by Andre on 12 February 2009
A nice post at DrugMonkey discussing scientific misconduct has created a little spin-off discussion on the definition of science. The connection here was the assertion that if people just had a better understanding of what science really is, potential ethical grey areas would be less common. In any event, an anonymous reader claims that there are four rules science must follow:
1) Frack with your data all you want, but do the same exact fracking for both control and test data sets. If you don’t know what I mean by ‘control’ and ‘test’, go back to junior high science class.
2) Always have a negative control.
3) Always have a positive control.
4) Remember that you can only disprove a hypothesis or fail to disprove a hypothesis; your data do not ever ‘support’ a hypothesis (despite what you read in C/N/S [Cell/Nature/Science]).
This is a pretty good list, but some later commenters discuss some cases where it may not apply to which anonymous reader replies:
You can’t just say something is science because you want it to be. That’s the problem here — too many people doing intentional or unintentional crap they call science but which isn’t really science.
I would say the opposite is equally likely to apply: you need to be careful what you exclude from capital-s Science because it doesn’t fit the particular standards of your field. That list excludes some things I think most scientists would want to include. What about astrophysics? We can’t (yet) manipulate the stars, but I still want to include studying them systematically as part of science. What was the appropriate negative control when Newton was working out universal gravitation? Drop a non-gravitating apple to confirm it doesn’t fall to Earth? Or in biology, were Watson and Crick doing science? I think it’s fair to say that Franklin’s X-ray data “supported” their hypothesis* that DNA forms a double helix.
*If you want to call it a hypothesis. Perhaps their research was “merely descriptive?”