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Monday, 12 October 2015
Science is mostly right because it assumes that it is wrong. All other fields of human thought are mostly wrong because they assume that they are right.
Despite this, scientific publishing is not organised scientifically at all; instead it relies on the antic combination of the political and the quasi-religious that is peer review.
Suppose some hapless junior academic in a fly-blown university physics department in Wyoming or Berkshire or somewhere has an explanation for why electron, muon or tau neutrinos change between these three types as they zip through you and everything else. The physicist writes a paper about it that gets sent to a bunch of experts - the peer reviewers - who decide if it is sensible or not. If they think it is sensible it gets published and the physicist stays in a job; if not, both it and the physicist are out on their ear.
That process is itself not sensible.
Since the start of the internet, I have not understood why we don't apply the scientific method to the publishing of science instead of relying upon the logical fallacy of argumentum ab auctoritate, which is what peer-review is.
Here's how it would work: authors post their paper online; at this stage there are no authors' names published, and the paper does not count as a publication to the physicist-sackers. It is assigned a prior probability of being right of, say, 10%. This probability rises automatically, but slowly, with time.
Then anyone except the authors can attempt to falsify the paper. At each failed attempt at falsification the probability of the paper's being right is increased in the appropriate Bayesian way. When that probability rises above, say, 70% the authors' names are published and they can use the paper to gain tenure, promotion, Nobel prizes and so on.
If an attempt at falsification succeeds then the paper is moved into a proved-false category and the authors may choose to have their names published, or not.
If no attempts are made to falsify the paper, and thus its time-dependent probability of being right rises to a high level all on its own, the paper is moved sideways into a maybe-interesting-but-not-falsifiable-so-not-science category. Any subsequent attempt at falsification (for example when technology improves) moves it back into the mainstream.
And what do the falsifiers get out of it? Their successful and unsuccessful falsifications are automatically added to their list of publications with a high rank – high, because falsehood is the only certainty in science.
Almost all of this could be automated by any competent web programmer.
Nullius in verba, as the Royal Society says.