Perhaps the original disagreement is an interpretive one?
Extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence
I see two interpretations in particular (of course, correct me if I'm wrong here...)
One interpretation of this is that the extraordinary claim is one that must overcome skepticism; it appears in conflict to current, orthodox modes of interpretation and as such there is a reluctance to accept it (e.g. the yellow shoes example, telepathy etc).
Should such a claim ever acquire sufficient extraordinary evidence to be accepted then it could be argued that not only was the skepticism misplaced, it was also damaging to the development of our understanding. At best it delays our understanding of certain things, at worst it hides things from our understanding.
This is the interpretation I would go with, myself, but I would disagree that the skepticism was misplaced. It might be wrong, but still entirely justifiable. I think high levels of skepticism regarding extraordinary claims (i.e. those which contradict a large amount of established knowledge, and/or lack any sort of theoretical underpinning to connect them to established knowledge) is necessary, and healthy. Science should be (and generally is) open-minded, but it can't be a free-for-all. The number of extraordinary claims out there is very high (although the number of them with any sort of quantifiable evidence to support them in any way is much, much smaller). I think it's entirely reasonable for science, as a body, to require substantial proof that there is anything worth investigating, before scarce resources, lab time, etc. gets spent on what historical experience tells us is almost certainly chasing after moonshine. Most scientific advances do not come from existing theories being completely overturned by some revolutionary new idea, but from existing theories being gradually refined.
I'm not sure that there are many examples of any extraordinary claims which are shut out from mainstream scientific research because they are being held to an unfairly high standard of evidence. I know that there have been some curious statistics produced by some experiments into what are claimed to be psychic phenomena (although if you read The Men Who Stare at Goats
, you'll see there have also been tons of time, effort and money chasing after crackpottery); I also know that, on occasion, a few mainstream scientists who have expressed an interest in these curious statistics have had their careers more or less blighted. As a human undertaking, science is naturally prone to human failings (envy, greed, ambition, fraud, etc.), and it inevitably falls short of its ideals. Max Planck once said, "Science advances one funeral at a time": the Old Guard are resistant to new ideas, which threaten to render their lives' work irrelevant. But science has also been plagued by dozens, if not hundreds, of charlatans, especially in the fields of medicine and in psychic research; humans are a lot trickier to study than gases or even electrons. Open-mindedness is a virtue, to a degree, but there have to be quality controls. Mental hygiene is important!
spud42 wrote:I can envisage in 400 years someone saying EXACTLY the same thing about our current level of science.. which was my one and only point.
No, I don't think they would. Science - the scientific approach - in the modern sense didn't really exist in Shakespeare's day (although it was just starting to come into vogue). The modern scientific, empirical, experimental approach - observing, recording, hyopthesising, testing, recording; the requirement for quantifiable and verifiable data - will be the same in 400 years (assuming a continuity of civilisation). That's what science is; that's what works. It's an approach to the study of the universe, not a body of knowledge. 400 years from now, a technological, scientific society won't have a different way of doing science. They'll have a larger body of knowledge, and better equipment and techniques, but the scientific approach will be the same. Because that's what works.
In Shakespearean times, the academic approach was very different. For example, they didn't need to go and count the lobes on a human liver: they knew there were five, because that's what was implied by reading the ancient Greek physician Galen. Even though there are quite clearly only four lobes on the human liver, everyone went with five, because of what Galen had said more than a thousand years before. Observation and quantifiable data didn't matter: Galen was an Ancient Authority, and therefore what he said was true.
Galileo, who has a fair claim to be regarded as the first modern scientist, spent much of his time performing difficult mathematical calculations in order to cast horoscopes for the Medici. It was a massive waste of time, and he had to spend more time explaining why his horoscopes failed to match up with the way reality actually turned out - but people bought it, because everyone knew that astrology was true because it was handed down by the ancients (even though it had recently been gussied up with some fancier mathematics). Theirs was largely a magical, not a scientific, worldview.