Letter: Complex questions

June 1, 2001

The question that Gene Rowe should be asking about complex issues ("The right way for a public say", THES , May 25) is not "how should science consult the citizen" but "how should the citizen consult the scientists?" The principles that guide scientific theorising - namely reductionism, simplicity and causality - are not always appropriate when dealing with complex matters. Although science can often provide a useful input to complex problem-solving, common sense - which deals with complexity all the time - often gives better advice.

Controlled experimentation, from which most acceptable scientific data are obtained, tends to conceal the interactions in a system that make it complex. Outside the laboratory, effects can affect causes, so a scientific search for causes is likely to lead to simplistic solutions. And because interactions in nature are often slow to take effect, science can be good at achieving short-term gains but bad at predicting their long-term consequences, such as those that affect individuals, society and the environment.

John Sparkes
Hemel Hempstead

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (27 July 2017)

It is not Luddism to be cautious about destroying an academic publishing industry that has served us well, says Marilyn Deegan

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver

Creator of controversial predatory journals blacklist says some peers are failing to warn of dangers of disreputable publishers

Hand squeezing stress ball
Working 55 hours per week, the loss of research periods, slashed pensions, increased bureaucracy, tiny budgets and declining standards have finally forced Michael Edwards out
Kayaker and jet skiiers

Nazima Kadir’s social circle reveals a range of alternative careers for would-be scholars, and often with better rewards than academia

hole in ground

‘Drastic action’ required to fix multibillion-pound shortfall in Universities Superannuation Scheme, expert warns