Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The End of Science?

A provocative cover story in this month's Wired magazine...

"The End of Science: The quest for knowledge used to begin with grand theories. Now it begins with massive amounts of data. Welcome to the Petabyte Age."

In his editorial, Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson sketches a near-future "where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves."

This can't go unchallenged, and indeed the bulk of reader comments so far do challenge (and refute) it. My tuppenceworth is that Anderson's somewhat one-dimensional take does away with concepts of analysis, explication, extrapolation and hermeneutics, and replaces them with... nothing.

He also makes an assumption that artificial intelligence is the equal of human intelligence (it isn't), and fails to acknowledge that things don't always turn out as planned/ modelled: horse-racing springs to mind...

So what does the Digital Curation community make of this debate?


  1. I read the Wired article the other day and was kind of surprised that this story ran, and especially that it was the cover story.

    It seemed to me that the author made one outrageous claim from the outset of the article, then proceeded to give a lot of examples of places where people have used huge amounts of data to do amazing things. That's all fine and dandy, but it hardly supports his idea that science is obsolete. It actually reminds me of people who like to say things like "Everything that can be invented already has been."

  2. More outrage and rebuttal from the Nature Network blogosphere...

    [The University of Dundee's David] Basanta's question "Does any one else think that traditional science is a thing of the past and that cloud computing will drive us modelers to the employment office?" is answered by Nature Network users with a resounding "no".

    Read the full post here.


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