Monday, January 2, 2012

But scientific research is often wrong anyway!

Although I like the idea of finding new answers about the world around us we cannot deny that oftentimes the answers aren't very useful or we plain get it wrong.

Wired had a great article about this where the author talked a bunch about the various problems with medical research and how difficult it is for us to overcome our cognitive biases when we look for treatments for problems.  We desperately want to understand the world and we come up with narratives to explain events all the time even when there is absolutely no valid reason for them.  The problem is that we believe our own made up narratives and end up basing medical research on the ideas we hope are true instead of ideas that are grounded in hard data.

The thing that the article doesn't really hammer on hard enough I think is that profit motives really warp this whole thing much further out of control.  It is especially bad when scientists in the pay of Big Pharma make pitches for drugs that are as yet not properly tested but the profit motive can be seen throughout science.  Any researcher knows that their job and reputation are based on producing exciting results and that often entails believing your own hopes and dreams to be facts.  If you give up when it appears that your idea won't pan out you fail but if you just keep going with the fanatical belief that somehow it will work out you have the option of spectacular success - or failure just like before.

It is quite the difficult problem and although there are lots of things we can do better it isn't as if those new things are new or revolutionary; they are merely applications of old and proven rules of conduct and proof.

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