This week Massive Science published a special story I have been drawing for them over the holidays: Chaos in the Brickyard, a comic based on an allegorical/metaphorical story published by Bernard K. Forscher as a letter to Science in 1963. If you have been following me, you know how much I LOVE metaphors and I always loved this one in particular because I think it captures in a clear and accessible way (although extremely simplified) the process of scientific research, which from the outside may often seem like an obscure, almost mystical, endeavour.
I have been fascinated with this story for many years, since I have first read about it (I think it was in the excellent The Trouble With Science by Robin Dunbar). However, in the past few years, because of my work as a science communicator researcher at the Center for Science and Society I have become increasingly interested in the history and philosophy of science and the fundamental questions of what exactly is this thing called ‘Science’?
The letter does not provide answers (if you are looking for those I strongly recommend Real Science by John Ziman) but illustrates the important distinction between data collection and theory building, and what happens when this distinction is lost.
I think this is an important reminder in a world increasingly dominated by Big Tech and Big Data, which seems to value volume of research more than novelty or depth, often confusing ‘predictions’ with ‘explanations’, constantly challenging and undermining the value of the Humanities. I could rant about all of these things for hours… but I prefer to tell stories instead of giving lectures, hoping that they will be passed down the generations and spark a wider debate. So, please, go ahead and read it!
PS: also, if you enjoy allegories about science, On Exactitude In Science by Jorge Luis Borges is one of my all-times favorites (maybe the subject of a future comic?)