Monday, December 3, 2018

What should everyone know about science?

In a time when misunderstandings of science anti-science views are rising around the world, it is important that scientists do a better job of communicating to the broader public what science actually is, what it can do, and what it cannot do.

An interesting and important question is what it is that people should know and understand. There is a multitude of views on this (which is not necessarily a completely bad thing).

I only learned last week that in 1994, Phil Anderson had tackled this issue in a short article he wrote for The Daily Telegraph, a London-based newspaper. An interesting paper about Anderson's article just appeared. It nicely places the article in a broader context and gives a more recent perspective on the issues he raised.

Four Facts Everyone Ought to Know about Science:
The Two-Culture Concerns of Philip W. Anderson
Andrew Zhang and Andrew Zangwill

The four ``facts'' that Anderson chose were (as paraphrased by Zhang and Zangwill):

1. Science is not democratic.
2. Computers will not replace scientists.
3. Statistical methods are misused and often misunderstood.
4. Good science has aesthetic qualities.

This is a fascinating choice. 

One thing I learned was about Anderson's argument that Bayesian methods should have been used to rule out the significance of "discoveries" such as the 10 keV neutrino and the fifth force. In 1992 he wrote a Physics Today column on the subject.