[Oded Goldreich has written a new essay, on taste, subjectivity, and scientific evaluation, and he tells us a bit about it. — L.T.]
This is my third guest posting on this blog, and I think it is time I express my gratitude to Luca for allowing me to benefit from the popularity of his blog.
I believe that the current posting is far less controversial than the previous ones, although it does express opinions. But these opinions refer to very general questions that address central aspects of scientific evaluation.
The first question refers to the apparent conflict between the desire to view scientific evaluation as objective and the realization that it is inevitably subjective (since it is based on opinions — expert opinions). I argue that the same holds with respect to understanding, and that the subjective basis of both understanding and evaluation does not contradict their claim to universality (to the extent that such a claim can be made at all). Thus, I believe that the concerns regarding subjectivity are overrated.
The second main claim is that imagination plays (and must play) a significant role in the evaluation process. The point is that evaluating the importance of a work requires evaluating both its past and future influence on the field. Clearly, evaluating the work’s future influence requires imagination (i.e., imagining the future development of the field). However, also evaluating past influence requires imagination, since one may need to imagine the state of the field without this work in order to realize which developments were influenced by it (and to what extent).
The third question refers to the role of personal taste in scientific evaluation. I claim that this role is grossly overrated, and that almost all that is attributed to taste is actually not a matter of taste (provided that one uses a reasonable definition of taste).
The essay, titled “On Scientific Evaluation and its relation to Understanding, Imagination, and Taste”, is available from my web-page.