Q is for Question: a short love letter to the scientific method #antarcticalphabet

Query Island is a pimple in the ice at nearly 69° south, its existence a question till 1948. The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (predecessor to BAS) named it recognising the difficulty of distinguishing it from the mass of the Peninsula.


That’s science for you: honouring the question.

The ‘scientific method’ has been under attack pretty much since it was formulated. Today, the western world  is ‘tired of experts’, rising religious power is predicated on faith and the Chinese boom relies on social control. It has become legitimate to put white-coated explorers on a par with robed priests and see the lab as an impenetrable inner sanctum. Truth has become the preserve of identity politics, only known in my untestable interiority, if relevant at all.

(And yes, I know very well that those same identity politics have been crucial in promoting justice, equality and progress. I didn’t say this was easy.)

Big data undermines our scientific convictions too: as correlation replaces analysis (though not causation) we only need the murmuration of a million keystrokes, the patterns in the cyber-sky expressed in algorithms to nudge us towards this holiday or that kitchen device. Or we lose our way in multi-disciplinary complexity; science has become so hard, so expensive, mere mortals can’t do it anymore.


Yet it’s still pretty simple really. Ask a question which has an answer you can test. Test it. Do it again and see if you get the same answer. Work out what proved not to be true. Ask the next question.

The trick lies in asking the right question, working out a repeatable test and understanding what the results told you. I’m not a scientist but I know this.

Brian Cox, stating the obvious

The Standing Committee on Antarctic Research remains central to maintaining the far south as a haven for peace and science, an exemplar for the Moon and space, for all those places we do not belong, which rely on robust science and technology which works. Next time you are tempted to the false equivalence of faith and falsifiability, remember the basics of scientific literacy. Can you show the working, share it with others and repeat the results? If you can’t, it’s still speculation.


Icebergs, and possibly islands, in the Weddell Sea
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