Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Even Science Is Resistant To The Scientific Method

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. . . . An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth.
— Max Planck, Scientific autobiography, at pgs. 33 and 97 (1950). Related:
Never trust an experimental result until it has been confirmed by theory.
- Astronomer Arthur Eddington who died on November 22, 1944 (discussed here noting that: "In general, Eddington’s advice is good: when an experiment contradicts theory, theory tends to win in the end." But acknowledging exceptions and discussing Hume's take on it).

A comment makes the good point, however, that ossification of views is less of a problem in fields that are new and rapidly emerging, rather than those that have settled down a bit with enough time for competing camps over unresolved issues to emerge.

But scientists are persuaded by new evidence sometimes, as documented in this paper.


Guy said...

Hum... Yes and no? When a field is moving quickly, like aDNA or all the CRIPR variants in bio-chemistry I don't think this ossification of opinions occurs. The researchers have too many interesting things to do to have food fights. When a field slows down and fragments into smaller almost identical cliques, separated by inherited (in the academic sense) dogmas, then this kind of behavior can occur. So a metric could be proposed, if a field is dominated by old folks and their direct followers then then it's in the slow change zone. Heck it's almost a truism.

Darayvus said...

the last two links are dead

andrew said...

@Guy Good idea.

@Darayvus Thanks.