Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In which Dr Clam says nothing of particular use to anyone

Q: What do they have in common, this New Scientist article about gebits that was the inspiration for my incomplete Al-Jamila story, and these articles of Robin Holliday’s about alien intelligences, brain function, and the origin of religion?

A: They are not science.

There is something that an old, wise scientist friend of mine says often, which every real scientist knows:

‘Just because the model fits the data, it doesn’t mean the model is true.’

Any theoretician worth their salt can make half a dozen models that fit the data before lunchtime. Then, you go out and do the experiments. It is not enough to say, ‘this is the simplest model, so it must be true.’ First of all, the simplest explanation is likely to be one we haven’t thought of yet. Secondly, Ockham’s razor is a rule of thumb, not a rule of nature. Remember Einstein’s dictum: ‘An explanation should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.’

That is why we practicing scientists don’t have a great deal of patience with gebits.

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