Will Scientific Modelling Soon Be Obsolete?

June 25 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Biotechnology   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, has written an excellent article entitled “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes Scientific Method Obsolete” in which he convincingly argues that massive amounts of data, in combination with sophisticated algorithms and super powerful computers, offers mankind a whole new way of understanding the world.

Anderson believes that our technological tools have now progressed to the point where the “old way” of doing science – hypothesize, model and test – is becoming obsolete. In its place, a new paradigm is now emerging whereby scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs simply allow statistical algorithms to find patterns where science cannot.

If Anderson is correct – and I believe he very well could be – this will take science in a whole new direction. In short, instead of modeling and waiting to find out if hypotheses are valid the scientific community can instead rely on intelligent algorithms to do the heavy lifting.

Before this vision can be achieved, however, it will require a great many brilliant scientists to unlearn the idea that their “model-based” method of trying to make sense of today’s increasingly complex world is the only way to search for new meaning. (cont.)

The implication for a field such as biology which, as Anderson points out is actually becoming more difficult to model as learn more about it (due to our limited understanding of how genetics, microbes, personal behavior, the environment, and a host of other factors work in partnership to determine a person’s health), could be profound. More specifically, we will be able to analyze data without allowing hypotheses (which are, perhaps, wrong) to cloud our view of what the data is really showing us.

Comment Thread (4 Responses)

  1. Scientific method made obsolete by our new number crunching abilities??? That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. I could probably make a better case that science is made obsolete by Chuck Norris and his roundhouse kick.

    Posted by: johnfrink   June 25, 2008
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  2. @John: As always, time will tell. I would simply say that often what sounds “impossible” to one generation becomes “conventional wisdom” to the next. Or, as one wag put it, “Science advances funeral by funeral.”

    P.S. I’m looking forward to your enlightening post on Chuck Norris.

    Posted by: juldrich   June 26, 2008
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  3. If I failed to make a point with my lame sarcasm, you can find more articulate response to that article here:


    Posted by: johnfrink   June 26, 2008
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  4. “Science advances funeral by funeral.”

    Uh-oh…does that mean that once we comprehensively put an end to aging, science will no longer advance?

    Posted by: gremlinn   June 28, 2008
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