts, theories, principles, and so on—products of scientific inquiry. This form of literacy is sometimes referred to as a form of derived scientific literacy. Scientific literacy is important, however other science related concepts are just as important. Scientific cognition is not the same as scientific literacy.Scientific cognition (thinking) involves complex cognitive mechanisms. Scientific cognition involves much more than general scientific knowledge, procedural skills to conduct research, attaching "science says" to your statements, a science degree, perpetuating views of popular science figures, identifying yourself as evidence based, asking for evidence, being skeptical, etc. Scientific thinking involves an array of components and can be used in everyday, out of the lab, thinking. Scientific thinking is broad and should be used in an array of contexts. Deanna Kuhn asserts that the essence of scientific thinking is coordinating belief with evidence (2011). At the very least scientific cognition involves philosophy of science, scientific methodology, quantitative reasoning, probabilistic reasoning, and elements of logic. Various scales have been developed to measure scientific thinking. Kahan developed the Ordinary Science Intelligence Scale (OSI 2.0, Kahan 2014), and Drummond and Fischhoff (2015) developed the Scientific Reasoning Scale (SRS). Drummond and Fischhoff found that scientific reasoning were distinctfrom measures of scientific literacy, even though there was a positive association to measures of scientific literacy... Read more- Science: The Vast Enterprise  https://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/science_the_vast_enterprise

But, it's only a theory

“It’s only a theory” is a phrase often used to suggest that the theory in question is weak.  This phrase is often used as a response to a theory that one doesn’t agree with or understand.  It is imperative to recognize that theory in science is drastically different than the type of theory discussed in everyday conversation.  In science, theory represents a body of knowledge that offers an explanation for converging lines of evidence. Science needs theory!   Lay person theory (everyday theory) reflects speculation or a guess directed at explaining phenomena. 
“Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.”  National Center for Science Education
“The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.” National Academy of Sciences  Read more- It's Only A Theory

Limitations of Peer Review

In the Peer Review Process a paper is submitted to a journal and evaluated by several reviewers (often reviewers are individuals with an impressive history of work in the area of interest-that is, the specific area that the article addresses).  After critiquing the paper the reviewers submit their thoughts to the editor.  Then, based on the commentaries from the reviewers, the editor decideswhether to publish the paper, make suggestions for additional changes that could lead to publication, or to reject the paper. 

Single Blind and Double Blind Reviews

In Single Blind Reviews authors do not know who the reviewers are.  In Double Blind Reviews authors do not know who the reviewers are, nor do reviewers know the identity of the authors.  In many fields Single Blind Reviews are the norm, while in others Double Blind Reviews are

preferred. “Peer review is one way (replication is another) science institutionalizes the attitudes of objectivity and public criticism.  Ideas and experimentation undergo a honing process in which they are submitted to other critical minds for evaluation.  Ideas that survive this critical process have begun to meet the criterion of public verifiability” (Stanovich, 2007, p. 12).

Peer review doesn't guarantee only quality information will be published. The Peer Review Process is not perfect, but some researchers suggest  it is one of the best safeguards we have against junk science (Stanovich, 2007). When evaluating the worth of scientific data, in addition to whether it is published in a peer reviewed journal, it is important to take into consideration:  funding sources, study replication, study design, sample size, conflicting interest, sampling error, different measures of reliability and validity, reporting limitations and other possible criticisms of study. There are good studies that never get published in peer review publications, and low quality studies are published by peer review publishers.  It is erroneous to label a study, review, commentary, meta-analysis or any other scholarly papers as high quality based solely on peer review status. This over glorification of peer review pervades academia and pop science. Read more- Peer Review is not the antidote https://jamiehalesblog.blogspot.com/2018/01/peer-review-is-not-antidote.html

Stay tuned for part 2

References available upon request