Another half-baked journalist



In this recent article: The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete we again find that what is not obsolete is the same tired critique of science. However this criticism comes with a bizzare new twist.

The author argues that we have reached a critical mass of data to where hypothesizing and other hallmarks of the scientific method are just not necessary.

of course, like most journalistic writing, it's a half-baked argument and not well researched. Most journalism would improve at least 40% (i'm feeling generous this morning) if they bothered to do a search in an academic database before sitting down to type.

The author assumes, I think, that the point of science is the revelation of Truth. This is patently false, as any scientist would argue that a good scientist is always skeptical.

What science and the scientific method aim for is intersubjectivity as opposed to Truth. That is, they reserve a space for the reconsideration of discoveries through the demand that the proof must be repeatable for anyone, in any place, at any time, given controlled conditions.

This is a very different model from the one assumed in the article, that data, analyzed and collected will lay bare the truth.

His weak understanding is not only wrong, but dangerous. A system of revelation is best left to religious fanatics. In revelation there is no room for dissent, contradiction, counterpoint, or even discussion. There is the Truth and there is the set of everything else. If you are in this last set, you are either an idiot or worse, you are willfully evil - you understand the Truth, but you reject it.

I think this journalist is trying to write a good piece, but his fundamental lack of engagement with work from the fields he's talking about makes his argument pretty dangerous. I'll take flawed intersubjective verification anyday over revelation of Truth because of the importance of holding a reserve for correctives. Without correctives, we are in what Kenneth Burke called the "Tragic Frame," and there's no recovery from that without serious violence.

Finally, the article made me want to sit down with the Feyerabend classic Against Method and Against Theory, whose author I forget at the moment (I've only had one cup of coffee so far today).

Both of those books make the same argument better - it doesn't matter how much data you have, that data will be twisted if you buy a stock frame. Better to have some doubt about the frame and try out a few before you conclude. This journalist thinks he's going "frameless" but he's just adopted the most dangerous frame of all - "the facts speak for themselves."

At least if I have my data under the scientific method, critique of that open method is possible. If we are in a relevatory frame, no critique is possible. The facts just are. And that shuts down the best facet of the human being - the potential to doubt.