WHAT IS A SCIENTIST?

People are always urging us to “Talk or think more scientifically.” But what do the mean. Do they even know? I doubt if most of them have any idea. So here I have composed a little quiz. If you can answer most of the questions you must be a pretty knowledgeable scientist. But if you, or they, cannot ….

WHO IS A SCIENTIST?

1 Einstein said: “Scientific thinking is a mere refinement of the everyday variety.” What is that main refinement?

2 Who among the following gave the first correct prescription for Hypothesis-testing: Bacon, Galileo, Huyghens, Newton, Pearson, Fisher, Neymann, Jeffreys, de Finetti, Popper, Jaynes ,or none of the above?

3 Evolution is notoriously slow, so how, a mere few thousand years ago, did humans suddenly become far smarter than their chimpanzee cousins with whom they share 98% of their genes?

4 Probability Theory was developed to deal with the games of chance which are CLOSED – i.e. have a finite number of configurations within them. But the real world is OPEN. How then can statisticians apply Probability Theory to open systems?

5 Why does the Normal Distribution turn up so often in Statistics?

6 Huge scientific controversies [E.g. Continental Drift] have hinged on conflicting evidence. How does the Scientific Method resolve such conflicts?

7 Science, indeed thinking in general, is bedevilled by Systematic Errors [e.g. the Earth is flat]. How can we ensure that they do not betray us into taking disastrous, indeed existential decisions?

8 How should one estimate Measurement errors?

9 Precisely why should we be influenced by Ockham’s Razor in choosing between hypotheses?

10 If we don’t know all the hypotheses alternative to H that could explain some evidence E, how could we ever calculate the Probability P(H|E)…. “The Probability of hypothesis H given E” ?

11 Why has Breadth so often proved vital to scientific success?

12 Why don’t we get lessons in Common-sense thinking at school or university? Surely they would be very valuable?

13 Since Induction is the basis of scientific thinking how do scientists overcome Hume’s ‘Classical Problem of Induction?’

15 In what circumstances do some thinkers find Bayes’ Theorem helpful, and why do others disagree?

16 How do thinkers arrive at their value for the Prior probability in Bayes’ theorem?

17 If a new observation is in serious conflict with a scientific theory, in what circumstances would it be sensible to modify that theory by adding a new Free Parameter to it [E.g. ‘Dark Energy’ to Big Bang Cosmology]?

18 Who has given a clear, uncontroversial and complete account of the Scientific Method, and where can one find it?

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