Thursday, May 11, 2006

Evolution of the Scientific Method

My main man Anthony Francis ( suggested an interesting talk online at
Google TechTalks May 9, 2006 Kevin Kelly.

Here are some notes from this inspiring talk...

He charts the evolution of the scientific method:

200 BCE indexing and cataloging in libraries and such
1000 CE collaborative encyclopedia
1600 laboratories, measuring, recording data
1609 observational tools
1590 controlled experiment (Francis Bacon)
1650 sharing information and observation (Society of Experts)
1665 necessary experiment repeatability (Bolton)
1675 peer review
1687 hypothesis/prediction (Newton)
1920 falsifiability (Popper)
1926 statistics, randomized design (Fisher)
1937 placebo concept invented
1946 computer simulation
1950 double blind refinement to experiments
1962 study of the scientific method itself (Kuhn)

(He didn't mention it, but Galileo I believe was the first to use quantification-- turning observations into numbers for analysis. I'll send him an email about it...)

China made technology sometimes 500 or 1000 years before the west, but did not invent science. They had paper, printing, gunpowder, compass, iron plow, vaccinations, petroleum and gas fuel, etc. You can get pretty far without science.

Science is the process of changing of how we know, not just learning new things.

Science will change more in the next 50 years than in the last 400, according to current trends.

Biology will be big. Currently it has the most funding, scientists, results, economic value, is the most ethically important, and has the most to learn. You can look at the world's 100 million genomes as having learned stuff for 4 billion years. That's a lot to learn.

Information is growing at 66% per year (physical production is at 7%).

Zillionics: the field of study of zillions of things.

In the future most of the data will be from simulations, not observations of the natural world. The core of future science is theory, simulation, and observation. They feed each other.

Science is getting much more communal. Soon there will be a thousand-author paper.

There is a Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine. Some places are insisting you report your negative results as a prereq for publication.

Triple Blind Emergent Trials: 24 sensory info of people. You extract controls afterward. Neither the observer, researcher, or scientist is aware that there is an experiment going on.

Distributed experiments like Seti at home are going to be big.

You can imagine all of science as a single machine (1 billion PC chips, 1 million emails per second, 8 terrabytes of traffic per second, etc.). It's close to the complexity of the human mind.

Imagine Van Gogh born before paints were invented-- likewise there are geniuses around today for which the technology has not yet been invented.

Good questions generate more questions than it answers. Science creates ignorance more than knowledge.

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