More Flying Lessons from an Ornithologist

The claim that An irrational constraint is the motivating force in modern science is completely wrong. The first hint of this comes in the subheading “Is hard data the only path to scientific truth? That’s an absurd, illogical and profoundly useful fiction”. Often editorial subheadings egregiously misrepresent the content of what follows, and we can’t fault the author for an editor’s incompetence, but in this case the summary is (almost) a fair one. The article does not deny the role of “beauty” as a motivation or even a path to understanding but it does claim that such considerations are not accepted as part of the process of acceptance of a theory, and that is just not the case. What matters first in the acceptance of a scientific theory is indeed the correctness of its predictions, and a theory that makes false predictions is indeed judged to be, well, false. But among theories that are not false those which can be most beautifully, ie elegantly, ie concisely, expressed are preferred. And there are many historical instances in which credit has been given for a theory which merely improves the elegance without changing the predictions (Copernican astronomy and Special Relativity being two famous examples). So beauty is taken as a valid criterion for comparing theories (so long as they meet the prior criterion of not being demonstrably false) and the claim that “science says you must ignore it . . . in your professional contributions, your publications” is just a lie. And the claim that it’s “irrational” to set one criterion as mandatory before employing another because it violates some philosophical  ‘principle of total evidence’ is complete nonsense!

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