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Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the not-enough-newtons dept.

Science 474

Lanxon writes "An in-depth feature in Wired explores the reason science may be failing us. Quoting: 'For too long, we've pretended that the old problem of causality can be cured by our shiny new knowledge. If only we devote more resources to research or dissect the system at a more fundamental level or search for ever more subtle correlations, we can discover how it all works. But a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot. And this is why, even when we know everything about everything, we'll still be telling stories about why it happened. It's mystery all the way down.'"

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474 comments

Everyone a specialist now (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38882883)

As knowledge expands, it becomes harder and harder to see the big picture. Everyone becomes a specialist, focusing on narrower and narrower specialties.

But that's not a bad sign. It's just an inevitable wall. There are only so many years in a human life and only so much any one person can learn and retain in that time. We just have to work a little more at stepping back from our tiny cages and saying "So what does this really mean in the larger scheme of things?" and recognizing there is larger world beyond our narrowly-focused field of view.

Well, either that or we could just ask Jesus to tell us what to do.

Re:Everyone a specialist now (5, Interesting)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883067)

I agree.

I think we need to start focusing on systems theory. Many large systems share some very similar characteristics. We need people who are big picture people, who can see the forest for the trees. Of course, without knowing about the trees, a forest is something of a mystery. We need both kinds of people. But the usefulness of pure reductionism is at its end, and we need to recognize that and start taking a different approach to understanding.

Re:Everyone a specialist now (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883287)

"Many large systems share some very similar characteristics...We need people who are big picture people, who can see the forest for the trees."

Except that everyone who gets large systems dropped out of the current, fucked-up system long before being awarded a research post for their willingness to play along.

Re:Everyone a specialist now (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883413)

Big picture people? Like managers and CEOs?

Then we must live forever (4, Insightful)

mykos (1627575) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883131)

Science needs to make it a top priority figure out a way to keep our consciousnesses around forever, or at least a very long time. Mortality is a cruel reset button.

Stop trying to cure diseases and work toward getting rid of the flesh, perhaps.

Re:Then we must live forever (0)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883325)

Simple, take a "snap shot" of the brain, but down at the level of makes each neuron fire. then copy the information on solid state hard drive of about 4 Pita Bytes. The Pita Byte drives will be in full production in about 15 years. Taking the snap shot of someones neural pattern has yet to begin.

If it helps, doing this to a suspect would allow investigators to interrogate a suspect by reviewing of memories without asking questions to the suspect. One could easily take the "picture", and while providing the suspect with something like Tea or Coffee; the questions that the investigators have could be completely answered.

The one use that I long for is taking a picture of my own memory, and thus finding where I put my car keys last, and finally I will always quickly "remember" when my wife's birthday is.

Re:Then we must live forever (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883377)

I prefer immortality myself, not a copy of my brain.

Re:Then we must live forever (2)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883479)

Kiln People by David Brin
Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer

Re:Then we must live forever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883365)

Fuck. That. I don't want to live with some of these idiots on our planet forever. decades of time is long enough. Either natural causes will kill you, or I will. You decide.

Re:Then we must live forever (4, Insightful)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883409)

I think curing all diseases is a much closer goal than unlocking the key to consciousness and replicating the mind as an eternal machine. Besides, disease is the reason many of us die at all. I remember reading a story about a 500 year old clam. Why do we even die at all?

Take a look at this ranking of causes of death [wikipedia.org] . Turns out, by eradicating cardiovascular diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, cancer, and respiratory diseases we eliminate 71.36% of the reasons people die. Next up on the list are unintentional injuries (getting hit by a car) and intentional injuries (jumping off a building). So as long as you avoid those two things you're going to live a long damn time.

Who says (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38882901)

that science is failing us? Define success...?

Re:Who says (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883101)

that science is failing us? Define success...?

Wittgenstein said philosophical problems were the "bewitchment of the mind at the hand of language."

AC nailed it. None of these terms have specific referents, and each reader has a separate conception of a definition, which, though they may overlap are not identical. What you end up arguing about are the meaning of the terms, and the ways in which those unarticulated definitions don't match up.
 

Re:Who says (4, Insightful)

IICV (652597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883117)

Exactly! If this is failure, then I don't think I want to succeed!

Re:Who says (4, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883533)

You say that, and yet I believe we were promised flying cars. I WANT MY FLYING CAR GODDAMMIT! Clear failure of science there.

That article could have been a whole lot shorter come to think of it.

Re:Who says (1, Flamebait)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883155)

Science is definitely failing the nut jobs who believe random twaddle is a better guide to stuff.

Re:Who says (1)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883511)

I don't know about that. Seems like scientific disciplines have provided a fertile ground to legitimize all sorts of twaddle via the phenomenon of pseudo-science. I know that's not science proper, but let's not pretend that certain people aren't benefiting from misuse of the popularity of scientific pursuits either get their own way, or to continue to act like nut jobs.

Re:Who says (5, Insightful)

Beerdood (1451859) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883235)

Maybe they could replace the header with "medical science" - as every example the TFA deals with some issue dealing with human biology. Science is not failing us (as the sensational headline indicates) in physics, or chemistry or even social / behavioral science. And it's not *failing* us in the medical department either really, there's just a lot more complexity when it comes to the human body. And when you throw in some other factors you don't see in other sciences, such as the placebo effect, or realizing that the body heals itself eventually, then maybe trial and error just doesn't work so well.

The story seems to focus on the pharmaceutical industry specifically, maybe that's the problem here and not the scientific method. Most of their money is made by spending billions into R&D, then hoping they get a useable drug out of it they can patent and make money off of. Well maybe the problem here is the corners that are cut and they're essentially racing to get it FDA approved (and with as few side effects as possible). That's bound to bring up some bad science, and questionable or skewed results in the name of profit. That's not "Science failing us" - that's greed and human error causing the problem.

Re:Who says (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883369)

Mod up. My sentiments exactly.

Even in medicine (though I do not say the same about the pharmaceutical industry)... like the recent announcement by MIT of a treatment that could cure nearly ALL viruses, [mit.edu] including HIV and the common cold.

And the recent research into restoring telomerase in the human body.

And... and... and...

I don't see any "failure" here.

Mod parent up, please. (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883373)

Maybe they could replace the header with "medical science" - as every example the TFA deals with some issue dealing with human biology.

Exactly. Complex living systems are ... complex ... and living.

Science is not "failing" anything. Science is continually expanding our knowledge.

The problem is when people don't apply the correct scientific rigour to the problem at hand. As with the medical examples in TFA. Humans are complex, living systems. They change as their environment changes. Including drugs taken.

And different people are different. How one person's body responds is NOT a guarantee of how someone else's body will respond to the exact same drug.

Re:Who says (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883401)

Any time anyone puts 'causality' in the same story as medical science, what theya re really saying is:
"My [magic woo] works cause I know it works. he fact that 'science' can't objectivity see result means science is wrong, not me."
These people also don't understand what science is.

Re:Who says (2)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883599)

Indeed - the OP offered no solutions, just made a rather bland accusation.

The hard part is not in many cases causality being misleading.
It's the evidence being poor, and not-well scrutinised.
The OP mentions the fact that MRIs of people with back problems seemed to imply that physical defects lead to back problems.

But this is statistical nonsense, and is very often not followed up, because to do the other study is expensive.

If you're a doctor dealing with back problems, it's almost free to ask 100 of your patients if they'd consent to their details being published.
The resultant information may seem to have some statistical significance, and indeed it can possibly answer questions as to how many people with back pain have specific anomalies.

The expensive, and often omitted study is to take those 100 patients, and compare them with 100 people who have not had any back pain, but are otherwise similar.

The other common error is that science is lead by 'statistically significant results'.
That is - results that appear to be 95% certain.
This is problematic in two ways.
The first is the obvious one, that one in twenty trials will produce a bogus significant result, when in reality the hypothesis is false.
The second is the more corrosive.
Only exciting results tend to get published.
So, a study is done, and they get a lot of data.
They analyse the data 20 different ways, and out pop two 'statistically significant' results.
They do not publish the 18 'null' results, as those are uninteresting, only the 2 interesting ones.
This means that it's likely that one of the two interesting results is bogus.

The only way to fix this issue is to get people who actually understand the statistics more involved, and to publish on failure too!

Re:Who says (2, Funny)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883393)

Bubble Wrap is very fascinating.

Re:Who says (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883399)

It's kind of an unimaginative declaration all around, and sadly typical throughout history. 'It can't be done' has always been the mantra right up to the point not only where it's been done, but hangers-on still decry it until it becomes absolutely ubiquitous. Science is a self-improving methodology; to say it is failing us is ignoring... geez... everything? /rant

Re:Who says (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883435)

Sucessful Science:
  1) Flying cars.
  2) Condos on the Moon
  3) Ice cream that doesn't melt
  4) Virtual reality
  5) Interstellar space travel
  6) Cold Fusion
  7) Star Trek Replicators
  8) The End of Poverty
  9) An everlasting Gobstopper
10) Proof that P = NP

Re:Who says (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883523)

1 - 9 on your list are all technologies, which are only applications of scientific discoveries and theories.

Re:Who says (1)

gox (1595435) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883439)

The article tells that we are closing to borders of where our scientific method can take us. Philosophy of science needs to resume its work. It's known to produce a more advanced method every few millennia, so we're cool.

Re:Who says (2)

LeadSongDog (1120683) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883471)

that science is failing us? Define success...?

Sure, right after you define "is".

What does this have to do with science? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38882917)

Science is not about explaining everything, it's about explaining stuff that what we know in a way that is consistent with other stuff that we know.

Re:What does this have to do with science? (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883173)

Its more about coming up with the most efficient way to make falsifiable predictions about the future that work often enough to be useful. this explaining stuff is a part but not the whole thing.

The summary seems to be, science sucks because its not a bunch of non-science liberal arts philosophy babble. Which is right up there with music sucks because its not a good painting.

The real discussion question, is what happened to wired? It used to be cool, well, a long time ago it used to be cool. Now?

Re:What does this have to do with science? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883215)

In other words "hey philosophy majors, no one cares!"

I like to blame... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38882965)

The religous nuts.
Mostly because they scare me.

What's the point? (4, Insightful)

kyrio (1091003) | more than 2 years ago | (#38882973)

The title has nothing to do with the summary, in fact the summary doesn't even comment on the title's conclusion, so what's the point of this article? The only thing I've learned from the article is that science does what it does and nothing has failed anything.

Re:What's the point? (2)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883417)

Um, at /., one doesn't RTFA; it gets in the way of one's conjectures.

The point is ... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883433)

The title of the article is: "Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us". It fits the story well.

The story describes how the use of our usual scientific methods leads, very often, to failure. Such failures are measured in billions of dollars. The original article cites cases and offers possible explanations of why this situation came to exist.

Bottom line: As we try to understand very complicated systems, we find that our old trusted techniques of reductionism and correlation don't do a very good job.

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883575)

I concur; I suggest a better title might be "Science, it works bitches!"

Failed how? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38882977)

So exactly is being able to fly, go into space (well ok not _right_ now), new treatments for cancer I just saw on a ted talk, and countless ways our lives are being improved every day constitute a failiour?

Are they basing this only on the fact that we don't have a easy to understand formulae for every single function of the smallest particle in the universe? yet...?

Re:Failed how? (2)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883225)

I thought the summary was just stating the obvious, but since you ask.. even if we did understand every particle in the Universe and its interactions, it seems unlikely that we can ever explain why it's possible for these things to exist.. how anything can exist at all.. what kind of realm exists for the "big bang" to happen in, whether there are more universes like ours, whether there are infinite universes, whether all patterns of information exist somewhere.. that type of thing.

God doesn't explain it either, because then you're left wondering where this god came from. Even if some kind of spiritual god did exist, I doubt it would be able to explain its existence either.

"Mysteries all the way down", as the summary said. I quite like that turn of phrase :)

Re:Failed how? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883421)

", it seems unlikely that we can ever explain why it's possible for these things to exist.. "
no, it doesn't. IN fact, it seems likely, based on how much we know in the very short time actual science has been part of human knowledge.

Failed to voice this post to the interwebs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38882993)

Oh weit...

Science isn't a goal (5, Interesting)

Fned (43219) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883009)

It's a direction.

Re:Science isn't a goal (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883075)

or the vehicle to travel in, whichever way you're going.

Re:Science isn't a goal (3, Insightful)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883097)

No, Science is applied philosophy, aka the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method [wikipedia.org] . It is _one_ way to acquire Truth. And like any process, it works well with certain types of inputs, and completely fails at others.

But it is NOT the _only_ process; however it happens to work well, and handle many inputs.

Many people ignore the fact that it is an _incomplete_ process. Ignoring the weaknesses of any system is the height of arrogance.

Re:Science isn't a goal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883203)

If you're going to start your response with "No", perhaps you should actually refute with what the poster said?

I don't know what your point is. What other ways are there the acquire "Truth"? What are the other "processes" do you speak of? And what is "incomplete" about science?

Re:Science isn't a goal (5, Informative)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883247)

The scientific method is a simple, well-tested, approach to empirical study of a subject. The scientific method is as complete as it needs to be. However, if the method is not applied rigorously, the results will not be reliable.

"Truth" is not part of the scientific method, and has a very ambiguous meaning. Furthermore, capitalizing the letter T in truth suggests interest in something other than science.

Re:Science isn't a goal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883391)

Well spoken.

Re:Science isn't a goal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883285)

Science is applied philosophy.

Philosophy is just applied sociology, and so on. [xkcd.com]

Re:Science isn't a goal (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883451)

The point that the xkcd author misses is that mathematics is regulated by philosophy (specifically the branch philosophy of mathematics, though drawing of course on the whole field). Mathematics is not some field of inquiry that exists on its own, pure and unchallengeable.

Re:Science isn't a goal (0)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883429)

it's the only known way to acquire truth.

Re:Science isn't a goal (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883597)

it's the only known way to acquire truth.

There are plenty of things that human beings consider to be true that are not due to application of the scientific method. Where's the control group, for example, in "I think, therefore I am"?

Furthermore, human beings do not usually draw their ethical beliefs from application of the scientific method. Some of the New Atheists have been very reluctant to subscribe to Mackey's claim that there are no absolute ethics, stating that even in the absence of religion there must be right and wrong. But that assertion cannot be subjected to the scientific method, and even attempts to make ethics more like science, namely Utilitarianism, have broken up in myriad schools of thought.

Re:Science isn't a goal (4, Informative)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883555)

It is _one_ way to acquire Truth.

The scientific method absolutely cannot determine what is true; it can only tell you what is false. That is, you cannot "prove" anything by applying the scientific method. The best you can do is falsify a hypothesis. Did you actually read the article you linked? It says it right in there.

Re:Science isn't a goal (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883127)

That article is an astonishingly large number of words based on a fundamentally wrong premise. Science is not about finding causes. Science is about making increasingly more accurate predictions. Finding causes is often, but not always, a useful step along the way.

Or perhaps more accurately (2)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883331)

A process of knowing about the natural universe. When done properly, it is extremely reliable. However it never claims to be able to explain everything. The scientific method is purely about the testable, and more particularly the falsifiable. There can be things that are true, but don't fall in that category.

None of that is a failing of science. All of our cool modern technology is a proof of how well science works. We discover something, test it to see if it is true, and then it gets applied. That it works, means we got it at least basically right.

No, we may never know everything about everything. None of that means science is failing us.

Interesting article... (2)

torgis (840592) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883023)

But the summary is rubbish. Ignore the summary and just read the article.

Re:Interesting article... (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883187)

The article isn't a whole lot better. Basically whining that 'science' doesn't produce shineys on regular, repeatable intervals that we can bank on.

In particular, the idea that we understand much about the incredibly complex interactions in human biology is just magical thinking. Just because the CEO of a large drug company managed to hoodwink some investors, the world isn't ending. Nor is science.

Yes, we rely on 'correlation is related to causation' a lot. We do so because it often works, and when it doesn't it often gives us directions to go next. But 'often' isn't 'always'. I read TFA more as a cautionary tale to investors not to believe marketing blurbs based on complicated science and technology.

Re:Interesting article... (1)

torgis (840592) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883591)

I thought the reliance on causation bit was interesting, considering how many assumptions we make about cause and effect on a day to day basis. Granted, as you said, it does often work and serves us well. So, interesting causation bits aside, there was not much to the rest of the article that was terribly enlightening. But it was a hell of a lot better than the summary, which appears to have been generated by a random summary generator.

Scientific knowledge vs reality. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883027)

I had this debate with a friend recently; he was convinced that science will one day figure everything out, solve all problems. I wasn't able to convince him that even if we have millions of years of straight scientific development we will never figure out everything.

Re:Scientific knowledge vs reality. (1)

kurzweilfreak (829276) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883481)

You don't seem to comprehend what kind of timespan millions of years is. If you weren't able to convince him, it's probably because your argument is weak and unsupported, I'm just guessing. Please expound upon this.

And yet another troll headline (5, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883033)

Anyone see the massive irony in this being posted on the internet, run by computers, powered by electricity, declaring that science is "failing us?"

First example in the story: a drug that doctors thought was going to work... didn't... The scientists mixed up what was causing what.

They had a hypothesis and tested it. We can say that the hypothesis was wrong because of what? That's right, because of science.

To imply that science is failing, or we need to reconceptualize "causality," simply because it's difficult... that's idiotic.

Finally, this article falls into a common mistake with science writing: confusing clinical trials with ALL SCIENCE RESEARCH. I do basic biological research. Don't lump me in with clinical researchers, critique their methods, and then say that all science research is messed up.

Global warming ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883065)

... is why "science" (sic) is failing us.

Discuss.

Re:Global warming ... (1)

surveyork (1505897) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883329)

Anonymous troll. Only deserves contempt.

Exploring New Lows (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883081)

There have been many "worst /. articles ever" comments recently, and rightfully so.

But this submission safely takes a dive underneath any lows explored so far.

Science may be failing us. But ... (3, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883119)

all the remaining methods fail us even more. So even if the mumbo jumbo you are saying is really true, I will stick with science. You ponder about whether or not science is giving right answers, next time when you are at cruise altitude inside a shiny aluminum bubble with less than 0.1 mm of aluminum between you and a -40 degree (F or C does not matter) atmosphere with pressure so low your blood will boil instantly at that temperature. Happy thoughts.

consider the alternative. (1)

Rollgunner (630808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883293)

There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance. - Hippocrates (c.460-c.377 BCE)

Re:Science may be failing us. But ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883351)

... those remaining methods managed served us fairly well since for millennia since the dawn of human civilization. Isn't there a saying that goes to the effect of if you don't learn from history you are going to repeat it?

Re:Science may be failing us. But ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883353)

More like 1 mm of aluminum. Plus the interior frame.

Just because medicine is oversimplifying... (1)

gweihir (88907) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883145)

...does not mean other disciplines are doing it too. Lets face is: Medicine is still in a relatively early phase and it is doubtful whether many of its areas even deserve to be called "science". There is a saying: "In medicine, new ideas can only be tested when the proponents of the old ones are dead." Really quite pathetic, although it has gotten a bit better.

Now to take the failing of medicine and generalize it to other sciences is just an invalid argument of somebody with a limited (and unaware of it) viewpoint.

Whole article. (2)

grub (11606) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883153)

The article doesn't remind me of Cause and Effect, but something more like Bull and Shit.

Possibly Interesting Article (1)

MLCT (1148749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883179)

I shall have a read of the article, but the summary is a mess; it reads like someone talking about something they don't understand.

Last time I checked science isn't failing anyone. The vast majority of problems we have are of our own doing (climate change, obesity, poor health, poverty and deprivation, conflict). Perhaps the editors of slashdot should start editing submissions rather than letting junk summaries get to the front page.

The limits of reason (1, Insightful)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883183)

From TFA: "And yet, we must never forget that our causal beliefs are defined by their limitations. For too long, we've pretended that the old problem of causality can be cured by our shiny new knowledge. If only we devote more resources to research or dissect the system at a more fundamental level or search for ever more subtle correlations, we can discover how it all works. But a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot. And this is why, even when we know everything about everything, we'll still be telling stories about why it happened. It's mystery all the way down."

Rationality has provided us a magnificent method to explain many, many things, but one might sardonically note that the rest of it is pretty much a description of the reason for religion.

Like Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the tortoise, rationality is magnificent for everything until it reaches its limits*...for everything else there's faith.

*Lest I be declared some glassy-eyed evangelical luddite, like the universe, these limits can expand infinitely - which also never means that there isn't something on the other side.

Re:The limits of reason (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883525)

You are answer that paradox has been solved, right?

Like many philosophical questions, they are either solvable, solved, or worded in such away where there is nothing there to really solve.

Re:The limits of reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883537)

The example of Zeno's paradox reminds me of one of the philosophy classes I took. When we discussed the paradox, one of my friends makes a startled noise and he (being the physicist that he is), much to the surprise of the professor, states "Well, that doesn't make any sense. Everyone knows that the Planck length is the smallest distance possible!" He then proceeded to explain that science may ultimately have the solution to all the paradoxes in the so-called "Planck Units." It is amazing to think about how different the world is if it turns out to be fundamentally discrete.

This is a load of CRAP (4, Insightful)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883201)

I (very) briefly looked at TFA and saw something about how some drug trial didn't go the way some pharmaceutical company thought it would.

Then I saw something about how people looking at the relative positions of a red and blue ball couldn't reliably put them into a casual relationship.

For the WIRED editors who allowed the story to be published (and slashdot editors who allowed this story to be posted) to see this as a repudiation of Science (and Causality) is ludicrous. Why didn't they say that maybe the reason why their drug didn't work out is because Science doesn't claim to understand completely the biochemistry of the human body (yet). Why didn't they say that the human proclivity to create a narrative where none exists (like with the red and blue balls) is an interesting and not (yet) wholly understood psychological phenomenon?

Science has given us so much (flight, health, food, cities, mobility, global communications, etc.) and has proven itself on every scale from the cosmic to the nano-scopic that I can only ask:

  Is WIRED a Fox subsidiary?

Not proper experiments. (4, Insightful)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883209)

Science is not failing us. Apparently, the pharmaceutical companies and their correlational studies are. Science - whether behavioral, biological, or physical - does not necessarily depend on correlations. Manipulating an independent variable and comparing it to other conditions (a control group, for example) is what makes an experiment more than just a correlational study. This is what allows us to make causal relationships clearer, even if we don't perfectly understand the pathways that lead A to cause B. By failing to make this distinction, the article makes it sound as if scientists are merely fumbling around in the dark without a clue as to how anything works. Really this article just provides many fine examples of how correlational information used by medical doctors is failing us - not scientists doing actual experiments.

Article uses anecdotes to make a point... (2)

cfa22 (1594513) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883263)

...isn't that one of the exact flaws the article is accusing some modern research of? Plus I'm glad there are scientists there to conclude a drug is not safe and to show that MRIs are not useful in determining causes of chronic back pain; how is that a failure of science?

The guy is legit it looks like. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883269)

From the summary and the kind of English usage, I thought this guy one of those philosophy majors who periodically infest science discussions with terms like philosophical materialism etc in the grand tradition of Rene "cogito, ergo sum" Descartes.

Nah, this guy is on the up-and-up, neuroscience degree from Columbia. Studying that hard to understand neurotransmitters, synapses etc using the same neurotransmitters and synapses could leave one with ideas in his brain that can not be communicated to other brains using words. That could explain the similarities of his essay to that of addled philosophers.

Randian (5, Insightful)

tmosley (996283) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883271)

It's like this article was written by a villain dreamed up by Ayn Rand.

The author's claim that you can't link cause and effect is utter hogwash. He claims you can't say that an apple falls to the Earth because of gravity, which is stupid because gravity is DEFINED by that action. What we don't KNOW is what causes the phenomena we have labelled as gravity. It is a very poor example. He then proceeds to talk about people assuming causation in an ANIMATED MOVIE. Well, of course one ball hitting the other ball on a screen didn't cause it to move. They are just light and shadow in patterns that change with time! Claiming that the people have faulty perception is like claiming that people who read superhero comics really believe in people with superpowers, and can't tell that they are looking at a piece of paper with ink on it. He ignores the suspension of disbelief that the original experimenters introduced when they chose to use a medium that wasn't based on physical objects.

This guy just presents fallacy after fallacy and expects us to accept his dumb conclusion that science is somehow "over". Fuck that, and fuck him.

Re:Randian (1)

tgibbs (83782) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883505)

No, technically it is correct. We can observe any number of apples fall to the earth, and calculate its rate of acceleration to whatever precisions we wish, but logically that will never prove that there is a force called gravity that will affect every apple that we could possibly drop in the future. All explanations and generalizations are theory, and inherently tentative.

But so what? We can't even disprove solipsism, yet we procede to act upon the assumption that there is an external reality that has regularities that we can deduce, even if we can never be absolutely 100% sure that we've got them right. Fundamentally, that can never be more than a working assumption. But making the opposite assumption never seems to lead anywhere interesting.

Science just a useful epistemological tool (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883275)

It's just a very generalized process of getting more reliable information than we would otherwise. It works differently than the genetic algorithm method of multiple simultaneous train and error. Both have their good and bad points, but if you're looking for "Truth" with a capital "T" here, you might as well be waiting for Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Your odds on seen any of them are about as good as finding "Truth" and for the same reason. All are fantasy - a byproduct of non-self reflective human cognition. None exist in the external world.

It's the other way around, really (5, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883277)

Science isn't failing the public, rather the public is failing science - especially in the US. The American public expects great things from science for almost no money invested, and simultaneously refuses to make any effort to understand any results that are more complicated than "we just cured cancer!" (nevemind that such a thing is, inherently, massively complicated).

Re:It's the other way around, really (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883545)

"Science isn't failing the public, rather the public is failing science"

well said.

Karl Jaspers (1)

ThorGod (456163) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883279)

Those who do not read Karl Jaspers are fated to rewrite Karl Jaspers, poorly.

Re:Karl Jaspers (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883581)

Jaspers is outdated and wrong.

" we confront borders that an empirical (or scientific) method simply cannot transcend."
There are no such borders.

Begging the Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883289)

Science isn't failing us. We live in an amazing world full of things that would have passed as magic just 50 years ago, and we do so thanks to science. To say "why is science failing us" is begging the question: Presupposing what can't be presupposed.

the poster is american (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883301)

What is America's level of reading and writing versus the world?

NUFF SAID

The Lipitor scam (1)

snsh (968808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883305)

Several years ago when Lipitor ads started playing on TV, they would say near the end of the ad, "Lipitor has been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol has been shown to be an indicator for increased risk of heart disease."

They made it quite clear that Lipitor does not lower your risk of heart disease. Basically the marketing was saying, "Our skin lotion reduces the appearance of wrinkles. Wrinkles are a sign of aging", which definitely does not claim "Our skin lotion actually prevents aging". The lotion just hides the symptoms.

So, the problem is not with science, but with pharma marketing.

The article's true content isn't about Science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883321)

The article's true content is REALLY about how humans interpret the rules and roles of science. The examples were in fact improperly applied scientific method.

Making assumptions when correlations were present, which is bad science but often happens with us humans, and if you're lucky it works.

The example of the MRI's and back pain was just plain assumptions: "Hmm! I see herniated discs in his spine, that MUST be the source of the pain!".

Anyway, very little of it is an indictment of science per se.

Erich Boleyn

So here's my gratuitous Science quote (5, Insightful)

smoothnorman (1670542) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883341)

Es ist nicht das Ziel der Wissenschaft, der unendlichen Weisheit eine Tür zuöffnen, sondern eine Grenze zu setzen dem unendlichen Irrtum. -- Bertolt Brecht "Leben des Galilei"

here's my (dubious) translation: It is not the goal of Science to open a door to endless knowledge, but rather to place limits upon endless error.

this quote, i believe, it both filled with truthiness, and also reveals notable false-iness in the referenced article.

Headline and summary is failing us (1)

surveyork (1505897) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883367)

WTF is this gibberish in the summary? WTF with this misleading headline? WTF Slashdot? My mind is full of f*ck now.

Waddya expect? (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883371)

They all still believe the law of thermodynamics are absolute and unbreakable. And nobody's trying to see past Einstein's theories. This is typical human arrogance that reflects 19th Century Victorian beliefs. But, I've already been through this [slashdot.org] . Everybody thinks there's this brick wall we'll never pass. If that's the case, why bother with science if we've already learned everything there is to learn.

Godel Escher Bach - (1)

strangeattraction (1058568) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883375)

What is old is new again. Yada Yada - the more we know the more there is to know. Can we say Quantum mechanics.

Science isn't failing us (2)

koan (80826) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883381)

Greed, substandard methodology and the rush to market is failing us, that's what I get from the article.

Is /. becoming the geek equivalent of Drudge report? Inflammatory, hyperbolic links to articles that are not?

First Cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883387)

Of course IDNRTFA, but the summary sounds like someone who buys into the the "first mover" proof of God's existence but doesn't quite have the guts to admit it.

Relevant fortune: We are each entitled to our own opinion, but no one is entitled to his own facts. -- Patrick Moynihan

Science is not failing us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38883485)

It is the US that is failing science.

The difference between faith and science is simple (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883489)

The difference between faith and science is simple, faith only has stories, science you can keep drilling down to facts if the story is not enough.

I once wrote a story about a mouse in a factory we had visited at school, presenting the factory as an old mouse explaining it to a young. It wasn't a hundred percent scientific but it did not lie. I got a perfect score both for writing and from the subject class itself. The teacher explained to another student who complained that my story did not go as deep as their dry report by stating that anyone who read my story and wanted to do dig deeper could.

Religion is a story that tells you to stop digging further. No why's or but's. This is it, believe!

Just because you cannot dig further in the story science tells doesn't make it the end. You CAN research as far as you want in science papers and learn everything you want about string theory or quantum mechanics or micro-biology or nanotech or whatever else you can think of.

If you go to a science museum it might only tell the story to a certain level but they would be happy to refer you to places where you can find out the rest. If you go to that creationist exhibit (stop calling it a museum) they do NOT do the same. They don't answer questions, just tell you, these are the facts as we tell you, swallow them whole and stop asking.

An example? The liver... how does it actually work? I know what it does but not how it does it. You could say I take its functioning on faith but I am pretty confident doctors know how it works and I that if I wanted I could go to the icky bits section of a library and research it... that is a LOT different then the religous view that "it is magic" end of story.

List of Scientific Reversals (-1, Troll)

dorpus (636554) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883521)

- 1970s: the earth will turn into an iceball. 1990s-: the earth will turn into a fireball.
- 1990s: every woman should examine their breasts in the shower. 2012: leave it to doctors.
- 2008: people should use hand sanitizer and eschew hand washing. 2012: people should wash hands and eschew sanitizers.
- 1960s: babies should not be held or breastfed by their mothers, because they will fail to develop as individuals. 2012: all babies should be breast fed, the longer the better.
- 1960s: babies should sleep on their stomachs all the time to avoid SIDS. 2012: babies should never sleep on their stomachs to avoid SIDS.
- 1990s: every person over age 50 should get a colonoscopy. 2010: improper colonoscopies are causing thousands of infections and perforations.
- 1960s: everybody should have a sun lamp to receive an adequate dose of light in the winter. 2012: Sunlight should be avoided at all costs. When going to the mailbox, coat yourself in a thick layer of sunscreen.
- 1990s: All women over age 60 should receive hormone replacement therapy. 2012: Nobody should get hormone therapy.
- 1970s: the Earth will run out of food by 2000, and billions of people will starve. 2012: The obesity epidemic is unstoppable, therefore fat children should be taken away from parents.
- 1970s: acid rain will turn North America into a treeless desert, due to the relentless march of industrialization. 2012: where are the factories?
- 1980s: people should eat high-carb, low-protein diets because protein causes diseases. 2012: people should eat high-protein, low-carb diets because carbs cause diseases.
- 1970s: Free love, free sex. Family is an antiquated, useless institution. 1980s-: Family values! AIDS!

If we knew everything (3, Funny)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883553)

The universe would be boring. Next question?

Computers to the rescue (1)

instagib (879544) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883569)

This article is good. It is not anti-science. Those who dismiss it as stupid and laugh about the psychological test example don't get the correlation (pun intended) between our brain's inclination to simplify and the errors we make by using the scientific method.

The fact that our understanding of complex systems isn't getting better by trial and error can mean two things: we need another approach to understand them, or we need to do trial and error much faster in order to have more statistical data. The latter will be possible in some areas of science with computing power and AI. Hopefully medicine is one of those areas.

I've heard this sorry song before: (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883573)

Oh joy. Take an article that's making one point about complexity and spin it into another point about claiming science is not working for us.

Add a goodly dose of the hoary old saw I've been hearing ever since the first time I went to college about "Reductionism is failing us! And science has no answer to emergent behavior." Presumably implying that other methods (Perhaps creative linguistic criticism, experimental interpretive dance, or maybe abstract sculpture? You laugh, I've heard it seriously suggested. Though I suspect it involved heavily chemically altered states.) will work better?

No, it's just that complex systems are, well, complex. And we've picked a lot of the low hanging fruit.

The slope to knowledge has gotten steeper, but it hasn't gone vertical yet.

You guys are you seriously buying this? (1)

zachie (2491880) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883589)

I see all those serious comments. Really, can't you see?

"For too long, we've pretended that the old problem of causality can be cured by our shiny new knowledge." I know several guys who have chosen to stay as ignorant as possible. None of them have solved the problem of causality. "If only we devote more resources to research or dissect the system at a more fundamental level or search for ever more subtle correlations, we can discover how it all works." no shit, how could somebody get the idea that observing a phenomenon can help you gain insights on it, sooo flawed "But a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot." combines a well known phylosophical problem with a nice tautology, which always contributes a lot of meaning "And this is why, even when we know everything about everything, we'll still be telling stories about why it happened. It's mystery all the way down." what the fuck does that even mean, that is one real mistery to me
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