Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/771

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IN experimenting with living human beings, deception, whether voluntary or involuntary, can only be scientifically met by deception; it must be beaten with its own weapons. No experiment of this kind in which the results depend in any way on the honesty of the subjects experimented on can be of any value in science; and those who assume that, because the subjects of these experiments are members of great churches, and move in high society, they are therefore incapable of untruth, would do well to resign the task of investigations of this sort to those who are better endowed with the scientific sense. Systematic orderly, exhaustive deception, on the part of the experimenter, as here suggested, will, in all cases, exclude both intended and unintended deception on the part of the subject or bystanders.

Sixth Source of Error: Chance and coincidences.—The subject of chance and coincidences seems never to have received the attention from men of science that its direct and practical bearings on experimental research and the principles of evidence would long ago have demanded. On the mathematical side the philosophy of chance has been investigated and discussed by various writers, and with not a little intelligence and skill; but with the effect also of misleading many amateur experimenters and reasoners, who have thereby been tempted to employ mathematical estimates in departments of science where they are sure to guide into error. No forms of error are so erroneous as those that have the appearance without the reality of mathematical precision. Of this sort are the blunders of those physiologists who, at various times and under various guises, have sought to solve physiological problems by experiments half built up on rigid mathematical calculations, the other half having no foundation at all; for the average non-expert observer is awed and overpowered by the very sight of figures, and assumes that an investigation into which addition, subtraction, and multiplication enter, must inevitably lead to precise and unerring results, forgetting that, as quantitative truth is of all forms of truth the most absolute and satisfying, so quantitative error is of all forms of error the most complete and illusory. Figures, to be of arty value in science, must go all around the subject and thoroughly embrace it, else they fail to master it, and become its possessor: for, while the truth is apparently shut in on one side, it is all the time stealthily escaping at the other. Thus it is that the most acute calculators, most logical reasoners, and most accurate observers as well, are so often cheated out of the truths to the search for which their lives are devoted; the instincts of the plow-boy often outstripping the wisdom of the philosopher.