different approaches to science

im of the opinion that only one of these approaches is “truly scientific,” but its useful to look at all of them, if only for the purpose of debate or clarification.

the first approach to examine is “fringe science.” if youve been accused of it, please dont turn away yet. you may not know where im going with this. what i consider “fringe science” is when people are too focused on the questions of science, and throw out any answers that go against whatever answers they are most excited about. everyone has this attitude to some degree, and a science ought to temper it. people who engage in fringe science have the answers they want, and are only interested in the possibilities that will prove them right.

at the opposite end, you have the scientific orthodoxy. rooted in academia, scientific orthodoxy is intended to “weed out” everything fringe, everything unsupported, everything unproven. at this level, it can keep science “pure.” what i consider “scientific orthodoxy” is when people are too focused on the answers of science, and are not very interested in questions that go to new (or undeveloped) places in our knowledge. if fringe science is like impressionist painting, then orthodoxy is like a digital telescope– it can go so far, at great resolution, but it has no imagination to fuel new theories so much as showcase what it knows.

fringe science has too little in the way of discipline or serious study, while orthodoxy is uncreative and doesnt want to advance without following the great orthodoxy. i believe both of these attitudes are real and unscientific; the first thing the orthodoxy does with brilliant new ideas is throw them out on the street, and  the first thing the fringe does is explain why the new idea “proves” all theyve ever said before.

but then you have the truly brilliant scientific minds, which are tempered by scientific practice and also incredibly creative. no “genius” is perfect, and the best science makes mistakes (and learns from them.) the hallmark of a true scientist is an open mind, and also an honest thirst for knowledge and for understanding things as close to accurately as possible. science is not “getting the answer right” but “finding answers.” and that means looking for them, not the mere recital of facts.

people who speak of science tend to lean towards orthodoxy or lean towards the fringe. that seems to satisfy most people, so perhaps 60 or more percent of people that use the word “science” are happy with a fringe or orthodox attitude. but a smaller percentage of people care about both the questions and the answers– these to me are the “true scientists” of the world. of course you can point out that the phrase “true scientist” is itself a fallacy– thats fine, but we can probably agree that science at least has a useful definition; and by extension, definitions that fall short of useful.

scientists are explorers, but they are also navigators. they dont merely set out, but use the world around them to find out where they are. they dont just invent claims, they also try them out rigorously. they dont just try out claims and dispute things, but they also come up with ideas (fueled by both knowledge and imagination.) and they dont mock creative thinking, because they rely on it themselves.

which isnt to say that “fringe science” doesnt exist, but its the stuffed-shirt orthodoxy that talks about it as much as anyone, as if creativity is something that should be stamped out rather than channeled through a more scientific process. getting everyone else to shut up about their ideas is a true hallmark of orthodoxy, not of science.