On freedom and science

June 12, 2008

Terence Kealey thinks he has solved the problem of academic freedom (Books, 29 May). It is, he confidently tells us, the freedom to hold views that result from the application of the "academic method", which is synonymous with the scientific method. And what is the scientific method? It is, Kealey says, "a four-step process of observation, induction, deduction and experimentation".

Well, that certainly simplifies matters, as no one will qualify for the privilege of academic freedom according to these criteria, since no one operates in the manner he describes. As Karl Popper demonstrated in Logik der Forschung in 1934, as well as countless other philosophers and scientists since, the logical and psychological problems with the four-step portrayal of science are fatal.

Science's creativity lies in the generation of bold and testable theories. And that is why we ought not to forbid the quacks and loons from airing their crazy ideas. There is always the faint possibility that, once in a rare while, one may turn out to have a point.

Richard Bailey, Professor of pedagogy, Roehampton University.

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