Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Pathological Science

We have to make decisions - and often have to act with incomplete knowledge and limited information.  Stuff appears to work but when probed to scientific depth, we might not be able to explain exactly why - or rather our reasoning breaks down under reductionist pursuit.

Best to stick with the bigger picture if it leads to favourable outcomes (Devany's Fifth Law).  But it is also wise not to burden oneself with 'pathological science' as cautioned by Sam Kean in The Disappearing Spoon:
  • David Goldstein, a Cal Tech physicist, summed things up in an excellent essay on cold-fusion: "Because the Cold-Fusioners see themselves as a community under seige, there is little internal criticism. Experiments and theories tend to be accepted at face value, for fear of providing even more fuel for external critics, if anyone outside the group was bothering to listen. In these circumstances, crackpots flourish, making matters worse for those who believe that there is serious science going on here." It's hard to imagine a better, more conscise description of pathological science.

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