Search This Blog

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sinning Against Science

The Sins of Science : A small compilation of people who know how to succeed in the Cargo Cult Airports. It's not as if anyone is ever going to go into the laboratory and check on their results. Right?

The article about scientific scams that you will not find is the one about a team of hard working laboratory professionals who can spot BS and quickly disprove it with empirical data. It is merely assumed that the review process weeds out the liars and cheaters. Why? Because at the highest level they are too sharp to be fooled. This is mandatory for a Cargo Cult. Leadership cannot be questioned. But what do they know of empirical data if they do not venture into the laboratories they rule over?

The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation, experience, or experiment.[1] Empirical data is data that is produced by an experiment or observation.

A central concept in modern science and the scientific method is that all evidence must be empirical, or empirically based, that is, dependent on evidence or consequences that are observable by the senses. It is usually differentiated from the philosophic usage of empiricism by the use of the adjective empirical or the adverb empirically. The term refers to the use of working hypotheses that are testable using observation or experiment. In this sense of the word, scientific statements are subject to and derived from our experiences or observations.

Those who are charged with deciding if Silvia Bulfone-Paus engaged in scientific misconduct are not the ones who called attention to the BS in her publications. The judge and jury are like her. They left the laboratory long ago and never looked back. Laboratories are for prestige. You raise money for them and put little people in them to obtain results that prove you were correct. But what obligations does the PI have in verifying the results? What do you call second hand empirical data?

The story of N-Rays once again helps us describe modern day science. Long ago, scientists had a way of verifying puzzling results.
Nature magazine was skeptical of Blondlot's claims because laboratories in England and Germany had not been able to replicate the Frenchman's results. Nature sent American physicist Robert W. Wood of Johns Hopkins University to investigate Blondlot's discovery. Wood suspected that N-rays were a delusion. To demonstrate such, he removed the prism from the N-ray detection device, unbeknownst to Blondlot or his assistant. Without the prism, the machine couldn't work. Yet, when Blondlot's assistant conducted the next experiment he found N-rays. Wood then tried to surreptitiously replace the prism but the assistant saw him and thought he was removing the prism. The next time he tried the experiment, the assistant swore he could not see any N-rays. But he should have, since the equipment was in full working order.

What can one say about N-Rays and the multitude of scientists who publish papers on things they've never seen first hand? Self deception is one explanation. On the other end of the BS spectrum you find Dr. William Summerlin who coloured in the black patches of fur on white mice with permanent markers to prove his skin graft technique was a success. Bulfone-Paus' people coloured protein bands on western blots. Either way, they got what they wanted. By separating yourself from the collection of empirical evidence you will have an easier time climbing the ladder of successful scientists in todays world. By not entering that lab you will not have to fabricate data. You hire people to do that for you.

No comments: