On a Proposed Science of Science
I propose “metascience” as the science of science. Its job is the scientific investigation of the phenomenon of science. Therefore metascience is necessarily self-referential. It is partly philosophy, and partly a branch of social psychology; that’s its soft end; but on the hard end it has a lot of numerical data to analyze. Its main job; determine what social, cultural, psychological, institutional and other factors can improve the quantity and quality of scientific discovery.
There are methodological paradoxes; for how do you measure the process without also measuring the content? And the content of science changes dramatically; 21st century ‘matter’ is very different stuff from 19th century ‘matter’. And how do you determine quality? Change is a fact but progress is an opinion.
Postmodernism attempted an ironic deconstruction of science, but had to take its own relativism as an absolute metanarrative. You cannot prove the existence of the objective, but neither can you refute it. Science necessarily exists at the boundary between the objective and subjective.
Topics in metascience:
Loosening of the Method. The classic metascience theory was the Scientific Method. Later, a change to Kuhn’s Paradigm Paradigm. Also, classical determinism gave way to quantum uncertainty and dynamical chaos.
The Half-Life of Facts. What varies this? Is it controllable? Is a long half-life a sign of failure or success?
Stigler’s Law: no scientific discovery is named after its discoverer (including this law).
Far-Sightedness: the closer to home the blurrier the vision! Accurate astrophysics, bad psychology. Ergo Useful vs. Accurate.
Path-Dependent Comprehension: The order in which science discovers facts affects how it interprets them; usually it is the first impressions that set the tone, even though the later impressions are more accurate and comprehensive. Buildup of this mismatch between paradigm and evidence eventually (according to Kuhn) results in scientific revolution. But when is that point reached?
Cosmos Projection: people tend to see the universe in terms of their own society’s assumptions; therefore there will be correspondences between culture and cosmos. The coolest tech, or biggest headache, of the time somehow also describes the cosmos. (Easier to think that way.) For instance, the Great Chain of Being in stratified medieval society; then a Clockwork Universe just when real mechanical clocks are being invented. The same generation of physicists (and some of the same individuals!) were responsible for both the Bomb and for the Big Bang theory. Now computers are the highest tech, and the world looks like a computation. To upstage the Higgs boson detectors, the BICEP2 telescopic survey is said to “turn the universe into a particle accelerator”. I predict that eventually the Big Bang theory will be abandoned for a more ‘green’ theory. Cosmic recycling, perhaps.
An example of cosmos projection is Fashions in Madness. Medieval madmen suffered from demons; early industrial madmen suffered from the presence of dynamos; later they feared airplanes overhead, and they hear the voices via radio on their fillings.
Counter to cosmos projection is Seldonian Unpredictability of direction and pace of scientific and technological progress. To predict which way to go, and how fast to go, sets into motion social forces that tend to invalidate the prediction. Also, the real universe is unknown; genuine surprises await.