How you think matters: The messy, rickety, beautifully self-correcting social enterprise of science

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Jackson Pollock, Number 3, 1949 (via Wikiart).

The ever-estimable Atul Gawande has published in The New Yorker this week the commencement address he delivered on 10 Jun 2016 at the California Institute of Technology. It's worth a close read. Here are some excerpts. (But read the whole article/speech here: The mistrust of science, 10 Jun 2016.)

‘Science is not a major or a career. It is a commitment to a systematic way of thinking, an allegiance to a way of building knowledge and explaining the universe through testing and factual observation.'

'The thing is, that isn’t a normal way of thinking. It is unnatural and counterintuitive. It has to be learned.'

'The scientist has an experimental mind, not a litigious one.'

'Despite increasing education levels, the public’s trust in the scientific community has been decreasing.'

'Having a scientific understanding of the world is fundamentally about how you judge which information to trust.'

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Jackson Pollock, Number 4 (Gray and Red), 1948, Frederick R Weisman Art Museum (via Wikiart)

'Knowledge and the virtues of the scientific orientation live far more in the community than the individual.'

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Jackson Pollock, Number 1 (Lavender Mist), 1950 (via Wikiart)

'When we talk of a “scientific community,” we are pointing to something critical: that advanced science is a social enterprise, characterized by an intricate division of cognitive labor. Individual scientists, no less than the quacks, can be famously bull-headed, overly enamored of pet theories, dismissive of new evidence, and heedless of their fallibility. (Hence Max Planck’s observation that science advances one funeral at a time.) But as a community endeavor, it is beautifully self-correcting.'

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Jackson Pollock, One (Number 31), 1950, Museum of Modern Art (via Wikiart)

'Beautifully organized, however, it is not.'

'Seen up close, the scientific community—with its muddled peer-review process, badly written journal articles, subtly contemptuous letters to the editor, overtly contemptuous subreddit threads, and pompous pronouncements of the academy—looks like a rickety vehicle for getting to truth.'

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Jackson Pollock, Number 26, 1949 (via Wikiart)

'Yet the hive mind swarms ever forward.'

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Jackson Pollock, Alchemy, 1947, Peggy Guggenheim Foundation (via Wikiart)

'Even more than what you think, how you think matters.'
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Jackson Pollock, Cathedral, 1947 (via Wikiart)

See the article about Gawande's New Yorker piece on the Clippings blog of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).