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.


  1. 5. The rise of academic managerial-ism over academic performers.

  2. Off topic, but on a very serious topic that you have paid much necessary attention to:

    1. Thanks for letting me and others know about this. It is tragic.

  3. Depression seems to take toll of the fallen, risen and successful persona. Is it due to the disruptive distraction of ubiquitous social media?

    1. Depression is a complex phenomenon. Its increase is probably caused by a multitude of factors. Some are discussed here. Social media may be one among many factors.


    "The only way to solve it is massive public pressure. The only way to solve the problem is that you speak up. Say it often and say it loudly, that you’re fed up watching research funds go to waste on citation games"
    Sabine H want to make Science democratic.

    1. Looks like Marie Antoinette for science has arrived from Germany.