Search This Blog

Monday, September 05, 2011

Practical Intelligence and Success

The biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry continues to try and figure out new ways to encourage innovation. As patents expire and streams of revenue dry up, they need the next big thing. It's not that they didn't plan on this contingency. They knew these days would come and they shelled out the money to get people working in the laboratory. What happened?

The lack of innovation can be linked to what is ailing all of science. In a recent discussion on scientific journal retractions from "OnTheMedia" I found two comments from people who have interesting and similar concepts.

Paul Charles Leddy

Science is social, and if a bunch of morons decide to do science, they'll create a world of moronic truths. Those of us who don't want to live in a world filled with these "truths" have to be careful not to let the morons say what is truth. I think the past 10 years have shown this over and over. Same goes for journalism, btw.
Sep. 06 2011 12:43 AM

The key point here is that science is conducted by human beings and we tend to form groups of like-minded cohorts. We create the truth. Those with practical intelligence who want to be a success will gear their work towards the truth of the group, not the truth of nature.

p.f.henshaw from way uptown

Brook and Jonah,
You seem to be seeing only the manageable tip of the problem of finding and correcting errors in science. The cases where right and wrong are simple to identify are not the problem. Science never had, and can't have, a way to "purify" its archives, other than the same way nature purifies her complex systems to remove useless branches, by experiment and evolution.

The deep problem of modern science is that "useless branches" of thinking become the basis of social structures and clung to relentlessly. You see it in how the different "silos" of reasoning form around different socially preferred ways to ask the same questions. One dominant paradigm of that kind is "science as computers" with the dazzling display of results conveying the image of powerful insight, but if tested against the subject addressed often represents no insight at all.

Theorists tend not to study nature at all, just data, their theoretical models, and their social status. The naturalists who actually study the complex naturally behaving subjects of such a study are unable to contribute to the process, at all... don't even get brought in for discussion, for the simple reason that nature does NOT behave at all like a computer (!!) and the questions a naturalist would ask upset the social status of someone representing their theory as nature! ;-) See the problem?

So the core of the problem is the social basis of the questions that each science and sub-science organizes itself around, not just our present self-defeating obsession with computers. As a battle between social cells science becomes as much as if some endless TEA Party argument. Your radio piece seemed to assume that scientists were engaged in scientific debate, but you can't do that when people all standing on different platforms.

I love the imagery of useless branches being the basis of social structures being clung to relentlessly. This takes place inside each company but also among all of science such as the case of RNAi. Where was the hint that Merck bailed out on RNAi because after an exhaustive study they came to the conclusion that it will not be useful as a drug? They bailed but they did not send out any dissenting opinion that would upset the social group who still cling to RNAi.

In order to be successful you have to know what the group wants to believe. That is the easy part. The hard part is maneuvering around empirical evidence to the contrary of the groups "truth". For that reason the most successful members of science do not work in laboratories. Those who do lack the practical intelligence that keeps one out of harms way.

No comments: