(comment posted to Jonathan Wolff’s “The journals are full of great studies, but can we believe the statistics?“, The Guardian, May 4 2010)
There are two big issues with Mr Wolff’s article.
(1) The “fear of looking foolish” seems a particularly childish approach to Science.
Insofar as one is able to argue the reasons for a particular choice in an “unsettled” scientific field, there is of course no foolishness to speak of.
In fact, looking at this the other way around, the fact that one was “very right” once, means nothing about being right in the future. Otherwise, all we would have to do would be to listen to former Nobel Prize winners.
Sadly, after the trip to Stockholm very few of them are capable of achieving anything remotely important as their acclaimed feat.
(2) There is little hope for Science really, if the goal is to hold on until an orthodoxy develops, and then sheepishly hang on to that.
We can’t simply evolve into separate tribes showing no critical thinking of what happens in other fields. And orthodoxies are meant to crumble, otherwise it is not “Science”. By the time they become widespread enough for the likes of Wolff to take them as “Truth”, they will likely be ripe for destruction by the next generation of scientists.
Come to think, a certain guy called Galileo would have failed on the Wolff strategy left, right and centre. Luckily he wasn’t afraid, and didn’t look the other way.