Scientific “Correctness” vs. Scientific Progress

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I came across the following brief 8-minute video and accompanying article shortly after my last post on Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  The writer does a very good job of eloquently explaining how scientific “correctness” impedes scientific progress, thereby dovetailing and supporting the very behaviors (and dangers/risks) that are outlined in Kuhn’s book.

In this context “scientific correctness” refers to the scientific establishment’s adherence to the dominant paradigms at the exclusion of all other competing paradigms (and refusal to even consider other possibilities).

The Video

The comments below the video on its YouTube page are entertaining as well.   🙂

The Article

Here’s a link to the article by Mel Acheson that served as the video’s original source and transcript:

Scientific Correctness

Much the same as outlined by Kuhn, Acheson identifies the properties of a paradigm.  The paradigm’s framework serves to guide the paradigm’s inquiries as well as set its limits. This can be viewed both from a positive and negative aspect.

A paradigm . . .

  • defines what a scientist will look for and where to look for it;
  • sets a standard for what is acceptable with regards to the worthiness of a research topic or problem;
  • and defines what is acceptable as a solution to the problem.

“One of a paradigm’s greatest benefits is also one of its greatest liabilities: It provides guidelines (or excuses) for what to ignore.”   – Mel Acheson

Scientific “correctness” assumes its paradigm is the correct and best picture of the truth, only needing minor tweaking to stand the test of time. It is more akin to an “establishment of a catechism.” This assumption “becomes absolute and straightjackets further discovery. It leads to stasis and intellectual death.”

Acheson mentions the case of Halton Arp and his red-shift/quasar evidence that opposes the existing expanding universe (big-bang) paradigm:

“A recent example of [scientific correctness] is the behavior of the astronomical establishment toward Halton Arp. His observations of connections between quasars and galaxies put the brakes on the expanding universe and exploded the Big Bang hypothesis. But instead of saying, “Here’s an interesting observation; we don’t have time for it, but let’s see what he can make of it,” the reaction was, “Deny him telescope time and refuse to publish his findings and crop out quasars on photos of galaxies.”

Not a very scientific response.

Domain of Validity

Acheson shares a fascinating concept he calls “domain of validity.

As opposed to scientific correctness, domain of validity describes a process where scientists assume and expect their favored paradigm has its limits; that observational anomalies will overflow the paradigm’s ability to fully explain nature. Humility is needed to allow a paradigm to bring in its own replacement.  Science can become a toolbox of many paradigms that can be used for whatever specific application and problems they’re best suited.

Now that sounds like good science!

Pertinent Quotes

All, of course, by the author Mel Acheson . . . .

“The history of science provides many examples of a new discipline making little progress, squabbling over fundamentals, until a paradigm is adopted. But at the other end, when a paradigm is becoming obsolete, the ignoring of alternatives results in “paradigm paralysis” that wastes time and resources trying to force-fit big anomalies into the undersized clothes of the established paradigm.”

“Scientific correctness – The (proper) concern that a theory is “correct” or “right” or “true”, that it “fits” or explains the relevant data, becomes confused with a pseudo-religious “Right” or True” that exceeds the cognitive domain of the paradigm. All other ideas come to be judged by the standards of the one. “Crackpot” becomes a term of dismissal rather than one of mere differentiation. The process of discovery gets lost in defensiveness.”

“Scientific correctness masquerades in the dress of science, but it’s only a mannequin without the vitality of science. In contrast with the three aspects of cognition, scientific correctness refuses to look at new observations, refrains from considering new ideas, and disdains to verify new insights. It’s essentially anti-intelligent. It confuses verification with conformity; it replaces the innovations of intelligence with the parroting of dogma; it lacks the provisionality that keeps science always on the move. It’s a tyrant of stasis.”

Keep questioning & searching!

(Featured image photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels)