Search This Blog

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why We Do It

In my last post I discussed a paper that I thought was complete bullshit. It was a sciencey narrative that did not stand up to the rigors of further analysis. The logic of the project, on paper, showed a complete lack of appreciation for the complexity of protein folding. The methodology and explanation of the results showed a complete misunderstanding of molecular biology techniques. In the end the project became another failure to be tossed on the steaming heap of bad science.

How does a group of highly educated people get together and do this kind of work? Physical Chemistry scientists take work seriously. They look at a system and determine of work was done. Energy may have been exerted. Heat may have been given off. An exchange of kinetic energy may have taken place but the question remains, was any work done. To look at the above situation you have to look at the system. Many people spent many hours on a hypothesis made by one man. That mans underlings all grunted, "yes yes" and they began adding bells and whistles to a very simple premise. The highest ranking scientist had dreamed up a protein without the benefit of billions of years of evolution. It just  came to him and his subordinates had his back. They knew who was signing their paychecks. Fast forward several years. The premise that the molecule would be used to deliver drugs turned out to not be true. Science wins again. No work was done in this system.

So how many people did it take to do this non-work? Energy, money, time, meetings, and all sorts of life science bullshit took place day after day. Each individual involved in this project played a role in trying to validate the narrative set forth by the high ranking scientist. Is that the job of modern day scientists? The emperor was stark raving naked here and no one had the courage to point that out. They did what they do until the project was one day ended. The questions then are what did they do and why?

One of the functions of one of the individuals was to write the paper. Another individual read what was written and made changes. The paper was then sent off for peer review. Several individuals at the JBC then exerted energy and gave off heat in their role. But no work was done. Why did they all do what they did? In the final analysis they were all part of a project that did not pan out. Wouldn't science demand an explanation of the outcome, even though it wasn't the desired outcome? The final analysis by this Cargo Cult member is that the project was flawed from the beginning. The tribesmen who worked on the project were not in the place Feynman wished for us. The ultimate conclusions is that this type of work always fails and we should do something about it.

In Cargo Cults however, we answer to authority. Science is not the authority, it is the whims of the highest ranking scientist. The man/woman who signs the paychecks determine what and why we do what we do. We are not allowed to question that authority. When a paper is written we all put our name on it claiming that we all agree with the guy who wrote it. And the guy who wrote it agrees with the guy who told him to write it. And so on and so on.

Imagine if each individual listed as an author was simply allowed to disagree with any points made in the conclusion section. After the paper is written alternative explanations are allowed and the individuals who offer them are not punished for insubordination. Ah but that would not be an authoritarian system. Imagine the guy in the watch tower with coconuts over his ears saying to the boss, "I don't think I'm doing any good up here."

No comments: