Sunday Fry Up and the scientific method


I was perusing the obesity statistics on, as one does after a large fry up on a Sunday morning, and clicked the word correlations  top right.

Some years ago, when thinking about Chaos Theory and the butterfly effect, I considered technological progress and speculated that, one day, it might be possible to collate lots and lots of data, on all sorts of subjects, and crunch it for correlations. It might be possible to show that diabetes in the UK was related to tin production in Chile.

The scientific method would be turned on it’s head. Conventionally boffins sit about ruminating all day. When they think of an idea, they yell Eureka, write down a theory and then spend years and years getting the data together  to prove the theory. I take liberties with my description but you get the general idea.

If, instead, it were possible to accumulate lots an of data and automatically look for correlations then the scientists might be able to retrospectively develop theories as to why the data correlated. The advantage, as I see it, would be that they would know where to look.

It seems that all this is now possible and the greatest correlation for obesity is Teenage Birth Rate though there are also correlations with “secure servers” and “pride in one’s nation”. Now I don’t know if these correlations are significant and I do understand that correlation is not cause but it seems to me that this is a very useful tool for scientific research.

The danger, of course, is that, like everything else, we will use this merely to make society more efficient. No scientists will sit and wonder just for the hell of it. The corporations will decide the agenda. The rat race will be further fine tuned to ensure that we all eat correctly and consider that eight different flavours of coffee amounts to democracy. But I digress……


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