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

Tue Jan 28 18:07:10 PST 2003

Both the models presented below are too simplistic.  In my field (particle
physics) there are experimentalists who build machines just to see what's
out there and others who build machines to check theoretical predictions;
and theorists who make theories based on data and some who make theories
based on aesthetics.  I happen to be looking for something nobody
(including me) expects to find using an experiment designed to test a
30-year-old theory.  In biology I know of experiments driven by new
technology - a novel way to test the expression of many genes at once, say
- which have as an end result an undifferentiated pile of data for people
to sift through; and experiments designed to test some prediction of a
particular model of why sexuality exists.  Good science occupies the whole

- Philip

On Tue, 28 Jan 2003, Michael Barr wrote:

> Many (ok, nearly all) actual scientists would reverse 1 and 2 below.  In
> fact, they claim that it is impossible to gather data except in support of
> some--generally ill-formed--theory.  The reason is that there is simply
> too much data and there is no way of gathering all the data.  What you
> want is all the relevant data, but releveant to what?  Some theory.  For
> example, if you look at the Darwin finches, the relevant data are the
> sizes and shapes of their beaks.  Not the details of markings or length or
> shape of toenails or a myriad of other features that they differ in.  It
> is only when you formulate a theory that they evolved in response to the
> dietary niche that you realize the bills are the relevant data.
> In fact, I think that that is what the argument is about.  What is listed
> below is what you might learn in junior high and it is naively wrong.  Not
> a lie, since too many people--non-scientists--believe it.
> The best scientists start with the best theories and zero in on the
> crucial data.  Poor scientists flail around with inferior theories and
> then gather less relevant data.  In fact, data gathering and theory making
> really go on in parallel.
> Michael
> On Tue, 28 Jan 2003 Gaertk at aol.com wrote:
> > In a message dated 1/28/2003 4:46:21 PM Eastern Standard
> > Time, Chris Olson - SunPS <Chrisf.Olson at Sun.COM> writes:
> >
> > > But I'm curious: are you suggesting that scientists the
> > > world around use The Method as the ONLY way of research?
> > > That doesn't sound right to me, even if it is.  (And if it
> > > is, and it can be proved to me, I'd be tempted to change my
> > > opinion and join the other side.)
> >
> > Okay, just so we're talking about the same thing, this is
> > what I think of as the Scientific Method:
> >
> > 1. Gather data
> > 2. Form hypothesis
> > 3. Devise experiments to test hypothesis
> > 4. Compare results
> > 5. Revise hypothesis
> > 6. Repeat previous three steps until confident you're right
> > 7. Publish so other scientists can try to reproduce your
> > results and find holes in your assumptions and chain of
> > logic, etc.
> >
> > I'm pretty sure this was in fact taught to me in Jr. High
> > (with maybe a few simplifications, but that last step was
> > present).
> >
> > As to your question, no, there are "scientists" who don't
> > follow these steps, and for that reason I won't take them
> > seriously.
> >
> > And to answer Andrew's comments, I expect archaeologists to
> > try to follow this methodology too.  Obviously, devising
> > experiments is very difficult for them (and control groups
> > are out of the question; you get what you dig up), but that
> > just places more importance on the other steps (analysing
> > other's data, both before and after).
> >
> >
> > --KG
> >