Letters to the Editor: Karen Bass’ scholarship problem looks bad. Don’t ignore it.
As a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Karen Bass is an important contributor to our understanding of the human brain, not to mention that she is a popular member of the board of directors of the World Brain Foundation. (The organization she serves on, the American Brain Foundation, has been accused of funding “pseudo-science.”)
But her latest piece — titled “The Truth about Science” — is actually a piece of work that is a complete and total failure of scholarship.
Her primary thesis is that science has turned from what she calls the discovery of “nature’s laws” to the study of “nature’s mistakes.” It’s a line of reasoning that has no support in science:
“The truth is that, despite major advances in biology, most of these discoveries are not really discoveries of the laws of nature. They are discoveries of nature’s mistakes. In short, nature is a sloppy scientist — one whose mistakes are discovered and corrected through experiment and evidence.”
The truth — at least according to Dr. Bass — is that mistakes are essential to discovery.
Dr. Bass also argues that we have not made progress in this area (emphasis mine):
“In order to be a scientific achievement anything that is scientifically novel or controversial has to be subjected to an intense review process. This is a good thing. Science as a discipline is supposed to be about advancing knowledge — about discovering something new and advancing knowledge on the basis of what you find. The same is true for science’s other activities. The discovery of nature’s laws is the exception. Nature is a sloppy scientist. What is true for science is also true for scholarship.
In other words, in order for the truth to be discovered about nature’s mistakes, there needs to be intense and sustained scrutiny of our current scientific knowledge. But the truth is that there are not many mistakes in nature’s findings. The discoveries themselves are much closer to the truth than the generalizations and theories that result from the study of nature’s mistakes.”
Unfortunately, the truth — as Dr. Bass claims it is — is not what she has found. In fact, she has found a failure on her part to uncover the error in her own findings.
In her article, “The Truth about Science,” she makes this astonishing claim: