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Trans-science

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Trans-science refers to questions that can be asked of science, but not answered by it. That is, questions that "transcend" science. Alvin M. Weinberg coined the term in 1972.[1] For example:

Let us consider the biological effects of low-level radiation insults to the environment, in particular the genetic effects of low levels of radiation on mice. Experiments performed at high radiation levels show that the dose required to double the spontaneous mutation rate in mice is 30 roentgens of X-rays. Thus, if the genetic response to X-radiation is linear, then a dose of 150 millirems would increase the spontaneous mutation rate in mice by ½ per cent. This is a matter of importance to public policy since the various standard-setting bodies had decided that a yearly dose of about 150 millirems (actually 170 millirems) to a suitably chosen segment of the population was acceptable. Now, to determine at the 95 per cent. confidence level by a direct experiment whether 150 millirems will increase the mutation rate by ½ per cent. requires about 8,000,000,000 mice! Of course, this number falls if one reduces the confidence level; at 60 per cent. confidence level, the number is 195,000,000. Nevertheless. the number is so staggeringly large that, as a practical matter, the question is unanswerable by direct scientific investigation.[1]

The concept was later extended to problems of chaos theory and non-linear systems.[2]

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Weinberg, Alvin M. "Science and Trans-science." Minerva 1972, 10(2), 209-222. An illegal copy may be found here
  2. Brook, Harvey. Letters to the editor. Minerva 1972, 10, 484-486.