Real Science, as practiced

Science is a human activity. As such, it involves all the issues associated with humans.
The worldwide community of self-identified scientists is extremely diverse.
Even within sub-disciplines, such as Biology, there is a range of accepted protocols and practices.
While the basic ideas of natural philosophy should apply to all the sciences,
the realities are quite different.
Nevertheless, the faith of real scientists is that, in the long run, good observations and creative theorizing will converge on a valid description of physical reality.
Actual science is never finished! It is always provisional.
Hence, scientist should be very humble about their current stance.
Good scientist are always ready to revise their views in light of new evidence or theory.


Scientists also share a common philosophy that good theories are forged by strenuous testing and criticism.


Well said, and Welcome to Peaceful Science @gp9aps :slight_smile:

One of my long time friends was a great turtle biologist. He loved turtles and knew as much about them as E.O. Wilson knew about ants.
His turtles never knew what he believed about creation. (He was President of the Creation Research Society) (No, I am not!)
When ideology distorts either our observations or our explanations, we have forsaken our calling as scientists.
(I received the National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research in 1981.)
One of my other friends, (who is an atheist) co-taught an academic course in Science and Religion at Carnegie Mellon University.
The students routinely claimed that it revolutionized their lives as humans.
We taught them to be open to the truth, without reservations.


Welcome to Peaceful Science, @gp9aps. Glad you found us.

I have never met a turtle biologist but anybody who loves turtles is certainly OK in my book. (And, for that matter, I’ve never known a turtle who did anybody wrong. So I’m definitely pro-turtle.)


If I might be so bold as to ask, weren’t you the very first recipient of that award?

I was. I was at AT&T Bell Labs in those days in the Chemical Physics Department.


Agreed. In talking with @swamidass and others, many of us share the view that we couldn’t care less what a scientist’s religious beliefs are. More importantly, there is really no way to know someone’s religious or political views if you look at their (good) science. What matters is the science.

Easy to say, hard to do. The key is to never fall in love with a hypothesis and always be ready to start over.


Hey @AllenWitmerMiller , I think we got a live one here! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

@gp9aps Allen and I have a long running discussion about “the old days” of science. I’m not so old, but my father was at Bell Labs in the '60’s, which give me a little more history.

And from 1982 to 1984 I had a lot of Bell Labs engineers from the Naperville and Lisle labs (western suburbs of Chicago) taking my evening courses. My younger students used to complain that those older engineers had “an unfair advantage” because of their degrees and many years of experience in the tech industry —but I used to tell them that many of those guys had finished a very long work day before having to stay awake during my long lectures. (Cramming a database management, data structures, or VLSI course into a once-a-week three-hour lecture format was never my idea of sound pedagogy.)

Sometimes I had to supervise independent study courses of Bell Labs engineers who were exploring subjects well beyond my own graduate school education so I learned quite a bit from them even while awarding them a grade.

Meanwhile, this thread naturally brings to mind the failure of most Arts & Sciences programs in providing sound foundations in the History & Philosophy of Science for the average B.A./B.S. student.

1 Like

Welcome to PS. I was at Bell Labs Holmdel from 1978. In the Undersea Systems Development Lab.

1 Like

I was at Murray Hill from 1972-1984 (the annus horribilis).
One thing about the local culture that is probably not widely known is that there were Bible studies every day of the week!
One year I taught 50 Roman Catholic machinists Romans.
Not only did I have more scientific freedom at Bell Labs, I had more religious freedom.


Agree that Bell Labs had significant religious freedom. Bell Labs was very multicultural with a lot of internationally born scientists and engineers. Everyone respected everyone’s religion and customs. I learned more about other’s religions while at Bell Labs. I never saw anything that even remotely mixed science and any religion. It was mostly assumed that science and religion were completely separate and independent.

1 Like

Science is founded on observable reality. It does transcend metaphysical presuppositions.
But, science is a human activity. It does assume certain commitments.
As a physical scientist, I assume that.there is a thing called physical reality and that it can be observed.
I also assume that it can be understood. There is no proof for this, but I have found that only if I commit to the possibility
of understanding that I can persist against the difficulties of real science.
The best science requires faith, and also creativity.
Even with lots of good data, the path forward is still underdetermined.
Scientists need to be brave and also humble. We are frequently wrong, and on the wrong track.
Real science is very different than the Middle School caricature presented to most students.

1 Like

This is philosophy talk. For all practical purposes, physical reality exists and can be observed.

Depends on how you define faith, but certainly not in the religious sense.

1 Like

The human activity currently designated as Science was historically known as Natural Philosophy.
Philosophy is not a pejorative term in this community.
Unless a coherent explanation is created, the goal of Science is not achieved.
Philosophy is the friends of scientists.

Many historical human cultures had no faith that physical reality was orderly and could be understood.
They believed in fate or karma.
The current worldwide denigration of Science is rooted in arrogance on the part of some scientists and ignorance on the part of some politicians and cultural leaders.
It behooves us to be diligent in our practice of science and modest about our proclamations.
All human science is provisional and subject to revision and uncertainty.

Two of the first signs that there were humans on Earth were art and religion.
Humans expressed their emotional response to their physical environment in art.
They tried to make sense out of their cultural world by adopting a reverent attitude towards their ancestors.
While physical reality is the province of science, human cultural reality is the province of religion.
Life is more than food and shelter.
Religious need not be a pejorative adjective.


Steven Weinberg is one of my favorite curmudgeon scientists:

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 7 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.