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The Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results 153

Posted by samzenpus
from the well-that-didn't-work dept.
SilverTooth writes "Often, when watching a science documentary or reading an article, it seems that the scientists were executing a well-laid out plan that led to their discovery. Anyone familiar with the process of scientific discovery realizes that is a far cry from reality. Scientific discovery is fraught with false starts and blind alleys. As a result, labs accumulate vast amounts of valuable knowledge on what not to do, and what does not work. Trouble is, this knowledge is not shared using the usual method of scientific communication: the peer-reviewed article. It remains within the lab, or at the most shared informally among close colleagues. As it stands, the scientific culture discourages sharing negative results. Byte Size Biology reports on a forthcoming journal whose aim is to change this: the Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results. Hopefully, scientists will be able to better share and learn more from each other's experience and mistakes."

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The Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results

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  • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:46AM (#31019240) Journal

    Penicillin? Not a mistake so much as general messiness. The guy stacked up some bacterial cultures and went on vacation. One of them grew mold. He noticed that the bacteria near the mold were dead.

  • Re:Fantastic idea (Score:3, Informative)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:08AM (#31019554) Journal
    Stripped to its bare, ideological minimum, science is nothing more than observation. You can extrapolate the implications of those observations, but in the end everything we know in science can be traced down to an observation. That is why intelligent design fails at being a science: while it technically might be true, it is not an observation, it is a guess. FSM is not an observation it is a (silly) guess.

    All the trappings of science, the double-blind experiments, the peer review, etc. are merely ways to improve the accuracy of our observations. It is really beautiful, actually, to realize that for any fact in science you can say, "how do we know this?" and get back to the original observations that show it to be true. This is not something you can do with religion, or philosophy, or literary criticism.
  • Re:Fantastic idea (Score:3, Informative)

    by TapeCutter (624760) * on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:00AM (#31020034) Journal
    "Stripped to its bare, ideological minimum, science is nothing more than observation."

    You went too far, you stripped off the meat. Science uses observation to find models that accurately predict new observations. The guts of the philosophy is that the utility of reliable predictive models is self evident.
  • by AndersOSU (873247) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:38PM (#31023602)

    Watching something isn't scientific observation.

    Saying I saw a comet explode isn't science.

    Saying I saw a comet explode as it neared the sun is getting close because now you're hypothesizing that the sun had something to do with it.

    Saying, "the comet exploded due to the melting of water ice as it neared the sun, similar comets should explode as they near the sun as water ice appears to be a fundamental structural element" is science because now you're making testable and falsifiable statements about the comets in general. Now scientific community didn't have to see your comet, they just have to see a comet with similar conditions.

    All we have to do is wait for a comet that matches your description fly close to the sun and see if the same thing happens again. What's more future observers can do more detailed observation and get a better sense of the comets composition before it explodes - maybe it wasn't water but thermal stresses due to heating of dissimilar materials that broke it up, but because you made a scientific statement, now the scientific community knows at least to watch for comets as they get near the sun, because something interesting might happen. Even if you're wrong, it's still science. This is important, the public ought to realize that science is a process, not The Ultimate Truth.

    It gets a touch harder with historical sciences like evolution, "the raptor evolved into the chicken," is a scientific statement because I can test it with DNA for example, but I can't say why evolution chose that particular course, nor can I say if under the same conditions something resembling a raptor will evolve into something resembling a chicken. What I can say is that the two are related and when I make my Jurassic Park lets use chicken DNA instead of african frog DNA to fill in the missing pieces, it's a closer match and if anything is going to work chicken DNA will (also chickens don't spontaneously change sex - although I am concerned with the possibility of raptors with wings.)

    The hallmark of science is the development of models that yield useful information, but the only way to know if the model is right is to test it - which is why Popper and everyone else is so obsessed with falsifiability.

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