Science

History, sociology and philosophy thereof



I do not myself have a much to say about the philosophy of science as such. I read a lot of Lakatos that one time.

Mostly I am interested in a kind of qualitative mechanism design musing as it pertains to designing better peer-review.

What is science?

Not really in that vein, check out amusing curmudgeon: DC Stove, Popper and after: Four modern irrationalists.

Question: does science advance one funeral at a time?.

Star Scientist Funeral

Memetics of Science

There are a lot of models of what scientific consensus might mean. (Kuhnian paradigms, degereative research programs or whatever Lakatos called them, etc).

Science communication

I quite like this pyramid of science diffusion model which breaks apart the science/public nexus with a little more nuance.

I think a lot of things are getting obscured by the term “scientific establishment” or “scientific consensus”. Imagine a pyramid with the following levels from top to bottom:

FIRST, specialist researchers in a field. So for example the people doing studies on the effect of dietary cholesterol, or the people dissecting monkey brains to see how much serotonin is in them. These people always have the latest cutting-edge experimental results and a good knowledge of the issues involved in the field.

SECOND, non-specialist researchers in a broader field. Nutrition scientists in general. The guy who is interested in Vitamin B, but goes to the same conferences as the guys studying cholesterol. The research psychiatrist working on schizophrenia, but who maintains a keen interest in what her colleagues over in the depression lab are doing. They know enough about the broad principles of the field to be able to understand and evaluate new ideas more quickly than everybody else, but they still only learn about them the same way everyone else does – by waiting for the specialist researchers to tell them.

THIRD, the organs and administrators of a field who help set guidelines. The head of the USDA who’s in charge of looking over the Food Pyramid to make sure it’s accurate. The APA Committee for deciding exactly what wording to use in the guidelines on depression treatment. The head of Harvard Medical School who has to decide what to put in the curriculum. The editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, who has to decide what gets published.

FOURTH, science journalism, meaning everyone from the science reporters at the New York Times to the guys writing books with titles like The Antidepressant Wars to random bloggers.

ALSO FOURTH IN A DIFFERENT COLUMN OF THE PYRAMID BECAUSE THIS IS A HYBRID GREEK PYRAMID THAT HAS COLUMNS, “fieldworkers”, aka the professionals we charge with putting the research into practice. In nutrition this is doctors and dieticians, who directly inform their patients what to eat. In education research this could be teachers and principals who directly decide how classes will get taught. In sociology it might be the police chief trying to institute a new crime-fighting program. Et cetera.

FIFTH, the general public.

Two other models of interest:

  1. the hype cycle, and
  2. the simulacra.

The problems of journals in particular

See publication bias.

Sciencehacks

See softmethodology.

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