Monday, 11 June 2007

New Scientist and Science

My first issue of New Scientist was finally delivered today! I'm very much looking forward to getting up-to-date on the world of science again. And not just science research, either - one of the things I like about New Scientist is that it often covers current social and political issues that pertain to science, and I usually agree with the position that the magazine takes. I like to think that it's bipartisan, above the conservative/progressive political divide - but doesn't everyone like to think they're unbiased? :p
The thing that I find interesting about this viewpoint is that we usually think of science as progressive, but the process of scientific peer review, a cornerstone of science, is necessarily conservative.
I was having a discussion with someone the other day, who was telling me about a maverick scientist who had "scientifically proven" that the human mind could reorganise cell structure etc. Hijacking "science" like this bothers me. Regardless of the actual truth of those claims (which I couldn't argue specifically since I didn't know anything about them), no lone man - or team or organisation - can scientifically "prove" anything - same goes for all pseudo-scientific claims. The best one can do is present evidence and have it accepted by the scientific establishment. (Which of course doesn't make it true, but is the closest thing to "proving" it.)
So, it's a bit strange, but I, who usually have very little faith in conservatism, strongly agree with the role of the scientific establishment in scientific progress.

Disclaimer: I'm not a scientist and can't speak for anyone else. But why let a trifling detail like that get in the way of a good rant?


Brett said...

Hey Nick!

I'm loving my New Scientist subscription still. I must admit though that I'm having trouble keeping up with them. At the moment I am 3 weeks behind, with a new copy arriving tomorrow. :(

Im trying hard not to get too far behind but it is hard.

I've found it takes me a longer to read New Scientist as opposed to other things as I tend to like to try to understand what I'm reading and not just skim over it. I'll keep trying though. haha


Luke Daley said...

I don't know if I would agree that science at it's core is conservative, at least not in the sense of progressive vs. conservative.

I see it more being "cautiously progressive". Most true scientists base their beliefs on evidence, not something that a lot of conservatives do.

If you ask me (and I realise you didn't), the defining characteristic of Science opposed to previous disciplines of discovery is the 'cautious' part. Look at Alchemy, fundamentally the same except that it was content with what simply 'seemed right' opposed to Science where you must prove (or as you correctly point out, go a long way towards proving) before it is considered.

I am no expert either, but I can't resist joining in on a good rant :)

Nick said...

No, science as a whole is not conservative;
just peer review, which is but one cornerstone of the whole scientific endeavour. It's peer review that provides the caution you described.