Monday, 5 July 2010

Science, Art and what makes it good or bad perhaps?

Kit’s reply to my opening remarks for this discussion deserve a special note. He (I hope that my assumption of the gender of Kit is correct) talks about art and science and “pure” science and about scientific observation and practical experience. This language suggests that there are clear demarcations as to what is science and what is art and this can lead to the mistaken conclusion that there is a universally agreed scientific method which has to be applied if sound results are to be obtained. There is of course agreement that there are better and worse ways of “doing” science. Badly conducted science may lead to what Lakatos (undated) called pseudoscience which is to be avoided.
But the way to scientific discovery is not easy to prescribe (or even for that matter describe). Medawar (1986) pointed out that “There is indeed no such thing as “the” scientific method. A scientist uses a very great variety of exploratory stratagems”. Somewhat more amusingly Kaplan (1964) exclaimed that “(a) scientist has no other method than doing his damndest” and this is certainly supported by the type of thinking used by Feyeraband (1993).
Admittedly the views of Medawar and Kaplan are not universally held. Richard Dawkins is renowned for his television appearances where he belittles what he regards as phoney science. One of his main criteria for rejecting claims to knowledge is based on whether there was an experiment and a control group involved. it does not take any great analysis to conclude that there are many aspects of science which do not allow experiments nor the use of control groups and which we consider legitimate. For those who are interested, Hawthorn (2009) of Professor from Cambridge University dismisses Dawkins rather abruptly in an interview available on the web.
There are different ways of describing scientific activities and explorations and it is clear that every scientist, social scientist or otherwise, has to decide which is the more appropriate for him or herself. Although the methodology is important at the end of the day what really matters is that the research findings are accepted by the appropriate subset of the scientific community (Wittgenstein 1969).
Feyerabend P, 1993, Against Method, p18, 3rd Ed, Verso, London
Hawkins G, 2009, viewed 4 July 2010
Kaplan A, cited in Rosenthal R and R Rosnow, 1991, The Essentials of Behavioral Research: Methods and Data Analysis, McGraw Hill International series, Second Edition, New York.
Lakatos I, (undated), listened to 4 July 2010
Medawar P, 1986, The Limits of Science, p51, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Wittgenstein L, 1969, On Certainty, sct. 378, ed. by Anscombe and von Wright.


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