When Science isn’t Simple

One of the earliest lessons we learn in our training as scientists is to accept the simplest explanation of evidence, rather than assuming a more complicated solution. We call this “Occam’s Razor,” and it is repeated in class after class.

But the world is complicated. What happens when our simple explanations don’t capture the entire picture? Dr. Angela Potochnik, Director of the Center for Public Engagement with Science, explores this complexity in her new article “Constructing an Ideal Reality.”

“Idealizations like these make it possible for scientists to focus in on one or a few factors in a sea of complexity in order to get a handle on how those factors are relevant and perhaps to use them as ‘levers’ for change. Where we go wrong—and “we” here includes many scientists, philosophers, policy-makers, and others—is in assuming that our simple explanations provide the full story. “