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Rethinking science in the context of the reproducibility crisis.

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10.06.2021

In 2015 a crisis of reproducibility left the scientific community in a state of disorientation very similar to the one health officials found themselves during COVID in pre-vaccine times. This article inspired by my own experience in the lab and the mentioned reproducibility crisis was originally posted in 2018 and provides a framework to understand science anomalies pointing to a convergence of science and Jewish sources.

Rethinking Science in the context of the reproducibility crisis

In light of the current reproducibility crisis, this article proposes a different way to look at what scientific contributions represent. It proposes that the requirement for coherence in biological scientific publications masks the ambiguity and indetermination inherent to the practice of science. Recognition of that ambiguity is important as it allows for the coexistence of contrasting perspectives, and the development of mutually complementary models. As the publication process tends to filter out what does not fit into a linear logical narrative, it builds an artificial self-constructed sense of certainty. Instead, scientific publications should be assumed as useful particular ways of structuring order allowing for a multiplicity of viewpoints consistent with experimental observation.

“The Aleph, the only place on earth where all places are — seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending.”

“To signify the godhead, one Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds; Alanus de Insulis, of a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference, is nowhere; Ezekiel, of a four-faced angel who at one and the same time moves east and west, north and south.”

“I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon — the unimaginable universe.” Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph (1)

In recent years a crisis of reproducibility has put the scientific community in a state of perplexity. In response to this crisis, much emphasis has been put in the performance of research with rigor. Certainly, there are cases of research conducted in a sloppy manner, and cases of misconduct, but even if one could clear out the scientific literature of those cases there would still be an intrinsic problem with the way science is practiced, how the scientific system is organized, and the limitation of science to deal with ambiguity. The root of the problem should be looked at not in what is published but in what it is not.

One of the pillars on which experimental science stands on is the idea that hypotheses are either true or false, that the scientific method can discern the truthfulness of any hypothesis, and if wrong, correct itself over time. On the basis of that assumption, two seemingly incompatible hypotheses can not be true at the same time. One has to be true and the other false and that assumption sets the basis for the whole ethical system that governs the practice of science.

In reality science reductionist approach makes researchers operate on the basis of partial information that reveal partial trues, sometimes contradictory, reflection of a higher truth

In some instances, these partial trues can be reconciled with new experimental information leading to a unifying model, but in other cases, they can not. Imagine you are a scientist trying to answer the following question: “Can I park my car in the 3rd floor of Boston Logan Airport’s terminal B Garage tonight at 9 PM?”. To answer the question you do the following experiment: you drive your car to the sited place at 9 PM and when you get through the ramp to the third floor you look to your right-hand side and see a red light sign that says “Full”. You conclude that it is not possible to park the car in the said place and time and publish accordingly. Now a second scientist comes behind you and performs a different experiment. Instead of looking to the right, looks to the left and sees an empty parking spot. He or she arrives to the opposite conclusion, that it is possible to park the car at the said place and time. An argument is established, the second scientist probably experiencing a self-imposed or community ( i.e. reviewers) imposed higher barrier to publish. Imagine now a third scientist that being more thoughtful performed both experiments. In light of the contradicting data the scientist will find the results non-conclusive and will not publish them. Ambiguity has been masked.

Eventually evaluating some other piece of information, i.e in the cultural context of where the garage is situated, what has more weight a sign saying you can not park or the physical availability of an empty parking spot, a decision is made to park the car or continue to the fourth floor,........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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