What science is

John W. Burgeson (johnburgeson@juno.com)
Mon, 2 Aug 1999 09:52:01 -0600

Moorad (my fellow physicist) wrote, about 2 weeks ago:

"Explanations are not of any value if they do not make predictions.
Predictions are the essence of what it is to be scientific."

I'll have to take issue with that one, Moorad.

Read John Casti's "Search for Certainty." He argues (well, IMHO)
that explanations and predictions BOTH define what science is
all about. Some science fields do well at one -- badly at the other.
Few (classical physics being one of these) do well at both.

Here is a review I published in PERSPECTIVES a few years ago on this
great book.

John L. Casti. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990. 496
pages, index. Hardcover; $22.95.

John W. Burgeson,

John Casti, a faculty member at the Technical University of Vienna,
Austria, has followed his splendid book, PARADIGMS LOST, with one equally
deserving of serious study and enjoyment. My chief concern in writing
this review is that I will not be sufficiently persuasive to induce my
readers to pick it up and share with me in the enjoyment of science
presented at its best.

Dr. Casti begins by discussing the differences between explanation and
prediction in science, and in non-science, as he deals with the three
C's, Correlations, Causes and Chance. He devotes most of the book,
however, to analyses of weather changes, climate predictions, physical
changes in living organisms, the stock market, the outbreak of war and,
in a brilliant conclusion, the true statements of arithmetic.

For people in a hurry, read just the summary, five short pages. There
may be some who will read no more. There may also be some people who can
nibble just one peanut at a baseball game!

Dr. Casti writes with both clarity and humor. Even the chapter headings
("Proof or Consequences" introduces his chapter on "True" Arithmetic) and
section headings ("Looking for a Beta Way" is a topic in the chapter on
stock prices) are carefully chosen both to illuminate the topic and
remind the reader that science can be fun!

In discussing the problems, Dr. Casti rates "science" on each of them in
two ways, first, how well the problem can be explained; second, how well
future conditions within it can be predicted. Celestial mechanics is the
measure of the others, rating a grade of "A" on both counts. Mathematics,
interestingly enough, rates only a "B+" and "B." Quantum mechanics rates
"D" in explanation, but "A" in prediction. Evolutionary Biology, as one
might expect, moves in the reverse direction, rating B+ in explanation
and "D" in prediction. At the low end of the scale is Economics, rating
a flat "D" in both categories. It is part of the uniqueness of this book
that the author is able to analyze these matters and show, very
convincingly, why these grades are to be expected, what they mean, and
what improvements are likely in the future.

Dr. Casti observes "... that it's in those areas of the natural sciences
least susceptible to human influence that we have the best 'programs' for
prediction and explanation. As we move away from hard physics and
astronomy and into the Jell-O-like realm of biology, our capabilities for
prediction and explanation begin to deteriorate. And by the time we reach
the almost totally gaseous state of economics and the other social
sciences, there's far more 'social' than 'science' in our capacity to say
what's next and why."

As in PARADIGMS LOST, Dr. Casti includes a "To Dig Deeper" section to
conclude the work. There are 55 pages of notes here, indicating that the
author has done his homework well!

This book review was published in PERSPECTIVES, the journal
of the American Scientific Affiliation, in March, 1992, Vol 44, #1.

The American Scientific Affiliation, ASA, founded in 1941, is an
association of people who have made a commitment of themselves to both a
scientific description of the world and to Christianity. The present
membership is about 2,500.

Information on the ASA, including a sample issue of PERSPECTIVES, is
available by writing to:

ASA, P.O. Box 668
Ipswitch, MA 01938-0668


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