Beveridge, W. I. B. The Art of Scientific Investigation. New York: Vintage, 1957. (Originally,

 

Beveridge, W. I. B. The Art of Scientific Investigation. New York: Vintage, 1957. (Originally,
W. W. Norton, 1950.)

The "art" in the title is all important. Beveridge is dead serious in trying to explain the mystery of
doing scientific research. He suggests, for example, that intuition, chance, error, bias, and even
secrecy somehow add up to the end result: scientific discovery. He amasses a host of anecdotes
and quotations to support his position. A good number of his illustrations are all worth quoting
even though illustrations of a point are never adequate proofs of anything. His commentaries
include: "It is not too much to say that the more deference men of science have paid to logic the
worse it has been for the scientific value of their reasoning... Fortunately for the world, however,
the great men of science have usually been kept in salutary ignorance of the logical tradition."
(The quote is attributed to F. S. C. Shiller, "Scientific Discovery and Logical Proof," in Studies
in The History and Method of Science, edited by Charles Singer. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1917)

In a very readable appendix, the author provides 19 discoveries which he identifies as those in
which chance has played an important part. Most of these are drawn from biological science
and/or medicine. On pages 37-55, he discusses the part played by chance in science and tells
additional tales, some 10 other stories. He sums up this section with this unattributed quotation:
"Books have been written on scientific method omitting any reference to chance or empiricism in
discovery." (p. 43)

His chapter on "Hypothesis" (pp. 56-71) is full of reports on the kind of errors to be found:
observing what one wants to see, being enthralled by one's own idea, monomania, observing
badly. "It is almost impossible to avoid these kinds of mistakes." For example, Wassermann's
belief led him, erroneously, to discover the test which bears his name. Paul Ehrlick's quests for
"silver bullets" are legendary, well-known myths. Beveridge even compares the certainty one
feels about hypotheses with the comparative uncertainty of the experiment (see p. 65): in an
actual experiment, so many things can go wrong while the hypothesis may be exceedingly
simple. Beverdige adds that authors do not describe their methods of discoveries. Quoting von
Helmholtz, "In my works, I naturally said nothing about my mistake to the reader, but only
described the main track by which he may now reach the same heights without difficulty." (pp.
81-82)

Here is another reference to the J. J. Waterston story: the scientist who is too far ahead of his
time is not recognized and is doomed to be a failure. It is interesting reading.