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Whaa?!! Nature’s Henry Gee goes ballistic on false certainties in science

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Friends say they can’t believe they are reading this:

One thing that never gets emphasised enough in science, or in schools, or anywhere else, is that no matter how fancy-schmancy your statistical technique, the output is always a probability level (a P-value), the “significance” of which is left for you to judge – based on nothing more concrete or substantive than a feeling, based on the imponderables of personal or shared experience. Statistics, and therefore science, can only advise on probability – they cannot determine The Truth. And Truth, with a capital T, is forever just beyond one’s grasp.

None of this gets through to the news pages. When pitching a science story to a news editor, a science correspondent soon learns that the answer that gets airtime is either “yes”, or “no”. Either the Voyager space probe has left the solar system, or it hasn’t. To say that it might have done and attach statistical caveats is a guaranteed turn-off. Nobody ever got column inches by saying that Elvis has a 95% probability of having left the building.

Why do we (it’s the royal we this time, do please try to keep up at the back) demand such definitive truths of science, but are happy to have all other spheres of human activity wallow in mess and muddle?

I think it goes back to the mid-20th century, especially just after the second world war, when scientists – they were called “boffins” – gave us such miracles as radar, penicillin and plastics; jet propulsion, teflon, mass vaccination and transistors; the structure of DNA, lava lamps and the eye-level grill. …

from a senior editor at Nature. Some early commenters don’t sound as though they even understand, but what would you expect?

3 Replies to “Whaa?!! Nature’s Henry Gee goes ballistic on false certainties in science

  1. 1
    Axel says:

    Ee’d be one o’ they quantum mystagogues. That’s what. Ee wants to be fitted out with a proper lab coat, and told to watch ‘is Ps and Qs! Whatever is Science coming to!

  2. 2
    Barb says:

    Modern-day physical science has been made a “sacred cow” for worship in the lives of many who think that human scientists can do anything, solve all problems.

    Balance is needed when considering the theories of science. Scientists have formulated some impressive ideas to explain such things as the makeup of matter and the origin of the universe. But it should not be lost sight of that these ideas are truly theories—in some cases backed up by impressive evidence but, nevertheless, always open to revision. No scientific theory is viewed by scientists as the last word on anything.

    Professor Pascual Jordan said: “Since my studies I have come to recognize natural science and particularly physics as being, not a finished and closed system of thought, but rather something alive, in the process of continual change.”

    Another scientist admitted that what science presents “is at best relative truth.” Science essayist Dr. Lewis Thomas said: “I cannot think of a single field in biology or medicine in which we can claim genuine understanding, and it seems to me the more we learn about living creatures, especially ourselves, the stranger life becomes.”

    In scientific journalism, science is credited with almost superhuman powers. In 1972, Science News, under the heading “Genetic engineering: Myth or reality?” said, in its heading-paragraphs:

    “The code of life has been cracked and genetic engineering is on its way. . . . ”

    “Under the magic wand of biology man is now gradually becoming quite different from what he was. . . . ”

    When scientists quit exaggerating their accomplishments and declaring that nothing is off-limts to them, then maybe people will stop demanding exact proof of their experiments.

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    Science faith is faith in human intelligence and not ideas of methodology.
    Saying its SCIENCE is saying the truth as opposed to inferior methodology’s conclusions.
    The creationists movement and ID’ers(who are in the tent (not just a close tent) need only assault the bad guys upon the methodology claims behind evolution or denial of a creator complexity in natures evidence.
    Thats all! They hit us on YOUR not doing science SO hit them right back.
    Not just fight the Luffwafer in the sky but bomb Germany.!
    How can wrong conclusions be founded on scientific investigation??
    They can’t. They ain’t doing science in evolutionism conclusions.
    Scienctific methodology is creationists friend and not theirs.

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