Discussion of controversial problems in Cell Physiology

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Hi everyone,

I guess the main point here is that as humans we only have finite resources at our disposal, so a judgment call has to be made regarding their allocation. So studying one topic will come at the expense of something else.

That's my 2c anyway.

Matt
 


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Vladimir Matveev said:
... a reviewer "does not know anything because he knows something". "Too much data, too little brains." ... How it is possible to revaluate some general theory, having so little brains? That is my main idea. That is the result of specialization in science.

Dr. Matveev,

I think I would have to respectfully disagree. Yes, I have seen sloppy peer review and the occasional bad paper that slips through the cracks, but this can be also attributed to academic laziness. I see no evidence that reviewers lack brains, just sometimes they lack the drive to really examine papers.

What is your definition of science? How do you personally view the philosophy, history, and methods of science? Its been my observation that specialization seems to be the progression of the sciences, as we find that the answers to our questions about the world around us lead to more questions. There is a saying here: "the Doctorate knows a whole lot about little bit". I understand; an erosion of general science knowledge comes when you sacrifice a lot of your time specializing to earn that advanced degree.

It seems to me that you are saying that no one tries to come up with new scientific theories or that we take the old theories as gospel. I agree that's not good science. However I see no proof that this is universally the current mindset. I see challenges to established theories in the life sciences often, even if on a larger scale (morphological, anatomical, etc.).

Do you think that more emphasis on science history would help this situation? How would you go about protecting general knowledge?

It may be that specialization is damaging general theoretical knowledge. It could also be that such specialists are guilty of knowledge-hoarding, and refusal to share their discoveries. Academic theft is rampant, as well as the evil of plaigarism. Could it not be that we can have specialization while encouraging the free exchange of ideas? Sure, not everyone will want to do this (I know too well the scourge of academic elitism), but such an exchange might shift the mindset of the life sciences to a cooperative, and allow for a "six degrees of seperation" between old and new theories.

Once again, thanks for your post.

Oh, and Matt? Sadly, those resources are VERY finite...

John
 
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Dear John,

Specialization separates people and consequently dialogue between them becomes almost impossible. In addition even people working in the same field are divided by distinction in their understanding of the same facts. It is one more problem which was not concerned by us yet. A circle of people which can understand each other is narrowing. What science we will have when a space of the circle will be equal to zero? These are difficult questions but someone should set them to try to rescue a science. Yes, new theories appear, but I would like to know why nobody accept them? Because they are erroneous or because nobody is capable to understand them?

Vladimir Matveev
St.Petersburg, Russia
 

cthulhu77

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"Because they are erroneous or because nobody is capable to understand them? "

In many cases, both of these statements are true. In our little world of Cephalogical Science, it is amazing how much mis/disinformation there is floating around...not at all uncommon to see educational texts and programs rife with falsehoods, but accepted by the mainstream. How hard to people like Dr. O'Shea have to work to swim against that tide?
In the field of Herpetology, I am bombarded by idiocy on almost a daily basis, and most often by the so-called "scientific experts" who lack any sort of wide viewpoint that is necessary to see things in a proper perspective...viewing through a microscope mind-eye gives you a lot of detail, but no realistic information.

greg
 

Steve O'Shea

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A rather interesting, philosophical thread!

I cannot speak for physiology, but I do know that general natural history has suffered considerably over the last few decades, and as a consequence Universities are now filling with staff that are either mathematically or genetically inclined (that couldn't differentiate a sponge from an octocoral, an isopod from an amphipod, or any of the many worm-like Phyla, and deal with 'species' [and spend an inordinate amount of time debating species concepts] at itsy-bitsy levels). I am not saying that there is anything wrong with either discipline - just that emphasis has changed from the bigger-picture stuff to this itsy-bitsy super-specialised mentality. The current academic disinterest in general natural history is breeding a new generation of disaffected students (they are not 'ignorant', they have just never been exposed to the intellectual calibre of a previous academic generation, and know no better), all specialising in their itsy-bitsy disciplines.

Once upon a time science was about constructing something, but nowadays it seems to be more about deconstruction (people wanting to take something to pieces, whether it be a theory, a reputation, or DNA). It is probably not surprising that MANY students today are very capable of criticising or reviewing something, but they grind to a halt when asked to construct something (even a sentence) [although this could be attributed to 'modern teaching', where 'x' papers are given out .... come back next week and we'll talk about them]. (Sadly students prefer this approach!)

Vladimir, I completely agree with what you are saying.
 


DHyslop

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Fujisawas Sake said:
Dr. Matveev,

I think I would have to respectfully disagree. Yes, I have seen sloppy peer review and the occasional bad paper that slips through the cracks, but this can be also attributed to academic laziness. I see no evidence that reviewers lack brains, just sometimes they lack the drive to really examine papers.

What is your definition of science? How do you personally view the philosophy, history, and methods of science? Its been my observation that specialization seems to be the progression of the sciences, as we find that the answers to our questions about the world around us lead to more questions. There is a saying here: "the Doctorate knows a whole lot about little bit". I understand; an erosion of general science knowledge comes when you sacrifice a lot of your time specializing to earn that advanced degree.

It seems to me that you are saying that no one tries to come up with new scientific theories or that we take the old theories as gospel. I agree that's not good science. However I see no proof that this is universally the current mindset. I see challenges to established theories in the life sciences often, even if on a larger scale (morphological, anatomical, etc.).

Do you think that more emphasis on science history would help this situation? How would you go about protecting general knowledge?

It may be that specialization is damaging general theoretical knowledge. It could also be that such specialists are guilty of knowledge-hoarding, and refusal to share their discoveries. Academic theft is rampant, as well as the evil of plaigarism. Could it not be that we can have specialization while encouraging the free exchange of ideas? Sure, not everyone will want to do this (I know too well the scourge of academic elitism), but such an exchange might shift the mindset of the life sciences to a cooperative, and allow for a "six degrees of seperation" between old and new theories.

Once again, thanks for your post.

Oh, and Matt? Sadly, those resources are VERY finite...

John


I'm with John on this. The peer review process certainly isn't perfect, but I think its a basic necessity of having an organized scientific system. I've heard that Leigh Van Valen's "Red Queen" paper--comparing extinction rate to taxonomic longevity--had to be submitted a half dozen times before being published. On the other hand, without the peer review system, the scientific culture that allowed the idea to form may not even exist.

As for "overspecialization," I think it is something that we certainly all have observed, but I don't think it is as rampant as often thought. One way this is fought is to have really nasty prelims and qualifying exams for PhD students. Someone I know here at Madison who did his prelims a couple years ago is a good example: he's a sedimentologist, but he had to write for an hour about Sepkoski's three faunas.

Dan
 
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Dr. Matveev,

Thanks for your reply, and I now see your point more clearly. I agree that these issues exist, and its refreshing to see that others see this and are concerned as well.

When I first read your post I was a little worried. I have seen posts like this on other boards where the links are to anti-evolution websites and anti-science boards. I see at lot of posts that read "problem with science", only to find that its some Nietzschian pseudoscientiifc nonesense about their own personal issue with what they mistakenly believe is science. At first, I was worried that you might be one of those and I think I got a little overzealous in my questioning. If so, I apologize.

For us in the U.S., science is becoming increaisngly marginalized and shunned. The rise of pseudoscience and plain-old antiscience is making life bad for natrual historians and their ilk here in the 'States. Makes me a little gun-happy at times; that is, I rise to defend science whenever I see those demons come out of their holes. I've been reading about science for over 25 years now, and science philosophy for about 5 years. It is a subject close to my heart, and something I take seriously.

I still think that the issue is more toward the attitude people show each other in the sciences. Having worked in the education system I can tell you that its very hard. Primary school teachers are underpaid, politically opressed, and marginalized as well. College professors are becoming this nation's pariahs as political pundits spew one hate-filled diatribe after another to undermine public confidence in professors' abilities and knowledge. The media's message is very clear in this society; be rich and dumb. I don't mean to sound like an alarmist, but this is ALREADY HAPPENING. And yes, its truely disheartening.

So, thanks again for your involvement with TONMO, and a belated :welcome: from me!

Oh, and have you ever read any papers on cephalopod neurology? I think you would love the work on how their cranial nerves solve the problem of non-myelination.

Sushi and Sake,

John
 

cthulhu77

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John, Dan, Steve :
Those are some very eloquent paragraphs, and brought much of the confusion to light...well done!

I especially agree with the last bit about sensationalism and cash, look at that weirdo in Colorado who is now on the lecture circuit talking about how "we" (the U.S.) deserved 9/11 !
Good thing I am not within five feet of him, that is my minimum punch and lunge distance...
greg
 
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Fujisawas Sake said:
For us in the U.S., science is becoming increaisngly marginalized and shunned. The rise of pseudoscience and plain-old antiscience is making life bad for natrual historians and their ilk here in the 'States.

My friends call that ignorance-based education.

This thread offers terrific food for thought, the very thing I most enjoyed from science classes.

Melissa
 

Phil

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You know, as someone with admittedly no real science background, and at school and college preferring the arts, history and other humanities, I can actually see a surprising amount of common ground here. I think that a lot of these issues have a multi-disciplinary fall-out, and are not just confined to science.

fujisawas sake said:
For us in the U.S., science is becoming increaingly marginalized and shunned. The rise of pseudoscience and plain-old antiscience is making life bad for natural historians and their ilk here in the 'States'

Well said, John. It is quite disturbing that in the early 21st century there are a number of very vocal people who despite all the scientific information available at their fingertips just bury their heads in the sand. Far too many people seem intent in maintaining a medieval outlook on the universe, and continue to reshape and represent their beliefs in updated ‘glamorous’ forms in order to maintain a foot-hold in an increasingly secular western world. Creation Science, there’s a contradiction in terms! As someone who lives outside of the US, I find it amazing that that these creationists hold such political sway in some states and can actually dictate education policy in others. What is failing here, the presentation of science, or some form of educational inertia within those communities?

Steve O'Shea said:
“Once upon a time science was about constructing something, but nowadays it seems to be more about deconstruction”

Totally agree, certainly at university level, deconstruction of historical literary texts, much as with scientific theory, is seems to be almost more important as the literal content of the texts themselves. I can only go on my personal experiences and it’s not for me to judge whether history graduates tend leave university able to pick apart concepts without a clear understanding of the appropriate historical background, but from pub conversations with some graduates sometimes I do start to wonder….This was nicely summed up by a friend of mine who met his old University history lecturer recently. “You know”, he said, “thirty years ago when I started this job I was lecturing on the history of the steam engine and how they work. These days I have to teach how to deconstruct deconstructions. It’s a load of b***ocks.”

As John mentions, the rise of pseudo-science is everywhere, but it also applies to history; just look at the works of Graham Hancock, the ‘Da Vinci Code’, its numerous Knights Templar ridden-clones and books on conspiracy theories. I suspect they far outsell factual histories based on genuine historical research, not some crackpot author who for a £25,000 book contract somehow unearths the one ‘true’ piece of evidence that will turn Western society on its head overnight. It’s a sad state of affairs when to bring up the subject of the moon landings to any typical group of the general public and 50% genuinely believe the event was hoaxed. I even know a university lecturer with a doctorate in a biological science that maintains this idea!

I’m not sure what is lacking and why this sort of belief is so popular, perhaps ‘real’ history or science is just not interesting enough anymore.

One last point, I'm not sure I could agree with Dr Matveev on his point that:

Vladimir Matveev said:
A circle of people which can understand each other is narrowing. What science we will have when a space of the circle will be equal to zero?

We do have this little invention called the internet these days. The free-flow of ideas and concepts is surely easier now than it has ever been; this very forum is a good example in itself. Good science is available at the touch of a button; the trick is being able to find it.

Phil
 

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