Slaying Dragons #38 – Scientific Rigour

John Watkinson considers scientific rigour.

I have benefited most of my adult life from having some knowledge of science and a bit of mathematics that went with it. I couldn’t imagine any other kind of life yet I am constantly reminded that it is a minority activity.

If I had to describe science in the simplest terms it would be that it is an acceptance of how things are observed to be in the natural world. It is an attempt to simplify the complexities of the real world by finding general mechanisms that seem to apply in numerous circumstances.

Once a set of findings is available, various hypotheses are suggested to account for them. Not all of them can be correct, but unless there is a reasoned debate the best one cannot be identified. Later findings may show that an existing hypothesis is incorrect or in need of refinement. Again a reasoned debate is needed to consider if the new findings are statistically significant and if the earlier ideas still hold.

Sometimes the ideas do hold, and indeed are strengthened by the debate. In other words, the more that an idea is challenged the stronger it becomes having survived those challenges. It is therefore fundamental to the progress of science that it is possible for opposing ideas to co-exist and be debated and from such debates strong or trustworthy knowledge emerges.

A corollary of that concept is that ideas that are protected in some way such that they cannot be challenged are probably shaky. Many of the ideas put forward by social science and religion fall into that category. A whole language is erected around shaky ideas. 

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