Principles of scientific methods [not a book review]

Mark Chang, author of Paradoxes in Scientific Inference and vice-president of AMAG Pharmaceuticals, has written another book entitled Principles of Scientific Methods. As was clear from my CHANCE review of Paradoxes in Scientific Inference, I did not find much appeal in this earlier book, even after the author wrote a reply (first posted on this blog and later printed in CHANCE). Hence a rather strong reluctance [of mine] to engage into another highly critical review when I received this new opus by the same author. [And the brainwave cover just put me off even further, although I do not want to start a review by criticising the cover, it did not go that well with the previous attempts!]

After going through Principles of Scientific Methods, I became ever more bemused about the reason(s) for writing or publishing such a book, to the point I decided not to write a CHANCE review on it… (But, having spent some Métro rides on it, I still want to discuss why. Read at your own peril!)

As indicated in the preface, the book is intended towards “inspir[ing] students to do scientific research, to share experiences and thoughts with experienced teachers, and to stimulate more research into scientific principles” (p.viii). Which is a nice enough goal, to be sure! But, first, it makes me wonder why a graduate or undergraduate student would read such a general book rather than engage directly into her or his own field, with its specific methods and protocols, as she or he would presumably be attracted to a branch of Science rather than toying with this generic idea of “do[ing] scientific research”? This overall purpose thus sounds like a rather ingenuous expectation of the author. My second and related point is that the book does not go much in-depth about the principles of scientific methods, whether at the philosophical level, the logic level, the experimental level or the statistical level. It provides an entry into all those topics at a level that does not fundamentally differ from reading a few Wikipedia articles on the topic. For instance, the chapter of Principles of Scientific Methods on statistical inference cannot realistically substitute for a true training in statistics. In other words, I do not seen much new input in the book, which constantly sums up existing concepts.  (Or recycling part of Paradoxes in Scientific Inference in a chapter on Controversies and challenges.) The longest chapter is the final Case studies chapter, which goes over twenty experiments (presumably) to illustrate the scientific method(s) in action. Even though most of the space is stolen by describing the experiments and the conclusion, rather than the methodology. (One detailed entry is about swarm algorithms, which provide a nice analogy because of the ants behind, but is mostly a kind of particle filter.) Anyway, as mentioned above, this is not [and I stress not] a review of Principles of Scientific Methods but simply my impressions after reading through the book. It may be that others will come with more elaborate and differing analyses. For instance, to discover for which university program if any this textbook would be most interesting.

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