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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 jdgeorge (18767) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:43PM (#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 point is ... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @06:58PM (#38883433)

    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 Missing.Matter (1845576) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @07:05PM (#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.

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

    by icebike (68054) * on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @07:12PM (#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.

  • by niftydude (1745144) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @07:42PM (#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 TerranFury (726743) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @09:32PM (#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.

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