Cargo cult science

Cargo cult science

Cargo cult science is a term used by Richard Feynman in his 1974 Caltech commencement address to describe work that has the semblance of being scientific, but is missing "a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty".

The speech is reproduced in the book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" and on many web sites. He based the phrase on a concept in anthropology, the cargo cult. Just as cargo cultists create mock airports that fail to produce airplanes, cargo cult scientists conduct flawed research that fails to produce useful results. Feynman cautioned that to avoid becoming cargo cult scientists, researchers must first of all avoid fooling themselves, be willing to question and doubt their own theories and their own results, and investigate possible flaws in a theory or an experiment.

He recommended that researchers adopt an unusually high level of honesty which is rarely encountered in everyday life, and gives examples from advertising, politics, and behavioral psychology to illustrate the everyday dishonesty which should be unacceptable in science. Feynman cautions that "We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it's this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science."

An example of cargo cult science is an experiment that uses another researcher's results in lieu of an experimental control. Since the other researcher's conditions might differ from those of the present experiment in unknown ways, differences in the outcome might have no relation to the independent variable under consideration. Other examples, given by Feynman, are from educational research, psychology (particularly parapsychology), and physics. He also mentions other kinds of dishonesty, for example, falsely promoting one's research to secure funding.

ee also

*Sokal Affair
*Junk science
*Magical thinking
*Post-normal science
*Cargo cult programming


* Diaconis, P (1985) "Theories of data analysis: from magical thinking through classical statistics", in cite book | author=Hoaglin, D.C "et al." (eds) | title=Exploring Data Tables Trends and Shapes | publisher=Wiley | id=ISBN 0-471-09776-4

External links

* [ Cargo Cult Science (pdf)] article with pictures as originally published in "Engineering and Science", Volume 37:7, June 1974.
* [ Cargo Cult Science (html)] by Richard P. Feynman.

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