Scientific reductionism

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  • T. COLIN CAMPBELL, at his core, is still a farm boy from northern Virginia. When we spend time together we inevitably share our stories from the farm. Whether it is spreading cow manure, driving tractors or herding cattle, both of us share a rich history in farming. But from these backgrounds, both he and I went on to other careers. It is for his other career accomplishments that I came to admire Colin. He was involved in the discovery of a chemical later called dioxin, and he went on to direct one of the most important diet and health studies ever conducted, the China Study.

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  • Discussing the implications of a paradigm change in science, Allen et al. (2001) said: “A paradigm change modifies protocols, vocabulary or tacit agreements not to ask certain questions” (p. 480). If we agree with this brilliant definition, and therefore if we accept that a scientific paradigm is “a tacit agreement not to ask certain questions,” the next step is to find out why certain questions are forbidden.

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  • Methodological reductionism is a driving force of scientific thinking. Unlike the more controversial, and philosophically dubious, connotations of the term, methodological reductionism embodies a general principle of intellectual parsimony. It does not establish debatable hierarchies among pedagogically distinct scientific areas, it does not seek to identify equally controversial ultimate constituents of reality. Instead, it attempts the consolidation of a collection of more or less intuitively connected items into a more general item, of which they become refinements or specializations.

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