Share

MM617

Not long ago, a new technology that could revolutionise stem cells-based therapies was in the news. The reporting may have escaped many but the media was not to blame; this time it gave it as much attention as basic science can get. On the stem cells field the study was a blast: “People rushing to start new experiments! I think it is fair to say that I have never seen such a level of excitement in a scientific department…” I commented early this year. Well, all the young scientists who ran to reproduce the work failed confirming the suspicion of the most sceptics among us: it was bollocks.

MM618In Japan, the country where the research was carried out, the backlash was so big that one of the senior scientists on the study –manager of an astronomical budget- committed suicide. This happened even when senior scientists never step in the lab -unless there is a photo shoot or something- and can always plead innocence claiming that they have been cheated by an unscrupulous minion.

Karl Popper: “A theory in the empirical sciences can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments”

Karl Popper:
“A theory in the empirical sciences can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments”

The discredited results are now abandoned and soon to be forgotten. The importance of this episode rest not on the disgraced piece of research itself but on it showing that experimental science’s claims are not a social construction –in the sense that claims are not a mere collection of accepted beliefs. Beliefs and authority –as important as they may be- are not the base rock of science. Science is based on evidence and reproducibility, whatever is not, is not science.

MM620When left to its own devices, the scientific system works; it purges itself from false claims. Not very popular fields, such as stem cell research, are an excellent proof of that. Unfortunately, some research areas such as vaccination, GM foods and chemicals have been taken over by scientifically illiterate campaigners with little interest on science and much on the way of pseudo-religious agendas. In all those fields, disgraced papers -scoffed out of court by scientists- will hang on for ever in the blogosphere and facebooksphere as a scientific validation of bollockness.

 

 

 

 

Share

Comments
  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.

  • Doug Plumb 10/09/2014 at 3:30 pm

    Science is based only on observation and the science we have today is political science. Global warming proves this.

    • Ariel Poliandri 10/09/2014 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Doug,
      I am not sure that I am following you; therefore I will only say this:
      Climate science is a science, as such it is built on observations and theories and it is subject to experimental validation/refutation. But science can tell you how things are; it cannot tell you whether they are morally right or wrong. Science can tell you that a ridiculously expensive treatment will extend the life of a terminally ill person by 3 months but it cannot tell you whether expending huge resources on doing so is morally right.
      Politics is much more than science because it has to decide what is good and what is bad. A particular field of science may suggest policies oriented to solve a particular problem; It is for politicians/philosophers to evaluate how those solutions may fit a bigger picture; then accept or reject those suggestions.

  • Patrick Smit 19/08/2014 at 1:41 pm

    Once a Phd made a statement: “There is more politics in science than science in politics”.

    As long as humans are involved it is never as black and white as proposed. It would be naive to think that peer reviewers, authors, technicians and persons working in scientific organisations that distribute grants and the like have no opinion and political agenda and personal opinion, beliefs or subjective interpretations of the facts. It is impossible that one way or another these persons will remain 100 % objective during the process that are scientific in nature or influence science. This only exists in the book of (simple) scientific philosophy.
    I rest my case…..

    • Ariel Poliandri 19/08/2014 at 1:42 pm

      Of course, human pursuits are rarely “white and black” but one of the pillars of science is: we accept things when there is reasonable evidence to believe in them and reject them when they have been proven wrong. It doesn’t matter how much we love an idea, if it does not reflect reality it is not science. I –for instance- much rather keep Newtonian physic but it doesn’t work so I have to reject it (or use it with limitations).
      The paper (papers actually) I was referring to in the post were proven wrong and rejected. The ashamed authors actually retracted them even before they were removed. This is not the first time something like this happens in the field. The internet, on the other hand, is full of references to papers clamming ludicrous results: GM crops causing cancer, vaccines causing autism, pregnant women having to be kept well away from new cars, homeopathy, and an entire horde of other idiocies that have been rejected by real science. Those papers were not retracted and -some after been removed by the original journals- are accepted in some other more dubious journals.
      I know cultural relativism is very attractive for some people. I also know that there are loads of frustrated ex-wannabe scientists that rather complain about the political system instead of trying to fix it or accepting their own inadequacy. That is not excuse to defend the indefensible: quackery.

  • Tim Stroh 19/08/2014 at 8:38 am

    Thanks for sharing. Sadly, however, I don’t think the picture is quite so black and white. I’ve seen reports stating that between 25% and 50% of peer reviewed, journal published research can’t be replicated. Despite this, many of these articles aren’t retracted…and some go on to be accepted norms.

    I’m also aware that often accurate science is initially rejected. Replicated research that challenges a well entrenched dogma has to fight for acceptance (e.g. peptic ulcers being caused by bacteria, the role of gut bacteria and diet in diseases ranging from depression to MS, etc).

    It is nice to hear when it’s working…and in the end…over time…there’s not question it pushes us in the right direction…but it appears to be more of a pendulum…than an escalator to the truth. And I can’t help but think some modifications to the system would benefit all.

  • John Oversby 18/08/2014 at 8:09 pm

    Ariel, The kind of purism embedded in your comment seems to be more present among scientists than people in general. The funding of research has been and will be highly influenced by politics (not least because that is how many of us engage with policy decisions in our democracies): The Manhattan WWII project is a famous example. There is more that one view of the scientific system, and this is very well attested by a large number of writings under the terms Nature of Science or Philosophy of Science. You may like to explore some of these. Science is not objective and is only partly based on evidence.

    • Ariel Poliandri 18/08/2014 at 8:09 pm

      John, we shouldn’t confound science as a discipline with science policy (the way in which science is funded, promoted, etc.). Science policy is not science. I think that science as a discipline is described correctly by Russell’s definition. Scientific knowledge is tentative not dogmatic, based on evidence not authority or intuition. What is important is not what scientists believe but why they believe it (and how they will stop believing it as soon as they are proved wrong).
      I am afraid that I have to disagree with your last sentence. Something that is not objective and is only partly based on evidence is not science. Postmodernists and reality deniers may want to call it science, to cast a shadow over science, but it is not science.
      People have the right to dislike reality –perhaps even ignore it- what we shouldn’t do is deny it.

      • John Oversby 19/08/2014 at 8:33 am

        Ariel, A major part of science is creativity, not objectivity, with a number of tests to apply to it. Preferably, the created explanation should explain the evidence, but more likely, the major part of it. Not all of evidence is reliable (or even necessarily correct, since there can be missed examples of equipment not recording or measuring correctly). Sometimes, a better explanation can indicate that some previous evidence is no longer acceptable. Sometimes the experiment is repeated but there are examples, often using expensive or rare equipment where replication turns out not to be possible. An explanation must of course be plausible, and should mesh with related explanations (and theories). An explanation should be smooth, that is, its failures to explain should follow a pattern and not be idiosyncratic. There are other tests for explanations, but the idea that they must be based on evidence places too much emphasis on the evidence always being reliable systematic and valid, and of course makes demands in places where the evidence is proxy and/or uncertain. Ariel, I note your dislike of postmodernists, and I have no idea of what you mean by reality deniers. I am not ‘confounding science as a discipline with science policy’ since I do not accept that it is possible to separate parts of lives in this way.

        • Ariel Poliandri 19/08/2014 at 9:17 am

          We don’t have much to argue about really John. I agree with most of your points, most of them describe how experimental sciences work. Experimental results may not be perfect but proper experiments are better than suppositions or intuitions or sloppy experiments designed just to prove a point. Sometimes, a better explanation can indicate that some previous evidence is no longer acceptable; we should reject a previously accepted “truth” as soon as it has been falsified. Sometimes the experiment is repeated but there are examples […] where replication turns out not to be possible. That’s true and the greater the number of replications the greater the certainty.
          By reality deniers I mean postmodernists, Platonists, etc.; people denying that an objective reality exist or can be known; believing that the universe exists only because we exist or that we cannot produce -step by step- an approximate representation of reality, however imperfect; thinking that we live ia a cave with our eyes closed… The whole lot, you get the idea.

  • Gaston Munoz 18/08/2014 at 6:35 pm

    There two points here. One is when an scientifc article is not good enought, or when a some data have been modified. This is of course a hoax. Second, when people without a scientific knowlegement talks, write or speak about those scientific reseach to get some profit o just to debunk technologies. While the first is not easy to track, the second calls to sensibility or wake up human fears….both are dangerous

  • KC Schuler, MDiv, BCC 18/08/2014 at 6:22 pm

    “…Beliefs and authority –as important as they may be- are not the base rock of science. Science is based on evidence and reproducibility, whatever is not, is not science. When left to its own devices, the scientific system works; it purges itself from false claims. Not very popular fields, such as stem cell research, are an excellent proof of that. Unfortunately, some research areas such as vaccination, GM foods and chemicals have been taken over by scientifically illiterate campaigners with little interest on science and much on the way of pseudo-religious agendas. In all those fields, disgraced papers -scoffed out of court by scientists- will hang on for ever in the blogosphere and facebooksphere as a scientific validation of bollockness.”

    I’m not sure this is what you’re asking… but… I’m not sure there is reason to believe that politics and religious (or any other world view) are woven into the fabric of ‘scientific’ inquiry.

    …Is it possible to be truely a ‘tabula rasa’ as a researcher (no ‘eisegesis’ brought to sceintific community by the researchers)? Even results that are replicated are still open to opinions in the conclusions draw by researchers… correct?

    And is the unbridled pursuit of knowledge (scientific inquiry) without some altruistic and moral framework (political, religious, ethical, etc) a good thing?

    • Ariel Poliandri 18/08/2014 at 6:26 pm

      I’m not sure this is what you’re asking… but… I’m not sure there is reason to believe that politics and religious (or any other world view) are woven into the fabric of ‘scientific’ inquiry.
      I think that, within the scientific community, they are not. But they are woven into the fabric of science communication, generating in the public a sense of knowledge when in reality there is ignorance. I believe that you can like or dislike reality, what you cannot do is deny it. I may dislike very much the fact that I cannot fly but I will not jump of a roof saying “I don’t care what they say; I can fly”

      …Is it possible to be truely a ‘tabula rasa’ as a researcher (no ‘eisegesis’ brought to sceintific community by the researchers)?
      We are not a tabula rasa but what a scientist believes is not as important as to how and why he believes it. We believe something because we think that there is enough evidence for it. When a a real scientist is proven wrong, he or she will gladly abandon his or her beliefs. Many people was exited about the new method for reprograming cells that I mentioned in the post (there was even a theoretical basis for it); they tried; it failed; it was abandoned.
      Even results that are replicated are still open to opinions in the conclusions draw by researchers… correct?
      I (and most serious reviewers) would argue that you cannot conclude something your results don’t prove. You are free to speculate but not to conclude.

      And is the unbridled pursuit of knowledge (scientific inquiry) without some altruistic and moral framework (political, religious, ethical, etc) a good thing?

      No, inquiry without a moral framework is not good. That doesn’t mean that you can deny reality once it has been uncovered. I disagree with Professor David Nutt’s advice on drugs policy. I do not deny his results regarding the low medical danger posed by some class A drugs but I do have moral and aesthetic objections to their use; I don’t feel the need to be dishonest about that.

  • Peter Bonnerjee 18/08/2014 at 6:20 pm

    Does not the reality that scientific system works ONLY when politics and religious “beliefs” don’t interfere makes science and scientific system seem very fragile and “Oh, such a delicate daahling”?
    This is because politics and religious “beliefs” can and does work even when scientific system seems to interfere!

    • Ariel Poliandri 18/08/2014 at 6:26 pm

      I am not sure that I understand your comment Peter. I presume it depends what you mean by science, politics, religion and -specially- works.
      I accept Popper’s definition of what is and is not science.
      I think politics work only when they are understood as some sort of soft science: as in “capitalism may not be perfect but is the only thing that works so we’ll keep it until we find a better system (as we did with Newtonian physics)”
      Saying that religion works strongly depends on your definition of “works”. I guess, anyway, that you are thinking of traditional religious beliefs while I am referring to postmodernist delusions about nature.
      In any case, what I meant was: the scientific system (as described by Popper) is working for scientists. It does not work for the scientifically illiterate general public when irrational activists take over the means of communication and deform reality for their own purposes.

    • allan lazarus 19/08/2014 at 8:20 am

      too do not agree with you Peter but I do have some reservations about science.Science tries to proof something is true as laws of the universe as Mr. Lazarus, I appreciate your patience. We will get the game installed in a few minute. Please do not worry.Newton, Galileo,Einstein among others have I take scientific proof as something for example as a law of Newton’s which can be demonstrated over and over again.
      An example might be the prediction of a solar eclipse. When a solar eclipses comes and we know that someone has measured the accuracy of it we think that it is the truth and that it is scientific but it has to be agreed upon that the evidence given is accurate.
      One of the ways of proving something is scientific is to see if the rule holds up all the time.It is the scientific community that has the power to claim that a law such as Newton’s.
      In his case it was the British Royal Society which pronounced Newton’s laws to be correct. Now according to what I have said about the repetition of a scientific claim the question arises, How many times does an event have to be demonstrated before it is considered true..
      In the example of the eclipse how many times does a eclipse have to be measured to before it is conceded to be scientific.. Does it take one observance two,three or one hundred? How many repititons of something does it take to be considered scientific.Yes Peter I can see why you might think it is politics. Sure the scientific community has conspired to proof something is true when it is not true. All because some group wants a certain scientific claim certified to be true or false it exerts it’s political pressure.
      Peter, you forget that any scientific claim can be investigated by any individual including yourself. If you want to find out if the distance to the moon is 240 thousand miles you can check it out for yourself.
      so can anyone.My only claim to the accuracy and veracity of a scientific claim is how many repitions of an experiment or observation is required before it is delacred a law.

    • allan lazarus 19/08/2014 at 8:22 am

      One sentence appeared in my last message which is something from some other communication I had.I don’t know how this happened but I am sorry if it confused you as id did me.The sentence I am referring to is where it says “mr lazarus I appreciate your patience.

    • Peter Bonnerjee 19/08/2014 at 8:29 am

      @ In any case, what I meant was: The scientific system (as described by Popper) is working for scientists. It does not work for the scientifically illiterate general public when irrational activists take over the means of communication and deform reality for their own purposes.

      @ …you forget that any scientific claim can be investigated by any individual including yourself. If you want to find out if the distance to the moon is 240 thousand miles you can check it out for yourself.

      From a contemplation on the aforesaid 2 comments, I submit:
      1. A human being can be both, a rational scientist as well as an irrational activist.
      Can nature be both?
      Consider, then, what a “powerhouse” the human being is — which the nature is not, nor can ever be.
      2. Certainly, the distance of the moon from the earth can be measured by anyone with tremendous precision. This is because the movement of the moon and the earth is very predictable and along predictable circuit. The 2 cannot violate the law that governs it.
      Can one, now, measure with the aforesaid precision the distance between the moon and Ariel or Allan or Peter if we merely desire not to be measured? Please recall that the human being can be rational or irrational simply by choice.

      When one dialogues on “Science and Scientific System” — then both, “the science of being nature” and “the science of being human” needs to be studied with deep contemplation and perseverance.
      In such a situation, one ought not to seek only “sameness and similarness.”
      One ought to also seek “uniqueness and distinctiveness.”
      Only then can justice be done to such a rich dialogue.

      Karl Popper is past.
      Let’s dialogue, now, in the 21st Century.

      • allan lazarus 04/09/2014 at 6:06 am

        Peter: I don’t quite understand you.You say that science only works untill religion and politics get involved.
        Science always works no matter what politic or religion interferes. If you mean that the uses of scientific knowledge is prevented then I agree with you.
        There are many examples of interference such as the use of newly discovered methods of birth control
        Of course this example out of date since this happened many yeas ago but I still think it is a good example of religion affecting uses for scientific discoveries. Also more up to date interference for political reasons is the fight for the weather being affected by the greenhouse affect. If this is what you mean by Science works as long as religion and politics don’t interfere then I agree with you.
        I am a firm believer in science but according to my own beleifs I like to challenge myself by taking the opposite point of view.
        One thing about scientists is that they are capable of being fooled. Now I am not talking about science but about scientists. Watching some tv the other day I saw a biography of Harry Houdini. I was a very good documentary and I learned some things I did not know before.
        The little things I learned about him are not so important but his work on spiritualism and forturne telling was most interesting. He basically said that the mediums were fakes and he set out to show people this was so.To get to the point the scientific community backed up the spiritualists because they said they produced evidence that they could talk to the dead and so on.
        Come on now what a bunch of educated heshes could be fooled into thinking the mediums were right.It was all tricks and Houdini exposed them and even went to Congress to testify against them and that they should pass a law stopping them
        from claiming their powers were true. There have been a number of frauds committed by scientists as the Piltown man.If you are unfamiar with this look it up.

        I think Houdini went to far and the law was defeated because it was said by congress that it was a violation of free speech. How many other things have we been duped about?
        How many of the readers here have actually checked out the claims of science. As long as we don’t check it out for ourselves we are believing the scientific claims on faith.
        There now I have written my comment which is the antithesis of what I believe It is important to do so. who knows maybe some of us may change our minds about some things. It is important that we seek the correct points of view and check them out..

      • Peter Bonnerjee 04/09/2014 at 2:06 pm

        @ You say that science only works until religion and politics get involved.
        Nowhere have I said this, Allan.

        @ If you mean that the uses of scientific knowledge is prevented then I agree with you.
        Yes, I have said this, Allan.

        The reason you are having difficulty in comprehending my submission is because to you science is limited to the operation of the universe, nature, and the physical reality. Here, science operates by cause-and-effect relationship only.
        To me, science is not limited to this extent only.

        To me science ALSO relate to the human being whose existence is NOT limited to the operation of cause-and-effect relationship. The human being can self-determine, can choose. The human being can, to a substantial extent, direct and redirect the quantum, the quality, the pace, and the course of his/her cause-and-effect relationship by self-determination, by choice.

        It is for the aforesaid reason I submitted that the “science of the human being” is NOT entirely the same and similar to the “science of the universe/nature/physical reality.”

Subscribe for email alerts


Visit my LinkedIn Profile


What’s on @arielpoliandri


Join Us



Hit Counter provided by orange county divorce attorney



Hit Counter provided by orange county divorce attorney