Friday, September 24, 2010

Science: What about Impure Science?

Science is a human endeavour. At it's best it's the most powerful and effective way I know of understanding our universe. We may never be able to explain everything. We may not even uncover all the principles and laws that make up our universe. We may never find out if there is a reason or a rhyme to it all. But nothing else makes us look at the wonders of the universe around us with more insight and insightful awe.


Science is a human endeavour. Some people promote theories for political and personal reasons. Some people strive to understand and discover for profit and glory. Some scientists have fudged figures, lied about experiments, and falsified data. Some scientists defend their turf not just with data and arguments but personal attacks and smear campaigns.


Over time experiments and results trump falsified data. Science is a collaboration taking place around the world and over time. Yesterday's mistakes are more than likely to be discovered and found out and corrected. Theories, no matter how useful politically, will end up being shown false and eventually replaced with better ones. Progress towards truth and understanding is not necessarily constant. There have been steps back as well as steps forward. Yet the overall endeavour continues. Slowly correcting itself. Slowly finding the laws and principles that are shown to work.

So when you read about Lies, damn lies, and Chinese science don't think this is a Chinese problem. Don't think the same sort of thing hasn't happened elsewhere. Don't think it won't happen again both in China and elsewhere around the world. Just know that sooner, or sadly later, bad science will be found out, bad papers will be retracted or removed from journals, and researchers who promote obviously incorrect theories and approaches will eventually be marginalized.

Science as a discipline slowly tries to improve our understanding and slowly tries to reach provable and testable consensus as to the best way of understanding the universe. That makes it a very special human endeavour.


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