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richard moody jr

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Is the scientific method the best way to get at the "truth"?

In their preface of Broad and Wade the following paragraph sums up their findings, “Our conclusion, in brief, is that science bears little resemblance to its conventional portrait. We believe that the logical structure discernible in scientific knowledge says nothing about the process by which the structure was built or the mentality of the builders. In the acquisition of new knowledge, scientists are not guided by logic and objectivity alone, but also by such nonrational factors as rhetoric, propaganda, and personal prejudice. Scientists do not depend solely on rational thought and have no monopoly on it. Science should not be considered the guardian of rationality in society, but merely one major form of its cultural expression.”

What we learn from Babbage, Reflections of the Decline of Science in England, and Some of Its Causes that as early as the 1830 ethical problems existed in the halls of science. Babbage refers to three practices, “Trimming consists in clipping off little bits here and there from those observations which differ most in excess of the mean, and in sticking them on to those which are too small; a species of ‘equitable adjustment’ as a radical would term it, which cannot be admitted in science.”

In this section “Of Cooking. This is an art of various forms, the object of which is to give to ordinary observations the appearance and character of those of the highest degree of accuracy.” “One of its numerous processes is to make multitudes of observations, and out of these to select those which agree, or very nearly agree. If a hundred observations are made, the cook must be very unlucky if he cannot pick out fifteen or twenty which will do for serving up.” Here Babbage anticipated trials conducted or financed by drug companies where unfavorable or neutral results are shelved and only the tests giving the “right” results are published. This process is systemic in the pharmaceutical industry.

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    Dec 19 2013: Hi Richard I suggest it is useful to consider the warts and all of science, not idealise it

    I work for an industrial research facility so see practical science in it's every day glory from a business driven perspective.

    however, aiming to follow the ideals of the scientific method, even with the inevitable human frailties and complexities at the edges of science, the process of modern science has delivered a lot in a few hundred years both amazing and terrifying.

    compare this to 100,000 years of not following the scientific method.
    • Dec 19 2013: 100,000 years!? A little exaggeration I assume.
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        Dec 19 2013: Ehm no, that's the low end of the estimate for how long our species have existed.
        • Dec 19 2013: Yea, because they just discovered a bone which dates back to over 400,000 years. Only a variance of 300,000 years. As I state early scientific progress is just a frame of reference.

          "however, aiming to follow the ideals of the scientific method, even with the inevitable human frailties and complexities at the edges of science, the process of modern science has delivered a lot in a few hundred years both amazing and terrifying. compare this to 100,000 years of not following the scientific method."

          It just sounds like a pompous statement with no real evidence. If we were just advance sometime during that duration common materials such as plastics, other materials it is estimated to these types of items would decompose within an estimated 600 years minus glass which is about 1 million. Most of our common structures found only date back 5,000 years. It hard to say what kind of technologies or advancements they could have had. Haven't you seen the show a "World without humans."
    • Dec 19 2013: You kind of have to draw a distinction between applied research and basic research; having worked in a basic research establishment (about the only research I have done as applied research was studying a site for the storage of high-level radioactive waste at sea and doing a geohazard assessment of the outer continental shelf for oil exploration) you have a little more latitude in terms of research.

      I guess my primary criticism of the scientific method is the large number of icons who presumably profess to follow the scientific method who do just the opposite. Einstein had good intuition, but was too willing to accept data that confirmed his theories without challenging it. Charles Lane Poor, Professor Emeritus of Celestial Mechanics at Columbia Univeristy, didn't believe in general relativity. He wrote an article (Poor, C.L. 1930. “The Deflection of Light as Observed at Total Solar Eclipses,” J. Opt. Soc. Amer., 20, 173-211) that showed beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Eclipse data of 1919 was fraudulent, yet Einstein preferred to rely on his friend Eddington. Einstein had to have known of the article (Obviously if I can find it 80 years later, he could find it!) and that the Eclipse data in 1922 was just as unreliable as the 1919 data.

      I regard Einstein as a dilettante and mathematician, not a scientist.

      True scientists laboring unseen in the trenches are the "real" scientists One of my best friends is a recipient of a Life Time Achievement Award from the Geological Society of American. He is a "scientist's scientist". He has done everything you can think of--basic research, spectacular teacher (he was the only teacher who ever gave me a C in geology!), advisor to countless graduate students, participated in many committees, was in charge of funding or not funding research projects in funding agencies, and, even now at 80, is fighting to maintain standards of excellence in academic standards at SUNY at Albany.

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