Free Republic
Browse · Search
General/Chat
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Francis Baconís 400-year-old list of scientific foibles holds lessons for modern scientists
ScienceMag ^ | 3/17/2020 | Kevin P. Weinfurt

Posted on 05/24/2020 8:51:35 PM PDT by Borges

In the early 17th century, the English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon envisioned a bold, multiphase program to accumulate knowledge of the natural world. A critical part of this plan was Novum Organum, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year. In this work, Bacon attempted to undo the centuries-old dominance of Aristotelian forms of inquiry, encouraging readers to instead apply inductive reasoning to carefully curated observations of the natural world.

“Book One” of Novum Organum addressed why so little progress had thus far been made in understanding nature. Here, Bacon cautioned against “idols and false notions” that can interfere with the quest for scientific knowledge, providing the first and possibly the most comprehensive catalog of human foibles that can threaten the integrity of science.

Bacon referred to these shortcomings as “Idols” of “the Tribe,” “the Cave,” “the Marketplace,” and “the Theater.” The “Idols of the Tribe” are the tendencies of the mind to leap to incorrect conclusions, for example, our inclination “to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world” than is actually there. To combat a prominent Idol of the Tribe—the tendency to seek and be moved by confirmatory evidence more so than by disconfirmatory evidence (what we now call confirmation bias)—Bacon directed the scientist to construct a “Table of Deviations, or of Absence in Proximity” that documents observations that are similar to an affirmative but for which an association does not hold (e.g., although heat accompanies the Sun’s rays, heat does not accompany the rays of the Moon).

“Idols of the Cave” refers to how people occupying different “caves,” or groups, differ in their scientific beliefs and practices. Here, Bacon described how scientists can become attached to ideas or practices “either because they fancy themselves the authors and inventors thereof, or because they have bestowed the greatest pains upon them and become most habituated to them.”

“Idols of the Marketplace” refers to the intellectual risks entailed in the use of language to conduct science. Bacon regarded this category of idol as the “most troublesome of all,” perhaps because one cannot escape using language and because the negative effects of this necessary practice can be so insidious. Included in this category is the tendency to assign names to things that do not exist, which encourages one to believe that they do exist. This happens whenever researchers use a single label (e.g., “breast cancer”) to refer to a collection of phenomena (“breast cancer” actually refers to many different pathophysiologic conditions). “Idols of the Theater,” or “Idols of the System,” refers to people’s tendency to cling to dogmatic systems of belief that portray a tidy and/or entertaining but ultimately inaccurate picture of nature.

Bacon, a contemporary of Galileo and Shakespeare, wrote Novum Organum at a time when many still believed that truths about the world were handed down by monarchs and ministers. He spoke for the burgeoning empirical sciences, encouraging readers to use the inductive method to throw off the shackles of authority. But if we are to realize his vision for a practice of science that frees people from the shackles of both authority and their own minds, it might be a good idea to update the idols to reflect the modern challenges threatening the scientific enterprise today.

The Idols of the Tribe, for example, need to expand to include the social psychological tendencies of group dynamics. The Idols of the Cave, which originally alluded to the conflicting interests of the scientist, must now emphasize the ubiquity and variety of financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest attendant to the massive institutional and bureaucratic systems that have risen up around scientific activities. To the Idols of the Marketplace, meanwhile, we might add that the pressures within academic science to publish and win grants have exacerbated the use of trendy yet ill-defined terms. And finally, the Idols of the Theater might be updated to include the uncritical adherence to systems of ritualized rules intended to automate the inductive activities of scientists.

One year after the publication of Novum Organum, Bacon, who was seriously in debt, was accused of corruption, briefly jailed in the Tower of London, and barred from Parliament for life. It took several decades before his work began to receive wide praise, and in 1660 it inspired the creation of the Royal Society. A modern reader might be similarly inspired by Novum Organum’s subtlety of thought, commitment to understanding nature as it is, and excitement about the potential for science to be a liberating force for humankind.


TOPICS: Astronomy; Books/Literature; Science
KEYWORDS: 400thanniversary; aristotle; astronomy; bacon; francisbacon; galileo; idolsofthecave; idolsofthemarket; idolsofthetheater; idolsofthetribe; inquiry; novumorganum; pages; science; shakespeare; stringtheory

1 posted on 05/24/2020 8:51:35 PM PDT by Borges
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Borges

“The Idols of the Cave, which originally alluded to the conflicting interests of the scientist, must now emphasize the ubiquity and variety of financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest attendant to the massive institutional and bureaucratic systems that have risen up around scientific activities.”

Man made global warming has to be at the top of that list, followed by just about any other environazis scam.


2 posted on 05/24/2020 9:27:00 PM PDT by aquila48 (Do not let them make you care! Guilting you is how they control you.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: aquila48
The Idols of the Cave, which originally alluded to the conflicting interests of the scientist, must now emphasize the ubiquity and variety of financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest attendant to the massive institutional and bureaucratic systems that have risen up around scientific activities

Eisenhower had a few things to say about that.

3 posted on 05/24/2020 9:54:30 PM PDT by eclecticEel ("The petty man forsakes what lies within his power and longs for what lies with Heaven." - Xunzi)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Borges

“To combat a prominent Idol of the Tribe—the tendency to seek and be moved by confirmatory evidence more so than by disconfirmatory evidence (what we now call confirmation bias)”

Does anyone else want to plead “not guilty” to confirmation bias?

When an item of disconfirmatory evidence comes to my attention, it is as though a hand grenade has landed in my foxhole. I immediately jump up, hair afire, and run hither and yon in great distress until I have thoroughly examined the new evidence and discovered whether it is true or false.

This could take weeks, months, perhaps even years, but I don’t stop until it is done.

I can see the smug expressions on the Karens in the room as they object: “Wait. You may think you do this, but how do we know you really give appropriate weight to the disconfirmatory evidence? All you’re actually doing is giving lip service to objectivity as you find ways to dismiss the new evidence and revert to your previous position.”

When I started college in 1971, I didn’t know shit from Shinola. Everything I thought I knew was wrong. I went along with the leftwad positions because that’s what all the cool people did, and if you conformed, you got invited to the hipster doofus parties.

Over the following decades, reality kept chucking grenades into my foxhole. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “...for having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information or fuller consideration to change opinions even on important subjects which I once thought right but found to be otherwise...”

Down the years, I had to change my opinion on practically every important issue. In no particular order, divorce, marriage, adultery, abortion, drunkenness, seduction and sex...one after another, grenades of disconfirmatory information forced me to reexamine and actually change long-held opinions, regarding which I had for years or even decades been, not merely wrong, but obnoxiously, obstreperously wrong.

Being forced by disconfirmatory evidence to admit that I was as full of shit as a Christmas goose, not once, but time after time, was very unpleasant.

Having gone through all that, I am not content that some Dunning-Kruger case should declare me guilty of confirmation bias. And I’m betting that most if not all conservatives are free from any taint of this intellectual weakness.

If they weren’t, they’d be liberals.


4 posted on 05/24/2020 10:05:52 PM PDT by dsc (As for the foundations of the Catholic faith, this pontificate is an outrage to reason.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Borges

Wonderful and enlightening. Thanks for posting this.


5 posted on 05/24/2020 10:10:58 PM PDT by JOHN ADAMS
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: eclecticEel

A lot of government funded activities tend to be very partisan in nature. For example climate studies, gender studies, ethnic studies, PBS, abortion funding, etc.

How about passing a law that would defund any program that doesn’t have strong bypartisan support?

The Senate’s filibuster rule in a way does some of that. I’d like to see that strengthened and something similar in the house.

Just think how many fewer laws would be passed.


6 posted on 05/24/2020 10:23:27 PM PDT by aquila48 (Do not let them make you care! Guilting you is how they control you.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Borges

Good article, good post.


7 posted on 05/24/2020 10:28:58 PM PDT by reasonisfaith (What are the implications if the Resurrection of Christ is a true event in history?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Borges

We are blessed with Jordan Peterson who is our 21st century Francis Bacon. Peterson is very insightful in his “thinking about thinking”. We’re fortunate to have Doctor Peterson and his revelatory observations available to us today. I keep the man in my prayers.


8 posted on 05/25/2020 1:28:47 AM PDT by House Atreides (It is not a HOAX but it IS CERTAINLY A PRETEXT.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: dsc

Did you have any conservatives in your family growing up?


9 posted on 05/25/2020 2:40:22 AM PDT by one guy in new jersey
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: House Atreides

Peterson is the absolute master of the calm and totally composed physical posture while seated. It’s uncanny how he can park himself on his seat, cross his legs, start going toe-to-toe with a fevered interlocutor for an hour or more on stage, and never move—not even an inch.


10 posted on 05/25/2020 2:46:36 AM PDT by one guy in new jersey
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: one guy in new jersey

Didn’t really talk that way back then. It was more, the lunatic fringe against the rest of us. Back then, you could be both a democrat and a decent person. No guarantees, but it was at least possible.


11 posted on 05/25/2020 3:10:02 AM PDT by dsc (As for the foundations of the Catholic faith, this pontificate is an outrage to reason.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: dsc
Post 4- The reference to Dunning-Krueger prompted me to dive a little deeper.

Here is an interesting article covering D-K.


12 posted on 05/25/2020 4:32:50 AM PDT by ptsal (Vote R.E.D. >>>Remove Every Democrat ***)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: ptsal

Yep, that’s the one.


13 posted on 05/25/2020 2:22:16 PM PDT by dsc (As for the foundations of the Catholic faith, this pontificate is an outrage to reason.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: ptsal

Amazing how those D-K people have the ability to rise in management far faster than the competent and deserving.


14 posted on 05/25/2020 9:08:42 PM PDT by MikelTackNailer (Fortunately despite aging I've been spared the ravages of maturity.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: 6SJ7; AdmSmith; AFPhys; Arkinsaw; allmost; aristotleman; autumnraine; bajabaja; ...
Thanks Borges .
Bacon referred to these shortcomings as "Idols" of "the Tribe," "the Cave," "the Marketplace," and "the Theater." The "Idols of the Tribe" are the tendencies of the mind to leap to incorrect conclusions, for example, our inclination "to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world" than is actually there...

Bacon, a contemporary of Galileo and Shakespeare, wrote Novum Organum at a time when many still believed that truths about the world were handed down by monarchs and ministers. He spoke for the burgeoning empirical sciences, encouraging readers to use the inductive method to throw off the shackles of authority. But if we are to realize his vision for a practice of science that frees people from the shackles of both authority and their own minds, it might be a good idea to update the idols to reflect the modern challenges threatening the scientific enterprise today.

The Idols of the Tribe, for example, need to expand to include the social psychological tendencies of group dynamics. The Idols of the Cave, which originally alluded to the conflicting interests of the scientist, must now emphasize the ubiquity and variety of financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest attendant to the massive institutional and bureaucratic systems that have risen up around scientific activities. To the Idols of the Marketplace, meanwhile, we might add that the pressures within academic science to publish and win grants have exacerbated the use of trendy yet ill-defined terms. And finally, the Idols of the Theater might be updated to include the uncritical adherence to systems of ritualized rules intended to automate the inductive activities of scientists.
See, that old joke "this is your mind on drugs with a side of Bacon" doesn't seem that ****in' funny now, does it?

· String Theory Ping List ·

"The truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination." -- Elim Garak

Improbable Cause

· Join · Bookmark · Topics · G o o g l e ·
· View or Post in 'blog · post a topic · subscribe ·


15 posted on 05/26/2020 11:08:10 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (Imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: dsc; one guy in new jersey
Nice post!

16 posted on 05/28/2020 4:57:11 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (Imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: SunkenCiv

Thank you.


17 posted on 05/28/2020 10:02:26 PM PDT by dsc (As for the foundations of the Catholic faith, this pontificate is an outrage to reason.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
General/Chat
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson