“If you need to know whether drug X reduces blood-pressure, you may fairly safely draw a negative conclusion from a “treatment model” experiment in which hospitalized patients were given X and no change in blood-pressure was observed. On the other hand, you would not deduce that drug Y does not increase fertility from the simple fact that hospitalized patients who received it had no babies. You would want to know more about other conditions that are known to be necessary. Nor would you deduce that ice is a bad material for building dwellings if you heard that I tried to build an igloo in Boston in mid-summer and failed. The right environment and, I presume, a high degree of special skill are necessary. Such a failed experiment would say much more about me than about whether “igloos deliver what they promise.”
Papert, S. (1987) Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking.
A version of this piece was published as “M.I.T. Media Lab Epistemology and Learning Memo No. 1” (November 1990). Another version appeared in Educational Researcher (vol. 16, no. I) January/February 1987.
Entry suggested by Professor Richard Noss