Elaine Reynolds/ People on the thread talk about science as a way of thinking and I agree. However, in my view science is carried out less like the traditional scientific method we all learned about in high school and more like an exploration. It is often a flawed enterprise. For example, the current connectome project, which seeks to map structural and functional connections in the brain, is not a hypothesis driven project; it is a collection of data points that can be explored for pattern and purpose. This was also true of the much maligned human genome project. Bias and interpretation is a huge part of science. The idea of scientists as objective viewers of reality is a farce. Unconscious bias creeps in to perturb objectivity. Results are fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and puzzle pieces rarely fit together neatly. As I said [at our opening event], my advisor taught me to really dig into the pieces that don’t fit into that puzzle, but I am not sure how common that is. Data is interpreted, including which data to keep and what analysis to pursue and so on. I see scientists often searching for support of their own ideas, rather than the truth. And science is in the midst of a “reproducibility crisis” since many experiments especially in psychology can’t be reproduced. The only way science makes progress is through collective action that swamps out the bias and mistakes. I often say that scientific data leans toward the truth.
As science moves towards trying to understand systems, it uses modeling as a way to understand complexity. So in this way, science becomes like art in the sense of modeling reality rather than exploring reality directly. If art models reality can science use art to create models of complex systems?
And I think we could talk all day about the role of the rational and emotional in science communication. I think our culture is driven by emotion and fear, so maybe it’s no wonder that scientific thought and evidence are taking a back seat. Maybe scientists should start using emotional rhetoric rather than data as they talk about climate change. Maybe art could help science describe the world we are becoming.