Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Scientific Method

I had the good fortune today to sit in on a couple of presentations at Fermi National Laboratory. There are two large research groups there representing the two giant detectors they have in the Tevatron. Each group has data and analysis that may be suggestive of the existence of the elusive Higgs particle which would be very large news.

Understand that I understood NONE of the physics per se but here’s what I observed:

  • Calm and logical presentations
  • Polite and attentive audience
  • An almost crushing critical eye on their own data (more on this)
  • Respectively presenting results from the other detector and from the big machine at CERN without any high fiving or end zone dances (but that would have been kind of awesome).
  • Questions being asked and answered without any shouting or interrupting.

So, yes, all of this in direct opposition to what passes for public debate and intercourse these days (Republican “debates” or any asshole on FOX). I watched as each group looked very hard for ways their data could be WRONG. That’s right. That’s the real scientific method. You have a hypothesis, you collect data, it may be suggestive of the hypothesis but before you go there you check the 999 ways you could be wrong. They do a thing were they think they have a signal and then ask, “What are the odds that the background noise could have produced this signal”? They even have a thing called LEE which is the 'Look Elsewhere Effect'. I can only assume that that includes behind the sofa cushions. Stuff like that. They might not like the answer to those questions all the time but so it goes.

You’ll never find this among the creationists because they don’t understand the first thing about science or the scientific method. They have a preconceived idea about how the world works (not a testable hypothesis) then they put together ideas and things that may be suggestive of that preconceived idea, ignore all things that contradict, and call that science. What they are missing is the critical eye that would ask, what else might cover these observations? Is that more or less plausible than where we started? But no. They cannot accept any explanation that contradicts the initial world view because the whole point is to have another way to preach the world-view. . . science be damned!

We’re swimming in relativism where everyone with an idea thinks his is just as good as anyone else’s because he tweeted it. Luckily, real research doesn’t work that way. It’s god awful hard work but step by step our understanding of this universe increases. Any opinion you have about some piece of research better be well formed and based on the relevant and accepted theories around. You don't get to have an opinion just because it suits you. You don't get to have an opinion just because somehow you got it into your head that all opinions are equal. They're not.

Basic research may not lead to a world view that is exactly what we had in mind but that doesn’t matter. Keeping an open mind is critical if you expect to find anything new. Wherever pure research leads we all get to share in our increased understanding of this (one and only?) beautiful universe.

If we keep an open mind . . . and quit shouting!


Rich Pope said...

My main thought: How could YOU not understand the physics? If that's true, think how out of it us poor non-scientific slobs would be!

But VERY interesting observations, re creationists.


Anonymous said...

Opinions are like assholes... Everyone has one, but no one wants to hear yours!
I guess everyone has the right to their own opinion, but it doesn't mean its even as good as someone elses' let alone better!

Z said...

I like your blog. I'm having a bit of trouble finding an RSS feed ?

I'm jealous. I would love to sit in on their meetings. Seriously, How important is it to find the Higgs Boson? Well, we've been talking about Newton for a long time. That might change any day now.

How can you be part of the search for the source of mass and not be a rock star?

Noiln said...

what is scientific notation
Scientific Notation include in the mathematics course. In the world of science some time we deal with numbers which are very small and those which are very large. In some branches of science large numbers while in others very small numbers are used.