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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Marketing Skills

Let's go all the way back to the very first post on this blog. I talked about Koreas number one scientist, Dr. Hwang. He became number one because of his skills in the ways of cloning stem cells. It turned out that he had, in fact, not cloned one single stem cell. No big deal, no one has succeeded at this little task. The big deal is that he was hell bent on telling everyone he had. Why did he want to do this? Most likely it was about ego or an exterior pressure to succeed. Whatever it was Dr. Hwang knew he had to overcome his inability to clone stem cells. Science tells us that it should be possible to do so. Technology is now the hard part. Instead of working on the hard part Dr. Hwang decided to use his marketing skills to sell his story to a major science journal.

How could a journal that calls itself Science have been sold this story? The name Science would indicate that they come to their conclusions based upon experimentation and observation. A journal is in a tough spot here because they can't take a paper such as Dr. Hwangs and simply repeat his work. They can't take a clone from him and seqeunce the DNA to verify the clone status. They have no choice but to rely upon what he has said. Of course arogance plays a part in the inability of the reviewers and the editors to admit their limitations. They will have us believe that most of what you are reading is solid science and it makes damned good sense. But how do they know? They were wrong about Dr. Hwang. He fooled them with his marketing skills. How can the editors and the reviewers tell the difference between real science and a marketing campaign? How can they tell the difference between shit and shinola?

The Cargo Cults of the world will never bring the planes from the skies using their current methods. If however you moved them to an area of the world where there is an airport, they would have much more success with their methods. The planes would come. You are now working in the wolrd of marketing. You want the world to believe that your rituals brings airplanes from the skies. All you have to do is perform the rituals with an airport behind you. Ritual plus airplanes equals success! You don't know a damned thing about how those airplanes end up coming from the sky to the field behind you. You know that they come however and you have put yourself in the right position to "prove" your skills.

Now look at Dr. Hwang. Rather than use science he published a ficticious paper in a magazine called Science. If it's in Science then it's science.

A very similar scenario took place in a publication that covers a softer science, Sociology. The journal was called Social Text. The paper was called Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. The author, Dr. Sokal, had a different motive than Dr. Hwang but let's not let our biases get in the way of comparing these two cases. They both had a motive to publish a paper that depicts complete rubbish. They both knew what they had to do to get published. It had to do with marketing. Dr. Sokal was thinking like a marketer.

"Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies... publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions?"

In other words, would they buy a bogus paper. (a) and (b) refer to the marketing skills.

Cloning a stem cell had the groundwork laid out for it to be marketed. Cloning stem cells sounds good. It would also verify the theory that this could be done. After the cloning techniques are worked out the skies the limit on what can be done. You could cure diabetes. No further treatments would be needed. You could clone a human being! We've cloned a sheep so this should be possible. It is exciting. It is the power of applying science to create life! This excitement is also a bias. The bias (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions."

As I said earlier, the journals are in a tough spot if they are to publish articles based on their ability to see past marketing skills. They cannot reproduce the experiments that are written about. A real science journal would however. The CounterCargoCulture publication would handle the problem of marketing by reproducing experiments. It would demand DNA samples and cell cultures and whatever else is used to make a claim. This science journal would really look at the experiment and worry less about the marketing of it. If you've ever seen what PhD students study and what goes on with a disertation you know that marketing is what it is all about. They are preparing to go out and be published so they can live the life of their professor/mentor, publish or parish. A real science journal would acknowledge this bias and demand real proof behind the mere conclusions written up in a paper. The number of papers would be reduced to one per publication. Every little piece of evidence will be discussed philisophically and empirically. In the end the conclusions of a group of reviewers will be published. Each reviewer will not be allowed to discuss their conclusions with the other reviewers until after publication. Again, this is to reduce the bias imposed on you by others. In general a real science journal would take every measure possible to remove bias. Marketers exploit our biases in ways we have never even thought about. A real science journal must think like a marketer and stop them from contaminating the scientific discourse among critical thinking human beings.

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