Egon Willighagen just posted that Trust Has No Place in Science. His point is that Antony Williams asked if/how much people trust various chemical databases and Egon answered that he doesn’t trust any of them, he verifies. Ok.
So back to the old standard, Mertonian norms. It is a norm of science to practice organized skepticism. (Merton argued that this wasn’t skepticism about everything, but specific to scientific ideas and statements – this specifically isn’t about religion or patriotism). Scientists don’t believe things just on someone’s word, they need evidence.
Right. But what form does that evidence take? Egon says he verifies everything. So I guess there’s no need for the database then? I mean, if you’re going to re-run all of the experiments that provide the data. Or even read through the methods sections of the journal articles carefully. But wait. How can you believe the methods section of journal articles. Articles have been retracted for things wrong in the methods section. Even if you read through the methods section, how do you interpret the results? How do you know it was the right method to use? Well, then you must do all of the experiments that lead up to developing that method. And then you better redesign the instruments. Oh, and make your own reagents or whatever.
At some point you have to evaluate things, but then move on. Philosophers will give you careful descriptions of it, but there’s the idea that you need some assumptions for every empirical test (Duhem-Quine).
Then there’s whole areas that you’re not expert in that you need co-authors to support you in. Are you going to check all of their work and second guess them?
There is some trust – skepticism – but trust.
(nah, I’m not out of my blogging funk and this isn’t up to my standards, but I need to at least try to blog to get back on the horse 🙁 )
update: spelled Antony's name wrong! sorry.