Psychology and Science: Answers to practice questions session 4
1. Lakatos and Research Programs
1. What is the structure of a research program? Describe the role of each part.
A research program (RP) consists of two parts: the hard core and the
protective belt. The hard core represents the fundamental ideas of the RP.
The scientists involved in the RP will hold on to the hard core even if there
are problems associated with it. The protective belt is a set of assisting
hypotheses that are aimed to protect the hard core. So, if there are problems
with the hard core (e.g., certain observations do not seem to agree with it),
the protective belt can be used to account for (solve) these problems.
2. What is a positive heuristics of the research program of Lakatos?
The positive heuristics of the research program (RP) helps the RP to develop
and grow. So, it consists of the development of new methods and techniques
that would help the RP. It also consists of the development of additional
hypotheses in the protective belt that would help to protect the hard core. It
also consists of methods and ideas to expand the RP, to incorporate more
phenomena and to generate more (new) predictions. (It is called 'positive'
heuristics to contrast it with the 'negative' heuristics of an RP. The latter is
what the scientists are supposed not to do in a RP. In particular, they are
supposed not to question or modify the hard core of the RP.)
3. What is the effect of the discovery of the prion on the research program of infection
Since Semmelweis, the research program (RP) of infection disease consists
of the idea that an infection disease results from an 'infection' by some kind
of particle. Based on the work of Pasteur, Koch and others it became clear
that these particles (or pathogens) would consist of bacteria (as in the case
of the puerperal fever investigated by Semmelweis), viruses (e.g., HIV,
Corona) or parasites (as with the disease malaria). Later, the discovery of
DNA made clear how these pathogens could multiply. So, at that point the
hard core of the RP consisted of two ideas: pathogens are the cause of
infection diseases, and they can multiple (hence spread the infection)
because of their genetic material (DNA, RNA). The discovery of the prion as
the cause of diseases like the 'mad-cow' disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob (C-J)
disease questioned the hard core of the RP. In particular, it questioned
whether genetic material in a pathogen is needed to spread the disease.
4. What is the difference between a ‘progressive’ research program and a 'degenerating’
The difference between a ‘progressive’ research program (RP) and a
'degenerating’ RP is that the first is an RP that grows. That is, it can improve
itself by being able to handle the problems it has in a better way, and it can
generate new predictions, e.g., to expand its domain of research. A
'degenerating’ RP cannot do this. It can cope with the advances of a
competing a ‘progressive’ RP only after the fact. For example, when the
‘progressive’ RP makes a new discovery that is in line with its program, the
'degenerating’ RP has to come up afterwards with 'ad hoc' hypotheses to
show that this discovery is also in line with its program.
5. Why would Feyerabend refer to Lakatos as 'my fel ow anarchist in disguise?
Feyerabend claims that there is no methodology for science that would show
how science should operate, and that would show how science could make
progress. Lakatos claims that the difference between a ‘progressive’ research
program (RP) and a 'degenerating’ RP does give a measure of scientific
progress: the ‘progressive’ RP is better than the 'degenerating’ RP, and the
latter should eventually disappear. However, the problem with this measure
of progress is in the word 'eventually'. There is no hard time limit on that.
So, a 'degenerating’ RP could continue, despite its current difficulties, in the
hope that at some moment in the future it will improve. Hence, the
difference between a ‘progressive’ RP and a 'degenerating’ RP is not a hard
measure of scientific success (progress), because the proponents of a
'degenerating’ RP could continue as long as they like. Feyerabend argues
that this is not really better that "anything goes". So, according to
Feyerabend, Lakatos is just as much an anarchist as he is.
6. How could the behaviorism of Watson and Skinner be described as a research
program? What is the problem that arose with this research program?
Behaviorism of Watson and Skinner can be described as a research program
(RP), in which the hard core is the idea that behavior results from learning.
In particular, forms of conditioning in which either a familiar form of behavior
is produced by a new stimulus (as in classical conditioning) or a new form of
behavior results from reinforcement (operant conditioning). Part of the hard
core is the notion that a human (the brain or mind) is seen as a 'black box'.