Yesterday I discovered a page maintained by Oded Goldreich where a set of ideas, essays and opinions are posted. It is absolutely great. I particularly enjoyed:
Also, I just realised Bruce Francis has passed away. I never knew him personally and my interactions with him were from a distance. But he always seemed like a great academic with a keen mind and I have enjoyed listening to his presentations and reading his technical and nontechnical writing. I recommend checking out his work and his opinions.
You can go on and on about what the scientific method entails. If you are after some mild controversy you can just check out the wikipedia talk page. Anyhow, I do not want to discuss its philosophy here, what I really want to briefly rant about is the fact that it in its most common sense form is being forgotten, even in some of the “leading research institution” (what the hell a leading research institution is can be the subject of another lengthy discussion, but I digress). Let’s first clarify what is meant when I use the term “common-sense scientific method”. It is the process of making an educated guess based on some prior knowledge about a system or phenomenon, computing the consequences and implications of the aforementioned guess, checking the veracity of the guess through observations and experiment, and then repeating the process if the guess turns out to be rubbish (Check out this legendary Feynman’s lecture on it if you have time).
Now, I do not know what happened, and when it happened for that matter. I have some culprits in mind for the rise of this apparent disregard for the common-sense scientific method, particularly the hacker/agile bull-shit entrepreneur culture, but I haven’t been able to really pin it on them. Is their world view the reason for this disregard or they are its product. We never will know the answer. I even tried to blame the baby boomers for it, sure they are definitely at fault; at some points they just decided to maximise their own pay-offs with no respect for facts. But I still really cannot solely blame them. They just took advantage of a mood in the society where everyone stopped appreciating doing anything systematically based on hard facts. I don’t know what can be done except for begging my students (who are going to be engineers soon) to maybe, just maybe, consider doing things in a bit old-fashioned way.