Barbara Forrest: The Trojan Horse at Dover

I don’t think so. It seem both entirely historical and in my experience very much connected to what scientists actually do.


So what? Some of these conditions are to be implicitly understood. If you look outside to observe if it is raining, you must have some expectation of what should be observable if it rains. As in a hypothesis that predicts what you you should see when it rains, and what you should see if it does not. That likely has something to do with how wet the ground looks, how cloudy it is, and whether you can actually see the rain falling through the air. And the control is of course how it usually looks when it isn’t raining.

Looking out of your own eyes is the method. You know, the same method you use when you look at everything else when doing science, whether you’re looking through a telescope and tracking the trajectory of some object in the sky, or through a microscope, or just noticing if media in your incubator has changed color.


I see the work that scientists do as something we all CAN do, but most do not.

We most easily learn this method of applying skepticism to our intuitions as children. Many adults, perhaps a majority, become resistant to it.


I would tend to label that “science/empiricism” or similar – to indicate that I’m talking about something that is very science-like, but not necessarily “science” in its narrowest sense of the word. I think Coyne phrases it “Science Broadly Construed”.

But I would be surprised if even science in its narrowest sense didn’t have varying degrees of standards, when considering divergent problems like (i) how to get my research to a level of precision that it can be published in a peer-reviewed journal, versus (ii) why isn’t my equipment working? I rather suspect that most scientists don’t “list a hypothesis, null hypothesis, specific methodology with controls, data sets, statistical analysis, or a p value” for the latter. :slight_smile:


I wouldn’t describe doing plumbing as doing or using science. I would, however, describe auto mechanics and detectives as true scientists who test hypotheses.

Statistical analyses aren’t part of the definition. Controls are, and are routinely used in day-to-day troubleshooting, which tends to be more about “why isn’t my experiment working” than “why isn’t my equipment working.”

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In science, we don’t assume methods, hypotheses, statistical analyses, and so forth.

That is not what I do when I do science. I actually measure stuff.

So what forms the basis of how a plumber will design a plumbing system for a home, or diagnose and solve a problem when a system is malfunctioning? Does he contemplate the poetry of William Blake? Does a god come down and reveal to him the solution? Or what?

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And when you measure stuff, how do you perform those measurements?


Depends on the method I am using, which I would also publish alongside the measurements.

That would be engineering, much of which comes from science, but that doesn’t constitute doing science.

Only in rare cases would plumbing involve hypothesis testing, while auto mechanics do it daily.

Okay. Give an example of an instrument you use.

An ELISA might be a good example. I don’t simply look at the plate and say some wells have more color than others. I measure the absorbance. I also wouldn’t say that an ELISA test was positive without describing the methods used and the controls that were used. If I were comparing two groups I would use statistical tests to see if there was a significant difference between them instead of simply saying they look different.

How do you know what the absorbance is?

By measuring the transmittance of light in a filter based spectrophotometer.

That’s what the plate reader is doing, not you. How do you know what the absorbance is?

I use the plate reader to make the measurement, just as you would use a ruler to measure length or a balance to measure mass. This is an objective test that can be repeated by others as required by the scientific method. It isn’t, “well, some of the wells were bluer than others”.

Okay, so when you use a ruler to measure some length, how do you tell what length you’re measuring?

In my experience everyone with functioning eyes can look out of their window to see if it’s raining.

You determine which pip is closest to what you are measuring. You don’t say, “well, it looks really long”.

And to determine which pip is closest to what you’re measuring, you… look at it, and say “well, looks like it’s this one”. Right?

Just as anyone else can do using the same method, and then get the same results. It is an objective and repeatable measurement.