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Cheap Thoughts on Science

 

Scientific Method

 

The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.
     Philip W. Anderson, "More Is Different" (Science, 1972)

 

Facts are a heap of bricks and timber. It is only a successful theory that can convert the heap into a stately mansion.
     Isaac Asimov

 

In private, Planck confided to his son that he thought he had made a discovery comparable to those of Newton. Nevertheless, for much of the rest of his life he tried desperately but fruitlessly to explain quantization in the context of classical physics. There are two lessons here for our comprehension of the scientific method. One is that revolutionary ideas gather strength from resistance to continuous attack. Unlike in some other fields of human endeavour, where crazy ideas are embraced unquestioningly as engaging and welcome friends, in science a crazy idea is subject to constant attack, especially — really especially — if it overthrows an established paradigm. The second lesson is that old men (and old women, although for them there is perforce and regrettably currently less empirical evidence) are not the best evangelists of radical science, for deeply imbued as they are in their conventional upbringing they commonly resent the passing of their learning. Like new mores, new paradigms become accepted only as old generations die.
     Peter Atkins, Galileo’s Finger:  The Ten Great Ideas of Science (2003)
     “Quanta:  The Simplification of Understanding”

 

Origins are seldom uncontentious. Current fashion sometimes has it that the idea of a cosmic Big Bang is best regarded as our latest cultural myth, as much a social construct as the slaying of Ymir. On the one hand, it can only be arrogant to suggest otherwise; on the other, it's this particular kind of confidence that makes science possible.
     Philip Ball, Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water (2000)

 

Indeed, if there is a single lesson to have emerged from science in the twentieth century, it is that common sense is not always a good guide to our intuition about how the world works. There is much in quantum theory, as in Einstein's theory of special relativity, that challenges our commonsense notions about such familiar entities as time, space, and matter. For this reason, John Maddox comments that in science the concept of heresy may in fact be meaningless. One definition of heresy is "an opinion contrary to generally accepted beliefs" — and scientific inquiry cannot survive without such things.
     Science elects to embrace some such contrary opinions, yet to reject and even, perhaps regrettably, to ridicule others. I hope I have already given you some inkling of why this is so, and why the choice is not arbitrary. New discoveries can be startling and challenging without demanding that we blank out everything that we have previously believed to be true and have validated with experiment. ... [U]nless such criteria are applied, science will forever be seeing unicorns, telling us that there is infinite energy available for free.
     Philip Ball, Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water (2000)

 

Is life mere molecules, acting together with awesome but in principle explicable complexity? Or is something more involved? We simply do not know. Scientists take a bottom-up approach, assuming the minimum and invoking only testable hypotheses. Whether this will eventually lead to a point beyond which science is powerless to proceed, we cannot yet say. But no such point has so far become apparent. It seems possible that life — which we might loosely define as an organism that can reproduce, and respond to and extract sustenance from its environment — may be nothing but molecules and their relationships. Indeed, this seems extremely likely. It need not be disappointing; quite the contrary, it would be remarkable. That a conspiracy of molecules might have created King Lear is a possibility that makes the world seem an enchanted place.
     I do not think it likely, however, that the human mind (let alone the wonders it concocts) will ever be explained in molecular terms, any more than Lear is explained by the alphabet. Most scientists do not believe so either. Phenomena are hierarchical: all things cannot be understood by considering only what transpires on a single rung. No matter how well I understand the way a transistor works, I will not be able to deduce from this knowledge why my computer crashes. If I sow seeds that fail to grow, I will do better to begin by thinking about the nutrient content, humidity, and temperature of my soil than by performing a genetic analysis of the seeds. Much of the skill in doing science resides in knowing where in the hierarchy you are looking — and, as a consequence, what is relevant and what is not.
     Philip Ball, Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules (2001)

 

There is no good reason to discard the scientific method as an ideal; rather, there is good reason to keep it so. Myths, after all, even if not literally true, are stories that embody moral truths.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the 
     Myth of the Scientific Method (1992)

 

Science is one of the most absorbing and satisfying pastimes, and as such it appeals in different ways to different types of personality. To some it is a game against the unknown where one wins and no one loses, to others, more humanly minded, it is a race between different investigators as to who should first wrest the prize from nature. It has all the qualities which make millions of people addicts of the crossword puzzle or the detective story, the only difference being that the problem has been set by nature or chance and not by man, that the answers cannot be got with certainty, and when they are found often raise far more questions than the original problem.
     J. D. Bernal, The Social Function of Science (1939)

 

Man is naturally metaphysical and arrogant, and is thus capable of believing that the ideal creations of his mind, which express his feelings, are identical with reality. From this it follows that the experimental method is not really natural to him.
     Claude Bernard

 

The experimenter who does not know what he is looking for will never understand what he finds.
     Claude Bernard

 

A hypothesis is . . . the obligatory starting point of all experimental reasoning. Without it no investigation would be possible, and one would learn nothing: one could only pile up barren observations. To experiment without a preconceived idea is to wander aimlessly.
     Claude Bernard, An Introduction to the 
     Study of Experimental Medicine (1865)

 

Hundreds of years of attempting to find inside our own heads the necessary pattern of the external world has proved a dismal failure. . . . We can only take experience as it comes and must try to get our thinking into conformity with it.
     P. W. Bridgman, Reflections of a Physicist (1955)

 

The process I want to call scientific is a process that involves the continual apprehension of meaning, the constant appraisal of significance, accompanied by the running act of checking to be sure I am doing what I want to do, and of judging correctness or incorrectness. This checking and judging and accepting, that together constitute understanding, are done by me and can be done for me by no one else. . . . They are as private as my toothache, and without them science is dead.
     P. W. Bridgman, Reflections of a Physicist (1955)

 

The scientific method, as far as it is a method, is nothing more than doing one's damnedest with one's mind, no holds barred.
     P. W. Bridgman, Reflections of a Physicist (1955)
          [see also Holton, 1996]

 

A conceptual scheme is never discarded merely because of a few stubborn facts with which it cannot be reconciled; a conceptual scheme is either modified or replaced by a better one, never abandoned with nothing left to take its place.
     James Bryant Conant

 

... no good model ever accounted for all the facts, since some data was bound to be misleading if not plain wrong. A theory that did fit all the data would have been "carpentered" to do this and would thus be open to suspicion.
     Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal 
     View of Scientific Discovery (1988)

 

What, then, do Jim Watson and I deserve credit for? If we deserve any credit at all, it is for persistence and the willingness to discard ideas when they became untenable. One reviewer thought that we couldn't have been very clever because we went on so many false trails, but that is the way discoveries are usually made. Most attempts fail not because of lack of brains but because the investigator gets stuck in a cul-de-sac or gives up too soon.
     Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal 
     View of Scientific Discovery (1988)

 

About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize; and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colors. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!
     Charles Darwin, letter to Henry Fawcett (1861)

 

Were this thinking not in the framework of scientific work, it would be considered paranoid. In scientific work, creative thinking demands seeing things not seen previously, or in ways not previously imagined; and this necessitates jumping off from "normal" positions, and taking risks by departing from reality. The difference between the thinking of the paranoid patient and the scientist comes from the latter's ability and willingness to test out his fantasies or grandiose conceptualizations through the systems of checks and balances science has established — and to give up those schemes that are shown not to be valid on the basis of these scientific checks. It is specifically because science provides such a framework of rules and regulations to control and set bounds to paranoid thinking that a scientist can feel comfortable about taking the paranoid leaps. Without this structuring, the threat of such unrealistic, illogical, and even bizarre thinking to overall thought and personality organization in general would be too great to permit the scientist the freedom of such fantasying.
     Bernice T. Eiduson, Scientists: Their Psychological World (1962)

 

Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.
     Albert Einstein

 

I have little patience with scientists who take a board of wood, look for its thinnest part, and drill a great number of holes where drilling is easy.
     Albert Einstein

 

It would be suspiciously comfortable if science, probing ten orders of magnitude out into the realm of the galaxies and down into the diminutive realm of the atoms, did not learn things that upset the assumptions garnered in several million years of human evolution limited to the human scale of space and time.
     Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang: 
     A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report
(1997)

 

After we look for the evidence we have to judge the evidence. There are the usual rules about the judging the evidence; it's not right to pick only what you like, but to take all of the evidence, to try to maintain some objectivity about the thing — enough to keep the thing going — not to ultimately depend upon authority. Authority may be a hint as to what the truth is, but is not the source of information. As long as it's possible, we should disregard authority whenever the observations disagree with it.
     Richard Feynman, "What Is and What Should Be the Role of Scientific
     Culture in Modern Society" (Galileo Symposium, Italy, 1964)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short
     Works of Richard P. Feynman
(Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)

 

In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is — if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)

 

The answer to all these questions may not be simple. I know there are some scientists who go about preaching that Nature always takes on the simplest solutions. Yet the simplest solution by far would be nothing, that there should be nothing at all in the universe. Nature is far more inventive than that, so I refuse to go along thinking it always has to be simple.
     Richard Feynman, Feynman Lectures on Gravitation (1995)

 

Theory and fact are equally strong and utterly interdependent; one has no meaning without the other. We need theory to organize and interpret facts, even to know what we can or might observe. And we need facts to validate theories and give them substance.
     Stephen Jay Gould, "Mr. Sophia's Pony"
     Leonardo's Mountain of Clams
          and the Diet of Worms
(1998)

 

Along the way, Maxwell came up with an intermediate model based on a now very strange-looking idea in which the forces of electricity and magnetism were conveyed by the interactions of vortices, whirlpools that spun in a fluid filling all of space. But the strangeness of this physical model didn't hold back the development of his ideas, because as Maxwell correctly commented, all such physical images are less important than the mathematical equations that describe what is going on. In 1864, he would write: "For the sake of persons of different types of mind, scientific truth should be presented in different forms and should be regarded as equally scientific whether it appears in the robust form and vivid colouring of a physical illustration or in the tenuity and paleness of a symbolic expression." This is almost the most important thing Maxwell ever wrote. As science (in particular, quantum theory) developed in the twentieth century it became increasingly clear that the images and physical models that we use to try to picture what is going on on scales far beyond the reach of our senses are no more than crutches to our imagination, and that we can only say that in certain circumstances a particular phenomenon behaves 'as if' it were, say, a vibrating string, not that it *is a vibrating string (or whatever). As we shall see later, there are circumstances where it is quite possible for different people to use different models to image the same phenomenon, but for them each to come up with the same predictions, based on the mathematics, of how the phenomenon will respond to certain stimuli. Getting ahead of our story only slightly, we will find that although it is quite right to say that light behaves like a wave in many circumstances (particularly when travelling from A to B), under other circumstances it behaves like a stream of tiny particles, just as Newton thought. We cannot say that light is a wave or is corpuscular; only that under certain circumstances it is like a wave or like a particle. Another analogy, also drawing on twentieth-century science, may help to make the point. I am sometimes asked if I believe that there 'really was' a Big Bang. The best answer is that the evidence we have is consistent with the idea that the Universe as we see it today has evolved from a hot, dense state (the Big Bang) about 13 billion years ago. In that sense, I believe there was a Big Bang. But this is not the same kind of belief as, for example, my belief that there is a large monument to Horatio Nelson in Trafalgar Square. I have seen that monument and touched it; I believe it is there. I have not seen or touched the Big Bang, but the Big Bang model is the best way I know of picturing what the Universe was like long ago, and that picture matches the available observations and mathematical calculations. [And there is a third kind of belief, in some religions, where the whole point is that the religious story is believed without any evidence at all, on faith.] These are all important points to absorb as we move on from the classical science of Newton (dealing, broadly speaking, with things you can see and touch) to the ideas of the twentieth century (dealing, in some sense, with things that cannot be seen or touched). Models are important, and helpful; but they are not the truth; in so far as there is scientific truth, it resides in the equations. And it was equations that Maxwell came up with.
     John Gribbin, The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of its Greatest Inventors (2002)

 

This leads us to what is, in my view, the most profound discovery of the whole scientific endeavour. Astronomers are able to calculate with great accuracy how much material of different kinds is manufactured inside stars and scattered into space by supernovae and lesser stellar outbursts. They can confirm these calculations by measuring the amount of different kinds of material in clouds of gas and dust in space, the raw material from which new stars and planetary systems form, using spectroscopy. What they find is that apart from helium, which is an inert gas that does not take part in chemical reactions, the four most common elements in the Universe are hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, collectively known by the acronym CHON. This is an ultimate truth revealed by a process of enquiry that began when Galileo first turned his telescope towards the sky, and ended with those observations of the supernova of 1987. Another line of investigation, which for centuries seemed to have nothing to do with the scientific study of the stars, began a little earlier, when Vesalius started to put the study of the human body on a scientific footing. The ultimate truth revealed by this line of enquiry, culminating with the investigation of DNA in the 1950s, is that there is no evidence of a special life force, but that all of life on Earth, including ourselves, is based on chemical processes. And the four most common elements involved in the chemistry of life are hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. We are made out of exactly the raw materials which are most easily available in the Universe. The implication is that the Earth is not a special place, and that life forms based on CHON are likely to be found across the Universe, not just in our Galaxy but in others. It is the ultimate removal of humankind from any special place in the cosmos, the completion of the process that began with Copernicus and De Revolutionibus. The Earth is an ordinary planet orbiting an ordinary star in the suburbs of an average galaxy. Our Galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars, and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the visible Universe, all of them full of stars like the Sun and laced with clouds of gas and dust rich in CHON. Nothing could be further removed from the pre-Renaissance idea that the Earth was at the centre of the Universe, with the Sun and stars orbiting around it, and humankind as the unique pinnacle of creation, qualitatively different from the 'lesser' forms of life. But do these discoveries mean, as some have suggested, that science is about to come to an end? Now that we know how life and the Universe work, is there anything left except to fill in the details? I believe that there is. Even filling in the details will be a long job, but science itself is now undergoing a qualitative change. The analogy I have used before, but which I cannot improve upon, is with the game of chess. A small child can learn the rules of the game - even the complicated rules like the knight's move. But that does not make the child a grandmaster, and even the greatest grandmaster who ever lived would not claim to know everything there is to know about the game of chess. Four and a half centuries after the publication of De Revolutionibus, we are in the situation of that small child who has just learned the rules of the game. We are just beginning to make our first attempts to play the game, with developments such as genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. Who knows what the next five centuries, let alone the next five millennia, might bring.
     John Gribbin, The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of its Greatest Inventors (2002)

 

Science is a personal activity. With very few exceptions, scientists throughout history have plied their craft not through a lust for glory or material reward, but in order to satisfy their own curiosity about the way the world works. Some, as we have seen, have taken this to such extremes that they have kept their discoveries to themselves, happy in the knowledge that they have found the solution to some particular puzzle, but feeling no need to boast about the achievement. Although each scientist - and each generation of scientists - exists and works in the context of their time, building on what has gone before with the aid of the technology available to them, it is as individual people that they make their own contribution. It has therefore seemed natural to me to use an essentially biographical approach to the history of science (at least, for my first attempt at such a history), in the hope of teasing out something of what makes a scientist tick, as well as revealing how one scientific advance led to another. I am aware that this is not an approach that is much favoured by historians today, and that any professional historians who have read this far may accuse me of being old-fashioned, or even reactionary. But if I am old-fashioned, it is because I choose to be so, not because I am unaware that I am out of step. I am also aware that there are almost as many approaches to the study of history as there are historians, and each approach can shed light on the subject. Few, if any, historians would claim that one person's view (or interpretation) of history reveals 'the' truth about history, any more than a single snapshot of a human being reveals everything about that person. But perhaps there is something about my own approach to the history of science which may provide food for thought even for the professionals.
     John Gribbin, The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of its Greatest Inventors (2002)

 

Bridgman's statement is still a great definition of how to get at trustworthy scientific results. But in the intervening decades the milieu has so evolved that we need to supplement that advice, to bring it into our time. At the very least we must add a few words: While doing your damnedest, watch how your presuppositions are holding up; make sure you understand the results of other people along the chain on whose work you are relying; and keep in view that more and more of the findings of science, resonating through society, may have additional results far from those sought initially.
     Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion
     against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century (1996)

 

The method of scientific investigation is nothing but the expression of the necessary mode of working of the human mind. It is simply the mode at which all phenomena are reasoned about, rendered precise and exact.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, "Our Knowledge of the
     Causes of the Phenomena of Organic Nature" (1863)

 

The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions.
     Claude Levi-Strauss

 

That is the true test of a brilliant theory. What is first thought to be wrong is later shown to be obvious.
     Assar Lindbeck

 

The formulation of a natural law begins as an imaginative exploit and imagination is a faculty essential to the scientist's task. ... In a modern professional vocabulary a hypothesis is an imaginative preconception of what might be true in the form of a declaration with verifiable deductive consequences. It no longer tows 'gratuitous,' 'mere,' or 'wild' behind it, and the pejorative usage ('Evolution is a mere hypothesis,' 'It is only a hypothesis that smoking causes lung cancer') is one of the outward signs of little learning.
     Peter Medawar, "Hypothesis and Imagination"
     (Times Literary Supplement, 25 Oct 1963)

 

All advances of scientific understanding, at every level, begin with a speculative adventure, an imaginative preconception of what might be true — a preconception that always, and necessarily, goes a little way (sometimes a long way) beyond anything which we have logical or factual authority to believe in. It is the invention of a possible world, or of a tiny fraction of that world. The conjecture is then exposed to criticism to find out whether or not that imagined world is anything like the real one. Scientific reasoning is therefore at all levels an interaction between two episodes of thought — a dialogue between two voices, the one imaginative and the other critical; a dialogue, as I have put it, between the possible and the actual, between proposal and disposal, conjecture and criticism, between what might be true and what is in fact the case.
     Peter Medawar, "Science and Literature" (Romanes
     Lecture, Encounter 32 no 1, January 1969)

 

The accusation is sometimes directed against scientists that there is in reality no such thing as the scientific method, i.e., that there is no logically accountable and intellectually rigorous process by which we may proceed directly to the solution of a given problem. Scientific method works only in retrospect. This accusation is perfectly just but it doesn't in practice amount to anything more than saying that there is no set of cut-and-dried rules for writing a poem or passage of music or conducting any other imaginative exercise.
     Peter Medawar, "The Cost-Benefit Analysis of
     Pure Research" (Hospital Practice, Sept 1973)

 

Laymen and philosophers who have been brought up to think that scientists wield a weapon known as 'the scientific method' may well wonder how I could allow myself to fritter away my time as I did, but there is not such thing as the scientific method and I don't regard my own messings-about as any more discreditable than those of a writer who, before writing the novel or play which makes his reputation, spends his time on potboilers and half-finished manuscripts. A scientist who wants to do something original and important must experience, as I did, some kind of shock that forces upon his intention the kind of problem that it should be his duty and will become his pleasure to investigate.
     Peter Medawar, Memoirs of a Thinking Radish (1986)

 

It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they are found because it was possible to find them.
     Robert Oppenheimer, quoted in Richard Rhodes,
     The Making of the Atomic Bomb
(1986)

 

There is no short cut to truth, no way to gain knowledge except through the gateway of the scientific method. The hard, stony path of classifying facts and reasoning upon them is the only way to ascertain truth.
     Karl Pearson

 

How did something come from nothing? How did something come to think about nothing?
     Everyone has asked these two questions in one way or another, at one time or another. Stories of creation have answered in every language. Those stories never fail to remark the special creation of man and woman. Whatever else they have meant to people, accounts of genesis have set cornerstones in the literatures of their languages and exhibited the power and glory of the imagination.
     Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, scientific inquiry is approaching still other answers to these first two questions. This is remarkable, because scientific inquiry is constrained by three rules, self-imposed by the mutual agreement of its practitioners. A scientist can admit to rational consideration nothing by the physical reality that is accessible to experience. On the experience in question and what it may mean, a scientist can recognize no authority but his or her own judgment and must, at all times, hold that authority in suspicion. The experience must yield evidence open to inspection by others.
     Gerard Piel, The Age of Science: What Scientists
     Learned in the 20th Century
(2001)

 

The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn't misled you into thinking you know something you don't actually know. There's not a mechanic or scientist or technician alive who hasn't suffered from that one so much that he's not instinctively on guard. . . . If you get careless or go romanticizing scientific information, giving it a flourish here and there, Nature will soon make a complete fool out of you.
     Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

 

I think that there is only one way to science — or to philosophy, for that matter: to meet a problem, to see its beauty and fall in love with it; to get married to it and to live with it happily, till death do ye part — unless you should meet another and even more fascinating problem or unless, indeed, you should obtain a solution. But even if you do obtain a solution, you may then discover, to your delight, the existence of a whole family of enchanting, though perhaps difficult, problem children, for whose welfare you may work, with a purpose, to the end of your days.
     Karl R. Popper

 

But I shall certainly admit a system as empirical or scientific only if it is capable of being tested by experience. These considerations suggest that not the verifiability but the falsifiability of a system is to be taken as a criterion of demarcation. In other words: I shall not require of a scientific system that it shall be capable of being singled out, once and for all, in a positive sense: but I shall require that its logical form shall be such that it can be singled out, by means of empirical tests, in a negative sense: it must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience.
     Sir Karl Raimund Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959)

 

How is it that astronomers can tell such stories, stories more fabulous than any myth of gods and nymphs, when the ink of night offers to the eye only pinpricks of light? The answer is both simple and complex. We look, we invent, we look again. We test our inventions against what we see, and we insist that our inventions be consistent with one another, that our stories of the stars be consistent with our stories of the earth, of life, and of matter and energy. ... The story of the falling apple and the story of the stars must resonate together. Only then, when our stories of the world vibrate with a symphonic harmony, are we confident that our inventions partake of reality.
     Chet Raymo, The Virgin and the Mousetrap:
     Essays in Search of the Soul of Science (1991)

 

The mistake is often made that science explains, or endeavors to explain, phenomena. But that is the business of philosophy. The task science attempts is the simpler one of the correlation of natural phenomena, and in this effort leaves the ultimate problems of metaphysics untouched.
     Dr. H. Stanley Redgrove

 

[Science] has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be.
     Carl Sagan

 

Religion hinges upon faith, politics hinges upon who can tell the most convincing lies or maybe just shout the loudest, but science hinges upon whether its conclusions resemble what actually happens.
     Ian Stewart

 

When you're trying to make progress in the face of ignorance, you have to make assumptions. The assumptions may turn out to be wrong — that's a risk you take. But the choice is either make the assumptions or do nothing, and Herschel, like most scientists, chose to take the risk.
     James Trefil, Reading the Mind of God: In Search 
     of the Principle of Universality
(1989)

 

Even distinguished philosophers of science like Hilary Putnam recognize the failure of philosophy to help understand the nature of science. They have not discovered a scientific method that provides a formula or prescriptions for how to make discoveries. But many famous scientists have given advice: try many things; do what makes your heart leap; think big; dare to explore where there is no light; challenge expectation; cherchez le paradox; be sloppy so that something unexpected happens, but not so sloppy that you can't tell what happened; turn it on its head; never try to solve a problem until you can guess the answer; precision encourages the imagination; seek simplicity; seek beauty . . . One could do no better than to try them all. No one method, no paradigm, will capture the process of science. There is no such thing as the scientific method.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)

 

Having a scientific outlook means being willing to divest yourself of a pet hypothesis, whether it relates to easy self-help improvements, homeopathy, graphology, spontaneous generation, or any other concept, when the data produced by a carefully designed experiment contradict that hypothesis. Retaining a belief in a hypothesis that cannot be supported by data is the hallmark of both the pseudoscientist and the fanatic. Often the more deeply held the hypothesis, the more reactionary is the response to nonsupportive data.
     Michael Zimmerman Science, Nonscience, and Nonsense:
     Approaching Environmental Literacy (1995)