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There is No Scientific Method
Science works because scientists form communities and traditions based not on a common set of methods, but a common set of ethical principles.
I was very influenced when I was in graduate school by Paul Feyerabend who was a great philosopher of science who argued that there is no scientific method, that we scientists are opportunists, that we do whatever it takes to succeed at any time and to succeed means to deepen our knowledge, to have better knowledge, a better understanding of nature.
But there’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic formula that gets us there. There’s no set of rules. There’s no methodology that gets us there. So why does science work? Paul Feyerabend believed - and he’s often misunderstood – that science worked, and he deeply loved science. I met him and talked with him a number of times.
Feyerabend thought it was very important to underline that we didn’t know why science works. And so I gave a lot of thought to this problem over the years and my point of view, my proposal, is that science works because scientists form communities and traditions based not on a common set of methods, but a common set of ethical principles. And there are two ethical principles that I think underlie the success of science and I call these the Principles of the Open Future. The first one is that we agree to tell the truth and we agree to be governed by rational argument from public evidence. So when there is a disagreement it can be resolved by referring to a rational deduction from public evidence. We agree to be so swayed.
Whether we originally came to that point of view or not to that point of view, whether that was our idea or somebody else’s idea, whether it’s our research program or a rival research program, we agree to let evidence decide. Now one sees this happening all the time in science. This is the strength of science.
The second principle is that when the evidence does not decide, when the evidence is not sufficient to decide from rational argument, whether one point of view is right or another point of view is right, we agree to encourage competition and diversification amongst the professionals in the community.
Here I have to emphasize I’m not saying that anything goes. I’m not saying that any quack, anybody without an education is equal in interest or is equal in importance to somebody with his Ph.D. and his scientific training at a university. And it’s very important to say that because I get a lot of mail from people who miss that.
I’m talking about the ethics within a community of people who have accreditation and are working within the community. Within the community it’s necessary for science to progress as fast as possible, not to prematurely form paradigms, not to prematurely make up our mind that one research program is right to the exclusion of others. It’s important to encourage competition, to encourage diversification, to encourage disagreement in the effort to get us to that consensus which is governed by the first principle.
So those are the two principles that I think govern science. And I think that part of becoming a scientist is being trained well enough that you can be trusted to present your evidence, your arguments in light of those two principles.
Now just in addition a thing that I think is interesting about seeing science that way is that makes science very closely connected to democracy because I think that those same two principles governing the success of democratic societies. And therefore it’s not an accident that the history of science is intertwined with the history of democratic societies and it’s not an accident that science has flourished best, not exclusively, but mostly in democratic societies.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.