good science?

JARDINE P F3CM at UNB.CA
Tue Apr 25 00:16:40 EST 1995


I'd just like to reiterate a little on a reply I made about some
criticism that was directed at someone who posted a "HIV is not the
cause of AIDS" note in another news group.
I said that we should be careful not to censor anyone with radical
ideas on scientific subjects (in this case HIV pathenogenesis) and
rather refute such claims as they appear rather than simply beat
them down.
This is the foundation on which science is supposedly built and is
something that seems to escape to many people being trained in the
sciences today.
The whole process is supposed to center around the suspension of
disbelief. If I conduct an experiment with the goal of supporting an
hypothesis I believe to be true, I am doing poor science. If I
conduct an experiment which is designed to refute a previously
supported hypothesis, I am doing proper science. The first thing I
do if I find supportive evidence for an hypothesis is design
experiments to prove it wrong. This is the basis of science as
described by Popper, someone most molecular biologists have
forgotten about or unfortunately have never heard of.
The thing is, hypotheses can never be proven; they can only be
supported. On the other hand, a single study can refute an
hypothesis. Truth lies in disproof, not proof. In order for this to
work properly we have to listen to anyone with an opposing viewpoint
and take seriously their attempts to disprove what is accepted. We
must also be critical of our own finding and attempt to disprove
that which we suspect is true.
All to often we (I've done this many times) become so wrapped up in
trying to prove what we think is right that we fail to do this and
end up producing what is best described as fiction.
We're supposed to be seeking truth, not blindly following those who
went before us or deluding ourselfs in our own pet theorems.
The next time you see a post about something you think is wrong,
present evidence to refute it. The next time you get good results in
the lab, ask someone to tear it apart. If they can't, move on. If
they disprove you, you've learned something. But if you fail to ask,
you might be at risk of doing bad science.
If you have time and no one has done you the favour, try to read
some of the following (no, they're not lunatics; they're the people
who developed science):
Popper, K.R. 1963, Conjecture and refutation - the growth of
scientific knowledge. (he was getting a little bitter by this time
so it's a little dogmatic)
Platt, J.R. 1964, Strong inference. Science 146:347-353.
Chamberlain, T.C. 1897. The method of multiple working hypotheses.
J. Geol. 5:837-848. (hard to find, the "original" on how to design
science, a must. E-mail if you can find it)
Mayr, the big E. Growth of Biological Thought. 1982 (THE HISTORY OF
BIOLOGY. learn from the past, or be doomed to repeat it, mistakes
and all)
Baker and Allen. 1968. Hypothesis, prediction, and implications in
Biology. (if you don't know what an hypothesis is, and I think some
might have the wrong idea, read this - only 143pp.)
Forscher, B.K. 1963. Chaos in the brickyard. Science 142:339. (READ
THIS. only one page and the it really lets you know what you're
worth. funny too.)
Enough philosophy for one night. Got lots more references if
interested.
May your media be sterile but your research not.
PJ Jardine




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