lørdag, april 12, 2014

Conformity in the scientific main street.

Modern science is treathened by conformity.

No cultures are identical, but all cultures have similarities. So also for scientific culture. The scientific cultures have values, trends, norms, presuppositions etc. As in most cultures, challenging such inherent sizes comes with a cost. It is harder to start doing something different than everyone else is doing. It might mean that you break away from established methodology, ask questions in a different manner, or disagree in presuppositions. "Conformity" is avoiding this, keeping well within the framework of the culture.

In an academic enterprise such as science conformity is problematic for obvious reasons, as the whole point of science is to be critical, creative and problem solving. Still, I think that conformity is a problem, at least in the life sciences. In a broad sense the molecular life sciences have followed the same path since Crick formulated the conceptual framework in the 1950's. This has been successful as the molecular life sciences has expanded into the molecular biological field that was opened by the technological advances of the 40s and 50s. Further technological innovations since then has lead to even further expansion. But methodologically the sciences are dominated by experimental analysis and reductionism, as initiated by the physiologist Claude Bernard in the 1870's.

The physio-chemical analysis and reductionism, with focus on finding, mapping and listing constituents, is combined with technological optimism, and a vague norm about "innovation". This is the main street of modern molecular life science. With tight time lines, competition for grants, demand for publication etc. taking the risk of breaking out of main street is not exactly encouraged. And when its seldom done, that further strengthens the feeling that it should not be done. And why would creative people be attacted to such fields? It turns into a self-enforcing process.

Why is conformity a problem? Normal science (as Thomas Kuhn called it - science within the borders of a given paradigm) has great value, no doubt. But science needs to be equipped with the diversity to tackle challenges in various ways through a diverse set of trajectories. If a scientific branch cannot do this, it will sooner or later come to a halt. We see the limits of reductionism in our problems to tackle complex diseases such as cancer and cronic inflammatory diseases. From the in vitro based idealized molecular medicine there is a large gap of understanding to how the same molecular systems in induviduals react to the multitude of environmental factors.

New ideas and approaches are needed all the time in science. Creativity should be valued as a scientific ethos.

Ingen kommentarer: