Thursday, 22 May 2008

hypothesis-free research

Whenever I wonder if philosophers of science are really necessary, I run into a story like this:*
The young scientist next to me shrugged and said that models were of no use to him because he did "discovery-driven research". He then went on to state that discovery-driven research is hypothesis-free, and thus independent of the preexisting bias of traditional biology.
What the young scientist means might more descriptively be termed "foreground-hypothesis-free," although that's hardly a catchy phrase. All of the hypotheses in the sort of experiment indicated (an undirected search for correlations within a large dataset) are relegated to the background: the identification and measurement of data represented in the set, together with the statistical apparatus and a single uber-hypothesis: correlations are interesting.

I can think of several words that better describe this class of research: thoughtless or shallow. Harsh? You bet.

* It should be noted, perhaps, that Jake Young is a PhD in neuroscience and the storyteller Steven Wiley is a practising biologist. So maybe this is a stronger case for the existence of philosophy of science than for philosophers of science.

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