There is a really interesting Aeon article on what bad science, and how it fails.
What is Bad Science?
According to Imre Lakatosh, science degenerates unless it is both theoretically and experimentally progressive. Can Lakatosh’s ‘scientific programme’ approach, which incorporates merits of both Khunian and Popperian ideas, help solve this problem?
Is our current research tradition adequate and effective enough to solve seemingly intractable scientific problems in a timely manner (i.e. in foundational theoretical physics or climate science)?
Ideas are cheap, but backing them up with sound hypotheses (main and auxiliary) predicting novel stuff and experimental evidence aimed at confirming this stuff _is expensive_ given time/resource constraints means that among other things an ideal experimental progressiveness is sometimes not achievable.
A scientific programme is considered ‘degenerating’ if:
1) it’s theoretically degenerating because it doesn’t predict novel facts (it just accommodates existing facts); no new forecasts
2) it’s experimentally degenerating because none of the predicted novel facts can be tested (i.e. string theory)
Lakatosh’s ideas (that good science is both theoretically and experimentally progressive) may serve as groundwork for further maturing what it means to ‘do science’ where an existing dominant programme is no longer able to respond to accumulating anomalies – which was the reason why Kuhn wrote about changing scientific paradigms – but unlike Kuhn, Lakatos believes that a ‘gestalt-switch’ or scientific revolution should be driven by rationality rather than mob psychology.
Though a scientific programme which looks like it is degenerating may be just around the corner from a breakthrough…
For anyone seeking an unambiguously definitive demarcation criterion, this is a death-knell. On the one hand, scientists doggedly pursuing a degenerating research programme are guilty of an irrational commitment to bad science. But, on the other hand, these same scientists can legitimately argue that they’re behaving quite rationally, as their research programme ‘might still be true’, and salvation might lie just around the next corner (which, in the string theory programme, is typically represented by the particle collider that has yet to be built). Lakatos’s methodology doesn’t explicitly negate this argument, and there is likely no rationale that can.
Lakatos argued that it is up to individual scientists (or their institutions) to exercise some intellectual honesty, to own up to their own degenerating programmes’ shortcomings (or, at least, not ‘deny its poor public record’) and accept that they can’t rationally continue to flog a horse that appears, to all intents and purposes, to be quite dead. He accepted that: ‘It is perfectly rational to play a risky game: what is irrational is to deceive oneself about the risk.’ He was also pretty clear on the consequences for those indulging in such self-deception: ‘Editors of scientific journals should refuse to publish their papers … Research foundations, too, should refuse money.’
This article is totally worth a read…