Why scientists disagree…

Posted on April 30, 2011


Jenny:  H0w come scientists disagree with each other?  Physicists disagree about string theory, biologists disagree with each other about evolution,

Fig 1 Will it work?

economists disagree about how to fix the economy, and on it goes.”

Professor Wiggly: “They disagree for the same reason you disagree with other people. On  important questions no one has all the relevant information  about the past or the present, and no one has any real fats about  about the future. And notice our most important questions, and those of science, concern what’s going to happen in the future.  You don’t know what’s going to happen to your health, your career, your marriage, your children, your finances, etc. You lack reliable information, so you have no choice but to make critically important decisions on the basis of  trusted bits of ginformation and assumptions,  bets  and guesses – your own and those of experts, including scientists. You depend on the bits of information and assumptions of scientists to help you answer questions about your health, the economy, the climate, new drugs, new treatments, complex and dangerous technology – like nuclear energy. Like you scientists don’t have all the information, they

Fig 2 Imaginary bridge

fill in the gaps between and beyond the dots with assumptions, with guesses, in a word with theory. We travel into the future not on facts but rather upon trusted imaginary bridges. Just as you disagree with others about their imaginary bridges reaching into the future, so too scientists disagree with the dots  and imaginary bridges connecting them that other scientists construct. That’s why science is a work in progress. That’s why Einstein warned us that those who set themselves up as judges in the field of truth or knowledge will be shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods. That’s why Richard Dawkins, the radical atheist doesn’t say ‘there is no God’.  Notice he hedges his bet, he says ; ‘there probably is no God.'”

Peter: ” So you’re saying the imaginary bridges the we – and scientists – build to travel on into the future are built on mushy foundations – on incomplete and conflicting information – and supported by imaginary sky hooks – by assumptions, hunches.  and bets – in other words by theories.  So when I think

Fig 3: Coffin

of getting marriad – imaginary bridge into the future – I’m building it’s one end  in the present on bits and pieces  of information about my girl friend and supporting the part extending into the future with nothing more than  hope and trust and pixie dust. With the stuff scientists call their theory. Just like me they have no reliable observations or facts about the future to provide a solid foundation out there. Like me their flying blind. No wonder they fight among themselves. No wonder they build imaginary bridges going off in all directions. As Herb Simon says: no conclusions without assumptions. For instanceI assume that the small sample of experience I’ve had with my girl friend provides me with a good picture of what she’s going to be like in the future, furthermore  I assume that my imaginary picture of how the future will unfold for us – health wise, money wise, kids wise is a valid picture. Come to think of it  the future unfolded very differently from what my parents expected – for starters my father died when I was only 6 – neither of us planned for that! Nor did my mother. So you’re saying that scientists also face surprises where things they trusted  – like  pet theories up and died on them.”

Fig 1: flickr.com/photos/sandiandsteve/5370890694/

Fig 2: .flickr.com/photos/pauldyer/4393421798

Fig 3: flickr.com/photos/49731216@N00/

Posted in: Sciencing