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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Question of the Day #7

Competition is part of science. It's a competition of ideas.

In cases such as the race to the race to the moon, which pushed us to a lunar landing faster than we would have otherwise, competition is quite healthy. But other times, the desire to be first results in fraud, which results in such cases as the infamous Piltdown Man.

Is there such a thing as unhealthy competition in science, and can anything be done about it?

Discuss.

Post a Comment


10 Comments:

At 11/02/2005 10:13 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Like most things in life, competition in Science has to be exercised with some sense of balance. As you've already demonstrated, there can be good and bad outcomes of highly charged competition. As I've seen it practiced, the extremes are very nuanced. On one hand of the equation, there is a lot of deference that occurs among scientists, particularly among those who are well known. Among them, I've observed a conscious avoidance to step on each others' toes, scientifically speaking. Of course, among scientists that don't have close relationships, or don't know each other at all, there can be some accidental competition, and one group can even get 'scooped' by another. By and large, however, I don't think this happens terribly often. Each group tends to be so specifically focused, and each sub-field tends to keep appraised on what the others are doing through Scientific literature, that you can almost predict what directions some groups will take.

 
At 11/02/2005 11:32 AM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Maybe certain profit motivated science... like the first pharmeceutical lab to produce a drug that cures some disease. The drug may be introduced to the market in a hurried fashion before it can be properly evaluated.
Or maybe fraud in a science experiment to produce superior results than the results produced by your competitors

 
At 11/02/2005 2:46 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Good Starter article on fraud here. They left out one of my personal favorites, red mercury. There is also quite a trade in subjective and/or fraudulent data from drug studies. There is a lot of pressure to get results, even though most research chemistry conforms to Edison's "90% perspiration" rule, in the form of brute-force trial and error. Many good research chemists have been fired over the years just because they weren't "lucky".

 
At 11/02/2005 3:24 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

So it all comes down to the good old issue of cheating. Some people cheat and fraud, regardless of the system they work within. Well, that's why we have safeguards. That's why we demand evidence. That's why we have peer review and try to confirm experiments.

I'd say the issue of exterior pressure is just as interesting. religion, for instance, has been a negative pressure on science for centuries. That influenced what came out of laboratories and what made it into books.

 
At 11/02/2005 6:37 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Franc has a good point about religion and its bad influence on science. For example, there was a study that made a positive find between praying and physical healing, only to have the report get shredded in a huge scandal, and have the guy who did the study thrown in jail for blatant falsification of the results

 
At 11/02/2005 9:12 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Franc: "religion, for instance, has been a negative pressure on science for centuries."

You know, guys, this would make a great blog topic. I'm not simply talking about harping and ranting on this issue, but about assembling a list of instances when this took place. For instance, I understand that "the Church" was originally against the use of anaesthesia during painful operations since, as the reasoning goes, "God intended us to feel pain, and using natural means to overcome pain is against the Creator's will" (paraphrase). Such prohibition probably began to falter when church leaders had to undergo painful treatments themselves.

The Church's persecutions of Galileo, Giordano Bruno and other pioneers of science are more examples. Is there a list of these? I really like lists. They provide a ready reference.

Aaron: "For example, there was a study that made a positive find between praying and physical healing, only to have the report get shredded in a huge scandal..."

Exactly. This is the kind of stuff that should be assembled in one resource. It can be a growing resource. Is there one? I don't know of one. But in my readings I've come across so many instances of such injustice, all due to the bloody hands of mystical philosophies, that I'm convinced of the need of such a resource.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 11/02/2005 9:39 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

I remember seeing a page of scientists who were persecuted by the Church, but I don't know where it is any more.

You know, the new revisionism now is to say that the Church never opposed science. It's getting bigger than neo-Nazis.

 
At 11/02/2005 9:56 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Franc: "the new revisionism now is to say that the Church never opposed science."

That's to be expected. Remember that there's always a new apostle, and his "vision" is somehow better than all previous versions. What's important is to be ready to show the philosophical causality between a view of the world like Christianity and the persecution that is demonstrated throughout its history when it gains power over others. As Rand succinctly put it, "faith and force are corollaries," so we should not be surprised when Christians oppose stem cell research, for instance, just as we should not be surprised when Muslims want to bomb themselvse and everyone in the market place to oblivion with them. The essence is the same, just one is more honest about it.

 
At 11/02/2005 10:45 PM, Blogger Thomas declaimed...

Speaking of that revisionism, there is a new book called "Galileo's Mistake," which apparently argues that the Catholic Church was essentially in the right to go after Galileo. I have not read it but it sounds dreadful. Yet as an act of honesty I ought to read it before condemning it. It would be a step up over our enemies.

Speaking of the repression of science, it's always worth bearing in mind that officially atheist but totalitarian regimes have been just as bad. Regard the pathetic career of Comrade Lysenko in the old USSR.

Getting back to the main question, I think that competition is a good thing up to a point. I'm glad to know that scientists are driven, respect-seeking agents, because that leads to progress. Yet many academics are borderline autistic, and it can be ugly to see their cockiness on full display. A handful of the most ostentatious scientists end up becoming Nobel-prize winning geniuses, but most drift off into the nether world and become cranks like Linus Pauling or Stephen Wolfram.

 
At 11/02/2005 11:12 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

What about Nazism, which engendered nothing but horrible science. Science becomes just another ideological tool. Or look at the conservatives and the liberals, who both replace real science with partisan science.

 

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