Strict application of the “scientific method” is blinding some scientists to the real world, two authors claim.

We need a new science to get “back to the future,” a press release from the University of Arizona claims – actually, “back to the past” might be more accurate.  Two U of A researchers have a new book out saying scientists need to get out more, like they used to.

Mars rover Curiosity is doing it. School children strolling through the woods with binoculars are doing it. Charles Darwin was doing it.Observing the natural world around them was how the early naturalists started what would later become known as ecology – the science of how living things interact, depend on each other and how their habitats and communities change over time.

In their book, “Observation and Ecology,” ecologists Rafe Sagarin and Aníbal Pauchard make the case that if scientists are to tackle the enormously complex problems the world is facing, researchers and funding agencies have to leave their comfort zone of well-controlled experimental manipulations.

Sagarin and Pauchard argue that a strict indoor application of the so-called “scientific method” (a philosophically vexed notion), i.e., testing hypotheses in the lab, cannot provide insight into complex problems that have too many variables.  Direct observation, though, like getting outside and walking around with one’s eyes open, can.  They apply this to global warming.  No amount of modeling can surpass the simple act of getting out and observing what animals and plants are being affected by climate change.

Even historical records and tribal legends can be useful to scientists.  Those can’t be tested in a laboratory; they need observers willing to get out and find them.  Some field experiments, further, might be unethical, like moving animals to a different habitat to see if they suffer.  Better to observe them in their real habitats….

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