Scientific Method in Decline? (via The Finch and Pea)

OK, so the piece that prompted it was a bit silly, but this is an excellent riposte.

Scientific Method in Decline? Jonah Leher in The New Yorker about the slipperiness of the scientific method: "The Truth Wears Off: Is There Something Wrong With The Scientific Method?" The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. Replicability is how the community enforces itself. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. Most of the time, scientists know what results they want, and that can influence the results they get. The premise … Read More

via The Finch and Pea

4 Responses to “Scientific Method in Decline? (via The Finch and Pea)”

  1. Garret Cotter Says:

    It’s crass, it’s cheap, it’s badly drawn, it contains a “gendered” scare-word.
    But, wow, when you see some of the relativist guff that appears nowadays*, you just want to mace people with this cartoon. Long may it reign.

    * Like the Midgely stuff in CiF last week – why oh why, in 400-odd comments, did nobody think to say “Mary, isn’t your story a myth too?”

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      What did Mary Midgeley say and where, please? To my knoweldge she is pro-science and insistent only that science not overstep its bounds, which responsible scientists would agree with. (It is the irresponsible ones, and science journalists who leave out the caveats, who give us a bad name.)

      The riposte to Leher is great – one graph tells 1000 words.

  2. Garret Cotter Says:

    But how do we know where the bounds of science lie, lest we over-step them?

    Mary Midgeley’s point, as I took it, was that all human intellectual endeavour is framed against a background of myths. It seems obvious to me that this argument fails instantly on self-referential grounds. However the editing of the interview was pretty sloppy – and of course the comments immediately descended into polarised straw-man shouting.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’ve found the video interview. Her main target in it is a specific point regarding Dawkins’ rhetoric, and the video is the latest salvo in a battle that has gone on between the two for years. I agree with Midgelely (and David Stove, incidentally) that Dawkins consistently writes AS IF genes have volition, and then when accused of it promptly denies it. Scientifically speaking, his “selfish gene” interpretation of the neo-Darwinian synthesis of natural selection and genetics seems to me to neglect the fact that competition goes on at every level: betwen species, between organisms, within organisms for resources carried by blood, and indeed between genes – but not exclusively so. He was a controversialist in his own field long before he started shouting about things that he knows no more than anybody else about. Of course he has a good written style and a lot of energy, which partly account for why he has come to prominence.

    As for Midgeley’s point that people invariably live their lives to a background belief/narrative/faith (yes, they’re all the same – faith does not necessarily mean in a god): I think that this is, observationally, correct. Modernist Enlightened society believes that man is perfectible by his own means, specifically social engineering (and that its disasters to date, such as the French Revolution and communism, were simply the wrong kind of social engineering). Before that, the belief in Europe was that man was perfectible only by divine cleansing. Post-modernist post-Enlightened society, since roughly the 1960s, believes that there is no such thing as truth (and is consequently anti-science). That really is nonsense on self-referential grounds.

    I’ve now also read Leher’s piece, and I find that Finch-and-pea (great title!) misrepresents him. There is no mysticism there, and Leher is basically saying that *more* replication is needed – far from denying its value! The problems always seem to occur with statistically small effects in the ‘soft’ sciences where it is difficult to control for other variables. I suggest that doing stats properly (ie, the Bayesian way of RT Cox/ET Jaynes) would be a good remedy. Leher understands the problems of small samples, selective publication of postiive results, and even problems with conventional significance testing, as well as the inadequacy of Popper’s falsifiability view.

    I do not agree with the quote from Feynman quoted by Pea-and-finch: “Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question — to doubt — to not be sure.”

    Apart from heliocentrism (which is not in the Bible but had got tacked onto it), for which Galileo was threatened with torture (for which I believe Pope Urban VIII will have to answer to a God who detests it), could Feynman give any other example from any part of science? Science was generally encouraged by the authorities. Certainly it grew up in a milieu which believed that patterns existed in nature which man could perceive. This seems obvious to us today, but it is denied by monist faiths. Feynman is right that science proceeds by questioning its results, but wrong that science is based on doubt. It is based on faith that the universe IS comprehensible; that scientific laws exist and are universally valid.


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