Re: Moorad's assumed time line

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri May 21 2004 - 08:11:28 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jim Armstrong" <>
Cc: <>
Sent: Thursday, May 20, 2004 10:48 PM
Subject: Re: Moorad's assumed time line

> 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

        Science involves observation of the world (including controlled
observation = experiment) and the use of reason - not necessarily in that
order. Beyond that any description of a "scientific method," whether or 4
steps or anything else, as prescriptive & not merely descriptive isn't very
helpful. In 1865 Claude Bernard, in An Introduction to the Study of
Experimental Medicine, put it this way:

    In a word, if men of science are useful to philosophers, and
philosophers to men of science, men of science remain free, none the less;
and masters in their own house; as for myself, I think that men of
science achieve their discoveries, their theories and their science apart
from philosophers. ... As for Bacon and other more modern
philosophers who try a general systematization of precepts for scientific
research, they may seem alluring to people who look at science only from
a distance; but works like theirs are of no use to experienced scientists;
and by false simplification of things, they mislead men who wish to devote
themselves to cultivating science.

        Percy Bridgman (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1946) was more succinct:
"Science is doing your damnedest with your mind with no holds barred."

Received on Fri May 21 08:12:24 2004

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