Pro-testing Against Bad Software Quality

22May/1210

Physics, Testing and Academia

The Introduction

I just read the Science Daily article: Quantum Physicists Show a Small Amount of Randomness Can Be Amplified Without Limit and, while reading, it occurred to me that quantum physics seems a bit like the context-driven approach to testing. Consider, for example, the following claims:

  • there is an element of uncertainty present at all times - we can not know all affecting variables
  • there is an element of randomness, beyond our control as observers, present in any system
  • it is unlikely we could ever have complete knowledge of the state of a system being observed

Sound familiar? Similarly, I find it relatively easy to (loosely) link classical physics with the more scholarly approaches to testing. Again, consider the following:

  • all effects are predictable and can be accurately represented in numbers and formulas
  • the state of a system being observed can be accurately measured at any point in time
  • standardization is valuable, and necessary

Exact, deterministic and absolute. Unfortunately, that leads me into the rant part.

The Rant

As I recently discussed with a PhD-in-physics friend of mine, the biggest problem I have with the way many people of science approach, well anything, is that the approach is often so absolute and unswerving. "There is no 'maybe' or 'what if', the formula shows how it is. Who are you to question Newton or Einstein?" To me, this seems hierarchical, authoritative, stagnatory, unimaginative, stubborn, cynical, naïve even.

When I was a kid I always thought the purpose of a scientist was to explore new possibilities and alternatives, not to dismiss them as irrelevant or stupid without a moment's thought if they disagreed with the leading views. I used to think that the purpose of a scientist was to constantly question everything in order to learn and to improve, not to meekly accept the Word of Truth(TM) handed down by higher authority figures. Unfortunately, based on approximately 20 years of observing people of academia, that does not seem to be the case very often.

I find it highly frustrating when a casual conversation first turns into an interesting debate and then rapidly degrades to almost religious raving when the opponent flatly refuses to even consider the possibility that there might be some level of uncertainty involved or that maybe the current facts of science related to the subject are actually no facts at all. Maybe they're just best guesses that were made based on our current level of understanding and limited by the sensitivity of the equipment used to measure. 3000 years ago scientists knew the Earth is flat. 100 years ago scientists knew that the speed of sound can not be exceeded. I don't think many people would share those notions now.

The Finale

What I'm trying to say here is that I, personally, would immensely enjoy seeing (more of) the people of hard sciences go into the critical questioning mode a little easier and just a tad more often. You don't lose your face or professional credibility for stating "we might not have perfected this yet", or "I wonder if it would be possible we've gotten this all wrong".

Done.

PS. Do note that I'm in no way belittling or disparaging natural sciences themselves. I wouldn't be here writing this rant without the practical applications and solutions that mathematics, chemistry and physics have brought along. I only criticize the overly fixed mindset of (some of) the people.