Monday, May 21, 2007

The Scientific Endeavour

Adventures in Ethics and Science has an interesting post on the apparent cynicism some have regarding the often cumbersome process of how science is done. In essence if you think about it, it is very difficult to get anywhere with any group of a determined, mostly intelligent, and stubborn group of people no matter what their stripes and qualifications.

The scientific community is by no means immune from the vagaries and pettiness of the human condition. There are a broad swath of problems that tends to beset any large institutionalized community and this one has its share. Concerns ranging from publication biases, publication inaccuracies, and peer review quality makes true progress towards clear relevant scientific knowledge harder.

What is unique about this human community though is that there are self correcting mechanisms that sooner or later steer it's sometimes meandering and distracted direction toward substantive truth. Through all this often frustrating process there is reason to hope and take heart that the critical and unique qualities of the scientific community can keep it from becoming a brittle and barren place, like the fate of so many other human endeavors.

Some of these qualities are:
  • Question everything.
  • Share information.
  • Hold that information as a tentative true reflection of reality until or if something comes up that better fits the "puzzle" of all accumulated information.
These qualities provide encouragement that, in spite of our human frailties, there is good reason to continue and strive for a reasonable truth using these very human scientific methodologies.
A lot of what can happen to this noble endeavour is up to all of us. As Janet's post notes:

"I don't think we can have it both ways. I don't think we can trumpet the reliability of Science and wallow in cynicism about the actual people and institutional structures involved in the production of science."

It seems to me, that if we can continue to espouse the very qualities that define the scientific endeavour in our daily work then we will contribute significantly to a truly worthwhile, robust, and trustworthy human scientific community.

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