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The Social Dynamics of the Scientific Community

http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0600591103v1

“We analyzed a very large set of molecular interactions that had been derived automatically from biological texts. We found that published statements, regardless of their verity, tend to interfere with interpretation of the subsequent experiments and, therefore, can act as scientific “microparadigms,” similar to dominant scientific theories.
……
We explicitly modeled both the generation of experimental results and the experimenters’interpretation of their results and found that previously published
statements, regardless of whether they are subsequently shown to be true or false, can have a profound effect on interpretations of further experiments and the probability that a scientific community would converge to a correct conclusion.”

An example scenario:

“A hypothetical chain of collective reasoning. The chain is started by a scientist who performs an experiment hidden from the outside world. The results of the experiment involve some fuzziness, and the chain originator publishes the most likely interpretation given the absence of prior publications. The second, third, and all other scientists who join the chain later, think in the context of the published opinions and can be led to interpret their experimental results differently than would be done in the absence of prior data. The fourth and fifth persons in the chain publish interpretations of their data that would be opposite in the absence of prior publication.”

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3 Responses to The Social Dynamics of the Scientific Community

  1. This is only the beginning. I have always wanted sociologist or phsycologist to study the scientific community. The more the better.

  2. From the article:
    “Our results indicate that…we may have to treat the data as highly dependent-ordered sequences of statements (i.e., chains of collective reasoning) rather than unordered and independent experimental observations.”

    This helps explain the “bandwagon” effect and provides insight into the entrenchment of illogical and unconfirmed dogma like NDE.

    Why not include a “dissenting opinion” right inside *every* peer reviewed publication?

    By allowing, from the beginning, for the possibility that data may be interpreted in alternative ways as more information becomes available, scientific communities might be able more quickly to disrupt faulty chains of “group think”.

    Maverick scientists could even make a name for themselves with reasoned dissent. This could encourage rather than discourage scientists to “speak up” when the hogwash gets too deep.

  3. From the abstract:

    “Furthermore, our computations indicate that our data set can be interpreted in two very different ways (two “alternative universes”): one is an “optimists’ universe” with a very low incidence of false results (90%). Our computations deem highly unlikely any milder intermediate explanation between these two extremes.”

    To me, this sounds like what they’re saying is that unless you’re very optimistic about the reliability of experimental results (in which case, you can assume the vast majority of results reliable), the safer conclusion is that most scientific work (when it comes to biology?) is full of “false results.”

    Hmmmm…..

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