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Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us 474

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-enough-newtons dept.
Lanxon writes "An in-depth feature in Wired explores the reason science may be failing us. Quoting: 'For too long, we've pretended that the old problem of causality can be cured by our shiny new knowledge. If only we devote more resources to research or dissect the system at a more fundamental level or search for ever more subtle correlations, we can discover how it all works. But a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot. And this is why, even when we know everything about everything, we'll still be telling stories about why it happened. It's mystery all the way down.'"
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Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:17PM (#38882883)

    As knowledge expands, it becomes harder and harder to see the big picture. Everyone becomes a specialist, focusing on narrower and narrower specialties.

    But that's not a bad sign. It's just an inevitable wall. There are only so many years in a human life and only so much any one person can learn and retain in that time. We just have to work a little more at stepping back from our tiny cages and saying "So what does this really mean in the larger scheme of things?" and recognizing there is larger world beyond our narrowly-focused field of view.

    Well, either that or we could just ask Jesus to tell us what to do.

    • by Omnifarious (11933) * <eric-slash@omnif ... s.org minus city> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:29PM (#38883067) Homepage Journal

      I agree.

      I think we need to start focusing on systems theory. Many large systems share some very similar characteristics. We need people who are big picture people, who can see the forest for the trees. Of course, without knowing about the trees, a forest is something of a mystery. We need both kinds of people. But the usefulness of pure reductionism is at its end, and we need to recognize that and start taking a different approach to understanding.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:45PM (#38883287)

        "Many large systems share some very similar characteristics...We need people who are big picture people, who can see the forest for the trees."

        Except that everyone who gets large systems dropped out of the current, fucked-up system long before being awarded a research post for their willingness to play along.

        • by SgtDink (1930798) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:18PM (#38883731)
          This post and parents nailed it. If you don't do reductionist science, it is hard (but possible) to receive funding since everyone is trained in anti-systems (reductionist) theory. Very hard to get folks to understand that reality is complex so it needs to be studied that way when they are publishing and getting tenure. In biology it is now possible to do massively parallel reductionism using new technologies (genetic/genomic), but putting those measurements back into a system capable of predictive outcome is key. If diabetes goes away, people will listen. I am VERY excited that the roll out of applied network theory across all disciplines will reveal underlying principles that will allow for a massive shift in our ability to predict cause-effect relationships. Star Trek Tech is near...I can feel it.
          • by travisco_nabisco (817002) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @07:01PM (#38884295)
            Then we will be one step closer to psychohistory!!
          • by tibit (1762298) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @07:41PM (#38884777)

            The predictive outcome is you mention is otherwise known as a scientific theory, and is pretty much what science is all about. I don't care much whether a theory is "reductionist" or "systems", as long as it's a good theory (it works!), it's valuable. I do agree that many science teams could use an outsider systems guy to try an see the big picture better by not being absorbed in the minutiae.

            • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:38PM (#38886043) Journal

              Science failed us?

              Nope.

              It's us, the human beings, who have failed science.

              Science stays the way it is. Scientific principles stay the way they are.

              It's us, the human, who have failed to put enough effort to get to know Science and now we blame Science for failing us.

              Ridiculous !!!

              • by Internetuser1248 (1787630) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @08:25AM (#38890237)

                Science failed us?

                Nope.

                It's us, the human beings, who have failed science.

                Science stays the way it is. Scientific principles stay the way they are.

                It's us, the human, who have failed to put enough effort to get to know Science and now we blame Science for failing us.

                Ridiculous !!!

                What!? We have failed science? By being too subjective and human i guess. Because real science is objective and independent of humans? You have reduced science to a religion. Stop it, science is not a religion, it is a tool. Part of having a tool is having a handle for the human hand to grasp, or a monitor for human eyes to view what is going on. What is this 'Science' that you praise and worship so? This omnipotent, omniscient, universal force the embodies all that is good and pure in the universe. Go start a church if you like, the word scientology is taken though, I usually use the word 'scientism' to describe your particular religion. Now go, and leave this discussion to the tool-using animals that wish to improve their tools.

          • by TerranFury (726743) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @08:32PM (#38885421)

            If you don't do reductionist science, it is hard (but possible) to receive funding since everyone is trained in anti-systems (reductionist) theory.

            Wait. Really? There are entire fields that do nothing but systems theory. The names shift. Cybernetics. Systems theory. Control systems. Complex networks. Cyberphysical systems. There are lots of people doing work in precisely the areas you suggest. Take a look at the NSF's "Broad Agency Announcements." There is funding.

            ...

            I do find it a bit amazing that science works at all. In machine learning, there are notions of the complexity of learning, and one of the basic ideas is that, as the class of models you are willing to consider grows, the amount of data you need to be sure, with reasonable statistical significance, which of those models describes it, grows very rapidly -- so rapidly that it is a miracle that we have apparently learned anything at all. See "VC dimension," "Rademacher complexity," etc.

            The best explanation I can come up with is that the class of physical theories the human mind can conceive is actually quite limited (or, our priors are very good), and that it is evolution, over millions of years, that has gathered the necessary data to build a brain capable of conceiving of only the right theories, and that the role of conscious experimentation is only to narrow things down within this already-restricted set.

            Because if the human mind is not much more limited than we like to think, then I do not know how we know anything.

          • If you don't do reductionist science, it is hard (but possible) to receive funding

            This is not really true - look at condensed matter physicists - they study the bulk properties of matter and this probably the largest area of physics. Even in particle physics we have ion collisions which study the bulk properties of the early universe and are leading to insights such as a new Quark-Gluon-Plasma state.

            I found it very telling that the article was entirely about medicine which is not science but a combination of science and art. Medicine's primary goal is to heal people NOT to understand

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Biology solved this problem of mindset a decade and a half ago, at least within its own issues, as bioinformatics started developing tools for high-level and high-throughput analysis. It did this on its own, transitioning over the course of many long decades prior from asking questions like "which mutation in which gene causes condition x?" to being able to display the status of all genes in all tissues at the same time with microarrays (a technology eerily similar to an old mainframe front panel, except in

        • This. I really loathe science journalism that starts with the premise "this is what's wrong with science today" when they're talking about problems that actual scientists have been working on for a generation or more.

      • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @07:07PM (#38884367) Homepage Journal

        We need people who are big picture people, who can see the forest for the trees. Of course, without knowing about the trees, a forest is something of a mystery. We need both kinds of people.

        I think it's a mistake to think that these should be two different groups of people. There are a lot of "forest" people who don't actually know anything at all about trees, and whatever they think they know about forests will be complete nonsense as a result. You see this a lot on Slashdot, actually; it seems to be a common failing among computer scientists to think that just because you can write code to describe a system, in some fashion, that means you actually understand the system. Certainly scientists in a lot of fields tend to overspecialize, but in interdisciplinary fields such as bioinformatics, you just have to start with some of the tree knowledge, or you won't be able to say anything meaningful about the forest at all.

        And yes, this means spending a lot of years in school studying many different and not-obviously-related subjects, and no, that blog post you read last week doesn't count.

    • by mykos (1627575) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:35PM (#38883131)
      Science needs to make it a top priority figure out a way to keep our consciousnesses around forever, or at least a very long time. Mortality is a cruel reset button.

      Stop trying to cure diseases and work toward getting rid of the flesh, perhaps.
      • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:56PM (#38883409)
        I think curing all diseases is a much closer goal than unlocking the key to consciousness and replicating the mind as an eternal machine. Besides, disease is the reason many of us die at all. I remember reading a story about a 500 year old clam. Why do we even die at all?

        Take a look at this ranking of causes of death [wikipedia.org]. Turns out, by eradicating cardiovascular diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, cancer, and respiratory diseases we eliminate 71.36% of the reasons people die. Next up on the list are unintentional injuries (getting hit by a car) and intentional injuries (jumping off a building). So as long as you avoid those two things you're going to live a long damn time.
        • by Americano (920576) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:34PM (#38883913)

          Problem is, cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, and respiratory ailments are often caused (or highly exacerbated by) simple wear and tear and aging on the body. Damage accumulates at the genetic level, and the body slowly loses its ability to replace cells and tissue. By saying "eradicate cardiovascular disease," what you're really saying is "find a way to make the body infinitely self-sustaining," which we're barely scratching the surface of understanding today.

          Entropy's a bitch, and not something we're likely to find a silver bullet for. Many increases in life span beyond our current point will need to address the "wear and tear" aspect of aging, and find a way to slow or reverse those conditions, in parallel with dealing with the lifestyle issues that expose us to carcinogens and the like.

      • by Tom (822)

        I've dabbled somewhat in the question of immortality, not on the biological questions but on the psychological ones. To the best of my current knowledge, not only the body but also the mind has not evolved to last for much longer than it does. I'm not talking about Alzheimer and other diseases, but the very structure of our mind.

        Also, society has not developed methods to deal with really long life.

        Just consider all the baggage that you accumulate. The memories, pains and longings, the smaller on bigger ment

      • by niftydude (1745144) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:42PM (#38883995)
        Ray Kurzweil likes to pop out his prediction that if the current rate of increase in life expectancy holds, then in 15 years time, human life expectancy will increase by more than 1 year per year.

        So if you can hold out for another 15 years, maybe you will live forever.

        Or maybe he is applying a linear extrapolation to a non-linear process.

        Anyway - ask me in 15 years, and I'll tell you if science has failed us or not.
      • by SoftwareArtist (1472499) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @08:05PM (#38885139)

        On the contrary, death is one of nature's greatest inventions. If you want to keep making progress, you need to constantly keep clearing away the old to make room for the new. How would you like driving if every car (and horse drawn cart, and covered wagon pulled by oxen) ever made was still on the roads? Sure, it's not so nice when you're the old thing that's getting cleared away. But do you want to sacrifice the welfare of all the countless generations to come, just because you want to stick around past your time? What if the earth were crammed to the breaking point with every pre-human and dinosaur and trilobyte that ever lived, still alive and sticking around? We each get our turn, and when it's over, we need to step aside to make room for the future.

        Besides, what is "a very long time"? A year? (That's huge for a fly.) 10 years? (Incredibly long for a mouse.) 100 years? 1000 years? We're already one of the longer lived animal species on this planet, and no matter how long you live, I doubt you'll ever consider it "long enough".

    • The article doesn't bring up any useful insights and delivers its message with the writing skills of a drunken philosopher.

      No, really.

      The author has a complete misunderstanding of science. I don't even know why it's on /.

  • Who says (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:18PM (#38882901)

    that science is failing us? Define success...?

    • Re:Who says (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IICV (652597) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:34PM (#38883117)

      Exactly! If this is failure, then I don't think I want to succeed!

    • Re:Who says (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Beerdood (1451859) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:42PM (#38883235)
      Maybe they could replace the header with "medical science" - as every example the TFA deals with some issue dealing with human biology. Science is not failing us (as the sensational headline indicates) in physics, or chemistry or even social / behavioral science. And it's not *failing* us in the medical department either really, there's just a lot more complexity when it comes to the human body. And when you throw in some other factors you don't see in other sciences, such as the placebo effect, or realizing that the body heals itself eventually, then maybe trial and error just doesn't work so well.

      The story seems to focus on the pharmaceutical industry specifically, maybe that's the problem here and not the scientific method. Most of their money is made by spending billions into R&D, then hoping they get a useable drug out of it they can patent and make money off of. Well maybe the problem here is the corners that are cut and they're essentially racing to get it FDA approved (and with as few side effects as possible). That's bound to bring up some bad science, and questionable or skewed results in the name of profit. That's not "Science failing us" - that's greed and human error causing the problem.
      • Mod up. My sentiments exactly.

        Even in medicine (though I do not say the same about the pharmaceutical industry)... like the recent announcement by MIT of a treatment that could cure nearly ALL viruses, [mit.edu] including HIV and the common cold.

        And the recent research into restoring telomerase in the human body.

        And... and... and...

        I don't see any "failure" here.
      • Maybe they could replace the header with "medical science" - as every example the TFA deals with some issue dealing with human biology.

        Exactly. Complex living systems are ... complex ... and living.

        Science is not "failing" anything. Science is continually expanding our knowledge.

        The problem is when people don't apply the correct scientific rigour to the problem at hand. As with the medical examples in TFA. Humans are complex, living systems. They change as their environment changes. Including drugs taken.

        An

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Any time anyone puts 'causality' in the same story as medical science, what theya re really saying is:
        "My [magic woo] works cause I know it works. he fact that 'science' can't objectivity see result means science is wrong, not me."
        These people also don't understand what science is.

        • Indeed - the OP offered no solutions, just made a rather bland accusation.

          The hard part is not in many cases causality being misleading.
          It's the evidence being poor, and not-well scrutinised.
          The OP mentions the fact that MRIs of people with back problems seemed to imply that physical defects lead to back problems.

          But this is statistical nonsense, and is very often not followed up, because to do the other study is expensive.

          If you're a doctor dealing with back problems, it's almost free to ask 100 of your pa

      • Re:Who says (Score:5, Informative)

        by icebike (68054) * on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:12PM (#38883645)

        Exactly.

        There were way to many financial pressures to find a impartial result at way to many steps along the way.

        Add that to the difficulty of actually testing anything in the human system and you have a prescription for frequent failure. "According to a recent analysis, more than 40 per cent of drugs fail Phase III clinical trials." A negative result is not a failure. Its the ultimate money (and life) saving step. That they went to clinical trials with little more than hunch, and the FDAs blessing that it "should cause no harm" simply says their internal standards were not tight enough, and testing in glassware and rats not nearly a good enough method.

        It says nothing about science at all. TFA's indictment of science seems a little over wrought.

        But its not surprising that this author would try to spin it that way when you review his bio you find this prescient quote:

        "Lehrer fancies himself – and not without reason – as a sort of one-man third culture, healing the rift between sciences and humanities by communicating and contrasting their values in a way that renders them comprehensible to partisans of either camp."

        Given the guys inability to operate in either camp successfully, he appoints himself a ambassador to both! He seems pre-disposed to doubt the methods of science rather than the motivation of the people involved. His training is in neuroscience, the epitome of un-testable theories. And so he presumes the entire world operates that way.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LifesABeach (234436)
      Bubble Wrap is very fascinating.
    • Sucessful Science:
        1) Flying cars.
        2) Condos on the Moon
        3) Ice cream that doesn't melt
        4) Virtual reality
        5) Interstellar space travel
        6) Cold Fusion
        7) Star Trek Replicators
        8) The End of Poverty
        9) An everlasting Gobstopper
      10) Proof that P = NP

      • by magarity (164372)

        1 - 9 on your list are all technologies, which are only applications of scientific discoveries and theories.

    • that science is failing us? Define success...?

      Sure, right after you define "is".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:19PM (#38882917)

    Science is not about explaining everything, it's about explaining stuff that what we know in a way that is consistent with other stuff that we know.

    • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:38PM (#38883173)

      Its more about coming up with the most efficient way to make falsifiable predictions about the future that work often enough to be useful. this explaining stuff is a part but not the whole thing.

      The summary seems to be, science sucks because its not a bunch of non-science liberal arts philosophy babble. Which is right up there with music sucks because its not a good painting.

      The real discussion question, is what happened to wired? It used to be cool, well, a long time ago it used to be cool. Now?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In other words "hey philosophy majors, no one cares!"

  • What's the point? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kyrio (1091003) <slashdot&lurkmore,com> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:22PM (#38882973) Homepage
    The title has nothing to do with the summary, in fact the summary doesn't even comment on the title's conclusion, so what's the point of this article? The only thing I've learned from the article is that science does what it does and nothing has failed anything.
    • Um, at /., one doesn't RTFA; it gets in the way of one's conjectures.
    • The point is ... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The title of the article is: "Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us". It fits the story well.

      The story describes how the use of our usual scientific methods leads, very often, to failure. Such failures are measured in billions of dollars. The original article cites cases and offers possible explanations of why this situation came to exist.

      Bottom line: As we try to understand very complicated systems, we find that our old trusted techniques of reductionism and correlation don't do a very good job.

      • by ToasterMonkey (467067) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @12:45AM (#38887625) Homepage

        The story describes how the use of our usual scientific methods leads, very often, to failure. Such failures are measured in billions of dollars.

        "The TV scientist who mutters sadly, "The experiment is a failure; we have failed to achieve what we had hoped for," is suffering mainly from a bad script writer. An experiment is never a failure solely because it fails to achieve predicted results. An experiment is a failure only when it also fails adequately to test the hypothesis in question, when the data it produces don't prove anything one way or another."
        - Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

        Are you judging scientific methods on their ability to generate income???

        Bottom line: As we try to understand very complicated systems, we find that our old trusted techniques of reductionism and correlation don't do a very good job.

        I don't get it, reductionism and correlation don't work well at a high level of complexity... ?
        Everything starts with a high level of complexity, that's why we employ reductionism.
        The world is complex at ANY scale. We wouldn't have come to this level of understanding if we gave up, and bowed down fearfully to irreducible chaos.

        Wait, what would you consider a 'good job' to be?

  • Science isn't a goal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fned (43219) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:25PM (#38883009) Journal

    It's a direction.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      or the vehicle to travel in, whichever way you're going.

    • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:32PM (#38883097)

      No, Science is applied philosophy, aka the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method [wikipedia.org]. It is _one_ way to acquire Truth. And like any process, it works well with certain types of inputs, and completely fails at others.

      But it is NOT the _only_ process; however it happens to work well, and handle many inputs.

      Many people ignore the fact that it is an _incomplete_ process. Ignoring the weaknesses of any system is the height of arrogance.

      • by jdgeorge (18767) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:43PM (#38883247)

        The scientific method is a simple, well-tested, approach to empirical study of a subject. The scientific method is as complete as it needs to be. However, if the method is not applied rigorously, the results will not be reliable.

        "Truth" is not part of the scientific method, and has a very ambiguous meaning. Furthermore, capitalizing the letter T in truth suggests interest in something other than science.

        • The scientific method falls flat on its face on several subjects - a good one would be "I have terminal cancer - do I have a right to die at a time, place, and method of my choosing?"
          How about climate change? "Assuming the worst scenarios of AGW, should we try to do anything about it?

          Values and ethics are not subjects that are amenable to the scientific method.

          • by naasking (94116)

            The scientific method falls flat on its face on several subjects - a good one would be "I have terminal cancer - do I have a right to die at a time, place, and method of my choosing?"

            I disagree, science can and indeed has been applied to the study of ethical questions. Google the Science of Morality.

      • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:05PM (#38883555)

        It is _one_ way to acquire Truth.

        The scientific method absolutely cannot determine what is true; it can only tell you what is false. That is, you cannot "prove" anything by applying the scientific method. The best you can do is falsify a hypothesis. Did you actually read the article you linked? It says it right in there.

      • by Tom (822)

        It is _one_ way to acquire Truth. And like any process, it works well with certain types of inputs, and completely fails at others.

        Theoretically, I agree with you, on the part that absolutism is stupid.

        However, you make a specific claim. Care to back it up? Name a few examples where science "completely fails". I don't mind stuff where scientists are still working on the answers, that is not failure.

        But it is NOT the _only_ process; however it happens to work well, and handle many inputs.

        This is the second specific claim you make. Please name a few other processes that also produce results.

        Many people ignore the fact that it is an _incomplete_ process. Ignoring the weaknesses of any system is the height of arrogance.

        Yes and no. Science is also a meta-process - it can reflect upon itself and improve upon itself. That is the main difference and advantag

      • by Shavano (2541114)

        No, Science is applied philosophy, aka the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method [wikipedia.org]. It is _one_ way to acquire Truth. And like any process, it works well with certain types of inputs, and completely fails at others.

        But it is NOT the _only_ process; however it happens to work well, and handle many inputs.

        Many people ignore the fact that it is an _incomplete_ process. Ignoring the weaknesses of any system is the height of arrogance.

        I have observed that the use of a captital T in Truth is anti-correlated to concern for standards of proof. It usually means that "I think I know things for which I have no evidence that I can show you."

        Yes, there are certain categories of question that are not well-addressed by science. For example, "Is it a good idea to club baby seals to death so we can wear their fur?" or "Should I wear the pink socks or the blue ones with this blouse?" However, questions such as "Does drug candidate A reduce the sym

    • A process of knowing about the natural universe. When done properly, it is extremely reliable. However it never claims to be able to explain everything. The scientific method is purely about the testable, and more particularly the falsifiable. There can be things that are true, but don't fall in that category.

      None of that is a failing of science. All of our cool modern technology is a proof of how well science works. We discover something, test it to see if it is true, and then it gets applied. That it work

  • But the summary is rubbish. Ignore the summary and just read the article.
    • The article isn't a whole lot better. Basically whining that 'science' doesn't produce shineys on regular, repeatable intervals that we can bank on.

      In particular, the idea that we understand much about the incredibly complex interactions in human biology is just magical thinking. Just because the CEO of a large drug company managed to hoodwink some investors, the world isn't ending. Nor is science.

      Yes, we rely on 'correlation is related to causation' a lot. We do so because it often works, and when it d

  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:27PM (#38883033)
    Anyone see the massive irony in this being posted on the internet, run by computers, powered by electricity, declaring that science is "failing us?"

    First example in the story: a drug that doctors thought was going to work... didn't... The scientists mixed up what was causing what.

    They had a hypothesis and tested it. We can say that the hypothesis was wrong because of what? That's right, because of science.

    To imply that science is failing, or we need to reconceptualize "causality," simply because it's difficult... that's idiotic.

    Finally, this article falls into a common mistake with science writing: confusing clinical trials with ALL SCIENCE RESEARCH. I do basic biological research. Don't lump me in with clinical researchers, critique their methods, and then say that all science research is messed up.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:34PM (#38883119) Journal
    all the remaining methods fail us even more. So even if the mumbo jumbo you are saying is really true, I will stick with science. You ponder about whether or not science is giving right answers, next time when you are at cruise altitude inside a shiny aluminum bubble with less than 0.1 mm of aluminum between you and a -40 degree (F or C does not matter) atmosphere with pressure so low your blood will boil instantly at that temperature. Happy thoughts.
  • ...does not mean other disciplines are doing it too. Lets face is: Medicine is still in a relatively early phase and it is doubtful whether many of its areas even deserve to be called "science". There is a saying: "In medicine, new ideas can only be tested when the proponents of the old ones are dead." Really quite pathetic, although it has gotten a bit better.

    Now to take the failing of medicine and generalize it to other sciences is just an invalid argument of somebody with a limited (and unaware of it) vi

  • The article doesn't remind me of Cause and Effect, but something more like Bull and Shit.
  • I shall have a read of the article, but the summary is a mess; it reads like someone talking about something they don't understand.

    Last time I checked science isn't failing anyone. The vast majority of problems we have are of our own doing (climate change, obesity, poor health, poverty and deprivation, conflict). Perhaps the editors of slashdot should start editing submissions rather than letting junk summaries get to the front page.
  • by argStyopa (232550)

    From TFA: "And yet, we must never forget that our causal beliefs are defined by their limitations. For too long, we've pretended that the old problem of causality can be cured by our shiny new knowledge. If only we devote more resources to research or dissect the system at a more fundamental level or search for ever more subtle correlations, we can discover how it all works. But a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot. And this is why, ev

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:39PM (#38883201) Journal

    I (very) briefly looked at TFA and saw something about how some drug trial didn't go the way some pharmaceutical company thought it would.

    Then I saw something about how people looking at the relative positions of a red and blue ball couldn't reliably put them into a casual relationship.

    For the WIRED editors who allowed the story to be published (and slashdot editors who allowed this story to be posted) to see this as a repudiation of Science (and Causality) is ludicrous. Why didn't they say that maybe the reason why their drug didn't work out is because Science doesn't claim to understand completely the biochemistry of the human body (yet). Why didn't they say that the human proclivity to create a narrative where none exists (like with the red and blue balls) is an interesting and not (yet) wholly understood psychological phenomenon?

    Science has given us so much (flight, health, food, cities, mobility, global communications, etc.) and has proven itself on every scale from the cosmic to the nano-scopic that I can only ask:

      Is WIRED a Fox subsidiary?

  • by RockoTDF (1042780) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:40PM (#38883209) Homepage
    Science is not failing us. Apparently, the pharmaceutical companies and their correlational studies are. Science - whether behavioral, biological, or physical - does not necessarily depend on correlations. Manipulating an independent variable and comparing it to other conditions (a control group, for example) is what makes an experiment more than just a correlational study. This is what allows us to make causal relationships clearer, even if we don't perfectly understand the pathways that lead A to cause B. By failing to make this distinction, the article makes it sound as if scientists are merely fumbling around in the dark without a clue as to how anything works. Really this article just provides many fine examples of how correlational information used by medical doctors is failing us - not scientists doing actual experiments.
  • ...isn't that one of the exact flaws the article is accusing some modern research of? Plus I'm glad there are scientists there to conclude a drug is not safe and to show that MRIs are not useful in determining causes of chronic back pain; how is that a failure of science?
  • From the summary and the kind of English usage, I thought this guy one of those philosophy majors who periodically infest science discussions with terms like philosophical materialism etc in the grand tradition of Rene "cogito, ergo sum" Descartes.

    Nah, this guy is on the up-and-up, neuroscience degree from Columbia. Studying that hard to understand neurotransmitters, synapses etc using the same neurotransmitters and synapses could leave one with ideas in his brain that can not be communicated to other bra

  • Randian (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tmosley (996283) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:45PM (#38883271)
    It's like this article was written by a villain dreamed up by Ayn Rand.

    The author's claim that you can't link cause and effect is utter hogwash. He claims you can't say that an apple falls to the Earth because of gravity, which is stupid because gravity is DEFINED by that action. What we don't KNOW is what causes the phenomena we have labelled as gravity. It is a very poor example. He then proceeds to talk about people assuming causation in an ANIMATED MOVIE. Well, of course one ball hitting the other ball on a screen didn't cause it to move. They are just light and shadow in patterns that change with time! Claiming that the people have faulty perception is like claiming that people who read superhero comics really believe in people with superpowers, and can't tell that they are looking at a piece of paper with ink on it. He ignores the suspension of disbelief that the original experimenters introduced when they chose to use a medium that wasn't based on physical objects.

    This guy just presents fallacy after fallacy and expects us to accept his dumb conclusion that science is somehow "over". Fuck that, and fuck him.
    • by tgibbs (83782)

      No, technically it is correct. We can observe any number of apples fall to the earth, and calculate its rate of acceleration to whatever precisions we wish, but logically that will never prove that there is a force called gravity that will affect every apple that we could possibly drop in the future. All explanations and generalizations are theory, and inherently tentative.

      But so what? We can't even disprove solipsism, yet we procede to act upon the assumption that there is an external reality that has regu

  • It's just a very generalized process of getting more reliable information than we would otherwise. It works differently than the genetic algorithm method of multiple simultaneous train and error. Both have their good and bad points, but if you're looking for "Truth" with a capital "T" here, you might as well be waiting for Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Your odds on seen any of them are about as good as finding "Truth" and for the same reason. All are fantasy - a byproduct of non-self reflective human cog

  • Science isn't failing the public, rather the public is failing science - especially in the US. The American public expects great things from science for almost no money invested, and simultaneously refuses to make any effort to understand any results that are more complicated than "we just cured cancer!" (nevemind that such a thing is, inherently, massively complicated).
  • Those who do not read Karl Jaspers are fated to rewrite Karl Jaspers, poorly.

  • Several years ago when Lipitor ads started playing on TV, they would say near the end of the ad, "Lipitor has been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol has been shown to be an indicator for increased risk of heart disease."

    They made it quite clear that Lipitor does not lower your risk of heart disease. Basically the marketing was saying, "Our skin lotion reduces the appearance of wrinkles. Wrinkles are a sign of aging", which definitely does not claim "Our skin lotion actually prevents agin

    • by c0d3g33k (102699)

      That's not a scam - that's honesty. Statins (Lipitor is a statin) do what it says on the box: they lower blood cholesterol. As you've often read on this site, correlation does not equal causation - the statement you find troublesome is an acknowledgement of that. A scam would be an outright claim that statins reduce the risk of heart disease. They actual do in certain cases (reduce risk of cardiac events and stroke in patients with pre-existing cardiac conditions), apparently (http://www.bmj.com/content

  • by smoothnorman (1670542) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @05:49PM (#38883341)
    Es ist nicht das Ziel der Wissenschaft, der unendlichen Weisheit eine Tür zuöffnen, sondern eine Grenze zu setzen dem unendlichen Irrtum. -- Bertolt Brecht "Leben des Galilei"

    here's my (dubious) translation: It is not the goal of Science to open a door to endless knowledge, but rather to place limits upon endless error.

    this quote, i believe, it both filled with truthiness, and also reveals notable false-iness in the referenced article.

  • WTF is this gibberish in the summary? WTF with this misleading headline? WTF Slashdot? My mind is full of f*ck now.
  • What is old is new again. Yada Yada - the more we know the more there is to know. Can we say Quantum mechanics.
  • Greed, substandard methodology and the rush to market is failing us, that's what I get from the article.

    Is /. becoming the geek equivalent of Drudge report? Inflammatory, hyperbolic links to articles that are not?

  • The difference between faith and science is simple, faith only has stories, science you can keep drilling down to facts if the story is not enough.

    I once wrote a story about a mouse in a factory we had visited at school, presenting the factory as an old mouse explaining it to a young. It wasn't a hundred percent scientific but it did not lie. I got a perfect score both for writing and from the subject class itself. The teacher explained to another student who complained that my story did not go as deep as t

  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:05PM (#38883553)

    The universe would be boring. Next question?

panic: can't find /

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