On Scientifically Not Putting the Cart in Front of the Horse

Quite often in science we get a bit ahead of ourselves and begin theorizing wildly, which can very often be an excellent thought experiment in and of itself. But without some data to give proof to our theorems, we can be easily sidedtracked.  Never have I read a statement so poetically phrased to admonish against it as I have recently:

Werner R. Loewenstein (1926 – 2014), German born American biophysicist
in The Touchstone of Life: Molecular Information, Cell Communication and the Foundatons of Life (Oxford University Press, 1999)

 

Cart in Front of Horse

The Decline Effect and the Scientific Method | The New Yorker

The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method? by Jonah Lehrer (The New Yorker)

Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker article “The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method?” is an interesting must-read article. In it he discusses the “Decline Effect” and outlier statistical effects within scientific research.

Among other interesting observations in it, he calls attention to the fact that, “according to the journal Nature, a third of all studies never even get cited, let alone repeated.”

For scholars of Fisher, Popper, and Kuhn, some of this discussion won’t be quite so novel, but for anyone designing scientific experiments, the effects discussed here are certainly worthy of notice and further study and scrutiny.

Brief Review: Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s “Advice for a Young Investigator”

Advice for a Young Investigator by Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934)
Advice for a Young Investigator Book Cover Advice for a Young Investigator
Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Biography & Autobiography
MIT Press
2004
book (paperback)
150
Library

This recently rediscovered classic, first published in 1897, is an anecdotal guide for the perplexed new scientific investigator as well as a refreshing resource for the old pro.

Book Cover for Advice for a Young Investigator
Written by Santiago Ramon y Cajal and translated by Larry W. Swanson and Neely Swanson.

This is certainly worth the read for the high qualities of its translation and vocabulary. There are lots of great aphorisms and brilliant bits of advice. Some of the parts about patriotism and information about things like picking a wife are anachronistically funny to read 100+ years after they were written.

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