Though this organization is called the “Crypto Science Society”, it is generally understood that its membership is open to all interested students coming from any and all disciplines of study. This means that though some of you are coming onboard with an already firm grasp of the concept of science, many of you might not be. Indeed, many of our current membership are pursuing majors in disciplines wholly removed from the natural, applied, or social sciences. And that is ok. The scope of our mission and ambition is more than wide enough to not only accommodate a diverse array of talents, but to find valuable application for those skills as well.
That said, if we are going to call ourselves a society of science then it is in our best interests to establish in clear and certain terms what exactly science is so that not only will we all be on the same page, but that we may project the appropriate public image for a group so named. We hope that you will take a moment to look over this section; it will be an invaluable illustration of the type of conceptual and methodological approaches we strive at all times to handle our subject matter with. A commitment to the objective and dispassionate scientific method is perhaps our most important distinguishing characteristic when compared to other similar organizations.
Science, From the Latin “scientia”, Meaning “knowledge”
The scientific method is perhaps one of the most profound and important developments in the human quest to understand ourselves, our world, the universe, and indeed the very nature of existence and reality. Though science can trace its roots back thousands of years, at least as far as some of the most renowned Ancient Greek philosophers and perhaps even further, and even though it evolved, developed, and progressed throughout the ages since then, it truly came into its own as a modern method of widespread practice during a period referred to historically as the “scientific revolution”. This revolution in human industry is generally agreed to have begun in the year 1543 in Europe with the publication of two seminal books: De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) by Nicolaus Copernicus and De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius. This period lasted until well into the 17th century and saw a plethora of advances in virtually every scientific field, laying much of the groundwork for the modern era.
Though it defies over-simple definitions, science can be described as a method of inquiry used to investigate the natural, observable world and universe. It is a continuous systematic effort to expand and increase the totality of human knowledge through disciplined research. It adheres to a particular set of guiding principles, which will be described in detail presently.
These days, human efforts to make heads and tails of such things can generally be divided into three categories; religion, philosophy, and science. The three are hardly mutually exclusive, overlap can and does occur. However, the cores of their essences are distinct enough to warrant separate billing.
Religion typically approaches these matters through a system of revelation from an often abstract supernatural source (sometimes anthropomorphized). Anthropologists define religion as “A set of beliefs in supernatural forces that functions to provide meaning, peace of mind, and a sense of control over unexplainable phenomena.” (Ferraro, pp. 338) This is of course a blanket definition, as religions are very nearly as diverse as the myriad cultures which constitute humankind. Though their histories and particular characteristics are wonderfully individual, the important thing in this context to remember about religion is that its explanations of things are dependent upon divine or supernatural revelation.
Philosophy (love of wisdom) approaches these matters through a purely cerebral system of reasoned argument and logical critique. Though observations of the world around us (often referred to as empiricism) constitute foundational pillars of a significant portion of philosophical history, philosophers are also notorious for not trusting wholly in the evidence of their senses. Philosophy can at once be considered a type of ancestral intermediate between religion and science (indeed, they both owe much of their development to philosophical traditions) and also a very unique, stand-alone entity in and of itself. Largely concerned with very fundamental human questions, such as the nature of truth, ethics, aesthetics, and existence itself, philosophy draws its strength from the capacity for reason and highly refined logical argumentation.
Science. “At its core, science is concerned with understanding the nature of the world
around us by using observation and reasoning. To begin with, we assume that natural forces acting now have always acted, that the fundamental nature of the universe has not changed since its inception, and that it is not changing now. A number of complimentary approaches allow understanding of natural phenomena – there is no one ‘right way’.
“Scientists also attempt to be as objective as possible in the interpretation of the data and observations they have collected. Because scientists themselves are human, this is not completely possible; because science is a collective endeavor subject to scrutiny, however, it is self-correcting. Results from one person are verified by others, and if the results cannot be repeated, they are rejected.
The classic view of the scientific method is that observations lead to hypotheses that in turn make experimentally testable predictions. In this way, we dispassionately evaluate new ideas to arrive at an increasingly accurate view of nature.” (Raven, et al. pp. 4)
A key concept to grasp concerning the scientific approach is that the subject being investigated by scientists has to be empirically observable in some way or another; there needs to be a way to measure and/or quantify it, and it has to be falsifiable. If a thing cannot be measured, quantified, or in any way lend itself to confirmation or falsification through experimentation then science, for now, simply has nothing to say about it and it must remain an unsubstantiated claim. Finally, the results of a scientist’s research, even if they seem sound when presented, have to be able to be reproduced independently by other scientists. In this way, science regulates itself and becomes self-correcting through peer review; catching mistakes, miscalculations, and even attempts to misrepresent and twist one’s findings to advance a particular personal agenda.
Scientific research is generally divided into two overarching categories: Basic, or Experimental, and applied. Basic research aims to answer questions and expand human knowledge for its own sake. Applied research then attempts to take what has been learned through basic research and use it to address human problems and challenges, such as increasing crop yields, fighting diseases, generating energy, improving transportation, and much more besides. Coming at the angle of what exactly scientists study, science can be broadly categorized into the Natural Sciences (Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and etc), the Social Sciences (Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, and etc), and the Applied Sciences (Architecture, Engineering, Medicine, and etc). These definitions are not absolute, as it is not uncommon for a discipline to be difficult to pigeonhole into just one category. Anthropology, for example, leans heavily on biology and earth sciences, depending on the sub-discipline.
Deductive and Inductive Reasoning
There are two primary methods of arriving at logical conclusions used by science. These are deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. Generally speaking, deductive reasoning applies general known or observed principles to arrive at specific results, and inductive reasoning collects specific observations and uses them to build general principles.
If you know a basic principle to be generally true, you can apply deductive reasoning to reach a generally accurate conclusion from that principle. For example; if you know that all birds have feathers, and you find an animal that does not have feathers, you might reasonably conclude that that animal is not a bird (it’s probably not a dinosaur either).
Inductive reasoning on the other hand systematically accumulates individual observations and then analyzes them to see what general conclusions might be drawn. For example; if sparrows have feathers, robins have feathers, peacocks have feathers, Big Bird has feathers, emus have feathers, and blue footed boobies have feathers, then you might logically conclude that all birds have feathers. This is the reasoning most often used by scientists, for it leaves one with an experimentally testable hypothesis. Inductive reasoning first became widely important to science in the 1600’s, when the pioneers of physics inferred their renowned principles, such as the famed Newtonian Laws of Motion, from meticulous experimentation.
Hypothetically Speaking: Controls and Variables
The all-important hypothesis, as previously stated, is a logical conclusion, a possibility, based off of careful observations, which is then put to the test to determine whether it is possibly true or probably false. Hypotheses are the driving force behind all scientific investigation; without a hypothesis a scientist has little or nothing to investigate through experimentation. Let’s suppose that your friend is calling to you from across the room, but you cannot hear him. Why might this be? You consider the possibilities and formulate some hypotheses: A) You have left your earphones in and cannot hear your friend over the soothing melodies of Snoop Dogg. B) You are in a crowded cafeteria and all the gossip is drowning out your friend’s voice. C) Your friend is mute, and you cannot hear him because he is calling to you in the American Sign Language. D) You actually can hear your friend, but are pretending not to because you are a wanker.
Now that you have some ideas you can start testing them, or experimenting. To begin with, you check your ears and find that no, there are no earphones or buds in that region; you have disproved the hypothesis that it is your music player. Next, you look around yourself and determine by the general absence of people, noise, and polyester lunch meat that you are not in a crowded cafeteria. With two possibilities eliminated you look over at your friend and see that he is moving his lips, not his hands, so is probably attempting to communicate verbally. That leaves you with the last hypothesis. It is certainly possible that something else is at play here to obscure your friend’s voice, but the dissolution of the first three hypotheses shows us that it is more likely that you may, in fact, be a wanker.
Two of the most important things to keep in mind while conducting an experiment are the control and variables. Oftentimes a scientist will be interested in investigating something the outcome of which is influenced by several different factors, known as variables. Say, for example, that you are investigating the rate of plant growth. The variables at play here which could influence the rate of growth may include time, exposure to light, water supply, soil content, the space between competing plants, the species of plant being studied, predation by animals, and more. In order to accurately determine the effect that one of these variables has on the rate of plant growth, all other variables in the experiment must be kept constant. If we suppose you are interested in how light affects the rate of plant growth you would want to set up your experiment in such a way that the light variable is altered in a known way and all others remain uniform.
You would first need to establish a control experiment, in which the light variable was left unaltered from the established standard (for the sake of this discussion we will arbitrate 8 hours of direct exposure at 100 watts every day for 4 weeks). The control experiment will provide your ‘standard’ data with which you can compare the data gathered from the following experiments. In these experiments you would then alter the standard in known increments, such as the number of hours of direct exposure each day or the wattage used. Since your experiments are in every other known way identical, any variation in plant growth rate that occurs can reasonably be attributed to the variance in light exposure.
One of the stoutest challenges in science is determining and establishing your control experiment in such a way that the variable you are interested in studying is isolated. The nature of variables becomes more complex as well, the further you delve into the sciences. One must learn to distinguish between dependent and independent variables, how to represent the gathered data graphically if applicable, how to account for and consider margins of error, and more. For now however, it is only important that you grasp this essential concept.
Theories and Hypotheses: The Difference
When the word ‘theory’ is used in everyday conversation it is generally used in a context that implies something along the lines of mere conjecture or a guess, sometimes educated. This common usage can cause confusion when talking about scientific theory, as scientists mean something very different when they say ‘theory’. The common usage of ‘theory’ is much closer, scientifically speaking, to a hypothesis. In science nothing is ever absolute and entirely beyond refute. Science assumes that we don’t know everything there is to know about everything, and that emerging evidence and discoveries can drastically alter or even completely replace current understandings of scientific paradigms. This means for example that though the theory of gravity is one of the most well-accepted bedrocks of the natural sciences, boasting a host of complimentary proofs, it is always possible that someone can come along and present overwhelming evidence that disproves the theory of gravity. This is unlikely, but still, possible. In this way science maintains itself as a self-correcting process that, ideally, does not fall into a position of inflexible dogma.
Though everything in science is always open to contention, there are instances where a particular concept or model continues to gain more and more supporting evidence, emerging as the clear favorite among competing hypotheses. When this happens and it becomes increasingly difficult to say that the nature of things is anything but the model presented, it becomes a theory: a hypothesis or model supported by such an overwhelming body of supporting evidence that it becomes widely accepted by the scientific community as true. ‘Theory’ is the highest pillar to which a scientific concept or principle can ascend, and is only possible after a long and grueling process of acquiring a multitude of peer-reviewed proofs.
An important example of this confusion in contemporary America is seen in the debate between fundamental religious faithful, known as Creationists, and the scientific community over the theory of evolution. Though it is debated on many fronts and levels, one common point raised by Creationists is that evolution is “only a theory”, not realizing what ‘theory’ really means when used by the scientific community. This confusion creates the impression that scientists are not really at a satisfied consensus concerning the concept of evolution and that something which has not even been proven yet is being taught as true to students; when in fact there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists that it is actually one of the most well-supported of any theory within the natural sciences. Regardless of what side, if any, you favor in the debate, this is probably the most relevant contemporary example of the confusion that can arise from this definitional discrepancy.
An important tool in the belt of any scientist attempting to determine the plausibility of competing hypotheses is the Principle of Parsimony (a similar and well-known concept you may be familiar with is “Occam’s Razor”). The principle of parsimony, simply put, favors the hypothesis that requires the least assumptions.
For example: We know that many insects have wings, and that bats have wings. We also know that winged insects first evolved long before bats emerged. So how did bats get wings, if we are looking for an evolutionary ancestor? Does it make more sense that a group of winged insects, over many generations, kept their wings and A) lost their exoskeleton B) evolved vertebrae, a post-anal tail, and an internal bony skeleton that follows the basic plan of all vertebrate animals C) lost one pair of legs D) lost their antennae E) evolved an advanced circulatory, respiratory, and nervous system F) evolved mammary glands and hair G) stopped reproducing via eggs and began giving placental live birth H) evolved endothermic body temperature regulation I) grew to the size of bats J) and lost and evolved countless other discrepancies between the vertebrate mammal and insect body plans… or… does it make more sense that A) a rodent ancestor which already had all the evolutionary characteristics of a vertebrate mammal eventually evolved a gliding membrane on its forelimbs, like the ones found on flying squirrels, B) which then continued to evolve into wings once natural selection began to favor this advantage? The principle of parsimony would point us towards the second possibility in this case.
Reductionism and Holism
We mentioned earlier that there is a deductive and inductive approach that one can take to scientific inquiry. There is another pair of approaches worth mentioning briefly. These two methods are called Reductionism and Holism. The methods themselves are dichotomously opposite to each other, but science benefits the most when it considers the results of both methods in conjunction.
Reductionism investigates things by breaking them down into their component parts and learning how each individual piece functions.
Holism adheres to the creed that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, and that when you consider the complex, integrated functions of many interconnected parts within a system, you become aware of emergent properties that are not apparent at reduced networks of complexity.
These are at their cores philosophical approaches adapted to the scientific method. Neither one is the “right” way to do science and neither one alone can ever give us as complete a picture as the both considered together can. While reductionism is fantastic for figuring out the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of things, holism allows us to take a step back and see how everything begins to fit together in the big picture. For the larger part of scientific history reductionism has been the favorite, most prevalent approach, but holism has in recent years gained a fresh revitalization through several “systems” sciences.
Objectivity and Bias
Objectivity is often touted as one of the paragons of scientific integrity; for good reason, too, but not without certain footnotes. Though practicing scientists strive for the highest degree of objectivity possible, absolute objectivity is never possible, due to the fact that scientists are human beings; finite, participating members of the universe they investigate. The subjective nature of human existence means that some degree of subjectivity will always creep into even the most objectively executed experiments. However, the afore-mentioned point that science is a collaborative, peer-reviewed effort means that science is self-correcting and can therefore accommodate this capacity for human error.
Occasionally, however, those conducting research do not hold themselves to the strictest standards of objectivity. In these instances the data collected by the researcher(s) is presented in a manner that is inconsistent with the actuality of their findings. This can arise for a number of different reasons, such as deliberate tampering with the subject evidence, clever phrasing which twists the interpretation of findings to imply something which was not actually found, or a researcher who’s desire to achieve a particular result from their research is so strong that they interpret any data they receive as evidence in support of their hypothesis, when in fact there may be no such link.
This last one is of particular importance to our organization. The phenomenon is a type of cognitive bias known as confirmation bias. Confirmation bias describes the tendency to either pursue or interpret evidence in a manner that lends itself to the confirmation of one’s preconceived hypotheses. Confirmation bias is a common argument raised against those who attempt to study paranormal subject matter. For example; those who examine photographs of strange light phenomenon caught unintentionally and called, in rather broad strokes, ‘orbs’ are regularly accused of jumping to the conclusion that the image in question is some paranormal phenomenon and not something more natural such as dust particles catching the light.
As easy as it is for the undeterred believers to succumb to confirmation bias, it is also not impossible for hard-line skeptics to be just as susceptible. Using the same ‘orb’ example as before, the automatic assumption that the image of an ‘orb’ is a light-catching dust-particle and nothing else would be a type of confirmation bias.
It is not our intent to point fingers at either believers or skeptics and accuse them of bad science. The point to be made and taken from this is that regardless of which end of the spectrum one gravitates towards, confirmation bias can seriously compromise the integrity of research conducted.
Remember: Wanting a thing to be true does NOT make it true! It is OK to ‘disprove’ a tested hypothesis! Science is far better at disproving things than conclusively proving them, and it only means that you have eliminated one out of numerous possibilities concerning your subject matter, and will ultimately help you to refine your focus, arrive at a more complete synthesis of understanding, and learn how you may approach your subject from a different and innovative angle. ‘Disproving’ a hypothesis does not equal failure; it is knowledge gained, just like any other experiment and carries inherent value because of that (in experiments represented statistically this is called “failing to reject the null hypothesis”). You might also gain the respect of your colleagues and detractors (if not those who fund your research), if you are willing to publish a result which is contrary to what you originally thought to be the case, as it demonstrates a firm commitment to the scientific method and objectivity.
The Sins of Pseudoscience
Prefix “pseudo” From Ancient Greek, Meaning “false”
Pseudoscience, as the name implies, is false science. Pseudoscience can arise either intentionally or unintentionally, but the end result is something which masquerades as science but which does not adhere to some or all of the protocols of legitimate scientific method. For example: if you wanted to prove that all college students are naturally smarter than people who do not attend college, and use as your proof a comprehensive survey which demonstrates that college students receive 100% more ‘A’ grades than people who do not go to college, this is false science. It is false because the people who do not go to college do not attend classes and therefore have no grades to compare with. It is not an accurate or balanced measure of intelligence in any way, and therefore is dismissible. Pseudoscience is similar to the confirmation bias discussed earlier; indeed confirmation bias can easily lead to pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is an ultimately broader term though, as it can be born of other motives besides an unfaltering belief in something (such as the deliberate promotion of something one knows not to be true in order to earn a profit or fame).
The explanation of what pseudoscience is need not be a long or exhausting one. However, it is a pitfall to which our organization must be especially wary of, and that point must be stressed. So much of the subject matter with which we are interested, such as the ‘paranormal’ is in and of itself considered pseudoscience at best (rubbishy balderdash at worst) by the scientific community (admittedly, much of the blame for that can be attributed to the practices of various charlatans and hoaxers, and of researchers with an obvious confirmation bias). If ever we want our subject matter to be taken seriously, then it is absolutely imperative that we guard at all times against the trap of pseudoscience.
As a closing note, there is one more important point that is especially critical for our organization to keep in mind when investigating subject material often regarded as less than scientific. This cornerstone principle is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The burden of proof rests on the shoulders of the person or party making a claim. If, for example, you are convinced that water is not composed of two hydrogen molecules loosely bonded to one oxygen molecule, and that it is instead made up of ultra-microscopic LEGOs, you had better have a tremendous and airtight body of evidence handy to back up such a claim.
It is important to remember that this rule in and of itself is not an attempt to suppress radical ideas and reject offhand anything that doesn’t fit with contemporary paradigms. Though there are certainly very stubborn individuals within any given community that may exhibit those characteristics, the ‘extraordinary proof’ rule of thumb is a legitimate one. Its purpose is two-fold.
First, it exists because science, as a discipline, is perpetually building off of past research to push the envelope of knowledge and discovery even further. It is heavily dependent on the information that has been determined before by meticulous, peer-reviewed research carried out by disciplined individuals. When a new piece of information is researched and published within a given field it requires a comparatively more moderate level of proof because it fits into a pre-established knowledge set, or information known “a priori” (from Latin, meaning “from what comes before”). A claim that falls far outside of the parameters of research conducted a priori by its nature demands a markedly increased level of evidence. Remember the Principle of Parsimony which we discussed earlier. This is why, for example, the plaster casts of footprints and a bevy of eyewitness claims alone cannot be considered conclusive proof of the existence of Sasquatch. Intriguing, to be sure, merit for further investigation by interested parties, to be certain, but not definitive proof.
Secondly, this requisite of extraordinary proof acts as a filter, or safeguard, against scientific research being inundated by frauds, hoaxers, and those who would assert something outlandish to further their own personal agendas. For an excellent example of the damage this kind of activity can cause to scientific knowledge (and subsequently the need to guard against it), Google the “Piltdown Man” when you get a chance.
In short, do not be offended by the ‘extraordinary proof’ requirement. It is not meant to stymie the efforts of those who study subjects which fall outside of the contemporary paradigms. It is simply a safety mechanism in place to assure that when something radically new is presented to the scientific community that it is thoroughly researched and credible, not the victim of unknown variables.