Double Helixes and Double Crosses (was: Favorite NON-fiction)

Tue Jan 28 13:57:54 PST 2003

> > So what are these other ways?
>I'm not a scientist, and haven't done a complete
>study of the subject.  It was brought up earlier
>by someone else here, and I've heard this before
>(I can't recall the examples given).
>However, just because I can't think up a better government
>than the one we have, doesn't mean the one we have doesn't
>need improvement (to use a different analogy).
>Can anyone here answer that question?  Anyone?  Hello?  Uh oh.
>I'm out on a limb with this one, I think.

I wouldn't say that there are ways that I would describe as an alternative 
to the standard method but, rather, that the standard method, as generally 
taught in school, is simultaneously an idealization and a simplification.

What you do see is a lot a variations of methodology, particularly between 
fields.  As I posted earlier, no one *really* expects theoretical physicists 
and field archaeologists to use the same methodology.

One particular aspect that is omitted in most educational courses is the 
importance of peer review.  This is a serious omission, in my opinion, 
because it fosters the kind of ignorance that inspires people who first come 
in contact with the peer review process to mistake it for nothing more than 
a popularity contest and to, therefore, infer that science is nothing more 
than another social construction generated by bland consensus.  There's 
actually a book out called "Constructing Quarks" that seriously advances 
this view.

Science, in the field and in the lab, is also a lot more messy than many 
people are prepared to believe.  Scientists have egos, just as much as any 
other group of professionals, and often stake their egos on particular 
opinions.  This leads to a lot of dirty fighting where various agendas are 
advanced not necessarily because of their objective merits but because they 
are a matter of reputation and opinion and that there are, in fact, 
fundamental differences in epistemological standards between scientists.

That said, the most important thing to understand about science, and the one 
thing that most laymen don't get, is that it is a self-corrective process.  
It does not always stride boldly forth on a straight and narrow path towards 
Truth, but it does, in spite of staggers to the left and right and, 
occasionally, backwards, advance all the same.

For a *really* good book on the sociological aspects of science, I would 
recommend Ullica Segerstrale's _Defenders of the Truth_ which documents the 
history of the sociobiology controversy.  I want to emphasize that this 
isn't the kind of postmodernist crap that is typical of most social studies 
of science in modern academia but is, in fact, a penetrating, scholarly, and 
even handed study of not only the controversy but of how science works in 
practice and not just in principle.  Just be warned that it is not light 

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