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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Totalitarianism

Bob Schieffer, on Face the Nation this morning, said that the difference between a Totalinarian government and a Democratic government is that all of the news you get about a Totalinarian government comes from the government. In a Democratic society you have a free press to offset government spin.

What then do we make of the scientific press? Cell, Nature, Science and all of the other publications at times like to blur the lines between reporting science and being science. They often come across as the authority between what is fact and what is not. However, they have been duped time and time again with little recourse. They self police themselves and thus they are sciences self police force. If fraud or misconduct is caught a retraction is in order. How often does that happen however? Is there another source that can report contrary information that, while it is not a retraction, is an alternative explanation of the facts?

The current model of science represent a totalitarian system of governance. You have researchers, professors, principle investigators, reviewers, editors and so on. Who is the leader? How is science structured to keep bullshit from creeping into the fabric of its daily operations? A democratic society will wage war against liars and cheaters who want to use our resources for their own purposes. We must constantly update our laws. We must seek out scams that are draining our tax base. Science too needs leadership to prevent negative factors. It must begin with a free press that is allowed to speak out against what is considered bad science?

What if there were scientific articles written about Dr. Hwang's cloned stem cells? Articles on how we are simply taking his word for it? Articles asking the questions that the reviewers did not ask? Ariticles from people trying to reproduce this work? There is in fact a great oppportunity to create a more mainstream interest in science by discussing the claims made in Science, Nature and the rest of them. They of course will tell you that they police themselves. Furthermore, they are science and any commentary from other scources is simply chatter from the peanut gallery. Amateurs don't have the same rights as the professionals. But isn't this the same attitude of a totalinarian government? They run the show. Anyone not involved doesn't understand what they do and thus have no rights to discuss the details. It leaves the leaders too much room for corruption however.

Science needs more voices, more ideas freely floating around for all to discuss and think about. With the onslaught from the pharmaceutical companies and the financial pressure for certain outcomes, science is up against the wishes of a non-scientific powerhouse. They want science to say what they want to hear. But science isn't about individuals. It doesn't matter where you went to school or how much money you have. It's about getting to the truth. The way to do this is to open up the process to all people and to hear what they think. What does the research associate working at Pfizer think about his project? What results has he seen that perhaps didn't make it onto a report? What about researchers who have disagreed with a papers conclusions? Does he or she get a voice? There must be a place for these voices. Is it just going to be the blogging world, where no one reads anyone elses stuff 99% of the time? Who will fight against sciences totalitarian system and let others be heard?

1 comment:

Fiddy said...

The solution lies in your last paragraph. These companies have the whole of science in their grip, including the journals. Blogging (or its equivalent) may be the way out of the stranglehold. Blumsohn mentioned in your other post involving Procter and Gamble (The doctor is out) has been doing precisely that, and very elegantly
www.scientific-misconduct.blogspot.com

Discussing research involving P&G via his blog. I guess we will see a lot more of this.