George Johnson has written a very engaging essay in the New York Times this week. It is highly pertinent for any TOK student pondering Science as an area of knowledge or the process of knowledge production itself.
In it Johnson says “Replication, the ability of another lab to reproduce a finding, is the gold standard of science, reassurance that you have discovered something true. But that is getting harder all the time. With the most accessible truths already discovered, what remains are often subtle effects, some so delicate that they can be conjured up only under ideal circumstances, using highly specialized techniques”
He also argues that with the pot of money available for research grants is ever dwindling and that this creates a situation that increases competition between labs, creates fertile ground for confirmation bias and does not provide the necessary funding for the exhaustive evaluation of new scientific findings and peer review.
A great piece of TOK type writing, this piece has a very pithy and creative way of summarising the main points in the conclusion – “Exciting new results will continue to appear. But as the quarry becomes more elusive, the trophies are bound to be fewer and fewer. If a result appears only under the full moon with Venus in retrograde, is it truly an advance in human knowledge?”
See the full New York Times article
‘Challenges in irreproducible research’ from the ‘Nature’ website
“No research paper can ever be considered to be the final word, and the replication and corroboration of research results is key to the scientific process. In studying complex entities, especially animals and human beings, the complexity of the system and of the techniques can all too easily lead to results that seem robust in the lab, and valid to editors and referees of journals, but which do not stand the test of further studies. Nature has published a series of articles about the worrying extent to which research results have been found wanting in this respect. The editors of Nature and the Nature life sciences research journals have also taken substantive steps to put our own houses in order, in improving the transparency and robustness of what we publish. Journals, research laboratories and institutions and funders all have an interest in tackling issues of irreproducibility. We hope that the articles contained in this collection will help”
Read more here