This is mostly about the content of science, particularly as it impacts on complexity and uncertainty. For the logic, see my notes on rationality.

There are many very different ideas about what science ‘is’ or ‘ought to be’, as reflected on wikipedia. For me the key characteristic is an open-minded seeking after empirical ‘truth’, in so far as that is possible. Of course, scientists are human and as such are liable not to be as open-minded or even as honest and incorruptable as one might wish, so this characterisation has to be regarded as an ideal which individuals may aspire to, rather than something that we can be sure anyone is actually living up to.

To me, open-mindedness includes an active, enquiring mind, an active engagement in ‘peer review’, review by the broader scientific and intellectual communities and also – in so far as it is practicable – direct or indirect public engagement. One cannot be open-minded in an ‘ivory tower’ or ‘silo’, although perhaps one might trust others to do the ‘heavy lifting’ in crossing boundaries, as long as one engages with them and satisfies oneself that it is being done ‘appropriately’.

The notion of ’empirical truth’ is more problematic. For now I’m trying to work around such issues in the philosophy of science. But, as a mathematician it seems to me that the role of mathematics is key. For some this is mainly limited to being a tool of science. It seems to me that ‘good science’ ought welcome a logical review of its assumptions and tenets, and that mathematics has a crucial role to play in this. ‘Good science’ ‘ought’ to take seriously the challenge represented by any anomalies identified by rigorous logical analysis, not seek to excuse them. Of course, this is only an ideal, and in practice science need to temporarily ‘park’ some foundational concerns in order to make ill-founded yet useful progress, as in physics. The key is not to turn such expedients into closed-minded dogma.


Dave Marsay

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