RE: Selection of scientific theories - metascientific experiment

From: Metascience (
Date: Sat May 05 2001 - 08:25:59 BST

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    At 03-05-01, Vincent Campbell wrote:

    >I think you raise interesting questions here, but I'm not so sure of the
    >ethics of your proposed tests of your hypotheses, particularly trying to
    >trick publishers into either publishing joke articles, or into not
    >publishing "good" articles. What would that really show apart from the
    >gullibility of particular journal staff?

    Experimenting with people always involves ethic problems. But sometimes
    it's the only way to gain knowledge. For example, every new medicine is
    tested on humans despite considerable risks, because the gains are higher
    than the costs.

    In psychology, new therapeutic methods are sometimes applied without any
    testing or systematic evaluation. This is certainly worse, in terms of
    ethics, because harmful therapies may be applied routinely when they
    haven't been tested. This was the case with memory recovery therapy.

    There were ethical problems with Sokal's experiment, but he is defending it
    anyway. His fake article has certainly had more impact than any other
    article published in 'Social Text'.

    I am not going to repeat Sokal's joke, because it has already been done
    excellently. I want to do some of the other proposed studies.

    I don't see any ethical problems in submitting a good article to a journal
    and possibly getting it rejected. Neither do I see any problems in sending
    articles to a number of scientists together with a questionnaire.

    >Still, you'd need to have very clear
    >definitions of how you define non-falsifiable and falsifiable research, and
    >I think you presume too much in this regard.

    I need help from experts in philosophy of science. But an experiment could
    still be made which avoids any articles that are borderline or dubious with
    respect to this classification.

    >Also, arguably -
    > <psychological appeal, politics, ideology, funding, tradition,
    > authority, prestige, and sophisticated terminology>
    >all of this can apply to the hard sciences also. To try and argue that
    >they're ok, and everyone else is problematic, and demonstrably so, seems
    >rather specious in fact.

    I am not claiming that the hard sciences are perfect. Probably, no science
    is free of irrelevant influence.

    The high pressure to 'publish or perish' has tempted many scientists to
    fake results.

    Research in medicine and technology is to an increasing degree being
    sponsored by commercial interests, and there have been cases where the
    sponsors attempt to suppres the publication of inconvenient results. Also,
    much of this research is going on inside industrial companies which publish
    very selectively, and mostly in the form of patents.

    There is also the problem that negative findings are seldom published.
    Imagine that twenty scientists are doing each their experiment. They all
    make a statistical test on the results, and by mere chance one of them
    finds a result that lies within the 5% interval of confidence. This result
    gets published as significant, while the 19 negative results don't.

    Thus, there are many mechanisms that may distort science. I just want to
    start my study where I expect the distortion to be highest.

    The purpose of my experiment should be simply to find the selection
    criteria that control the development of a particular research tradition.

    >Of course, the fundamentally interesting point here, is that the methods you
    >are proposing are inherently social scientific ones (e.g. surveys and
    >interviews), and thus in a way will be subject to the same kinds of problems
    >that you want to interrogate.

    Surveys and interviews are perfectly valid scientific methods. I don't want
    to trash the social sciences, I want to improve them.

    M. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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