What does "scientific" mean in the context of this site? A commitment to the scientific method as per this entry in wikipedia?


Okay, now that I'm in the right place ... how much of the past is open to scientific scrutiny? Can one, by the above definition, test the past or must one modify one's definition of 'scientific'? I'm talking more about the distant past rather than the past which can be more or less independently verified.

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    There is a more specific Wikipedia page: scientific skepticism. I don't know whether it answers your question though. Are you really looking for a definition of "science"? Sounds like a question for philosophy.se. :-)
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jun 22 '12 at 2:55
  • As per wikipedia: scientific because we use the scientific method and deduction and we don't use mere logic or induction (which would make us rational skeptics).
    – Sklivvz
    Jun 22 '12 at 6:27
  • Is wikipedia a valid refernce?
    – Kenshin
    Jan 1 '13 at 5:57

First, to repeat my comment, I believe the Wikipedia page scientific skepticism describes our general hand-wavey world view.

I am not suggesting every user and every answer adheres to it precisely in all walks of life, just that that is the sort of question and answer that is most likely to be upvoted, and least likely to be closed as off-topic.

So, questions that can be answered with empirical data from reproduceable experiments are our sweet spot.

Historical questions are not explicitly off-topic, but you can see us some of us tugging at our collars when the question is is about history. I don't want to get into a discussion about "Is history a science?", because it would be unproductive, but it is clear that much of historical facts require dependence of authorities and experts, with only limited cross-checking. Indeed, the overlap between History.SE and Skeptics.SE has been discussed, and they don't appear interested in "Is this historical fact real?" questions.

(I see similar collar-tugging when a question is about economic models, and I think it is for similar reasons - Borror0's contributions notwithstanding.)

If you are talking about the distant past, as in greater than 100K years ago, where it isn't about human history, and it is more about paleontology or planet-forming, that is a different issue again, and starts becoming more clearly science, as models can be made to produce predictions that can be checked with further collection of evidence.

  • Don't forget literature, news and citations for other really hairy subjects.
    – Sklivvz
    Jun 22 '12 at 20:44
  • I've also seem claims based on seemingly sound research from the 1940s and '50s, but randomized, controlled, double blind trials have only really been around since the 1950s. I just take everything with a grain of salt.
    – John Lyon
    Jun 29 '12 at 2:01
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    @jozzas, I feel uncomfortably racist when I do it, but I also use a bigger grain of salt when I see evidence from institutions based in countries with a poorer cultural history of scientific integrity. It is such a blatant ad hominem attack on the researchers, and yet I wrestle with the fact that I still see myself doing it.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jun 29 '12 at 2:36
  • @Oddthinking - that's where repeatability comes in. If a result can be repeated, doesn't matter where it originated. If further research contradicts the result, it's possibly invalid, also without matterring where it originated. BS "research" can appear in any country - and would depend on discipline as well (you'd be wise to trust a physics article out of 1950s USSR but not genetics one. Lancet published some obvious BS, from Autism study to politically-driven casualty estimates of Iraq war).
    – user5341
    May 26 '15 at 4:06

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