Formalism and Research

Once again I was amused, and slightly irritated, when a good friend of mine, who thinks that he is a scientist, once again commented —

My thought about XYZ model is that it is not a formal model. It is just an idea.

Many people who think that they are scientists have a very narrow, and often religious, perspective on science. Science discovers and extends human understanding of how reality really works. Every scientific idea, whether it is concept of gravity or the double helix model of the DNA, begins with an idea (really a deep insight) in an effort to understand some problem. This idea is then refined both experimentally and formally. Every experiment and every formalism is the result of an idea and their success and failure depend on the strength of the idea.

In many disciplines of sciences, including computational sciences, many hard working ‘researchers’ are carried away by formalisms. They confuse formalisms with science, like somebody confusing the means with the goal. Unfortunately, it appears that that is true in many aspects of human society like we cofuse an academic degree with the knowledge in the field.

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