Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Science is a method, not a white coat. . .

I was listening to Alex Tsakiris today and uncharacteristically found myself disagreeing a bit with him. He was talking to Stephen Novella and kept saying to Stephen "You're a scientist" and "I'm not a scientist" and "I'm just a layman".

The problem with that is that science is a verb, not a noun. A method, not a position. So anyone can be practicing science, or failing to practice science, at any particular time. A white coat and the honorific "doctor" in front of our name and many years spent in a medieval-style apprenticeship resulting in a fancy certificate doesn't mean that we are approaching a phenomenon scientifically, and lacking those qualifications doesn't mean we are failing to use the scientific method.

Indeed it seems clear to me that often those educated in science and paid to do it approach the topic of psi phenomena in the least scientific way imaginable. Confirmation bias is ubiquitous, and all of us are susceptible to it. Never forget that!

I have another small quibble with Alex's comments today and I will post on it soon. . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good points. Here is a priceless quote from David Berlinski:

"… You don’t believe that …

DB: You mean about the scientific method? Certainly I do. Where science has a method, it is trivial – look carefully, cut the cards, weigh the evidence, don’t let yourself be fooled, do an experiment if you can. These are principles of kennel management as well as quantum theory. Where science isn’t trivial, it has no method. What method did Einstein follow, or Pauli, or KekulĂ©? KekulĂ© saw the ring structure of benzene in what he called a waking dream. Some method."


Here is another great quote:

"Mr. Jochnowitz's description of the scientific method fails adequately to distinguish between, say, advances in quantum physics and instruction in golf. Both are a matter of "observing, drawing conclusions based on observation, testing those conclusions, and reconsidering them in the light of further observations." Yet no one would urge the inclusion of Greg Norman's Ten Steps to Better Golf among texts dealing with the physical sciences. Another way of putting this: although there are any number of scientific practices, science has no more method than love."