Last weekend I finished Paul Feyerabend's Against Method, which is an intense critique of very commonplace assumptions about the scientific method and the way that knowledge evolves. I read it way too quickly to absorb all the nuances of his intricate argument, but nonetheless I enjoyed it very much.
In elementary school we learn that the scientific method proceeds logically from a defined hypothesis, to a controlled experiment, to (possibly) a definitive conclusion. Everything is a gradual accretion, and everything builds upon itself in a nice and even way. Life is good.
Feyerabend says this is all a fairy tale, because the best science comes from those who break the rules rather than those who follow the template. The "method" is merely a framework for making sense of the world, and is not at all reflective of how we actually learn and grow.
That's not so bad, perhaps--we all need conceptual schemes to understand our lives. But Feyerabend also argues that this false construct of the scientific method has insidiously negated public respect for other ways of understanding the world. In science it's all rationalism and empiricism, all the time, even though humans are in many ways deeply irrational and always will be. To cede too much ground to the scientific method is to end up with a blinkered sense of ourselves.
It's tough stuff, and Feyerabend's passion is plain. For my part I've always worried about the "tyranny of the rational," which is why I remain skeptical about the concept of "evidence-based" anything.
So bravo, Paul Feyerabend! (Even though you died in 1994.) But I know I'm an easy critic, so it would be interesting to hear the other side of the story from any empiricist or rationalist among you.