Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Science, science, science

I know I sound like a broken record sometimes, but I think illuminating the reasons why might be helpful at this point.

Edit: This isn't meant to be a conclusive list. I'm just trying to state some reasons for why my position is my position.

Reasons Why Science Is So F-N Cool
Science is open. Although the necessary credentials are needed to step anywhere near a particle accelerator, the process of science is technically available to anyone, anywhere, at anytime (barring economic or political oppression). A scientist is only as good as her work.
Science has no prophets. Spokespersons, yes. Heroes, perhaps. But no one whose work is taken as the literal word of the universe or the goddess.
Science is adaptive and evidence-based. Good scientific communities respond to the current state of the evidence. All conclusions are tentative, and all conclusions must be revised when new evidence is brought to light. A theory is only as good as the evidence it explains and no better than the evidence it can't explain.
Science is fractal in organization. The way science approaches small problems is the same way it approaches big problems. Any well-formed theory, no matter how large or small, new or old, can be tested against the evidence. Science takes no inference or presumption for granted (see the last point on that). There is no body of knowledge presumed to be immutable or fundamental to the scientific process. There are no scientists whose work cannot be challenged, no texts whose theories are safe from new evidence.
Science is self-correcting and self-organizing. If you attend enough scientific conferences, you will see that no matter how cut-and-dry a theory might seem and how well the evidence supports a researcher's conclusions, someone in the audience will have a problem with their hypothesis, their methods, their data, or their conclusions. The scientists most respected are typically the scientists whose work informs our observations on the largest unsolved problems or whose work approaches questions once thought solved in a radically new light. Thus, motivated scientists often tackle the most open-ended or most-essential questions in their field.
Science can prove that naturalism is the wrong approach to our world. Because of its reliance on evidence, science can eventually demonstrate (if not conclusively) that we do not live in a world with consistent structure. Modern physics is currently struggling with that very question, but as of yet, the evidence seems in favor of the scientific approach.

Reasons Why Science Isn't Always What We Hope It Could Be
Scientists can be obfusticating. Scientists most often work in highly specialized subfields asking complicated questions about complicated natural phenomena. The language they use in their work can be a barrier towards the openness of science and the public understanding of their work.
Scientists act as gatekeepers. Sometimes unfairly. Degrees, personal reputation, appearance, alma maters, and who was on your dissertation commitee too often matter much more than they should. Like any human, scientists can be petty, mean, or oblivious to the needs of others and act poorly when emotion is involved.
Scientists are constrained by natural limits. The scientist's place in space-time, human psychology, the scientist's culture, the scientist's position in soceity, and the finite resources allocated by society to the scientist impose limits of varying degrees on the types of questions that a scientist is likely to ask and the types of evidence a scientist can gather.
Science is constrained by philosophical limits. Without access to the entirety of existence, scientists can never deliver complete proofs in support of their theories.

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