Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cargo Cult Science Triumphs

Here's the difference between a real science and a cargo cult science, as described by the physicist Richard Feynman during his commencement address at the California Institute of Technology in 1974:
...But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in Cargo Cult Science... It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty - a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid - not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked - to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can - if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong - to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.
So, it's not like we haven't been warned. Well, it's been 40 years since and, looking at our universities, which resemble totalitarian states, witnessing climate "scientists" twisting data that doesn't fit their alarmist theories, looking at what has been done to the education system, at poor kids being used as guinea pigs in social experiments, looking at diversity and multiculturalism, political correctness and "positive" discrimination - the obvious question is - which "progressive" theory is not in fact a cargo cult science?

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