What is it about theories in the human sciences and natural sciences that makes them convincing?

What is it about theories in the human sciences and natural sciences that makes them convincing?

Theories that have been proven wrong but that people found convincing…?

They must have been compelling in a misleading way.

Compelling to fellow scientists who have access to all the facts, or compelling to the common person who, at best, has a headline designed to grab attention?

Valid points!
However, remember human science theories are often produced by historians and analysts

What makes them convincing is, by definition, the very large number of experimental tests they’ve passed. That’s what a theory is: An idea that’s passed a large number of tests without being disproved.

So basically a theory is an idea expressed with evidence either historically or scientific that has not been disproved.

Except the false ones are accepted by people who don’t apply the same criteria as scientists.

Yes however Scientists are often use they criteria and are convinced by theories that have since proven to be false such a phrenology- belief character traits could be localized to a particular part of the brain.

Well, sometimes believing makes it so. However, phrenology isn’t one of those things.

IanPal, do not post this question to any other SDMB forums.

I’m not sure that phrenology was ever a part of accepted science. (It may have been, but I don’t have the energy to look it up.) Not every random bit of speculation is actually science. However, granting for the sake of argument that phrenology was a scientific exploration, (and not something more closely related to Theosophy and similar “systems” of the same era), phrenology is clearly not accepted by any discipline of science today, indicating that it failed to stand up to scientific examination. That sort of examination, in conjunction with the willingness to discard hypotheses that fail to find support after experimentation, is what leads to an acceptance of science. It is not that any scientific claim is considered sacred, it is that scientists are willing to test their hypotheses and reject them if they fail the tests.

It’s a very common misconception about scientists that we think we’re always right. Nothing could be further from the truth; that’s the exact opposite of what a scientist is. It’s not that we’re always right; it’s that when we’re wrong, we keep on poking at the truth until eventually we are right.

The OP seems to be looking for examples.

Geocentric (Ptolomaic) astronomy and Aristotelian mechanics are the classic examples of theories in natural science that have been proved wrong, but that many people found convincing for a long time. They were both sophisticated theories, developed with considerable mathematical detail, that had very real explanatory and predictive power (although not as much as that of the theories that eventually replaced them). People found them convincing because they worked pretty well (but again, not quite as well as their replacements).

Geocentric astronomy was also very convincing because, if you stand on the ground and look up the sky and notice how the Sun, Moon, Planets and Stars move across the sky, it damn well seems obvious that the Earth is stationary beneath your feet and the other things are moving around it. Why would anyone think otherwise? (The answer to that question, it turns out, is because of arcane mathematical considerations and subtle observational anomalies that were beyond the limits of observational accuracy before the 17th century.)

Most of the other reasons given for why heliocentrism did not catch on as soon as it was proposed are basically bullshit: the church authorities did not care (yes, they screwed over Galileo, but that was for other reasons), the Bible says nothing of any significance about the issue, and there is no evidence that people found the prospect of bigger universe unsettling.

The fact that they made logical sense based on the framework of limited knowledge and superstitions of the time.

I mean, look at Newtonian physics. It very accurately predicts a number of physical phenomena and is still taught in classrooms to this day. It was eventually replaced more esoterically by Special and General Relativity, because experimentation and ever more precise observation started to expose some anomalies that Newtonian physics couldn’t explain.

Also, take the theory of evolution. No one believes* in evolution any more than someone can believe in air. The rigors of science does not require belief, per se. It requires evidence supporting a hypothesis, that can eventually be fleshed out into a full-fledged theory built on facts. Facts are things that are known merely from observation that isn’t open to much, if any interpretation… such that there is a fossil of a huge bone in the ground, or even a bright disc in the sky that provides light and heat during the day. The theory of the Sun (what it is, and how it works) is based from many hypotheses that all come together and have been rigorously tested, mountains of evidence accrued (exposing yet more facts) in such a manner that it’s convincing that this bright disc is just another star we dubbed the Sun, fusing hydrogen into helium as its gravity overcomes the strong nuclear force, and keeps the earth in orbit around it. It took many, many years and many, many brains to get even that far. Yet, it’s almost taken for granted now. Most theories start out as broad strokes and get ever more refined as mankind’s tools of observation become more precise and accurate. What makes certain theories more convincing than others is that no theory exists in a vacuum. The more evidence acquired, the easier it would be to refute if it doesn’t fit with all the other well established theories.

That said, it’s always possible that a new discovery about nature might render a ton of convincing and accepted theories wrong (or more likely, incomplete as in Newtonian Physics). It’s happened before, and could happen again and again. That’s what makes science distinct and important.
*Belief in the sense that it requires blind faith.

Particular scientists get all sorts of stuff wrong, which is what peer review and reproducibility are all about. There are fads also. I’m not sure how widely accepted phrenology was, but as soon as some studies could be done testing its predictive powers it went right to the trash heap.

To address the OP, one thing that makes a theory convincing is simplicity. The heliocentric theory was much simpler than epicycles, for example.

How many of the people who believed in phrenology were scientists?

Fake science may try to imitate real science. But when fake science gets discredited (usually be real science) it shouldn’t be used as evidence to discredit real science as well.


That bump, it means you are fishing for an answer to a question you haven’t asked yet. /phrenology

If you are going to bump the thread, how about responding to something that’s been posted or explaining what you think?