What is science ?

I’m getting into a tight corner on MoQ-Discuss, where it has been impossible to avoid debate between scientific belief and religious faith. At least we’ve got the level down below the history of global politics and war, where there is some chance of debate rather than propagandised gain-saying. As you know I’ve been in many respects anti-science, or at least anti the extreme-logical-positivist or exclusively-scientific-fundamentalist aspects of some applications of “science” in management in particular. (I see even Enlightened Caveman is embroiled in an identical debate – this god stuff is pernicious, gets everywhere.)

However, finding myself practically a universal Darwinist – most real world change processes have some element of “copy, vary, select” – I can’t help but reject any kind of intellient designer creationism, or indeed any purposeful, causal “god” real or metaphorical.

I made the point that what was convincing about science, “quality of explanation”, was not exclusive to science, and lumped just about any of the intellectual spheres of thought into the same pot philosophers, artists, ologists of practically any kind. Except theologians, where either such explanations were not made, or if they were, were constructed with “dishonest intellect” using false logic and premises of mediaeval science. I was not alone, but seem to be carrying the brunt of the demand for explanation. (See David Deutsch posts earlier for post-Popperian scientific explanations.)

Anyway faced with “explain what you mean by science, or at least a high-qualty explanation” I spotted via Sue Blackmore the “Spiked” Guardian survey of 250 scientists asked “What one thing do you think everyone should know about science” as part of the Einstein / e=mc2 centenary year of science. (The full survey is here, along with more analysis.)

Some of it is quite predictable – Dawkins’ plea against intelligent design … some of it is fairly simple, single tangible examples from that scientist’s sphere, targetted for a lay public …. and a good deal of it focusses on uncertainty, and the intent of scientific method, as the distinguishing aspect of science.

In fact the majority are about the easy half of scientific method – the disproving of false hypotheses – very little said about the creativity of formulating good candidate hypotheses, and explaning why before subjecting them to falsification.

Well I’m still reading – only 200 to go, but I’ve reached the D’s – and lo David Deutsch is amongst them. Sadly he was lost for words, or rather refused to be drawn on a single fact – so responded “read my book” (which as recorded earlier is about how not one but four distinct threads support each other as the most fundamental science). I know he’s right, but it’s a pity he missed that chance. He didn’t make the cut to the Guardian summary.

3 thoughts on “What is science ?”

  1. Hi Ian
    I like your “quality of explanation” approach. But how much of that quality is anything more than peer-review? (And that’s genuinely wondering 🙂

  2. Me too 🙂

    The problem with shifting the definition to peer review, is we then have to define the quality of the peers, we keep chasing quality.

    No, I actually believe there is something more fundamental about what we intuitively know about “quality”, neither wholly objective nor wholly subjective. (hence my interest in Pirsig)

    So any scientist that opens up a chink against the accepted “objectivity” of science gets my interest.

  3. I guess if I ws going to bring peer review into it, we’d have to think about the environment and proicess of that review …

    Evolutionary psychology, requires space and conditions for the evolution to take place, not some a-priori closed shop, the blogosphere perhaps 😉

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