‘Scientific Method’ Australian Government style
Written by John Elliston AM, FAusIMM(CP)
Since 1936 the ‘scientific method’ has been recognised by Australian law (Subsection 73B(1) of the ITAA 1936) as: – ‘Systematic investigative and experimental activities that involve testing a hypothesis (new idea) by deductive formulation of its consequences.
These deductions must be rigorously tested by repeatable experimentation and logical conclusions drawn from the results of the experiments. The hypothesis must be based on principles of physical, chemical, mathematical, or biological sciences’ (this would include the Second Law of Thermodynamics).
In 1972 Australian universities abandoned the procedure that had been used for award of their highest degrees in science to that time. DSc candidates were required to submit a doctoral thesis embodying an original research finding (details of a tested hypothesis). This was “peer reviewed” by two or more external scientists selected by the university as most appropriately qualified.
It was recognised that a candidate who had tested an original hypothesis may be equally or better able to interpret the results than an external reviewer. Candidates were therefore entitled to a “right of reply” to the written report or comments of the universities’ reviewers. In reply they could produce references or call on reviewers of their own selection.
University authorities were able to fairly assess the candidate’s new research finding and determine if it merited the award of their highest degree. This procedure raised standards in all scientific disciplines to which it applied but by 1974 it was abandoned by all Australian universities as too tedious and time consuming to cope with the rapidly increasing number of candidates aspiring to higher degrees.
With continuing rates of increase since 1970’s, Australian universities now resemble production-line ‘higher degree factories’! They quite rightly require higher degree candidates to meet very high standards but they are uniform standards requiring each candidate to conform to the limitations of the knowledge of his or her degree supervisor.
Significant new discoveries cannot conform to what is currently “generally accepted”. All publicly funded research in Australia tends to digress, at least to some extent, from the scientific method toward the extreme case depicted in the American cartoon (pictured right). Competitive research proposals are written to get research grants rather than to advance our knowledge by resolution of long-standing problems.
Geological researchers spend more time looking at computer screens than looking at rocks and mineral deposits!