The complexities of the scientific method

Before reading this article I had never heard of the alternative theories/ theory about what caused the extinction of dinosaurs. This is a possible indicator of how certain scientific theories are more widely accepted because of their source, time of establishment and extent of support from other scientists, or maybe that I easily accepted an idea just because it was passed down to me by an authoritative figure, or it could just be that I don’t read enough.

I found this article particularly insightful because it brings out the human aspect of science, an area of knowledge that is predominantly viewed as an ‘absolute’ or ’emotionally detached’ endeavor. It put into light the subjective nature of a (sometimes) ‘objectively’ viewed area of knowledge. When reading this article I kept asking myself, “are these scientists even looking at the same data?” “are they analysing the same evidence?” and they probably are, but possibly only in the light of their own theories and this influences the patterns they observe. Essentially all their data could be the same, but the data never speaks for itself, it is the scientist who speaks on its behalf through a filter constituted of the scientists own theory, scientific bias, paradigm etc. On top of that, the scientists status in the community and the timing frame in which they come up with their theory influences the receivers’ views on the theory, e.g. how likely they are to accept or dispute something, which somehow dictates what society believes to be ‘true’. (for such cases our trust in the intentions of the scientist, as well as their ‘scientific method’, can contribute to what is largely accepted as the ‘truth’). Alverez’s asteroid theory was put forth before the Deccan volcanism, and this took place around the same time of his recognition by the Nobel committee, these coincidental time frames may sort of explain how things worked in favor of Alvarez’s theory from an unscientific perspective. Connecting this back to our representation of the scientific model in class. There is room for numerous complexities in the method, not only does the science affect the scientific method but to some extent, the political state of the world, as well as the situation of a sceintis, also effect the acceptance of a theory. However that being said, the measurement of truth in science is not only subject to the number of people who accept a certain theory but also the experiments and analysis of the data and evidence itself. So if I were to add something to the scientific model I would include somewhere the paradigm not only of the scientist but also of the rest of the community, and possibly the role they play in the system.

Going back to the status of the scientist, Alverez was portrayed as rather egotistical and arrogant in the article. And from the way, he seemed to shut down the case of any other possible extinction theories, he was almost closing off the loop that is the scientific method. I believe that if any scientist ends up having so much power that they can control the flow of the loop based on factors other than scientific evidence we are at big risk. And in this case, I do believe that keeping this case forever open is better because it is a research question that is a manifestation of imagination, evidence, and speculation. Keeping it open will avoid us from overlooking data that we haven’t yet found to be related to the extinction. if the case is closed we will stop thinking about it, or searching for it.

In the case o the dinasours I wonder why the theories can’t co- exist. It seems to be that the intention of the research as a whole it to gain an understanding of where we came form, but also see where we might be headed. If there are things to learn from the impact theory and Deccan vocamisn theory that will better prepare us for the possibility of the next extinction why cant both learnings be taking into consideration? The example given in the article (about the possibility of an increase in similar toxins being released into the air now as to what were released during the eruption) about the parallels between the Deccan traps and our current state surely provides some direction to the actions that we should be taking to delay the next extinction, or just to improve our lifestyle.

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One Comment

  1. Nick Reply

    Wow! This is a very insightful post, where you clearly acknowledge some important and subtle points. In particular where you write that the data is interpreted “only in the light of their own theories and this influences the patterns they observe…. the scientist …speaks … through a filter constituted of the scientists own theory, scientific bias, paradigm”

    What you have expressed so clearly is that the scientific method is not foolproof; and that when applied there are many judgements to be made which means that the conclusions are not objective. So that’s rather different to the usual way we think of science – as a reliable and objective endeavour. Of course, that said, science *does* often work, and your point about the importance of the “rest of the community, and…the role they play in the system” is absolutely right.

    This means that we are in the realm of human biases and errors and we will turn to this next lesson on more detail.

    Excellent post, well done.

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