Dr. Bob: "On Science"

"But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child.  If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not.  See first, think later, then test.  But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting.  Most scientists forget that."

"Wonko, the Sane" in
"So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish"
by Douglas Adams

More of Doug Adams' books are available on Bob's Bookshelf

OK, so maybe I should have called this page Douglas Adams: "On Science", but Wonko was absolutely right on several counts. As scientists, we must be unbiased in our observations, as a child is unbiased, and always ready to marvel at a new thing. I think that one of the reasons that I am attracted to Feynman is because of his childlike pleasure at discovering new things. One only has to look at the picture on the cover of "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" to see this in his eyes.

"See first, think later, then test." All three of these imperatives are important, but the third is often forgotten. We are supposed to be our own worst enemy: Science requires that we vigorously test our own theory, with experiments designed to refute it. We never prove our theory right, we only fail to disprove it. We should be remembered not for having been right, but rather for how hard we tried to prove ourselves wrong.

Similar thoughts were echoed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the voice of Sherlock Holmes:


"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." 

A Scandal in Bohemia

"It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

The Beryl Coronet

Sherlock Holmes books & DVD's are available on Bob's Bookshelf

Another precept we scientists also often forget is that of Occam's Razor.  Occam (or Ockham) was a 14th century monk/theologian whose 'Razor' every scientist should remember! I learned it as: "If you have two theories which both explain the facts, choose the simpler." Note: That doesn't mean that the theory is RIGHT, just that it is simpler! However, no theory can be correct, no matter how simple, if it does not explain all the facts!



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