Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Biologist Jerry Coyne on Scientific Method (Description)

Clyne sets up his response to a NYTimes philosophy piece (“There is no scientific method”) in this way:
the classic presentation of “The Scientific Method” in the classroom is misleading. That presentation usually goes like this: concoct hypothesis—> test hypothesis —>support or reject hypothesis based on test.

But not all science is done like that. For example, facts usually precede hypotheses, at least in biology (Darwin often used that method to concoct his theories). And much good science can be done without any hypotheses at all. An example would be describing all the species in an area like a patch of Amazonian rain forest. Those facts may be useful some day (e.g., for conservation or for finding new drugs from plants), and also can turn up fascinating nuggets of information about natural history—knowledge. The only thing in common among all “scientific methods” is that they use empirical tools and rationality to find out the nature of reality, and produce conclusions that can be empirically checked by others. In the case of theoretical work, that usually involves producing results that either are testable or might someday be testable by empirical methods.
Yes! Clyne goes on to critique the NYTimes piece, but, given my interest in description, that's the paragraph that sticks in my mind. I just wish philosophers of science would devote more attention to description, a lot more.

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