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sábado, novembro 18, 2017

Correcting the “self-correcting” mythos of science

Douglas Allchin *

Source/Fonte: PLoS Blog


In standard characterizations, science is self-correcting. Scientists examine each other’s work skeptically, try to replicate important discoveries, and thereby expose latent errors. Thus, while science is tentative, it also seems to have a system for correcting whatever mistakes arise. It powerfully explains and justifies the authority of science. Self-correction thus often serves emblematically in promoting science as a superior form of knowledge. But errors can and do occur. Some errors remain uncorrected for long periods. I present five sets of historical observations that indicate a need to rethink the widespread mythos of self-correction. First, some errors persist for decades, wholly undetected. Second, many errors seem corrected by independent happenstance, not by any methodical appraisal. Third, some errors have been “corrected” in a cascade of successive errors that did not effectively remedy the ultimate source of the error. Fourth, some errors have fostered further serious errors without the first error being noticed. Finally, some corrections to erroneous theories have themselves been rejected when initially presented. In all these cases, scientists failed to identify and correct the errors in a timely manner, or according to any uniform self-correcting mechanism. These historical perspectives underscore that error correction in science requires epistemic work. We need deeper understanding of errors, through the emerging field of error analytics.

Keywords: scientific error; self-correction; error cascade; compounded error; error analytics

* The Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science and STEM Education Center.
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A, ZIP 55455. 
E-mail: allch001@umn.edu