Wired has an article by Jonah Lehrer about the way science is actually done rather than the way it is often taught or perceived.

A couple of quotes:

The reason we’re so resistant to anomalous information — the real reason researchers automatically assume that every unexpected result is a stupid mistake — is rooted in the way the human brain works. Over the past few decades, psychologists have dismantled the myth of objectivity. The fact is, we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. Although we pretend we’re empiricists — our views dictated by nothing but the facts — we’re actually blinkered, especially when it comes to information that contradicts our theories. The problem with science, then, isn’t that most experiments fail — it’s that most failures are ignored.

...

The lesson is that not all data is created equal in our mind’s eye: When it comes to interpreting our experiments, we see what we want to see and disregard the rest. The physics students, for instance, didn’t watch the video and wonder whether Galileo might be wrong. Instead, they put their trust in theory, tuning out whatever it couldn’t explain. Belief, in other words, is a kind of blindness.

...

While the scientific process is typically seen as a lonely pursuit — researchers solve problems by themselves — Dunbar found that most new scientific ideas emerged from lab meetings, those weekly sessions in which people publicly present their data. Interestingly, the most important element of the lab meeting wasn’t the presentation — it was the debate that followed. Dunbar observed that the skeptical (and sometimes heated) questions asked during a group session frequently triggered breakthroughs, as the scientists were forced to reconsider data they’d previously ignored. The new theory was a product of spontaneous conversation, not solitude; a single bracing query was enough to turn scientists into temporary outsiders, able to look anew at their own work.

Link: Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up

Tags: Kuhn, Veblen, cognition, method, science

Views: 4

Replies to This Discussion

BRILLIANT! Seriously, how many times have discoveries been made by accident, from Lexan to Viagra to that glaucoma drug which, as it happens, also lengthens lashes! If serendipity isn't the first friend of the researcher, I don't know what is!
This has been a perennial problem in deliverying science to the (largely uneducated) masses.
Whenever they hear something has been disproven, or hear scientists arguing on some points of theory, they just throw up their hands and think, "none of these guys knows what they are talking about".
But it is actually they who have no appreciation for how science proceeds - only through argument and conflict and the new revelations so generated. And religion makes matters worse because it offers immutable dogma as a reassuring alternative to the more difficult task of trying to approach closer and closer approximations of the truth using the scientific method. This is why I find religion such an anathema to education per se.
That was a good blog post, Glenn. I've passed it on. Thanks.

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