The inner workings of science

The kind of stuff I work with falls under the very general label “science studies”. This loosely defined field can be defined as an attempt to bridge so-called “internalist” and “externalist” approaches to the history and philosophy of science together, with a generous helping of the social sciences, so as to understand not only how science actually proceeds relying on multiple sources and not just the narrative that scientists produce.

So it is always gratifying to see ideas derived from such studies echoed by hard sciences practitioners, as in a recent blog post by PZ Myers: Apparently, scientists need to work on educating themselves. “There is no single scientific method, of course science is shaped by culture, and nope, theories and laws are different beasts.

And coincidentally I was drawn to this just now: How science works. Looks like a good resource. “The Scientific Method is traditionally presented in the first chapter of science textbooks as a simple recipe for performing scientific investigations. Though many useful points are embodied in this method, it can easily be misinterpreted as linear and “cookbook”: pull a problem off the shelf, throw in an observation, mix in a few questions, sprinkle on a hypothesis, put the whole mixture into a 350° experiment — and voila, 50 minutes later you’ll be pulling a conclusion out of the oven! That might work if science were like Hamburger Helper®, but science is complex and cannot be reduced to a single, prepackaged recipe.

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