On Science and the Scientific Method

One of the saddest and scariest things I have seen in the course of my life, is the patently absurd abuse of science and the scientific process by people wanting to bend reality to fit their will.

The first error that many make where science is concerned, is the assertion that science is supposed to be a destination. Science is a process, not a destination.

Some of the “waypoints” along the various paths taken result in solid models for prediction of events and methods of mitigation; some result in more shaky models and some in absolutely horrible ones (that mostly, are relatively quickly relegated to the scrap heap where they belong—but not as nearly quickly, in some cases, as is warranted and would be preferred).

In the course of history, there have been people who have done a relatively sound job of using the process to create models, and a good deal more who have not done the job so well.

The (I would have thought obvious) result of this? Assuming that, because “science modeled” a thing reasonably well, means that all scientific modeling is exemplary.

The first obvious problem with this, is that not all scientific predictions or models were created by the same person or even persons. Considering how long the scientific process has been in use, I would have thought this to be a fairly obvious thing.

That means that there are folks who are reasonably astute applying the scientific process, and those who are not so astute. To make this worse, even those having done reasonably solid work may not be dispassionate in all the work they do.

The end of “passionate” research can still be good work. On the other hand, it can result in skewed outcomes—most particularly when the person in question is unable to separate truth or fact from emotion. And you need to know, this happens more often than many in the scientific community at large would like us to believe.

I spent a short stint (about a year) of my life in “support of” folks doing primarily (if not entirely) medical research. Because I was a “technician,” largely, the only “dog I had in the  fight” was in making sure the equipment and algorithms in use produced faithful results. This was, in my experience, not nearly always the case for those doing research.

So often, in fact, was this not the case, that I would term it a “more common than not” situation.

You see, most researchers postulated as a result of some effect, a cause, then wrote papers indicating their desire to study the effect (with a typically unstated predisposition to their prospective cause). This is pretty much in direct opposition to how the process ought to work.

What should happen, is the person should note an effect, write a grant proposal to attempt to find the cause (without a presupposition what the cause may be), study that effect, and try to come to a conclusion what the cause or causes of that particular effect might be.

Instead, I witnessed people attempting (mind you, in what they believed to be “good faith” by and large) to get data that proved their assertion. By way of example, I literally watched people “cherry pick” microscope images in order to obtain data that better supported their assumptions.

What made this worse, is that other people tried to “build on” their assertions and were entirely unable to even replicate their results, much less build on top of them. You would have thought that peer review would have “solved this issue,” but that’s often not the case for whatever reason.

And some of the people supporting (if not directly involve in) this approach, were considered (at least locally, if not more widely) “pillars of the scientific community.”

All of this is bad enough, but when you couple it with the fact that study is, and to some degree, by necessity must be, based on current understanding and assumptions, you begin to realize that much of what is done is based on preexisting faulty observations and assumptions.

This is the sort of thing that made it so people like Copernicus and DaVinci were looked at so poorly in their own time. Regardless whence comes the bias, there it is; and attempting to do work unaffected by it is nigh unto impossible.

One other point that people tend to count reasonable which is not reasonable at all, is that consensus “matters” in science. The only way “popular opinion” can be said to “matter” in science, is in the completion of multiple “competing” studies that come to the same results (a thing which might also make a person rather wary at times).

The “scientific consensus” in times past, was that the Earth was flat, that the Universe was geocentric, and that heat was transferred via a liquid referred to as “caloric.” I’m reasonably certain that few “average Joes”—much less scientists—would be interested in being associated or affiliated with such viewpoints today.

One more thing I think needs to be talked about here, then I will move on to other (equally or more important) things.

At least in the United States, scientific endeavors—most certainly at institutions of higher learning, by and large—are financed not only by government, but by people have a vested interest in seeing certain things get studied and, like it or not, certain outcomes be “proven.”

The result tends to be that some of the best outcomes are a result of “happy incidentals” or even entire accidents rather than the main thrust of a given study.

I know of multiple results of study that came about when somebody or some group was studying something all but (if not) entirely unrelated to the result in question.

Sometimes, the individual or group would get funding to study one thing, with the intent to study something entirely different as a “side study” (for which payment was not being made).

Sometimes they just came to realizations as a result of a given line of inquiry that was technically unrelated to the original study subject matter.

Regardless how it happened, the most interesting work was not in the “planned outcome,” but in some “sideline” that worked out to be more significant or interesting.

In conclusion, the fact is, the scientific disciplines and the studies conducted by them at various levels are anything but perfect. It’s not that the results they produce are useless, just that they are bound to be flawed. Further, it’s very likely that what’s accepted as the “best or better” theory today, is a thing of all but forgotten history—possibly even a matter of scorn—tomorrow.

So before you throw your eggs in a “single scientific basket,” be well assured that this is not how things were ever intended to work. Rather, it’s always been intended that science would be a matter of open discussion that would produce results which in turn could be used to “model the Universe until something better came along.”

Okay, so yet again, I’m slightly over my “thousand word break point,” and yet again, there is far more to say that I’ll have to cover later, in yet another article.

That being said, thanks for reading, and have a good day.

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