There Is No Scientific Method

Written by William M Briggs


Title is lifted—swiped, stolen, nicked: a point to emphasize—from an essay in what Father Z rightfully calls Hell’s Bible by one James Blachowicz. Turns out old Willy S was right, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. There is no scientific method.

Which is to say, there is no method particular to Science to discover Truth. Unless you count the rituals and rites developed around the cult of government grants. Blachowicz doesn’t consider these, so neither shall we.

Our man should have known better than even hint at questioning Science, which is for many a religion. Well, Religion That Must Not Be Called A Religion. If you doubt this, search for Facebook or Twitter groups called things like “I F******* Love Science” which are devoted to pictures of colorful frogs, as if a thing’s mere existence makes it Scientific. There’s a good reason the Enlightened leaders of the French Revolution closed up Catholic churches and converted them to Temples of Reason (Rationalia nowadays). And that reason is religion, not Reason.

Point is, HB’s readers became a mite frazzled when Blachowicz pointed out, what is obvious, that even poets refine, hone, change, adapt, reformulate, and, in a word, self-correct. And if it’s true that poets build truth upon truth, with occasional forays into Error, even far-reaching sojourns into Error, even lifetimes in Error, then it’s true theologians build truth upon truth, and philosophers, etc.

And if to err is human, it also follows that if Poetry, Theology, and Philosophy can fail, Science too can slide into darkness. The danger is that if Science thinks itself uniquely privileged in the Way of Knowledge, once it arrives in Darkness it will say, “I can see just fine.”

Blachowicz was forced to issue an apology of sorts:

The importance and effectiveness of scientific inquiry is not in question here. Philosophers of science have spent centuries trying to better understand it. I have done so by studying both science and philosophy throughout my career, starting with a degree in physics. I should probably add that I strongly oppose creationist and other ideological bents that just don’t want certain scientific findings to be true (e.g., global warming).

Now since Blachowicz is a philosopher we wonder why he didn’t also say that he strongly opposes evolutionary psychology and other ideological bents that just don’t want certain scientific findings to be false (e.g., global warming)? (He does get points for calling global warming by its correct name.)

That is the point, n’est-ce pas? As I’ve said before, everybody believes in confirmation bias, they just think it always happens to the other guy. We’re all of us, poets and physicists, theologians and technologists, inclined to see what we want rather than What Is. Scientists increasingly as much or more than anybody. How many papers have we vivisected on this site that only found evidence for what they desired and that missed the mountain of contradiction in front of them?

Reminder: First Annual Bad Science Award, Second Annual Bad Science Award.

Problem with a lot of modern scientists is that they say to themselves, “But I made this finding using scientific methods! And I’m a respected, well-funded scientist” with the implication that therefore they are strangers to Error. Oh, they’ll admit to small indiscretions, minor flaws, rough edges. More research is needed. But own that their central thesis smells more than the books from the Clinton Foundation? Never.

Blachowicz is right about this:

Suggesting that the method science uses is its exclusive property is an inflationary claim that doesn’t serve science well. Science is a form of human knowledge. But there’s more to knowledge than science. The differences, of course, have to be preserved, but we won’t know what the defining differences are until we identify what it is that scientific and nonscientific inquiry have in common. This short article was a modest attempt to explore that question.

Every working scientist, including the most rabid empiricist, uses mathematics, and mathematics is not scientific in any common sense of that word. Mathematics is form of human knowledge, therefore it’s true there is more to knowledge than science, a truth scientists must acknowledge to do their job. Science is also silent (as I take much pain to show) on right and wrong. How to apply scientific results isn’t scientific. Why? That involves knowledge of the Good. Science is silent, eternally gagged, from adjudicating its foundations.

Let’s give Blachowicz the last word:

Many of those who have simply dismissed philosophy (and poetry and other nonscientific areas of inquiry and expression), including some prominent scientists, have done so without displaying any evidence that they’ve ever worked through what they’re criticizing. Scientists often react strongly when their work is criticized by those who know very little about science, often with good cause. This is a two-way street. It does not seem wise for those who are unwilling or unable to work through challenging philosophical theories (including theories of scientific method) to simply dismiss them all. Where’s the objectivity in that?

Comments (2)

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    Science or Fiction


    The words science, scientific and scientist are used about pretty much anything these days – the word science has no well defined meaning anymore.
    Inductivism is certainly not a robust scientific method.
    Anyhow – many so-called scientists seem to have resorted to inductivism.

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