Scientific method/Bibliography

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A list of key readings about Scientific method.
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On Thomas Kuhn

The Stanford Encyclopedia Article on Thomas Kuhn

On the Sociobiology Debate

  • Segerstrale, Ullica. 'Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate', Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN: 0192862154.

A fascinating look at the historical development and theoretical underpinnings of the sociobiology debate and later scientific controversy.

Historical Introduction

Achinstein P. (editor) (2004) Science Rules: A Historical Introduction to Scientific Methods. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 9780801879432.

  • Publisher´s Description:
  • Is there a universal set of rules for discovering and testing scientific hypotheses? Since the birth of modern science, philosophers, scientists, and other thinkers have wrestled with this fundamental question of scientific practice. Efforts to devise rigorous methods for obtaining scientific knowledge include the twenty-one rules Descartes proposed in his Rules for the Direction of the Mind and the four rules of reasoning that begin the third book of Newton's Principia, and continue today in debates over the very possibility of such rules. Bringing together key primary sources spanning almost four centuries, Science Rules introduces readers to scientific methods that have played a prominent role in the history of scientific practice.
  • Editor Peter Achinstein includes works by scientists and philosophers of science to offer a new perspective on the nature of scientific reasoning. For each of the methods discussed, he presents the original formulation of the method; selections written by a proponent of the method together with an application to a particular scientific example; and a critical analysis of the method that draws on historical and contemporary sources.
  • The methods included in this volume are Cartesian rationalism with an application to Descartes' laws of motion; Newton's inductivism and the law of gravity; two versions of hypothetico-deductivism -- those of William Whewell and Karl Popper -- and the nineteenth-century wave theory of light; Paul Feyerabend's principle of proliferation and Thomas Kuhn's views on scientific values, both of which deny that there are universal rules of method, with an application to Galileo's tower argument. Included also is a famous nineteenth-century debate about scientific reasoning between the hypothetico-deductivist William Whewell and the inductivist John Stuart Mill; and an account of the realism-antirealism dispute about unobservables in science, with a consideration of Perrin's argument for the existence of molecules in the early twentieth century.
  • Peter Achinstein is a professor of philosophy at the Johns Hopkins University. His previous books include Concepts of Science, Law and Explanation, The Nature of Explanation, Particles and Waves, and The Book of Evidence.
  • Table of Contents & Limited Text of Book Online

Barry Gower. (1996) Scientific Method: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-12282-5. Google book preview

  • Publisher´s Description: The central theme running throughout this outstanding new survey is the nature of the philosophical debate created by modern science's foundation in experimental and mathematical method. More recently, recognition that reasoning in science is probabilistic generated intense debate about whether and how it should be constrained so as to ensure the practical certainty of the conclusions drawn. These debates brought to light issues of a philosophical nature which form the core of many scientific controversies today. Scientific Method: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction presents these debates through clear and comparative discussion of key figures in the history of science. Key chapters critically discuss
  • Galileo's demonstrative method, Bacon's inductive method, and Newton's rules of reasoning
  • the rise of probabilistic `Bayesian' methods in the eighteenth century
  • the method of hypotheses through the work of Herschel, Mill and Whewell
  • the conventionalist views of Poincaré and Duhem
  • the inductivism of Peirce, Russell and Keynes
  • Popper's falsification compared with Reichenbach's enumerative induction
  • Carnap's scientific method as Bayesian reasoning

The debates are brought up to date in the final chapters by considering the ways in which ideas about method in the physical and biological sciences have affected thinking about method in the social sciences. This debate is analyzed through the ideas of key theorists such as Kuhn, Lakatos, and Feyerabend.

Additional alternative views

See section on Alternative views in the main article.
  • Publisher's description:
  • Henry H. Bauer is professor of chemistry and science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
  • What is science? Is social science a science? Why are more and more so-called scientific discoveries being exposed as outright frauds? Henry Bauer tackles these and many more intriguing questions that are emerging from within the academic and scientific communities and attracting attention from the popular media and the general public.
  • Whether one is a specialist or generalist, scientist or humanist, thinker or activist, it is important to understand the place of science and technology in modern life. Popular views about the nature of science and scientific activity contain serious misconceptions that were discarded decades ago by most historians and philosophers of science. The perpetuation of these misconceptions usually surface in the form of frustrating and unproductive discussions about everything from setting policy and defining technical matters to whether one individual's point of view is "right" because it is supported by "scientific facts."
  • According to Bauer, the most serious and widespread misconceptions are that "science" can be discussed as though all sciences share a great deal in common and as though "the scientific method" characterizes all sciences. "Science," argues Bauer, "can be understood only if one recognizes it as a quest by fallible human beings who have evolved ways of interacting that help them gain relatively objective knowledge." In other words, science is a social activity, not simply the result of impersonal methods.
  • Concern has recently arisen over the quality of American education and our declining scientific and research orientation. Debates are emerging about what direction public universities should be taking as we head into the twenty-fist century. Why and to what extent should society support basic scientific research? What should everyone in a democratic society know about science? This book will help readers come to an informed understanding about the place of science and technology in today's world.
  • Excerpts from the 192 page book:
  • For our present purpose, it is sufficient to recognize that these are the salient acknowledged elements of the popular view of being scientifically methodical: empirical, pragmatic, open-minded, skeptical, sensitive to possibilities of falsifying; thereby establishing objective facts leading to hypotheses, to laws, to theories; and incessantly reaching out for new knowledge, new discoveries, new facts, and new theories.
  • The burden of the following will be how misleading this view—which I shall call "the myth of the scientific method"—is in many specific directions, how incapable it is of explaining what happens in science, how it is worse than useless as a guide to what society ought to do about science and technology.
  • A few years ago, a review article in Science listed many instances in which calculations had been right while experiment had been wrong: for the energy required to break molecules of hydrogen into atoms; for the geometry and energy content of CH2 (the unstable "molecule" in which two hydrogen atoms are linked to a carbon atom); for the energy required to replace the hydrogen atom in HF (hydrogen fluoride) by a different hydrogen atom; and for others as well. The author, H. F. Schaefer, argued that good calculations—in other words, theory—may quite often be more reliable than experiments . ..
  • Science is also supposed to seek new discoveries; but, it turns out, chemists often do not welcome new discoveries. For example, if you read about chemical reactions that oscillate periodically, you find that William C. Bray's discovery of such a reaction in 1921 was simply not believed. Some thirty years later, in 1951, a paper by B. P. Bclousov on the same subject was rejected, the editor saying that the reported results were simply impossible. Finally in the 1970s these results came to be accepted, but only after a theoretical treatment had shown how oscillations could come about. Again, more heed had been paid to theory—which is to say to preconceived belief—than to plain empirical fact.
  • The point I do wish to make is that purportedly authoritative pronouncements as well as popular ideas about how science works arc very seriously mistaken. One can find innumerable examples in all the sciences where theory was believed in the face of apparent evidence to the contrary; one can even find such an approach explicitly defended by eminent scientists—for example, the physicist Sir Arthur Eddington: "it is also a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in the observational results that arc put forward until they have been confirmed by theory."
  • The false view of science as a unity defined by the unitary scientific method was not perversely adopted holus-bolus in the teeth of the evidence. It is just a naive and now-superseded view that congealed, for quite understandable reasons, during the nineteenth century. Moreover, that it was once a plausible view entails that it can still be made to seem plausible, at least under some circumstances and if one emphasizes some things to the exclusion of others. The classical picture is wrong in nuance perhaps more than through and through. Nevertheless, those errors of nuance have portentous consequences.

View of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

F. James Rutherford and Andrew Ahlgren . (1991) Science for All Americans. A program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195067712

  • Chapter Title and Subsections:  The Nature of Science: The Scientific World View; Scientific Inquiry; The Scientific Enterprise.
  • Excerpt:
  • Scientists share certain basic beliefs and attitudes about what they do and how they view their work. These have to do with the nature of the world and what can be learned about it…Science presumes that the things and events in the universe occur in consistent patterns that are comprehensible through careful, systematic study. Scientists believe that through the use of the intellect, and with the aid of instruments that extend the senses, people can discover patterns in all of nature…Although scientists reject the notion of attaining absolute truth and accept some uncertainty as part of nature, most scientific knowledge is durable. The modification of ideas, rather than their outright rejection, is the norm in science, as powerful constructs tend to survive and grow more precise and to become widely accepted…Fundamentally, the various scientific disciplines are alike in their reliance on evidence, the use of hypothesis and theories, the kinds of logic used, and much more. Nevertheless, scientists differ greatly from one another in what phenomena they investigate and in how they go about their work; in the reliance they place on historical data or on experimental findings and on qualitative or quantitative methods; in their recourse to fundamental principles; and in how much they draw on the findings of other sciences…Scientific inquiry is not easily described apart from the context of particular investigations. There simply is no fixed set of steps that scientists always follow, no one path that leads them unerringly to scientific knowledge. There are, however, certain features of science that give it a distinctive character as a mode of inquiry…Sooner or later, the validity of scientific claims is settled by referring to observations of phenomena. Hence, scientists concentrate on getting accurate data…Although all sorts of imagination and thought may be used in coming up with hypotheses and theories, sooner or later scientific arguments must conform to the principles of logical reasoning—that is, to testing the validity of arguments by applying certain criteria of inference, demonstration, and common sense…the process of formulating and testing hypotheses is one of the core activities of scientists. To be useful, a hypothesis should suggest what evidence would support it and what evidence would refute it. A hypothesis that cannot in principle be put to the test of evidence may be interesting, but it is not likely to be scientifically useful…The credibility of scientific theories often comes from their ability to show relationships among phenomena that previously seemed unrelated…The essence of science is validation by observation…Theories should also fit additional observations that were not used in formulating the theories in the first place; that is, theories should have predictive power…Scientific work involves many individuals doing many different kinds of work and goes on to some degree in all nations of the world…Organizationally, science can be thought of as the collection of all of the different scientific fields, or content disciplines. From anthropology through zoology, there are dozens of such disciplines. They differ from one another in many ways, including history, phenomena studied, techniques and language used, and kinds of outcomes desired. With respect to purpose and philosophy, however, all are equally scientific and together make up the same scientific endeavor…