Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Death of Science

The following article "Climategate: Science Is Dying" caught my eye recently. I hate to break it to Mr Henninger but the fact that scientists are human and that academia is rife with internal politics has been an open secret for many many years. At least for anyone involved in science or academia in any case. Seriously anyone who has gone to University and paid even a little bit of attention should be aware of this.

The whole topic was covered back in the Sixties by THomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In a nutshell new ideas tend to get taken up by young scientists just getting started. To a large extent the peer review process favors older established theories, especially in highly specialized publications where reviewers are likely to have a conflict of interest against publishing things that will invalidate their own past works. So what you tend to get is generational change. The old theory only dies when most of its proponents have retired.

These days we as a society have far outgrown the romantic notion of Science as the great savior that can do no wrong. That is why research has to be screened through ethics committees. In Psychology many of the pivotal experiments conducted in the first half of the 20th century frequently involved inflicting potentially serious mental trauma on unsuspecting volunteers such as the Milgram study.

But then again Kuhn didn't really reach that wide of a general audience. So maybe Climategate will have an impact on the perception of science in the general community. Far from being a bad thing it will help the general public to see science for the man made institution that it is. And in my opinion this is a good thing as accepting anything blindly and absolutly is demonstrably a bad thing.

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