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

Wed Jan 29 15:42:25 PST 2003

On Wed, 29 Jan 2003 Gaertk at aol.com wrote:

> In a message dated 1/28/2003 9:07:10 PM Eastern Standard
> Time, Philip Hart <philiph at SLAC.Stanford.EDU> writes:
> > 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
> I don't consider "Let's see what happens when I do this" to
> be part of the Scientific Method.  Scientific discovery, yes,
> but (IMO) the methodolgy doesn't start until "I wonder why it
> did that?"

So if an engineer comes up with a better way to accelerate electrons,
I build an experiment to take advantage, my post doc finds an effect
no one imagined existed, we publish and convince a skeptical world
we didn't underestimate our backgrounds, and we win a Nobel prize
(though nobody figures out a good model for the effect until 30 years
later), you say we were doing "Scientific Discovery" but not using the
"Scientific Method"?

> > 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.
> Calling something a "theory" when you have NO data to support
> it is, to me, presumptious and unscientific.

It may be presumptuous (in the eyes of God, say) but plenty of theorists
do it and damn it if they're not right sometimes. I don't know what you'd
have called The Theory of General Relativity before there was any data to
back it up, for example, or string theory, the main argument for which is
that the math is beautiful and it doesn't contradict any experimental
results or a variety of other theories (almost nothing anybody's come up
with has these features), even if it's not currently (i.e. anytime I can
imagine) verifiable.

Going back to doing some science...

- Philip