"The most essential characteristic of scientific technique is that it proceeds from experiment, not from tradition. The experimental habit of mind is a difficult one for most people to maintain; indeed, the science of one generation has already become the tradition of the next."
- Bertrand Russell in "The Scientific Outlook" (1931)
My own ideas on the quote:
The idea which Bertrand Russell here calls the 'scientific technique' is nowadays better known as the 'scientific method'. This method is the groundwork on which all modern science is based.
Scientific method guarantees that the wrong guesses and wrong interpretations that are inevitable also in scientific work will be eliminated given due time. This happens when all findings must be analyzed and valued by the best experts on a given field before they are generally accepted.
However, the danger of relying on force of authority is present also in science. It can happen when scientists start to take the work of previous scientists as something that one does not dare to touch. A scientific finding can also achieve a status where nobody questions its validity anymore.
This kind of development can seriously endanger the true advancement of scientific knowledge. Happily this kind of bottlenecks are mostly just temporary things. The very basic secret of science is not respect for authority, but questioning it.
One can be quite certain that as long as the scientific method is truly honored in science, bad science will be eventually discarded, even if can take time. Only when true scientific method is rejected as the basic tool, there is a real danger of science becoming like a religion with a set of Final Truths of its own.
(This piece was refurbished on 22th of October, 2012)
Bertrand Russell is in Facebook at:
More on scientific method at:
"Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS(18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. His work has had a considerable influence on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, computer science (see type theory and type system), and philosophy, especially philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics."