I’ve been thinking a lot about what science means in our general political climate. One interesting question is:
Are we retreating from science?
To address this issue, I think of three distinct components, in increasing order of difficulty, controversy, and might I say, intractability.
- Day-to-day science
- Philosophy of science
- Ideology and policy formulation
1. Day-to-day science
This is what I did to get the degree that denoted me as a scientist. It was 80% mundane, mechanical, and diligence, and 20% creative, intuitive, and imaginative. This means reading thousands of pages of background material or chasing down a subscripts/superscripts, factors of 2, or minus signs in dozens of pages. I did theory, but an experimentalist would deal with analogues such as chasing down a bug in the processing of empirical data or ensuring their apparatus was wipe of all contaminating defects. I can say I’m qualified to speak here, with the further statement that I hit very quickly the boundaries of my domain of expertise: quantum information with a focus on the physical phenomenon of coherence, entanglement, and non-locality (spooky action at a distance).
Any controversy in the day-to-day science is purely technical. And although these can get pretty heated, there are clear metrics to judge and move forward.
So far, so good.
2. Philosophy of science
Almost all actual scientists don’t really do this since it’s effectively irrelevant to their academic or corporate positions. More junior people are too busy learning established methods and trying to level up for the next grade, degree, or grant. The senior researchers and professors are too busy on activities towards publication or grant writing. “Publish or perish” is a very real issue.
Here, controversy can be much more expansive and intractable since we’re going into the philosophical realm, which is unconstrained by empirical data or scientific methods.
For example, there’s established mathematics that works in quantum mechanics, but there’s much philosophical…