> I remember having my own struggles with "the Scientific Method."
> Knowing what it is, how to use it, how it could encompass such
> wildly different thinkers as Einstein and Mendel, and how something
> with so much intrinsic power (I finally decided it had that in
> abundance) could give rise to so much...well, as you said, crap, in
> journals, etc.
There is a good book about this:
Bauer, Henry H. 1992. Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the
Scientific Method. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL.
One of Bauer's main points is that the power of science, lies not so
much in an ideal method as in efficient, iterative institutional systems
for sifting and winnowing knowledge. An individual scientist is too
ego-involved, and simply too fallible, to come up with reliable
information alone. All the time (and it is worse in the industry)
people go through the motions of the "scientific method" and come up
with (IMO) strangely biased and warped findings (This variety of crap
comes from being insufficiently self-critical).
In egalitarian associations with a modicum of trust and familiarity,
these things get corrected, and by the time the information gets into
textbooks, it is pretty reliable. When allegiance to authority (or
ideology) is stronger than the desire for truth, the winnowing fails to
occur (IMO, this can be a problem in the activist communities). One of
my favorite quotes from Karl Popper is: "I hold that orthodoxy is the
death of knowledge, since the growth of knowledge depends entirely on
the existence of disagreement." (The Myth of the Framework: In defence
of science and rationality).
> Could you tell us what you mean when you say science? And perhaps
> what you mean when you talk about good science?
Consciousness always involves the fitting of sense impressions into a
conceptual framework based on remembered experience. At it's core,
science is nothing more than this activity extended to the community.
IMO, science is a special branch of history, and both history and
science are shared extensions of consciousness in time and space. This
is hammered out by critical discourse, amid all the foibles that humans
Good science is good puzzle-work. I admire people who come up with
innovative models, fitting the pieces of experience into large blocks of
coherent understanding. I admire those who are not bound by the
conventional wisdom (rejecting authority). And good science means
getting your ducks in order before you try to publish. It means trying
to prove yourself wrong before other people do. In agriculture, it
means creative and thoughtful experimental design.
> Finally, what do you mean by crap?
I guess I shouldn't have been so flippant. One persons crap is anothers
bread and butter! Here is a dramatic and public example: Remember the
methanol spraying debacle (the cold fusion of agronomic science)?
Several years ago, Nonomura discovered he could spray crops on his farm
with methanol and get huge yield increases (the data and photos were
truly breathtaking) and they had a convincing physiological model to
explain it. Instead of quietly submitting this to a refereed journal,
they held press conferences and began giving lectures across the
country. Next season eveybody tried it, and it didn't work, anywhere,
as far as I have heard. Now it is perfectly okay to be wrong, but they
should have replicated the work at more sites and years, and used
adequate controls (without the nitrogen and iron chelate) before
offering to save the human race! The winnowing did work though.
One common type of journal crap, is the practice of making one discovery
(back when you were sharp), and then milking it for 10 or 20 trivial
papers for a decade. Typical articles in second rate journals are
routinely ignored. It is hard to discover something important, but
you've got to fill those journals up with something, and as a professor
you got to get your 3 papers per year published in peer-reviewed
journals. If you look hard enough, you can find something to publish!
I hated this kind of pressure.
In spite of institutional shortcomings, discoveries are being made, and
people are amazingly creative. It may be messy, but it's a people
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