Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I gotcher "peer review" right here!

Heh.  From a pretty interesting science blog post that's worth your time:
Journals have a weird objection to publishing “negative” results. We call something a “negative” result when a hypothesis doesn’t turn out to be true. So therefore you have to come up with a positive, strong and exciting story from your research on a regular basis. I would argue that the negative results might be more useful as it would mean other scientists wouldn’t go barking up the wrong tree studying the same thing. But I don’t run the place.
This is probably the single biggest failure in science (as practiced) today.  One of the most important experiments of all time had a negative result.  Could that even be published in the scientific journals today?  This may be the major reason why the pace of scientific discovery is slowing down:

One difference is that all of the earlier discoveries mentioned, 1890-1900, were made in Europe, and 100 years later the honours were shared between Europe, the USA and Japan. That only emphasises the much wider pool of talent that exists, which now includes also many more outstanding women. Yet there is no obvious shortage of available Nobel prizes, 100 years after they were instituted.

Apologists accounting for the relatively poor performance in discoveries per million scientist-years, will tell you that all the easy research has been done. Nowadays, it is said, you need expensive apparatus and large teams of scientists to break new ground. That is the case in some branches of science, but it is offset by the fact that the fancy kit makes life easier, once you have it.

The basic reason why there is no hint of accelerated discovery, despite the explosive growth in the population of researchers, may be that the social system of science has become more skilled at resisting new knowledge and ideas. Indeed, that seems to have become its chief function. Science is no longer a vocation for the dedicated few, as it was in the days of Pasteur and Maxwell, but a career for the many.
It has been said that Religious institutions are a defense mechanisms against religious experiences, which are frequently disruptive to the Religious Establishment.  The analogy to science as practiced by today's Scientific Establishment is sharper than many will likely be comfortable with.  Certainly the Scientific Priesthood does not welcome heretical new ideas any more than the old Religious Priesthood did.

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