The basic idea with scientific methodology

Bruce Charlton posts the deleted ending to his forthcoming book on the corruption of science, here.

All the points in the 8 point list are interesting. One point in particular I found useful was:

“6. Derive methods from your problem (not vice versa). What you actually do – your methods – will depend on your talents, your interests, your opportunities – these will arise from the interaction between yourself as an individual and the ‘problem’ you are tackling. Your methods might be theoretical or empirical. If theoretical they might be critical or constructive. If empirical they might be statistical, observational, experimental. And so on. It is hard to be more precise than that.”

Much has been written about the methodology of science. If the above is correct – and I basically agree with it – then the general ‘methodology’ of science is not technical but ‘in spirit’, or as Charlton says:

“Only do science if you are genuinely motivated to discover the truth and will practice the habit of truth.”

That’s about it. The methodology of science is ‘genuinely try to figure out what’s going on.’ The rest is all contingent, and difficult to convey in simple maxims. It is a domain-based craft, where a significant amount of the ‘know-how’ is intuitive or not easily reducible to simple algorithmic advice. It involves, more or less, a large range of problem-solving techniques which vary based on the situation. Different approaches may work in different situations, where we won’t necessarily know in advance which approach will work.


One thought on “The basic idea with scientific methodology

  1. brucecharlton

    Assuming this is right, this is yet another reason why science cannot be professionalized (or at least that such professionalization is rapidly destructive of science).

    In real science someone could launch into a completely new ‘method’ of investigating a problem with no more fuss than that they would need to persuade their colleagues in the ‘invisible college’ to take it seriously.

    I think I remember reading Paul Feyerabend saying something similar to my comments on there being no scientific methodology – but whether he meant the same as me I have no idea, since he seemed to be deliberately obscure.

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