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Misconceptions about science abound in the popular media, and they are quite popular in the professional media as well. Having so much widely disseminated inaccurate information about something as important as science has many unfortunate consequences.
"The Terrible Truth About Truth"
"We cloud the minds of our readers when we talk about scientific knowledge being true as far as it goes, but incomplete; or when we say that scientific knowledge gets more and more likely to be correct, but we can never really be certain that it is true. Science is not a defective process that should produce truth, but can't quite get the job done. We started with pre-scientific beliefs, found various ways of improving them, and have continued doing that, improvements following other improvements, seemingly without end. There's no reason to expect this process to stop -- indeed, the growth of our knowledge in almost every field is accelerating."
"Perhaps at this point we can afford to take a good look at how the concept of truth is used in talking about science, and ask ourselves if it really serves any useful function. The teaching of science might well do without it, and the practice of science seems not to need it at all. We might consider giving up the imaginary ideal of perfect truth as a goal, and replacing it with the idea of continually improving understanding."
"I want to explore the question of how we ever came to expect scientific knowledge to be infallible in the first place.
Since this is not a mystery novel, I suppose it won't hurt to give a brief outline of the plot right away. We'll start with the Greek geometers, who took some useful facts about triangles and developed a way of showing that they had to be true about triangles in general. This established the idea of logical deduction as a source of certain knowledge about the natural world.
Then we jump a two thousand years to Isaac Newton, who developed a mathematical system that explained the movements of heavenly bodies and objects on the earth with a single set of simple principles. Scholars were used to thinking of logical deduction as a source of certain knowledge, and Newton presented his principles in the form of a series of illustrated arguments that looked a lot like geometry proofs. That's just about the whole story, in a nutshell, except that Newton's Laws worked so well that for over two hundred years the idea that they were correct -- absolutely, certainly correct -- was essentially unchallenged.
By extension, scholars naturally expected that all scientific research had the potential of yielding such impeccable results.
In this essay we'll look at some of the details of this history, and at some of the problems with these highly influential over- generalizations. Hopefully, taking a look at how these ideas emerged and how they fell from grace may help us get free from the tangled mess we find ourselves in today."
Science is not a new kind of knowledge; it is not created only by a professional elite; and "The Scientific Method" is really many methods, including aspects of basic intelligence found in infants and animals.
The procedure that gets taught as "The Scientific Method" is entirely misleading. Studying what scientists actually do is far more interesting.
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Blaming students for failures to meet standards set by the schooling system and its employees is contrary to logic, and counter-productive.
"School systems know that a certain percentage of their students will fail. After a relatively short time, they know who those failing students will be -- they will be the ones who failed before. Since the system forces everyone to participate in this learning contest, those who have failed will have many opportunities to fail again, and again. We are teaching these people that they are not who they should be. How many of them have the personal integrity to reject this arrogant slander, which our schooling system puts into the mouths of so many figures of authority? Of those who do have that much strength of character, how many will not simply give up on the schools; how many will also have the tolerance to continue trying to work with a system that has treated them so shabbily, and which continues to do so year after year?"
At every level, many variables (things we could change) affect current and future educational success. Of those many variables, most have small effects, but a few variables affect educational success profoundly. This article is about those few, immensely powerful variables, and what we might well do about them. We start with preventing prenatal malnutrition, and go on through infancy, day care, preschool, and beyond.
"Even if your main focus is saving the taxpayers' money,
one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that all
the students in your community succeed in school."
If treating people like defective machines worked, and
there were no alternatives, it might be acceptable. Fortunately, there
are alternatives. Unfortunately, they are rarely available and even more
rarely understood by health care practitioners. My goal here is to point
out some ancient and modern wisdoms of healing and healthy living, as a
first step toward making humane health care standard practice.
"Imagine a medical tradition, highly effective, offering medicines that produce no lasting negative side effects, sustainably using resources of the natural environment, and fostering basic sanity and compassion as the essential basis of health and well-being. Tibetan Buddhist medicine, as practiced throughout a vast area of central Asia for many hundreds of years, was such a tradition."
"Evaluation research can explore whether Tibetan physicians, using traditional methods of diagnosis and treatment, are successful in treating various health problems, or in helping to prevent them. However, designing studies that will truly and fairly address that question presents a real challenge. Specifically, studies that impose restrictions on various aspects of the Tibetan doctor's work are inadequate for assessing the full potential of Tibetan medicine."
"Energy Flowing Through A System Tends To Organize That System" -- "Hildred Schuell learned how to gradually cure aphasic patients by protecting the flow of communication during therapy sessions, by removing the element of panic and struggle."
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Revised on March 31, 2000
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