The “delusion” of scientific research

Have you noticed how often we see one story about science proving something just to have another story a few months later proving the opposite? What is going on? 

 

The big myth is that science produces accurate results – recent research by John  Ioannidis titled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” has demonstrated that the majority of scientific findings are wrong.

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“Old wives tales” developed and persisted because they had practical benefits over time, Dismiss them at your peril.

Then there is the myth of “scientific discovery”. How often do we hear the words “scientists discovered …..”

 

And in most cases this is as accurate as saying Columbus discovered America. What about the people who were living in America when he arrived there. 

 

Science is usually a follower rather than as discoverer

What most people have forgotten is that science is more of a process of trying to find out how existing processes work than discovering new processes. More often than not, science follows technology rather than the other way around.

Take for example the invention of the steam engine by James Watt. If James had believed in the science of the day it would never have been built and we would still be stuck in the dark ages. According to the laws of physics at that time his invention couldn’t work. But clearly it did. And that lead to the rewriting of the laws of thermodynamics by Carnot. 

We don’t say Carnot discovered the steam engine we say Watt’s did. So what has happened to our society that we now so often fall into the trap of crediting scientists for discovering something that already exists? Clearly the media has a role in this. The headline “science discovers ….” is likely to gain more attention than “scientists who were examining the existing phenomenon of X think that they have a way of understanding how it works. However this is only provisional and someone else may come up with a better approximation in the future”.

But it is more than the media. For we are now allowing people and businesses to patent nature.

This makes me so angry that I fantasise about teaching the limited world view that facilitates this process a lesson. My fantasy involves mirroring the process that is currently used to patent nature –   I research breathing and then patent it or some aspect of it. That way, everyone in the world would have to pay me for every breath they take. In my fantasy this would be unacceptable to the masses and it would lead to the recognition of the delusion and danger of the current system and its abolition.

It is impossible for science to be totally objective because it is performed by subjects

Many scientists and people believe that science is an absolute process – a study of “reality”. But exactly who is studying the reality and what are they using? People are doing the studying using their minds, their consciousness. They are using their cognition and this is subject to many different biases.

For example, David Sackett (1) identified 7 areas where experimental bias can occur and he documented 56 different possible types of bias in these areas.

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