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Alan P Rudy

My first reaction it's that this skips the problem of reductionism, particularly in the kind of govt science-for-policy settings to which you appeal. A student of mine studied GEs PCBs in the Hudson and the fight over cleanup. Different (honest, proper) sciences asking different questions because they were seen to imply different policy programs tied to different interest groups' preferred responses were introduced. Agencies were set up to listen to only one variety of research out research program. My sense is that "scientific" consensus, real or ersatz, odd often a result of this kind of situatedness at least as much as it is in "science" (however that is being conceived) itself. Here, from Latour to Haraway, Star to Hacking, networkings, situatedness, conventions and boundary practices impinge, I think. These issues are all over economic entomology, ecological research, soil science, crop breeding, and engineering. A difference might be claimed between basic and applied sciences but my sense is that the line between them has been pretty well erased.

David Duffy

Given the spirit of contrite fallibilism, if there is uncertainty about a particular question, then sometimes the right approach will be to have competing theories and research programs (not that kind!) where any scientist will have a definite favourite but be aware they may well be wrong. And on other occasions, there will be only one way forward (an experiment or a theory), but still there will be an awareness that this may fail.

So, in human genetic epidemiology, prior to the rise of large genome-wide association studies of common diseases, we carried out many expensive genetic linkage studies even though it was possible (and turned out to be the case) that most of the actual individual gene effects we needed to study were too small to be detected by those experiments. This is an empirical tradeoff between cost and statistical power of an experiment which may be keenly felt in the applied sciences Alan Rudy alludes to above. Another example: the scientific papers published by epidemiologists usually cost 4-5 fold more per minimum-publishable-unit than those performed in wet labs.

David Duffy

"usually cost 4-5 fold more" - which reminded me of the joke that ends "they don't even need wastebaskets!"

Paul D. Van Pelt

Don't know much about fallibility or reductionism. But, if one characterizes science after an image, then this only accounts for the second part of Nagel's cryptic account of reality: '...how things might possibly be.' Image is the root word for imagination. Which leaves more than enough room for distortion of facts. The backstory here is crucial. When characterizations are made, this suggests interests, preferences and motivations. Such propositional attitudes do little for accuracy or clarity and much towards fallibility.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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