I CAN HAS HYPOTHESIS?

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Just recently, I was lamenting the fact that there are likely orders of magnitude more people who understand the “turn it off and then on again” method of troubleshooting than the scientific method.

To back up my theory, this month’s Wired Magazine sees editor Chris Anderson confidently stroll into Crazyland with his essay The End of Theory, asserting that the age of the scientific method is over, replacing hypothesis and testing with statistical number-crunching of massive databases.

Needless to say, there exist a variety of reactions to this idea, most of which can be summarized by “Wait, what now?”

The Daily Galaxy’s critique of Anderson’s article was particularly effective, pointing out that recognition of correlation is not the goal of science; rather, it provides a starting point for science to begin from:

Noticing a correlation between factors is the START of science, not the end.  When you see that two things affect each other and ask “Why?”, you’re a scientist.  When you just record a million trials you’re an accountant.  When you say “It happens because that’s the way things are” you’re either a mother answering a five-year-old’s fortieth question in a row, or uninterested, or possibly religious.

The “you are not qualified to make this assertion” style of criticism tends to bug me, but in this case, it seems particularly accurate:

This combines with his second error: Belief that the Internet is the entire world.  This is an easy mistake for somebody like a Wired editor to make, but the fact remains that if you walked down a street shouting “LOLCAT” most people wouldn’t know what the hell you were talking about.  This is important.  In fact, a species where everybody knows about LOLCATS is one whose viability needs severe re-evaluation.

2 Responses to “I CAN HAS HYPOTHESIS?”

  1. Ordinal Malaprop

    I had not seen this before, but… really. It is like predicting that scientific theory will be worthless because difference engines can process dozens of results a second, making theory pointless in the face of statistics. The cretin.

  2. AnneDroid

    Wired has an interest in making computers in general, and the internet specifically, seem as important as possible. It is also true that theoretical mathematics have largely gone to statistical methods of verifying theories.

    While statistical correlations seem to be enough for popularists and panic mongers, he seems to be implying that there is no knowledge to be learned beyond this cursory view. It may in fact, be all that he’s capable of understanding, but I’m glad to know that there are people in the scientific community who don’t think it’s good enough to classify observations as “confirmed, plausible, or busted”.