Humans have various ways of thinking, from ancient
emotions to new-brain reasoning, and they all interact. Scientific thinking
attempts to be objective. Read how the scientific method raises scientific
knowledge above doubt, and how hypotheses and theories are formed and results
An insight into the practical workings of science.
Not a very nice story. Scientists are in a race, competing with other scientists
to be first, and also competing for limited funds. Many of these practices
do not benefit science.
Science is limited, not only by the capacity
of our brains, but also by many other factors, such as the enormity of
a problem, previous knowledge, the limitations of what we can do now, our
present state of technology, and so on.
New Ideas in Science: Dr.
Thomas Gold analyses the herd instinct that leads to scientific consensus.
knowledge can be considered a resource, so how could it be managed? (22
timetable of mankind:
the most important discoveries affecting the course of history. (24 pages)
threats: a summary of the
world's problems, arriving from many directions. (20 pages)
the principles and practice of conservation with emphasis on marine conservation.
belief systems: a summary of
the many beliefs, still active today, stifling rational thought. (23 pages)
what the Seafriends web site is all about. (11p)
Reader please note that the issues raised in this article, have been
caricatured. So when it says that scientists can't do this or that,
it should be read as most scientists... or in general, scientists
.... Exceptions to a rule can always be found. The name Man
is used to denote mankind. Also please note that this document is
updated from time to time.
For suggestions and feedback, please e-mail
the author. Read tips for printing
for best results.
The whole document covers about 0.15 MB, 35 printed pages.
Scientific methods have evolved over time, from the first occasion that
an experiment was set up to prove a theory. In ancient times, scholars
were very interested in the stars and planets, trying to understand their
movements from what could be observed. Although planets move along elliptical
paths (stretched circles), it proved very difficult to arrive at that insight,
as was the notion that the earth rotates around the sun, likewise that
the earth is round, and much later that continents move.
Underlying all science are the principles of finding the truth:
observation: observing what happens and describing it so
that others can verify.
measurement: where possible, measuring observations in quantities
that allow computation and comparison.
objectivity: while doing the experiment, distancing oneself from
its interpretation. Also avoiding to influence the experiment.
logical reasoning: relating observations to theory; classifying,
grouping, comparing, asking questions, etc.
arithmetic and mathematics: mathematics is another language for
describing results. Mathematical formulas are exact. When newfound rules
are expressed in mathematical notation, they become very powerful.
synthesis (Gk: syn=with/together; tithemi=to put;
to put together) the process or result of building up separate elements,
especially ideas, into a connected whole, especially into a theory or system.
predicting: using newfound rules, other situations can be predicted,
then tested to give more credence to the rule.
The greatest breakthroughs in science occur
when someone understands that apparently different phenomena have the same
underlying cause. (Isaac Newton?)
But these principles in themselves are not enough, because each depends
on human qualities, and can thus be biased. In other words, the studied
effect may have been influenced by the human mind in the form of bias,
wilful deceit, omitting evidence, and also by human errors. Also variability
in circumstances, resulting in random fluctuations in the data, can be
of influence. Thus to secure impartiality, the following principles are
followed as well in studying cause and effect:
exclusion of unwanted causes: by carefully designing the experiment
and measurements, unwanted causes can be minimised. However, such careful
design in itself, can be prone to bias and cause side effects. Side effects
may be important as is the case with medical cures.
repetition: a single experiment is not proof in itself, but many
repetitions under varying circumstances, and conducted by many scientists
all over the world, give more credibility, thus strengthening the theory.
replication: Other scientists elsewhere must be able to replicate
the experiment and arrive at the same conclusions (or not). Therefore the
experimental method and materials must be described accurately.
statistical analysis: mathematical techniques are available to test
the result for chance. What is the chance that the measured effect was
caused by a coincidence of circumstances? Obviously, the more repetitions
and replications, the more certainty.
The simple fact of observation, disturbs
the system under study. Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, 1927.
When a result is paradoxical and cannot
be explained, you probably found something new. Floor
The problem of repetition
and averaging When measurements are swamped
by uncertainty and noise, scientists resort to doing more measurements,
averaging these and applying statistical methods to this end. It is thought
that this will increase precision and accuracy while reducing uncertainty.
If ten people are tasked
to measure the distance between points A and B on a map, their observations
will differ slightly. By averaging, a more precise number is obtained,
but is it also more accurate? Obviously, when the measuring tape is wrong,
the error of the tape will be multiplied rather than reduced. Thus systematical
errors become larger and more significant rather than less.
In science it has become
quite fashionable to do meta-analyses (Greek:
meta = above, after,
over-arching) combining the results of different studies by different authors,
and even combining measurements of different kind, like apples and pears.
This obviously leads to more systematical errors, while at the same time
the characteristics of the original measurements disappear, resulting in
a kind of data-soup, retaining hardly any information at all, except
for systematical errors.
When reading the scientific literature, it appears as if each experiment
just happened without prior thought, as if it was the only logical thing
to do, as if failures are not part of the process. The reality is that
the real scientific process is not revealed. It starts with a hunch, an
idea, which is then tested with a quick-and-dirty experiment, to see if
the idea has any grounds at all. When it looks promising, a hypothesis
hypothesis (Gk: hypo= below/under; tithemi=
placing/ proposing; foundation) a proposition made as a basis for reasoning,
without the assumption of its truth. An idea to work with. A starting point
for further investigation. Note that a hypothesis is not a theory, but
may become one over time.
A hypothesis formulates the problem in such a way that it can be attacked
by others. The scientific investigation that follows, attempts to prove
the hypothesis while disproving any objections to it. Often more than one
type of experiment is needed to cover all angles. Often a null-hypothesis
is formed as well, in the sense of if this is proved true, then the
opposite must be proved false, which gives more credence to the assumption
null-hypothesis: a hypothesis suggesting that the difference
between samples does not imply a difference between populations. It is
usually formulated before the experiment, for the express purpose of being
rejected by the evidence in the data, thus confirming the research hypothesis.
Because science is strong in disproving but weak in proving a case, the
null-hypothesis should be a serious effort at disproving the experiment
and in doing so, fail. It should prove that there is no other cause. Alas,
this is not normally done and the null-hypothesis
has become a farce.
Experiments can seldom be done without also making the tools to
do them. Often ingenuity and inventiveness in making the experimental setup
and instruments, is more important than the actual experiment. Vast numbers
of scientists are devoting their lives to improving scientific instrumentation:
making them more sensitive, more precise, easier to use, cheaper to use
and so on.
Every successful or unsuccessful experiment brings new insight, but
the successful ones are being published. So those people who acquire knowledge
by only reading scientific journals, miss the insight that comes from making
mistakes, and that from actually doing the experiment. This makes it hard
for newcomers to enter the field. As stated before, it is not the purpose
of science to produce data or information, but more so to interpret this
to understand the functioning behind it. Such functioning is then formulated
as a theory. A theory may link the results of many experiments by
many people together into a coherent whole. Sometimes millions of elements
of data and years of thought can be compressed into a single formula like
Einstein's famous energy-mass equivalence: e = m x
theory (Gk: theoreo= to look at) a supposition
or system of ideas explaining something. An explanation based on general
principles, independent of the particular things to be explained. The exposition
of the principles of an idea. A scientific theory evolves from a hypothesis
(working idea) after very thorough testing by many scientists.
Scientific theories do not happen overnight. They require years of testing
and experimentation, to gain confidence. They need to be accepted by a
large number of scientists, and even then it is every scientist's duty
to keep doubting them, for doubt is what makes science great. As new discoveries
continue to be made, an existing scientific theory can become outdated
and will have to be replaced by a better one that can explain more facts.
In this way, scientific knowledge is always growing and improving. Every
scientist must be prepared to give up his ideas and beliefs for better
When scanning the scientific literature of today, one may be excused
for thinking that science is done only with expensive instruments, and
inside laboratories, using the most advanced computer techniques. However,
good science can be done with simple means, although it is almost true
that all simple things have been done already.
In any new field, science develops along a predictable course:
observation: observing nature, and faithfully describing
what is observed. Without a good 'feel' of what is normal and what is exceptional,
no other forms of science can be done meaningfully. From observation good
scientific hypotheses can be drawn to guide more detailed research.
classification: ordering observations in rank of: frequency, seasonality,
severity, importance, etc. The systematic classification of organisms precedes
any study using such organisms. It is a seemingly laborious task, requiring
lots of specific low-level knowledge, and an inquisitive mind. Classification,
the ordering of data into meaningful sets, is an important scientific activity.
observations in the laboratory: by taking bits from the outside
into the laboratory, observations can be made using powerful microscopes
and other analytical equipment.
measurements in the field: by collecting numerical data rather than
descriptive data, observations can be quantified and represented in graphical
form and they can be subjected to comparison, mathematics and statistical
controlled experiments in the field: experiments can be conducted
in the open air, either on the natural situation or on special plots, but
such experiments are influenced by environmental variations.
controlled experiments in the laboratory: in the laboratory, conditions
can be controlled to a high degree, thereby excluding unwanted causes,
but the danger is that the study becomes reductionist and less holistic
(considering the whole) while introducing other unwanted causes.
expressing findings mathematically: the main purpose of science
is in trying to understand how and why things work. Mathematics provides
a type of language to express this understanding between cause and
effect. Particularly in the physical sciences, equations (mathematical
formulas) can be derived from experimental data.
computer modelling: with computer models, scientists study whether
their mathematical findings match reality, particularly where a number
of equations (rules) are involved simultaneously. The computer models calculate
reality in reverse, and this virtual reality can then be compared with
the real world to see if the underlying assumptions are right. Computer
models are dangerous because they depend on many assumptions: the rules,
the starting conditions and the parameters. Inside a program, these are
hidden from view, and can be adjusted to achieve any outcome. Like
computer programs, models cannot be proved to be right, or to be working
An important part of the scientific process, often overlooked is that of
knowledge such that it can be understood and used by the intelligent
lay person, in order to advance other ideas like technology. The gift of
a scientific discovery can be used by society only when presented in a
kind of text book, and in a language understood by many, and particularly
when it is being taught.
Although science is invented only
by the brightest of people, it can be understood by many, and used by very
large numbers of people with only average intelligence. Only when science
is taught, does it truly become useful to society.
Scientific thinking for you and me It is perhaps an enormous tragedy, that the scientific method of thinking
is thought to belong only to scientists, but aren't we all interested in
the truth, and aren't we all keen to ban falsehood? Shouldn't we all be
keen to protect our brains from lies and half-truths that clog up our memories,
and obstruct our thinking? Aren't we in the end only what our memories
It is so promising that most humans by the age of 11, are eager to learn,
wide-eyed and on the ball, unobstructed by an overload of misinformation
and trivial information. Yet by the age of 40 they have assumed many bad
habits, their brains dulled by overloads of unimportant facts, and confused
by conflicting truths and lies, that they are not able to tell them apart.
In the end they won't be able to steer their lives, living only from one
impulse to the next. So, why not protect that most precious of organs you
possess, your brain?
As you can see from the scientific method outlined above, it is not
difficult to make it your own. Do everything you can to remain honest with
yourself. Try to be objective. Try to doubt the undoubtable. Try not to
load your brain with unimportant trivia. Cut through the nonsense, and
keep your brains clean. Postpone belief, because you won't need it. What
is wrong with saying: I (we) don't know (yet)?
An important part of the scientific method is the international publication
of the experiment. It allows other scientists to take notice, to feel inclined
to repeat the investigation (replicate), or to rebut it. One problem
with a scientific publication is that once published, it can no longer
be corrected. So in order to make sure that publications meet all criteria
of quality, thoroughness, truth and objectivity, scientific publishers
have each paper peer-reviewed before publication.
Peers are other scientists, who have proved themselves knowledgeable in
their field of expertise. Depending on their disposition and the amount
of work that needs to be redone, it may take 1 to 2 years before a scientific
publication is considered ready. Once published, the article will become
part of the growing mountain of scientific literature. Peer reviewers typically
weed out the following:
a study wich is too fragmented
a hypothesis which is too trivial
referenced literature too biased (one can select only supportive work from
study or writing too egotistical or self-serving
warped designs or methods
presentation of results too inaccurate
wrong or inadequate use of mathematics and statistics
trifling or unjustified conclusions
syntax and grammar errors
But problems remain:
scientists in a certain discipline often form a tight-knit group (a clique),
favouring and peer-reviewing one another's papers. They visit the same
conferences and think along the same lines, which becomes the 'accepted'
as a result, diverging viewpoints and criticism are often rejected.
peer review often determines acceptability rather than validity;
where a paper is to be published rather than if.
competition between scientists for placement in the same 'prestigious'
journals often causes biased and unjust rejections by competing reviewers
who remain unaccountable and secret.
John Daly describes peer review as follows: The system of `peer review’
was established during the nineteenth century as a means to uphold quality
control in science and to exclude patently flawed science from the publications
of the scientific community, known as `journals'. This of course involves
something of a trade-off between the wider social values of free speech
and the narrower values of preserving the integrity of science itself.
But `peer review' has exposed its dark ugly side, as a system of quality
control which works passably in other sciences, but which has become in
the climate sciences a ruthless instrument of censorship by one partisan
school of ideas against any dissent to its supremacy.
A scientist or group of scientists
(or lay persons) may author a paper intended for scientific publication
and submit it to one or more of the recognised journals for publication.
This is done in the sure knowledge that unless it appears in a journal,
it will be summarily dismissed without further thought by the scientific
establishment. In other words, it is journal publication or oblivion for
whatever ideas or knowledge the author is intending to impart.
The journal editor (or sub-editor
in the case of the larger journals) consider the paper and make a quick
and ready judgment about whether the paper might be suitable for publication
at first glance. This is the first censorship hurdle as the prejudices
of the editor can influence the decision. If the editor is satisfied the
paper might be acceptable, he or she sends it out to 'referees', usually
two or three reviewers known to be expert in the same field as the subject
matter of the submitted paper, these reviewers being selected by the editor.
The choice of reviewers itself may also be open to editorial bias.
The reviewers have enormous
power. They act in complete anonymity and can recommend for or against
the paper, and few editors will go against their judgment. They will provide
comments and reasons for their decisions, but there is no appeal. In other
words, the paper's prospects for publication rest entirely with two or
three possibly prejudiced individuals acting in complete anonymity and
safe from any criticism of their decision. The author has no idea who these
referees are - they could be rivals, or they could be ideologically hostile
to the subject matter of the submitted paper. The referees by contrast
know full well who the author(s) is and are easily swayed if the authorship
originates with a prestigious institution.
In a politically charged
environment like climate science, the scope for abuse of this system is
obvious. Both the editors and reviewers are quite liable to act as upholders
of a partisan orthodoxy and reject any paper which questions the basis
for that orthodoxy. It is a profoundly subjective process, vulnerable to
abuse and all done with no transparency behind the veil of anonymity. The
peer-review system is an impregnable coward's castle.
Even then one must remember that science is an on-going process; that
what is discovered and explained today can be proved wrong and un-explained
tomorrow. Yet publications always remain and cannot be withdrawn. As a
result, the scientific literature is awash in falsities, and from these
one can pick whatever peer-reviewed publication supports one's viewpoint.
scientific literature is a labyrinth of truths and untruths.
Scientific study is done by the brightest of people who are following their
curiosity in the workings of nature and who pursue the answers to their
questions, independent of public opinion, religion and other constraints.
Remarkable discoveries were made already thousands of years ago, but it
is recognised that science as we know it today, began with the great Italian
scientist Galileo, who stressed the need for carefully controlled experiments.
In his research, Galileo used observation and mathematical analysis as
he looked for relationships in cause and effect among natural events.
He recognised that experimentation could lead to the discovery of new principles.
In the Age of Reason (the Enlightenment) in the 18th century, science
really took off with major progress in the fields of astronomy, physics,
chemistry, biology and economics. Today, scientific study can be divided
into four major groups:
mathematics and logic: are not based on experimental testing, but
rely entirely on self-proving. They can be considered part of science
because they are essential tools in almost all scientific study. The findings
of mathematics and logic are valid all over the universe.
physical sciences: examine the nature of the universe. They
study the structure and properties of nonliving matter, from tiny atoms
to vast galaxies. The physical sciences include astronomy, chemistry,
geology, meteorology, and physics.
life sciences: also called the biological sciences or biology, involve
the study of living organisms. There are three main fields of the
life sciences. Botany deals with plants, and zoology
with animals. Ecology deals with all living and nonliving matter,
and studies how they relate and interact.
social sciences: deal with the individuals, groups, and institutions
that make up human society. They focus on human relationships and
the interactions between individuals and their families, religious or ethnic
communities, cities, governments, and other social groups.
Scientific study is an activity which doesn't produce goods or income
directly, and thus relies entirely on funding from outside. Since the public
at large eventually benefits from scientific progress, governments are
their main funders, followed by industry. Science and research have a great
tradition in universities where it is part of educating budding young scientists.
It was also traditional that scientists could pursue freely their areas
of interest, no matter how arcane (understood by few), but this has been
changing since the amount of money is limited and recent problems demand
Limited to 1-3% of Gross National Product, most scientists in the world
are now competing for limited funds, but large, affluent nations such as
the USA and Russia, spend large amounts on research. Traditionally, research
has brought the technology that gave advantage in warfare. With the advantage
of weapons that were more powerful, could be deployed over longer distances
and aimed more accurately, nations could project their powers, converting
military advantage into economic advantage. The colonisation of resource-rich
primitive nations, brought wealth to those who held the technological advantage.
This is still an important function of science today, and in general it
can be said that those who have knowledge hold an advantage over those
who don't. However, such advantages are short-lived since others quickly
Science is practised in 'factories' called institutes or laboratories
(laboratory = workshop). In such places, scientists work together
with other scientists and with laboratory or research assistants, technicians,
librarians and so on. The very expensive equipment they need, requires
trained operators and is shared between them. By working in an institute,
scientists benefit from having very intelligent and motivated people nearby,
to discuss problems, make plans, share work, etc. The institute also shelters
them from the soul-destroying task of funding, while providing all the
facilities they need, including travelling.
Behind the scenes, scientists have found themselves in an ever more
competitive position, encouraged by such practices as:
competing for funds: before doing any experiment, scientists have
to justify the worthiness of their possible results, which causes young
scientists to tackle safe experiments: small unrisky ones rather than big,
risky but important ones. It has also given rise to the practice of doing
the experiment first, then asking for funding based on the already found
results. Once the money arrives, the experiment is published exactly as
foretold, which enhances reputation. Large institutions with established
tradition are better at this than any newcoming genius. It has also made
young scientists entirely dependent on the scientific establishment.
judging competence by the number of publications produced: the number
of times one's name is referenced or published, counts highly in a scientist's
regard. Often the number of publications, rather than their quality is
counted, leading to a profusion of publications unnecessarily taking up
journal space, while reporting only little progress. It has fragmented
competing for journal space: scientific journals are published by
companies who make a profit from doing so. The scientific standing of such
a journal, highly affects profitability, hence their desire to accept only
the best papers. Lesser papers are then accepted by less prestigious journals.
Scientists of course, wish their papers to be placed with the best, hence
their competition for space, which gives these journals an even bigger
leverage for selection. This selection process often unnecessarily prolongs
the time of publication, also subjecting scientists to often unnecessary
meddling in their affairs.
the race to publish first: within the world of the scientist, international
recognition is of such importance that arbitrarily high value is placed
on who found it first, acknowledged by who published it first. This has
led to the stealing of ideas, with tragic consequences for those who were
first, had done most of the work, but had their publications obstructed,
only to see someone else publish their findings first. It has also led
to secrecy between scientists.
insecurity: through shortage in funds, even knowledgeable institutions
cannot afford to guarantee long-term employment. Many scientists nowadays
work on temporary grants, as if they were in permanent temporary employment.
When grants finish their term, these people have to travel on to the next
job, wherever offered, on whichever subject. This leads to insecurity and
unproductivity, mediocre work, and discontinuity, often leaving the work
unfinished. Where society hoped to see better value from competition, in
nearly all cases, the opposite has been achieved.
discontinuity: not all scientists are involved in long-term research,
which brings painstakingly slow progress. Some research can be rounded
off more rapidly. But almost without exception, such work will raise new
questions worthy of pursuing. Temporary employment however, causes scientists
to change jobs, shifting from institution to institution and country to
country. Such discontinuity is particularly damaging to long-term research,
such as monitoring the environment.
scientific careers: however much a scientist is motivated by the
pursuit of knowledge, in the end his scientific career will send him across
continents, learning techniques here, teaching there, and so on. It causes
Having a close look at the way science works, has revealed a number of
shortcomings in the way science is funded, but there are other limits to
Limits to science
It could be argued that because of the sheer infinity of variety found
in nature, and the way problems can be understood to an ever finer detail,
while also considering time scales from the immediate to the age of the
universe, the amount of knowledge that could be obtained, is in fact infinite.
Others have reasoned that all the great laws of nature have been discovered
and that what remains is just tidying up the fabric within the larger designs.
Judging from the escalation in scientific knowledge, one would say that
science has no limits. It is an amazing achievement that the whole sequence
of the human genome could be decoded in such a short time. However, unravelling
the meaning of this code still requires to be done. Regardless of its achievements,
science has always had to weather the following critiques:
reductionist thinking: some schools of thought have done science
a disservice by attempting to reduce phenomena to the absurd. Quantum mechanics
explains the intricate relationships between energy and matter, reducing
the universe to probabilities; to the notion that all motion is preordained;
that free will cannot exist.
One evolutionary theory holds that the genes of species are in command,
producing a fruiting body just to have themselves reproduced (the selfish
gene). But aside from this, it is true that every controlled experiment,
in looking at only a few factors, in fact is a reductionist approach which
does not look at the whole. As a result, scientists have difficulty investigating
complex phenomena such as the environment or the human body.
knowing more and more about less and less: very similar to reductionist
thinking, scientists are forced to focus this way, in order to break new
ground. It is one reason why the learned lay person, wanting to learn something
about more and more, rather than more and more about something, cannot
connect to the scientist.
knowledge takes longer to acquire: in order to play their part,
to make new discoveries, young scientists need to learn more than their
predecessors. It takes longer to become productive, eventually resulting
in the possibility that nobody has all the skills
or knowledge that are needed. Knowledge also becomes more difficult
to pass on.
can't know everything; can't be everywhere; can't investigate everything:
this is what scientists repeatedly say, when criticised, and they are right.
Science has real limits which cannot be overcome by throwing more money
and more people at it. It means that one needs to
be ever more careful in the selection of what to study, which may lead
becomes more expensive: as problems accelerate while becoming more
complicated, the time required to study them, increases disproportionately,
and with it cost. As a result, we leave more and more questions unchallenged.
knowledge becomes less certain: as we are studying more and more
complex systems, the experiments become less certain, and so do the conclusions
obtained from them.
science is poorly managed: by tradition, institutional scientists
and university professors have been directing their own research, preferring
to be left alone, unquestioned in their priorities. The age of unmeddled
science demands that it be left unmanaged. However, as funds become less
adequate for the burgeoning heap of problems, scientists are forced to
follow the hand that feeds them, being driven economically by supply and
demand. Still, this remains a poor form of management, resulting in many
inefficiencies. Eventually, society will be forced to bring all sciences
under some sort of managerial umbrella.
But they have only analyzed the parts and
overlooked the whole, and, indeed, their blindness is marvellous. -
Science, in spite of all of its technical
contributions to life, has failed to solve the major problems of society:
poverty, hunger, disparity of wealth, greed, envy, conflict, pollution,
illiteracy, hatred, oppression, exploitation, unhappiness, misery, etc.
The above problems are not the only ones plaguing science. Part of science's
plight is caused by environmental problems which are accelerating too.
more problems: as the human impact on the environment is accelerating,
so do our problems.
more serious: the first problems announcing themselves were those
that arrived suddenly, but as the slow ones are showing up, they often
turn out to be more serious, and more difficult to study and to counteract.
more difficult: environmental problems have caught society by surprise.
Only a century ago, the words ecology and environment were unknown. Ecology
has not enjoyed the growth of other sciences, mainly because:
ecosystem knowledge is difficult: the environment is shaped by millions
of creatures interacting in mysterious ways. Changes in such systems cause
unanticipated side effects.
hard to duplicate/replicate experiment: ecosystems are large, and
impossible to do controlled experiments with. Thus the main scientific
methods that made science great, cannot be applied. In addition, each place
on Earth, differs from every other, making it impossible to replicate one
ecology involves looped-back systems: a looped-back system is one
where causes affect themselves in a roundabout or indirect way. Every stabilising
system has some sort of feed-back. Warm-blooded animals thermo-regulate
their bodies internally, but ecosystems stabilise through the external
interactions of many species.
ecology requires a wide vision: the study of ecosystems does not
only require multiple disciplines, but also a wide vision from each
scientist participating, something which has become unusual in science.
Knowledge brings power, particularly when it can be acted upon, either
by our whole person or by some machine. But little do people know that
knowledge can also be an obstacle. For scientists, the 'purveyors of knowledge',
this is particularly true:
knowledge can stifle further thinking: it is human nature to no
longer look for an answer when one is provided, hence also the undue influence
of quackery. Knowledge itself can stand in the way of further investigation,
particularly when a majority of scientists side with this knowledge. This
can cause ridicule, and divert funds away from those querying the accepted
wisdom. It has also led to scientists hanging on to outdated ideas for
knowledge is the scientist's (only) asset: not fortune, but knowledge
is the scientist's asset, which he guards jealously, because his reputation,
job and income depend on it. He won't share knowledge easily. Criticising
his knowledge is experienced as criticising his person.
scientists depend on other people's knowledge: not being able to
know or investigate everything, scientists rely on the knowledge of other
scientists, particularly those outside their own discipline. They are reluctant
to talk about fields outside their discipline. They are therefore very
sensitive to consensus, reason why new ideas are accepted slowly and also
why many scientists can be totally wrong, collectively (as in global warming).
scientists hold the moral high ground: by pursuing TRUTH, scientists
stand morally above the masses, which makes them believe that also their
OPINIONS are superior, which in itself is unscientific. But it is true
that opinions based on scientific facts, are preferable to those that don't.
knowledge is not freely available: contrary to popular belief, scientific
knowledge is not freely available. It is jealously guarded by journal publishers
who earn high incomes from it. Their expensive journals are found in universities
and institutions, but these are not freely available to the public. Yet
the public paid for it! As institutions become more 'business-minded' within
the freemarket ideology, they are now also jealously guarding their 'intellectual
property'. In all, a very unhealthy situation and a serious obstruction.
peer review can obstruct new thinking: peer review of publications
attempts to assure their quality and objectiveness, but in doing so, it
also assures that findings support existing thinking. For the acceptance
of an article, the credentials of the institution and those of the scientists
are more important than the issues raised in the publication, hence truly
new thinking is not recognised, and is in fact discouraged. History is
replete with examples of ignored advances in science, because these often
came from unconventional and independent thinkers.
It is tragic that the public pays for all
the costs of publishing scientific journals, including their profit margins,
yet the information they contain does not become public property through
free access.Floor Anthoni
The litany of scientific obstruction is not complete without also showing
the public and political mind-set affecting it.
The hidden types of science All knowledge can be divided into four main types which I have labelled
with K for Know and D for Dontknow:
KK: the stuff we Know that we Know. This is the awesome amount of
knowledge acquired by Main Stream Science and technology, a victory of
rationality and the scientific method. It has created the world we live
in, and its problems. But remember that much of it is still false.
KD: the stuff we Know that we Don't know. This is the driver behind
current research and research still on hold because the technology to do
it is not yet available.
DK: the stuff we Don't know that we Know. This is probably a small
area, where outsiders play an important role as the knowledge is there
but nobody realised that it could be joined up into a coherent theory.
Darwin and his theory of evolution is a classical example. Did he do experiments?
DD: the stuff we Don't know that we Don't know. This is probably
a large area of knowledge that is too weird to be foreseen, but it also
contains the gaps in the patchwork quilt of knowledge, waiting for an outsider
to discover. The overlooked science fits here. An example of this
is our discovery of an overlooked ecological factor in the sea, and its
many implications (www.seafriends.org.nz/dda/index.htm)
If this classification is true for all knowledge, it is also true for each
of us as an individual. We live and act mainly by the KK type of knowledge,
paying no or little attention to the three other types. Worse still, much
of our KK knowledge is still wrong, for the very reason that we believe
too easily in any convenient explanation, often being unable to verify
new information, and thus often relying on the authority of others. When
such knowledge is proved wrong, we react emotionally. This part of our
animal origins has been noted by ancient sages like Socrates and Plato.
They knew that all truth (or belief proved wrong) passes through denial
to ridicule to violent resistance, eventually to
Hence the importance of outsiders and skeptics to science. Outsiders
have no axe to grind, no position to defend, have no institutional blindness,
and they are more open to other explanations. They do not mix solely with
like-minded people, and often have the time to approach problems from a
wide angle, spanning several scientific disciplines. By comparison, a successful
scientist needs to spend all his time on his experiments, publishing and
keeping uptodate with the latest in his narrow field of expertise. Obviously
the one supplements the other, and both are needed. Seescience
needs skeptics on this website.
When shown their views to be false, far
from recognising the problem, people react by intensifying the fervour
of their beliefs.