Science and Explanations
Prior to beginning work on this discussion, read the assigned chapter in your textbook and watch the video Induction and Scientific Reasoning (Links to an external site.).
Science is one of the most successful endeavors of mankind. Through the power of reason and careful observation, humans have found out how to get to the moon, cure diseases, and overcome many of the discomforts of nature. This discussion prompt provides you with an opportunity to practice identifying and evaluating specific types of scientific inference.
Prepare: Read Chapters 5 and 6 from the course text, in addition to the required resources for this week. Search for some scientific discovery that is interesting to you. It could be recent or old. Learn about how that discovery came about, and the type of reasoning that was used. You will be addressing the selected scientific discovery for this discussion.
Reflect: Evaluate the reasoning that was used on the basis of this week’s readings. You will need to do enough background reading to have a general idea of the basis for the discovery. Remember that the goal of this discussion is not to simply report what was discovered, but to examine the logic that led to establishing the outcome.
Write: Within your post:
- Include a link or bibliographical information for the source.
- Briefly summarize the discovery and the process that led to it.
- Explain the sense in which the discovery involved inductive inference.(It is extremely likely that it did.)
- Present the argument for the discovery (not an application of the discovery) in standard form.
- If it did, present a portion of the process as an instance of one of the types of inductive argument covered in this week’s readings. Be sure to clearly demonstrate how the argument is of the type you claim. Hint: if you can’t find a more specific type, almost all scientific discoveries can be presented as Inference to the Best Explanation.
- Evaluate the argument using criteria appropriate to its type.State whether the argument is strong or weak.
- Identify ways in which the argument might be strengthened or weakened.
Hint Post: Scientific Reasoning
For this discussion, look online for an article on a scientific discovery. I chose the following article because the topic showed up on my Facebook feed and I hadn’t had time to read about it (Alzheimer’s seems to run in my family, so I like to keep up-to-date on the research).
Once you’ve located the article, summarize the scientific discovery it discusses and what process was used in a single paragraph:
Sauer (2016) reported that despite the controversy surrounding medical marijuana and its use, scientists are beginning to delve deeper into its uses to treat diseases. A 2014 study found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a chemical found in marijuana, successfully blocks the production of the proteins leading to the worsening of Alzheimer’s disease and relieves its symptoms. Researchers found that when cannabis oil was added to the pharmacological treatment of the 10 patients who finished a 4 week study, the participants’ Alzheimer’s symptoms improved without adverse side effects.
Present the argument for the discovery in standard form:
P1: Cannabis oil added to the treatment for 10 Alzheimer’s patients improved their symptoms without adverse side effects.
C: Therefore, cannabis oil is effective and safe in treating Alzheimer’s patients.
Now explain why this is an inductive argument and its type:
This is an inductive argument because based on the observation of a sample (10 Alzheimer’s patients), it makes a claim about the entire population (all Alzheimer’s patients). Because the effects of cannabis oil were only observed for a portion of the population—and it is impossible to observe all (past, present, and future) Alzheimer’s patients—the conclusion of the argument does not necessarily follow from the premise. It is possible, based on the limited observation, that cannabis oil may not positively affect some Alzheimer’s patients or may do so with negative side effects. This argument is an inference to the best explanation.
Now evaluate the strength of the argument:
This is a weak inductive argument based on the small sample size. Additionally, not enough information in provided about the structure of the experiment to evaluate whether other factors may have influenced the outcome. For example, the conclusion would be stronger if all patients were undergoing exactly the same treatments for Alzheimer’s. Differences in treatments may account for symptom improvement in different patients not attributable to cannabis oil. Also, no mention is made of the demographic characteristics of the sample. The argument would be stronger if the sample was made up of men and women, young and old, rich and poor, etc., as a sample of similar Alzheimer’s patients (e.g., all older white males) would only provide support for using the tested treatment in patients sharing those characteristics. At best the study supports additional research on the use of cannabis oil to treat Alzheimer’s patients.
It’s important to recognize that this argument and the analysis are based on the presentation of the research in a blog (Sauer, 2016). The popular reporting of science via television, radio, newspapers, blogs, etc., always simplifies the research to the point of leaving some relevant information out that is (or at least should be) reported in the scientific journals. Although it may take some additional work, it’s always a good idea when you have questions about the cogency of a scientific argument to track down, read, and evaluate the original journal article that reported the study. You will always find out additional information. I’ve given the reference for the original research report below, in case anyone wants to track it down.
Where to find reports of scientific discoveries:
Huffpost Science (Links to an external site.)
Science News for Students (Links to an external site.)
Science Daily (Links to an external site.)
Sauer, A. (2016, March 21). The effects of medical marijuana on Alzheimer’s treatment [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.alzheimers.net/6-15-15-effects-of-medic... (Links to an external site.)
Shelef, A., Barak, Y., Berger, U., Paleacu, D., Tadger, S., Plopsky, I., & Baruch, Y. (2016). Safety and efficacy of medical cannabis oil for behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia: An-open label, add-on, pilot study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 51(1), 15-19. doi:10.3233/JAD-150915