Quote of the Day: Speculation and Facts

 

“Speculation must wait upon the facts.” — June Downey, psychologist

June Downey was an American psychologist who worked in the areas of personality and handwriting. But that’s not important right now. What is important is that I ran across this quotation and really have a bone to pick with it. Of course, the quotation was totally out of context, so it may not mean the same thing in context, and I may make a fool of myself. Nevertheless, come have a seat and hold my beer. In fact, you can drink the beer. I never touch the stuff.

Speculation must wait upon the facts? The world is already filled with facts. One would never have the urge to speculate, unless one has facts. “There’s something in the sky that is moving in an odd way? I wonder what that is. Could it be an insect? A bird? A plane? Underdog?” That thing in the sky is a fact. Or at least one’s believing that one sees it is a fact. Thus one speculates. One creates a series of hypotheses and tests them against one’s knowledge, one’s database of facts in one’s head. Or, one conducts other measurements and captures data. But one is already speculating, or one would not know what to measure to add more facts.

The scientific method is all about speculating before one has all the facts. One has one fact or series of facts. There is a phenomenon that is currently unexplained by accepted theory. That is a fact. But the next step is the “I wonder why” step. (That’s speculation, June!) One comes up with at least one hypothesis to test that might solve the mystery of the phenomenon. Once one has one or more hypotheses, one designs tests to determine more facts to try to prove or disprove the various hypotheses. In science, these tests are called experiments. Then we run the experiments to gather more facts and cut down our possible speculations. Of course, there is much more to it than that. The experiments have to give valid measurements to test the hypothesis. The hypothesis needs to be falsifiable. And there is much, much more. But the point is that Speculation, also known as hypothesis formation, comes before the facts, or experimentation. The general steps of the scientific method are something like this:

  1. Observe – Find a question that you think isn’t answered.
  2. Research – Ensure the question isn’t answered and try to learn more about the surrounding circumstances and, yes, facts that already exist.
  3. Hypothesize – Speculate. It’s better to come up with multiple hypotheses in a brain-storming session and then choose the most likely to test first, but if you only have one, go with what you’ve got.
  4. Experiment – Get the facts that you couldn’t wait on because you’re creating new information.
  5. Analyze – Check the new facts to see if the hypothesis being tested seems to work to solve the question.
  6. Conclude – Determine if you have solved the mystery with the new facts.
  7. If the hypothesis fails, go back to Hypothesize, or to the Experiment Step if you already have other hypotheses to test.

You have to speculate before all of the facts have come in.

This concludes my Ted Talk.

Ever run into a quotation and think, That ain’t right? What was it?

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  1. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    “You can’t accumulate unless you speculate” — the croupier who walked off with all my money.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):

    “You can’t accumulate unless you speculate” — the croupier who walked off with all my money.

    In that case, you can’t lose if you don’t speculate, either.

    • #2
  3. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll
    @DavidCarroll

    I agree that the quotation makes no sense (absent any context).  Speculation always precedes facts.  Until one has facts, one may only speculate.  Speculation always comes first.  Once one has the facts, speculation should be abandoned.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    David Carroll (View Comment):

    I agree that the quotation makes no sense (absent any context). Speculation always precedes facts. Until one has facts, one may only speculate. Speculation always comes first. Once one has the facts, speculation should be abandoned.

    Unless new facts raise other questions, and then the cycle repeats. And we get grants and have good jobs for life.

    • #4
  5. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll
    @DavidCarroll

    Maybe a better formulation would be “Speculation should always defer to facts.”

    • #5
  6. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    David Carroll (View Comment):

    Maybe a better formulation would be “Speculation should always defer to facts.”

    But only the facts we speculate in advance that we’ll really need. That way we can keep the grant money coming in.

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    You will from time to time come up with hypotheses that can’t be tested. Put them in a box somewhere. You should check the box periodically, once new facts become available. Subsequent events may lead to throwing a few of them out. Sometimes, the new facts will suggest an experiment in which case the game is once again afoot.

    I read through what was eventually designated as “the Steele Dossier” when it became available. I hypothesized that I was reading the outline of an extraordinarily bad spy novel. (I’ve written enough of those to recognize them.)  Think “Eric Ambler after too much port”, “Frederick Forsyth when the Scotch supply is running low”, “John le Carré on crack” or “Robert Ludlum.”

    That hypothesis has been overcome by events.

    • #7
  8. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Percival (View Comment):
    I hypothesized that I was reading the outline of an extraordinarily bad spy novel. (I’ve written enough of those to recognize them.)

    Maybe we should focus on the parenthetical part. Maybe you should share those in the Pit or something.

    • #8
  9. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    My brain must be fried from overwork. I read that exactly the opposite way, that it meant speculation just sits there being speculation until the facts come along to prove it or disprove it.

    I wonder why I read it that way. Huh. It must have something to do with what I was reading just before I read that.

    Great post. :-)

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MarciN (View Comment):

    My brain must be fried from overwork. I read that exactly the opposite way, that it meant speculation just sits there being speculation until the facts come along to prove it or disprove it.

    I wonder why I read it that way. Huh. It must have something to do with what I was reading just before I read that.

    Great post. :-)

    Well then my brain must be fried, too. I read it like you did. So we’re in this together, Marci!

    • #10
  11. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    My brain must be fried from overwork. I read that exactly the opposite way, that it meant speculation just sits there being speculation until the facts come along to prove it or disprove it.

    I wonder why I read it that way. Huh. It must have something to do with what I was reading just before I read that.

    Great post. :-)

    Well then my brain must be fried, too. I read it like you did. So we’re in this together, Marci!

    The human mind is a really interesting place. :-)

    I wish the rest of the post could be condensed for a bumper sticker. It is knowledge that has been lost for some reason. It presents an order of operations that made the world turn for a couple of thousand years. :-)

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Maybe in context it means that the unwashed deplorables should wait until the proper facts and speculations are fed to them. 

    • #12
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Maybe in context it means that the unwashed deplorables should wait until the proper facts and speculations are fed to them. 

    That’s a speculation by the way. 

    • #13
  14. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    I hypothesized that I was reading the outline of an extraordinarily bad spy novel. (I’ve written enough of those to recognize them.)

    Maybe we should focus on the parenthetical part. Maybe you should share those in the Pit or something.

    • #14
  15. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    More of the destruction of our language, and with it our ability to think.  We can no longer share the mind of those who came before.

    In this case, to wait upon [~] means to be the servant of [~].  This quote means not to idle until facts render speculation unnecessary.  It means that when facts do arrive, it is the duty of speculation to comport with these newly-discovered facts.

    No contradiction.  Just the collapse of our diction.

    • #15
  16. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll
    @DavidCarroll

    The scary thing to me is how many people allow speculation to become their facts (not actual facts). This seems to be particularly true when when there is a racial component, for example, the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown situations and many others when the speculators’ false facts became the believed facts even after the actual facts became public.

    • #16
  17. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    I hypothesized that I was reading the outline of an extraordinarily bad spy novel. (I’ve written enough of those to recognize them.)

    Maybe we should focus on the parenthetical part. Maybe you should share those in the Pit or something.

    Or on the Member Feed.

    • #17
  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I read that exactly the opposite way, that it meant speculation just sits there being speculation until the facts come along to prove it or disprove it.

    That may be what she meant. As I said, I didn’t have context for it.

    • #18
  19. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    MarciN (View Comment):
    It presents an order of operations that made the world turn for a couple of thousand years.

    Couple of hundred, really. Only since about 1600. And the exact method, it could be argued was framed in the 1800’s.

    • #19
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    BDB (View Comment):
    In this case, to wait upon ~ means to be the servant of ~.  This quote means not to idle until facts render speculation unnecessary, but that when facts arrive, it is the duty of speculation to comport with these newly-discovered facts.

    I had considered this, but I still think I would quibble with it in that meaning.

    • #20
  21. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Arahant (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):
    In this case, to wait upon ~ means to be the servant of ~. This quote means not to idle until facts render speculation unnecessary, but that when facts arrive, it is the duty of speculation to comport with these newly-discovered facts.

    I had considered this, but I still think I would quibble with it in that meaning.

    Of course.

    • #21
  22. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    BDB (View Comment):
    Of course.

    Not as much as some people I could think of, though.

    • #22
  23. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Arahant (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):
    Of course.

    Not as much as some people I could think of, though.

    A quibble upon a quibble, then.

    • #23
  24. Nanocelt TheContrarian Member
    Nanocelt TheContrarian
    @NanoceltTheContrarian

    The wonderful thing about Science is that you get such a wholesale return of speculation for such a meager investment of fact.

    you know who.

    • #24
  25. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    Very nice explantion of the scientific method.  Intuition is perhaps the most important component of all this as it helps the scientist to speculate efficiently.  Observation is also important in evaluating an experiment’s result.  Often we learn more from failure than we do from validating an anticipated result.  Intuition is where the true intellect lies.  I’m often frustrated by folks who claim something is fact because their casual and circumstantial observations, however fleeting, reinforce a presumption.  Unless a theory can be proposed and validated experimentally, it remains speculation.  Worse yet, there are those who claim such facts  while discounting or ignoring contrary observations.  That is not just unscientific, it is fraudulent, like altering the results of a failed experiment to validate an unsound theory.  Bias is the bane of the scientific method and consensus plays no part in it.

    Thanks for this lively topic!

    • #25
  26. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate on this one.  My source is Arthur Conan Doyle.  Admittedly, Doyle was just an author, but perhaps you will find some of the the words that he put into the mouth of Sherlock Holmes to be convincing.

    This is from A Scandal In Bohemia:

    I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce from it?

    The assumption in the OP is that people will act as neutral observers, able to speculate and hypothesize without becoming emotionally committed to a particular hypothesis.  Most people don’t seem to behave in this way.

    The very act of having formed a speculation or hypothesis may alter one’s perception of the facts or data.  

    • #26
  27. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):
    Bias is the bane of the scientific method and consensus plays no part in it.

    Preach it, brother! Amen.

    • #27
  28. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    The assumption in the OP is that people will act as neutral observers, able to speculate and hypothesize without becoming emotionally committed to a particular hypothesis.  Most people don’t seem to behave in this way.

    That is not an assumption. That is a requirement of science. Otherwise, you’re pretty much doing religion. And if you know anything about the history of science, you’ll know that all of the science we are familiar with has been done by humans, and humans tend to be very religious. There are a few honest scientists out there, but most are not and cannot be. And never forget that Atheism is a religion. Wokeism is a religion. “Climate change” is a religion. People call a lot of opinions “science,” but that doesn’t make it so.

    • #28
  29. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    The assumption in the OP is that people will act as neutral observers, able to speculate and hypothesize without becoming emotionally committed to a particular hypothesis. Most people don’t seem to behave in this way.

    That is not an assumption. That is a requirement of science. Otherwise, you’re pretty much doing religion. And if you know anything about the history of science, you’ll know that all of the science we are familiar with has been done by humans, and humans tend to be very religious. There are a few honest scientists out there, but most are not and cannot be. And never forget that Atheism is a religion. Wokeism is a religion. “Climate change” is a religion. People call a lot of opinions “science,” but that doesn’t make it so.

    I think that Jerry is speaking about lay argument (so to speak) rather than science itself.  Hope so.  Science calls this confirmation bias, and well-designed experiments have controls built in.  The rest of us hear the results and if we like the results, we say “Yah, SCIENCE, biscuits!”

    • #29
  30. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    BDB (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    The assumption in the OP is that people will act as neutral observers, able to speculate and hypothesize without becoming emotionally committed to a particular hypothesis. Most people don’t seem to behave in this way.

    That is not an assumption. That is a requirement of science. Otherwise, you’re pretty much doing religion. And if you know anything about the history of science, you’ll know that all of the science we are familiar with has been done by humans, and humans tend to be very religious. There are a few honest scientists out there, but most are not and cannot be. And never forget that Atheism is a religion. Wokeism is a religion. “Climate change” is a religion. People call a lot of opinions “science,” but that doesn’t make it so.

    I think that Jerry is speaking about lay argument (so to speak) rather than science itself. Hope so. Science calls this confirmation bias, and well-designed experiments have controls built in. The rest of us hear the results and if we like the results, we say “Yah, SCIENCE, biscuits!”

    Even in science, it can be a problem.

    Not speculating can cause problems.  Speculating can cause other problems.  As with many things in life, I don’t think that there’s a hard-and-fast rule.  Sometimes, it’s best not to speculate.  Other times, it’s prudent to speculate, cautiously.

    • #30
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