Sergey and the scientific method

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    Ready or not, here I come.
    - Come on, that you are standing like a non-native?

    Sergei looked around - in the apartment of his teacher, professor, he had not yet been. Ordinary Moscow, in the old house - apparently, even from the time when they were given out ... or not given out, the devil knows, he didn’t find these times anymore. A mess, of course, but working — there are books everywhere and printouts of some articles. It seems that the professor continues to conduct active scientific work, despite his age ...


    - Something you have not even called for a long time, did not look at the department.

    - Yes, you know - a wife, two children, all in the work ...

    Sergey lowered himself. In spite of the fact that he considered the writing of average scientific articles to be a sort of paper spoilage, he was treated with some respect by some scientists who were “real”. And now in front of him was a representative of this rare species.

    - Ivan Antonovich, imagine, worked, worked as a programmer. Well, I adjusted the processes to the best of my abilities, struggled with corporate idiocy. I even played with toys at meetings of managers - well, to demonstrate how all this is unimportant and formal.

    - Yes, at the institute you were also so ... informal. - The professor barely visible smiled. - Talented and annoying other team members. However, I liked it. Students who write on patterns and do not know what to say their own are always full. And your ideas have always been their own, original.

    - Yes, here you are right. In general, somehow I gradually realized that the firm had the same problems. You invent, you invent, you do, you do ... and the system remains the same. Ineffective. In general, at some point I felt so offended that I decided to quit. Do not believe it - our owner called me and asked if it was possible to do something so that I would stay. Well, I threw out to him everything that had accumulated - that the management in the firm does not do anything, does not change. I thought - everything - now it will just fire, who wants to hear the truth about himself? No - on the contrary, he said that he would give me the right to make changes. So, now I’m this one, something like a “director of change,” I don’t remember how we call it formally.

    - Well, glad for you. - Professor rose from the chair. - Will you have tea?

    Tea was with lemon.


    - Ivan Antonovich, - Sergey confusedly twisted the cup - is it possible a conceptual question about science? I recently gave an interview here, well, internal corporate. And they asked me there - well, but what about changes, we use science? Refer to the work? Terminology abide by? Well, I flared up something, I say - here I once did everything almost according to scientific standards, with references to works, methods. And no one read. And so now we are doing without all this nonsense, because the result is important, not formalities.

    He hesitated a little, but gathered his courage and continued.

    - And in some sense I perceive science as a game in all these articles, references and bibliographies. Nobody reads them anyway ... but on the one hand. On the other hand, I well understand that it is science that owes it to computers, to programming, and to all the technical progress that I value and respect. And now, it does not fit in with me. How do scientists do something? I remember my graduate school, this darkness with the licking of articles without much sense, reading some nonsense. After all, this is not science? Or is this her? You know, I therefore left science in the end - there is not enough practice. And among practitioners, I now lack theory ...

    “Yeah, well ...” The professor looked sternly because of his glasses; after which he sighed and continued - Ok, I'll try to explain to you. In graduate school you were, a course of philosophy of science passed. What is the criterion of fraud by Popper remember? Or was it all gone?

    - Mm. Is this what theory should give predictions that can be refuted? By the way, I use the similar in work. In the sense that if you make changes, you should approximately assume the result and check its presence. If there is no result or it is not the one, the approach should be changed. By the way, our other "managers", - Sergey already grimaced - the results after implementation are not checked. Like, the fact is important. Or customize the results that allegedly increased rates.

    - ABOUT! - the professor smiled rather - This once again confirms the idea unpopular with the masses that fundamental scientific education is important. And you are a vivid example. Notice that in fact you are already using scientific principles in management, and you speak negatively about those who do not follow them. And you are right; it is science and scientific approach that allows you to control reality, to recognize its real, and not made-up laws. And that is why your actions give the result, unlike the actions of your rivals.


    “Okay, in order to continue explaining why science is so organized, we must remember how the scientific community works. From the book of Thomas Kuhn “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” do you remember anything?

    - Mmm ... - I must say, this topic has been deposited in Sergey’s memory much worse. - And, there was something about the fact that rarely rarely do scientists make great discoveries and this is called a “paradigm shift”. It is always difficult, because other scientists do not want to accept a new idea and paradigm and are engaged in the old one. And there was also the fact that in ordinary times most scientists are engaged in “normal tasks” - small tasks that can be solved more or less with existing methods.

    - Well, on the whole, that's right.

    The professor looked expectantly at Sergei.

    - ABOUT! - On Sergey, unexpectedly, as once on the exam enlightenment descended. - This is also similar to the firm and managers! They, too, are engaged in "normal tasks" - then tighten up, run there. Write a note. Report on what wrote the note. And changes and discoveries are never done ...

    - I am glad that you understood this, the truth, it seems, just now.

    The professor got up and went to the window, laying his hands behind his back.


    - Then you will have a question about why scientists, despite the fact that they are scientists, do not use the principle of falsification everywhere and do not reject what does not work. Here it is necessary to turn to the ideas of Imre Lakatos, another philosopher of science, whom, if my memory does not fail me, they do not pass in graduate school.

    The professor sighed.

    - Therefore, I will have to explain. Lakatos pointed out that people are not just holding onto their ideas. The point is this - each theory, as a rule, is created to describe a certain range of phenomena. There she predicts the results of the experiment very well; but the problem is that if we even go a little beyond its limits of applicability, it turns out that the predictions are not at all so accurate. Moreover, the theories applicable conditionally “always and everywhere” in science are very, very few, and they are all traversed at school — forces, gravity, electricity — which creates the feeling that all scientific theories describe reality well. In fact, it is not.

    Ivan Antonovich took a breath.

    - Do you remember even the trivial force of friction? And the well-known fact is that the coefficient of sliding friction force, when something slips, differs from the rolling friction coefficient, when something rolls? And now the question is when is one replaced by another? What does it depend on? This, we note, a simple practical question at school is no longer understood, because everything is not so simple there.

    Sergei nodded, signaling, they say, "the student is not stupid, the student understands."

    - Another well-known example is that at one time the corpuscular and wave theory of light existed together. The interference was better explained by the wave theory, and, for example, the photoelectric effect - by the corpuscular one. But back to the scientists. You see, scientists tend to be interested in some specific phenomena that motivate them and which they study. They are also people, and nothing human is alien to them - moreover, it is this interest that motivates them to do business for a long time. So usually, a scientist at the very beginning of his career chooses a theory that explains the facts from the field of their own interests. Note that this theory may not work somewhere else - to put it in Popper's words, it can be falsified, not explain some facts - but it is very important for a scientist that she works on his tasks. Throwing it inappropriate

    The professor carefully looked at Sergey.

    - What example would you like to bring you closer ... But let's imagine that you have the old code ... it seems that you call it the word "Legacy". Have newcomers ever come to you with the desire to take and redo it all?

    - They came, of course. Well, yes, give such an access, so he will immediately do everything on a newfangled framework, throwing up small details that have been debugged for a long time, and without which errors in work will begin ...

    - Now tell me - if such a system needs to be updated and transferred to a new code base then how to do it right?

    - Well, we must try to keep both systems in parallel, developing a newer one and transferring parts of the functionality there. As soon as possible, disable the old system. Try to compensate for the opportunities that could not be transferred, or maintain the old system for these purposes ... Do you want to say that the same thing happens in science?

    - In general, yes. And, Sergey, - the professor carefully looked at him - People are not cars. They change slowly. You can change the code, and it will work immediately. Thinking changes slowly - therefore paradigms change slowly. Therefore, science is done slowly. This, alas, is normal. And despite this, do you know where it is done the fastest?

    - Where?

    Ivan Antonovich smiled.

    - Where it is connected with reality and gives practical results. It is sometimes said that programming is applied mathematics. I would say that this is an application management. You can take and check if your idea works by automating it. If it works, you will see. By the way, that is why so many management theories work exclusively verbally - they do not stand the test of practice. Or applicable in a narrow field - how “six sigma” work for standardized processes of automatic production, where the normal distribution of errors is applicable ...

    “Legacy, code base, six sigma ... how does he know all this?” Thought Sergey.

    - In the humanities, by the way, psychology is developing wildly, absorbing the ideas of other directions for the same reasons. The psychologist must, in practice, withstand large emotional stresses and cure patients - so the abstract humanitarian work in the spirit of “The Old Russian prototype of the old woman’s image in Pushkin’s fairy tale“ On the Fisherman and the Fish ”” is not interesting for him. But to absorb the very idea of ​​mythologism or influence on the patient with the help of fairy tales - this exists and develops. But ... I think we are both tired, it's time to finish the lecture.

    The professor took a mug from the table and drank some more tea.

    - Not understood. - Sergey looked a little plaintive. - I understood only that I acted correctly, according to the scientific method. And how is science done?

    - You still do not understand. Sergey, what you are doing is science. Putting forward hypotheses, testing them experimentally. Just your field of study is very local, it is limited to your programming, your company. But there are no other theories applicable, and even if applicable, what's the difference? You are not going to publish the results on a global scale.

    - And what about all these citations and bibliographies? Then why are they needed?

    - And this is ...

    As it seemed to Sergei, the professor became a little sad.

    - You see, it is believed that until the defense of a PhD candidate, he is not engaged in science as such. It is believed that he masters the scientific method - looking for analogues, learns to analyze them, to highlight new things, to argue with opponents ... All these reference lists are needed to weed out those who are not capable of critical self-perception and analysis. Although talented young people like you, they also repel their formalism. As a result, those who are already ready to do science, burn out, trying to meet formal requirements, but those who are still grinding them out are often not ready to contribute something meaningful. The system works against itself ... To be honest, I regret that everything happened to you that way, and you left science.


    - On the other hand, as I said, you continue to study it. And it makes me happy. Science, Sergey, is a lively search for truth. And he was and always will be; but depending on the time and situation, the place where science develops will be different.

    - And now go - your wife and children are waiting for you.

    “Uh ... yes, it's already the eleventh hour?” Thank you, Ivan Antonovich! I will come again!

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