Scientific method first determines what works, then how

A response in the Financial Times to “Scientific advance did not create most technologies.”

Edward Kimball writes in the FT:

Sir, Tim Hammond (Letters, January 10) says that “we flew … long before we understood how or why”. This ignores the fact that the key basis for flight is Bernoulli’s principle, which was known more than 150 years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight. More to the point, however, is that science helped us determine that we could use electricity, quinine, penicillin, even if we did not understand why they worked. The scientific method, based on formulating and testing hypotheses, must first determine what works before it determines how.

Whether or not our technologies were invented by scientists depends on how you define scientist. Was Edison an “inventor” or a “scientist”? He certainly applied the scientific method in order to determine which inventions worked. Mr Hammond seems to think that all “scientists” are theoreticians. But most scientists are interested in both theory and application.

Edward Kimball, Ann Arbor, MI, US

3 thoughts on “Scientific method first determines what works, then how”

  1. I think both points of view are somehow valid since there is no doubt in my mind that many technical advances have been made by those who would in no way be recognized as scientists – simply innovators looking for a better way and they often succeed because unlike so many scientists, these people have no preconceived ideas as to what may be possible! – this does not automatically place scientists in any negative light, since the top twenty percent of them have made enormous contributions to the advancement of technology.

  2. If Al Gore created the internet, it follows that science and technological innovation are mutually exclusive.

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