Good Science and Bad Science

Science (from the Latin scientia , meaning 'knowledge') is an enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the natural world .

A fundamental aspect of science, as it is commonly understood, is the postulation of a theory followed by the verification of that theory by experiment or observations and then a comparison of the findings with those of others (peer review). This is fairly non-confrontational in areas such as electrical science. In 1812 Faraday demonstrated the first voltaic pile better known to us as an electrical battery. Other scientists did the same experiment and the results were universally accepted. However in 1859 Charles Darwin published the Theory of Evolution. His theory was of a different order and very difficult to verify or disprove. Today there would be those who strongly agree or disagree with his theory but neither side have the incontrovertible evidence that they are right. It is common for the proponents of the various views to accuse the other side of bad science. Some would seem to hold up peer review as an alternative to verification but this approach has a very bad history. In the 1850s Joseph William Bazalgette believed that the scourge of cholera in London was due to bad water and devised a system of sewers to properly dispose of sewage. The overwhelming scientific view of the day had been that it was actually the smell of the sewage that spread the desease. It was only after the Great Stink of 1858 that Bazalgette was given the opportunity to test out his ideas and his peers were proved wrong. Much more recently in the run up to the Iraq war the European national intelligence leaders were convinced there were 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' in Iraq. President Chirac of France was the single major European leader to file the minority report. He believed that these intelligence agencies had based their findings on scant evidence and to quote Chirac 'had intoxicated each other' into coming to a wrong conclusion. Richard J. Aldrich in his book GCHQ describes this phenomenom as 'Groupthink.' So science requires postulation, testing and peer review but each of these must be given its appropriate weight. Enthusiastic peer review is not a replacement for evidence.

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