The evidence crisis

I reviewed Jim Baggott’s book a while back, saying that I thought he had made many crucial points that I hoped the theoretical physics community would heed. Science, by getting away from evidence, risks entering a kind of Neoplatonic phase. I still say speculation is fine, as long as it’s clearly labeled, but when the speculation starts to be called “discoveries”, there is a problem. In this post at Scientia, Baggott covers many of the same points.

Scientia Salon

220px-Calabi-Yau-alternateJim Baggott

Thanks to a kind invitation from the Simons and John Templeton Foundations and the World Science Festival, last Friday (30 May) I participated in a public discussion on ‘Evidence in the Natural Sciences’ with Professors Brian Greene and Peter Galison.

This discussion was the final act in a one-day symposium of the same name, held at the Simons Foundation’s Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium on 5th Avenue, in New York City. These were comfortable, well-appointed surroundings. But the overwhelming message from the symposium was actually quite discomfiting. In its 300-year maturity, it seems that science is confronted with nothing less than a crisis of evidence.

The crisis takes many forms. I learned that mathematicians are increasingly resorting to computer-based proofs that signal a loss of certainty and the ‘end of conviction.’ Efforts are underway to develop computer-based algorithms that will soon provide the only way to review such…

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