Re: (Fwd) Re: guidelines/ethics

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Mon, 23 Dec 1996 12:05:19 -0800 (PST)

> While my views might be considered somewhat extreme, I think the term
> science has been somewhat debased in the past decades. Not willing to
> revive the dead and rotten (and good riddance) physics&lyrics thread,
> science, regrettably, is not a (tm), alas. Absurd combinations like
> "christian science" and "domestic science" etc. prove my point. Imho,
> the term science (probably accompanied by the "hard" epithet) should be
> reserved for mathematics and physics alone, secondary sciences (e.g.
> chemistry, molecular biology, etc.), then medicine, social sciences,
> historical sciences (archeometry is an exact science, though) etc. only
> following after.

While I may sympathize with the degradation of the word "science", I
don't see the cognitive value of this definition. True, medicine is
based on top of biology, which sits atop chemistry, which all comes
down to physics, but to give physics some fundamental respect that it
is a difference in kind rather than just subject matter requires an
intrinsicist leap of faith that an honest scientist must reject. True,
it may be the lowest coneptual level we currently can measure, but why
treat it as something "fundamental", when there may be a thousand levels
below what we currently call "physical law"? If all of our perceptions
at each of these levels is reported honestly, and our integrations of
those perceptions are tested empirically; subjected to criticism,
review, and repetition; and our conclusions and predictions strictly
limited to those tested results, then we are performing science. It
is the process that is valuable, and should be defined, respected, and
applied to whatever subject matter our perceptions find to apply it.

And mathematics serves an entirely different function--it is purely a
creation of cognition. Any attachment of mathematical models to "reality"
takes one out of the realm of math. There is no such thing as an
empirical test of mathematics, whereas empirical results are the very
foundation of science. Most sciences use mathematics as a tool to
understand and generalize from the empirical data, but such is not
science, or else we would still be Newtonians. The mathematics of
Newtonian mechanics were clean and beautiful and matched perfectly our
empirical evidence up to QM, but the fact that scientists modified it
in light of QM came from the conviction that empirical evidence against
it in quantum situations could not be rationally ignored. In other words,
it came from science: the refusal to evade reality.

To create greater respect for good, honest, science, your distraction
with subject matter serves no purpose. Perceptions--the best of which
are quantitative measurements, of course--at the medical/biological
level are no less real than perceptions at the quantum level. Science
is nothing more or less than the conviction that we should use those
perceptions as the final arbiter of what we choose to carry in our
consciousness as our mental model of the world. Respect for science
comes from that conviction, and from the integrity of those practicing
it, not from the subject matter to which we apply it.

Things like "Creation Science" are an abomination precisely because
they use faulty epistemology and backwards methodology--straining the
interpretations of perception beyond the breaking point to justify
pre-written conclusions from non-empirical sources. "Domestic Science",
on the other hand might be real science or not, depending on what is
actually taught. If it teaches things like leaving avocado pits in
your guacamole to keep it green, or searing meat to "seal in juices"
or other easily disproven nonsense, then it deserves derision. If, on
the other hand, it teaches proper respect for repeatable, measurable,
results and just happens to use cooking as the subject matter, then it
is a true science and deserves respect as such. If you make several
batches of guacamole, label them randomly, then leave instructions for
a friend to take them from the fridge and show them to another friend,
letting him judge objective criteria like color, texture, saltiness,
etc., then you are a scientist no less than Feynmann at the particle

Subject-snobbery will do more harm than good to respect for science.