Erreurs de génie

BALTIMORE – Thomas Edison demeure en partie célèbre pour avoir prononcé la formule « Je n’ai pas échoué. J’ai simplement trouvé 10 000 solutions qui ne fonctionnent pas. » Cette fameuse réplique résume parfaitement une vérité fondamentale – bien que souvent mal comprise – qui caractérise la recherche scientifique. Les progrès de la science – dans quelque discipline créative que ce soit – ne résident nullement dans une marche directe vers la vérité, mais suivent davantage un chemin complexe et sinueux, empreint de nombreux faux départs et autres culs-de-sac. Non seulement les ratés sont inévitables, mais ils se révèlent indispensables à toute pensée novatrice, dans la mesure où ils ouvrent d’autres pistes d’exploration.

Ainsi peut-on s’interroger sur la question de savoir si l’atmosphère scientifique actuelle, environnement extrêmement compétitif  et avide de financements dans lequel publications et citations sont devenues un critère majeur de réussite, peut composer avec de telles erreurs. La réponse est simple : oui. Elles revêtent en effet plus d’importance que jamais – et pas seulement au sein du monde universitaire.

La méthode scientifique toute entière repose sur la notion selon laquelle la découverte de ce qui ne fonctionne pas est essentielle à la détermination de ce qui fonctionne. Toute théorie scientifique repose sur la falsifiabilité – à savoir qu’elle se base sur des observations existantes ou sur des résultats expérimentaux. Pour qu’une théorie soit considérée comme scientifique, elle doit produire des prédictions spécifiques autour d’observations ou résultats expérimentaux futurs. Lorsque ces observations ou résultats contredisent les prédictions, la théorie est alors rejetée, ou doit au moins être revue.

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