Category Archive: Science Britannica – ep. 2, Method and Madness

BBC Two: 2013.

Shadows of Baconian induction (2)

The Large Hadron Collider is the most complicated scientific experiment ever built. But it’s still just an experiment like any other. At its heart, there is repeatable process, as with Newton’s prism. There are teams of people dedicated to making detailed measurements, as Cavendish did with his flammable air. And the same rigorous logical thought processes used by Bill Tutte are of course applied here too. These are simple principles, yet they hold great power. [51:15]

Shadows of Baconian induction

There’s table after table of results. But he also describes precisely how he got those results. There’s a beautiful diagram of his apparatus, and this is there so that anyone else reading this paper, if they’re sceptical about the results or even if they just want to check them, can rebuild the apparatus and redo the experiment and check that Tyndall didn’t make any mistakes.

So these results are not a matter of opinion: they’re here, they can be checked by other scientists, they can be verified. So this is how scientific knowledge progresses. Publishing is the reason why science gets to our best view of the way that nature works. [43:28]

Newtonian induction

The common explanation for the appearance of the colours was that they were added by impurities in the prism to the pure white light. Newton thought that the colours were already present in the white sunlight. But what set Newton apart was that he devised and performed an experiment to test his hypothesis. …

Green light into the prism equals green light out. That implies that the colours themselves are pure. The prism is not subtracting or adding anything. That means that Newton’s hypothesis was shown to be correct. …

Newton was one of the first to interrogate Nature using the principles of what we now call the scientific method. In other words, he observed the world, came up with theories to explain what he saw, then tested them with experiments to see if he was right. The power of this approach is that it aims to remove preconceived ideas and, in doing so, deliver a more accurate description of the natural world.  [7:40]

The shorter scientific method

British scientists have made, and continue to make, some of the great scientific discoveries. But of equal importance, from a historical perspective, was the development of the means by which we do science. The idea that you build theories, you test them by experiment, and you publish the results: this is known as the scientific method. It is the bedrock of science. [3:38]