From: Jim Armstrong <jarmstro@qwest.net>

Date: Thu May 20 2004 - 22:48:13 EDT

Date: Thu May 20 2004 - 22:48:13 EDT

I am inclined to think that something essential has been lost in some of

the discussions here about the nature of science. I suppose I state the

obvious here, but it seems to me that the core of science is the

process, the four familar steps. There is nothing intrinsically

mathematical about the scientific process, though it gets more specific

in accuracy (and confidence level) when it lends itself to mathematical

statement. Physics falls most clearly into that latter category,

involving quantitative instrumentation for much of what it does

experimentally, and wonderfully concise and accurate mathematical

description. However, the basic processes of science do not require

mathematics to come to some conclusions with reasonable confidence. The

level of confidence obviously is a variable that is more subjective as

one moves away from good crisp descriptive mathematical models.

Part of what makes the social sciences [I'm willing to characterize most

of them as science because most anything meaningful is concluded on the

basis of those four steps of the scientific method] softer with respect

to variations from central tendency and levels of confidence is the

underlying human element, statistical variation that derives from human

choice and a typically huge (perhaps indeterminate) numbers of

influential variables. I don't think that is a basis for sniffing at

their status as sciences as much as it is perhaps a call for more

respect on the basis of some important, even life-changing insights

achieved along the way; and perhaps even to better acknowledge their

success despite the difficult nature of the statistics-"endowed" terrain

and what will undoubtedly prove to be the relatively immature state of

the data-deriving "instruments".

I have a sense that we lose something fundamental and important when we

move the definitional focus of scientific practice away from the simple

4-step cycle to concentrate instead on the accuracies of physical sensor

derived data and mathematical models, just one particular subset of the

ways to "do science".

...or so it seemeth to me. JimA

Received on Thu May 20 22:48:29 2004

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