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Friday, December 18, 2015

Don't Mess With Popper ;-)


 Natalie Wolchover, ran a piece in Quanta recently with a title I love, "A Fight For the Soul of Science," covering some of the dissing of Popper falsification, in favor of more shoddy (IMO) induction-focused approaches (turning parts of modern-day physics into glorified metaphysics, by some accounts), leading to "a crisis" in which "the wildly speculative nature of modern physics theories... reflects a dangerous departure from the scientific method":

https://www.quantamagazine.org/20151216-physicists-and-philosophers-debate-the-boundaries-of-science/

As the article notes, "Theory has detached itself from experiment. The objects of theoretical speculation are now too far away, too small, too energetic or too far in the past to reach or rule out with our earthly instruments." That's a nice excuse for the science playground that has resulted, but in some form it could probably have been said at any point in the history of scientific method.
The discussion leads into Bayesianism (and specifically, "Bayesian confirmation theory"), and as always, Wolchover does a great job attempting to present different sides of a sticky topic. And I have no problem with (indeed I enjoy) speculative theorizing... I'm just unwilling to label it 'good science' (at best, it is good speculation, and that's often different).

Anyway, Andrew Gelman balanced some of the discussion with a more nuanced assessment, including lots of comments (and the debate goes on elsewhere, as well; see also an earlier Deborah Mayo take on Popperianism HERE):

http://andrewgelman.com/2015/12/17/gathering-of-philosophers-and-physicists-unaware-of-modern-reconciliation-of-bayes-and-popper/

In actuality, "the soul of science" has ALWAYS been threatened by different philosophical outlooks, but it ought be understood by all, that in general, "induction" (while necessary because it is unavoidable) is always a WEAK mode of empiricism, and it's no wonder a lot of folks are losing patience with the loosey-gooseyness in some areas of theoretical physics; a looseness that has long been present in biomedicine, psychology, economics, and some other areas, and in a kind of mission-creep (driven perhaps by academic/publication/career pressures), is now, to our detriment, expanding outward.


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