Knowledge A robust scientific claim emerges from scientists’

Knowledge is considered robust when one has
full certainty of the truth of that knowledge. On the other hand, robust
knowledge might also suggest a claim strongly supported by quantitative and
qualitative data. However, in the process of reaching a ‘robust’ conclusion in the
natural sciences and history, both areas of knowledge utilize different knowledge
productions. But through the implementation of the consensus test, one is able
to examine and weigh existing viewpoints, ranging from absolute support to
absolute opposition, eventually reaching a compromised resolution. Therefore,
knowledge can only be considered robust if it can withstand sustained
criticism, and the only way to determine this is through the practice of negotiation
and disagreement.

 

A robust scientific claim emerges from scientists’
validation of a hypothesis, and robustness in history largely relies on the evidence
agreed by the majority of historians. While this indicates that general agreement
amongst a group is essential in the production of robust knowledge, this also implies
that disagreement is the antithesis of knowledge.  Thus, to what extent is disagreement crucial when
acquiring robust knowledge in the natural sciences? On the other hand, a
historical claim is more prone to frequent disagreements and does not follow
exact testing procedures as the natural sciences; therefore: Are disagreements
and consensus used to create validity in the presentation of evidence in
history? Rather than acquiring knowledge through sense perception as a way of
knowing (WOK), History places greater emphasis on memory and language to deduce
‘robustness’ in knowledge. Consensus itself is often perceived as the ‘majority
of the opinion’ hence, is it equivalent to shared knowledge, where the body of
knowledge in a discipline needs to be accepted as a part of a field? As a
result: To what extent is group verification desirable to reinforce the nature
of a robust knowledge?  

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            Knowledge from the field of natural sciences is derived
from a systematic knowledge production process called the ‘scientific method’. To
reach a scientific consensus, the hypothesis put forth will be tested to ensure
its validity. However, after this process, controversies will arise which will
involve strong disagreements either over data interpretation, limited evidence
or the experiment process itself. Since the process of observing an experiment necessitates
one to rely on Sense Perception as a WOK, there are limitations. Henri Bergson
states that ‘the eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend’, referring
to the expectations or existing knowledge one has preceding the experiment that
can potentially affect the goal of achieving ‘robust knowledge’. Despite the
role of confirmation bias, the ‘scientific method’ is the major consensus when
attaining knowledge, because, without it, any scientific study is considered
fallible. Although it could be argued that the obligation to conduct the
scientific method makes disagreement inherent to the natural sciences, a scientific claim that survives scrutiny
entails deeper recognition instead of mere accommodation of an easy or perhaps
weak consensus.

 

According to
Karl Popper’s concept of falsifiability, a hypothesis needs to be “disprovable
before it can become accepted as a scientific theory’. The theory of evolution
is an example that gradually came to receive overwhelming acceptance in the
scientific community. Despite initial opposition, Charles Darwin was able to
convince the scientific community that species did undergo evolution. Darwin’s
book On the Origin of Species (1859),
convinced most scientists that evolution is an empirically testable hypothesis.
With the wealth of evidence from fossils obtained through carbon dating and evidence
from genetics, Darwin substantiated his reasoning and refute competing
theories. On the contrary, Thomas Kuhn introduced ‘normal science’, which
beckons scientists to elaborate more within their central paradigm. Rather than
finding ways to refute scientific theories, Kuhn finds ways to explain existing
anomalies. The ‘string-theory’ exemplifies a valid scientific theory that is
non-falsifiable. Atoms, instead of having zero-dimensional models are
‘one-dimensional string-like entities’. By merging existing paradigms such as
Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, it provides a better
understanding of events at the Big Bang. However, Kuhn’s view largely restricts
any potential data that might question the central paradigm. Since the ultimate
goal in the field of science is to discover the closer truth, Popper’s theory
is more promising. Popper constantly challenges dominant scientific theories and
prompts science to discover better solutions, hence allowing it to become progressive.
Thus, in the process of attaining robust knowledge, Popper’s
falsification is an integral part of a scientific method to test the legitimacy
of most scientific hypothesis, and separating those that have little claim,
those that are ‘less robust’.

 

To attain robust knowledge in History is to
establish claims as objectively as possible. While both fields of natural
science and history are grounded on cold hard evidence that becomes ‘facts’,
‘alternative facts’ in history do not exist. There are alternative
interpretations; history capitalizes on various perceptions, for example, orthodox
or post-revisionist views assembled together to reach a comprehensive outlook of
past events. While robust knowledge in the natural sciences are considered to
be the ‘closer truth’, there is no absolute truth in history for readers could
often side with one school of thought over another.

 

Historians largely rely on the language used
in historical accounts as a WOK to reach conclusions. The use of language in
the knowledge production process is inherent to relativism,
hence may influence bias when delivering critical universal knowledge. Such is
the conflict when uncovering robustness in history as language can become a
powerful tool in manipulating interpretations through vehicles such as propaganda.
Wars and revolutions cannot be observed or reproduced under laboratory
conditions and do not rely on Sense Perception as a WOK as heavily as the
natural sciences. According to Alexander Kerensky, a minister in Russia’s
Provisional Government in 1917, the Kornilov Affair was a military coup d’état
staged by General Kornilov to oust the government. Kerensky’s claim, published
in his book two years after, became a widespread view. While memory plays an important role in the acquisition of knowledge, one
cannot disregard that one’s belief can potentially shape or even contaminate
the way we remember past events. How reliable is one’s episodic memory in contributing
to the robustness of a historical knowledge? Eight decades later, a
highly credible historian, Richard Pipes, partially accommodated and opposed Kerensky’s
view. The release of the Soviet archives in 1991, allowed many to recognize
Kerensky’s true intentions and thus altered their views. In this way, disagreement, preferably those extracted
from historical facts, significantly refines the knowledge’s intractability. Crediting
Kerensky’s opinion and simultaneously using highly substantiated reasoning to
come to a conclusion, shows how history centers around objectivity, in which both
consensus and disagreement allows historians to achieve the most robust
knowledge as possible.

 

 There
are also instances where disagreement and consensus lead to weak knowledge. For
example, under Suharto’s regime, propaganda was excessively utilized to idolize
Suharto as the savior of the nation. Although “Suharto as a superb ruler” was the
thought reflected in the 1970s, it cannot be qualified as a robust historical
claim. His authoritarian rule over Indonesian’s education and civil society
obliterated any potential support or criticism, thus presenting audiences with
a one-sided knowledge. Since publication systems were controlled by the
government, little historical evidence accounts for his reign. This indicates
how language and memory can either help the interpretation of historical facts
or distort them (if it contains excessive nationalism or bias for example).

 

            Since both natural sciences and history rely on
disagreement and consensus to acquire robust knowledge, they lend themselves to
shared knowledge. Euan Semple asserts that “Knowledge has to be shared to have
value.” Personal knowledge in comparison to shared knowledge often lacks a
robust justification and thus cannot proceed to become robust knowledge. I
might acknowledge that Hitler was the most ruthless authoritarian, but, without
adequate evidence to verify this belief, can this become robust knowledge?

 

Just as scientists derive
personal knowledge from the observations of their experiment, historians gain
personal knowledge from their primary resources. Paul Dirac’s discovery on the
equation for the electron was influenced by his shared knowledge of Wolfgang
Pauli’s non-relativistic spin systems. However, Dirac’s discovery had to
be validated first by scientists from various backgrounds to be accepted in the
scientific community. Similarly, during
the first world war, Fischer’s thesis claimed that Germany was guilty of
causing the European war. By submitting his personal knowledge to the world, adjustments
were made through disagreements and negotiations. Instead of fully crediting
Germany as the criminal, revisionists favored an explanation that war was
caused by deep-rooted forces of imperialism, nationalism, militarism that inevitably
pushed Europe into war. Rather than entirely rejecting or accepting the
knowledge, shared knowledge allows personal knowledge to advance, and become
more robust. Hence, group verification is imperative because it provides
an exterior standard by which to judge whether one’s impressions are correct.

 

The birth of robust
knowledge comes from rigorous examinations and balances, and not beliefs. But
there are also instances where shared knowledge does not lead to robust
knowledge. Since personal knowledge is driven by intuition, it largely
restricts knowledge from being socially established. J.J. Thomson’s
disagreement with Dalton’s atomic theory that atoms were the smallest particle
was not fully accepted until he was able to substantiate his personal knowledge
through the discovery of the electron, a smaller particle that derived from
cathode ray tubes. However, it is certainly arguable since shared knowledge
influences personal knowledge.

 

Overall,
there are many claims in science and history which are wrong. That is perfectly
acceptable; they are the aperture to discover the ‘closer truth’. Both AOKs are
a self-correcting process. For knowledge to become robust, emerging ideas must withstand
the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny.

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