Scientifically Challenged (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD.)
I feel like talking so this is going to be long. Choose the time.
In many instances the defenders of scientific orthodoxy acted with unscientific rigidity in the face of the evidence. Faraday, Roentgen, Edison, and even the Wright Brothers were thought to be charlatans by their contemporaries.
All those personalities suffered from what I would say it could be called in today’s time “scientifically challenged”. Not because of the lack of scientific knowledge as it might seem. But instead, because their patterns of thought made them to be considered scientifically challenged to perform science by the standards defined by the scientific community at the time.
Taking the broad view of the way science is actually done, it has become a matter of discussion the forces at work in the marginalization of unorthodox research, and makes you wonder if there is not something fundamentally wrong with the way that science is currently being practised.
Challenging the establishment is a situation which is applied in interviews to judge a candidate for a research position.
It is a frequent practise to ask candidates in a job interview on how do they feel about challenging the establishment. However, I would be curious about the answer given by the same institutions if they were asked on how do they feel about defending and giving support to those facing a situation which challenges the establishment.
What happens when neither the candidate nor the institution is up to the challenge? Would it be this situation a Groucho Marx parody? “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
“I refuse to take on board someone whom is afraid to challenge the establishment” but “I refuse to have in my team someone whom is not afraid of challenging the establishment”.
Challenging the establishment should not be seen as an attitude adopted for the sake of it.
In scientific research, challenging the establishment should represent the capacity of presenting arguments and approaches, ways of thinking and perspectives, able to enforce the exercise of re-establishing, re-assessing and re-considering what it has become a “reality by dogma”, justified only by the absence of any “accepted” refusal questioning what it has been established.
How many discoveries and research postures have been kept away from implementation over time just by the lack of proper instrumentation or advances in conceptual frameworks, only accessible in today’s time?
Research working towards challenging the scientific establishment should actually be embraced by Institutions under the most valuable standards as the pinnacle of achievement. If the input generated from such studies are able to challenge the establishment opening new lines of thought, it means that it has the potential to become part of the history of human evolution.
That can only be achieved by offering physical and thought driven space and support, understanding also the systemic process of try and fail under multidisciplinary interaction and open criticism.
If you want intelligent children you must give them a place where to express themselves and interact with the world. The same applies for more “mature” curious minds. At the end of the day, the credentials on both cases are at stake, those from the institution and the researcher.
Couple of years ago I was in an international symposium where there was a meeting aimed to discuss the strategic future which should be adopted to further develop the state of knowledge in the scientific field and its integration within social demands.
A senior scientist said that “young researchers” should get more involved in the research proposals in order to incorporate “innovative approaches.”
Now, under my point of view, there are at least two concepts which need to be cautiously and consciously addressed:
- The concept of “proposing” new, revolutionary or original ideas does not need to be restricted to “youth”. The capacity to look at old matters in new ways or even to explore completely new concepts is completely independent from age and directly dependent on aptitude.
- In other hand, and the most relevant, the concept of “adopting” new, revolutionary or original, “ideas” or, “people” with innovative aptitude. Those with access to resources are usually the senior members in a community. They are the ones deciding how those resources are used and where are they invested. So, it does not matter so much having people holding new ideas or aptitudes if there is no support willing to listen their proposals and/or adopt them to explore their potential.
Having an innovative aptitude towards applying or even considering the validity of established concepts, hierarchies and systematic processes is not about challenging personal values. It is about growing in mental maturity by accepting that what has been valid for some time, it might need to be reconsidered in order to keep moving forward, reassessing the reasons behind the persistence of old problems as well as facing the existence of new pressures.
An innovative aptitude can be acquired and fomented when it is enhanced and embraced by the influence exerted in the process of learning. Then, with age, you “might” learn to teach yourself to become aware of the “establishment” we all create within our own patterns of thought, and to identify it in others.
Dr. Pollack is a professor in the bio-engineering department of the University of Washington. In a video accessible in youtube Professor Gerald Pollack describes the reasons why in recent decades the scientific enterprise has produced many technological revolutions but few conceptual revolutions.
Here I also leave to you a link to a very interesting article by Leo M. Chalupa Neurobiologist; Vice President of Research, George Washington University, in which he discusses a different interpretation of what it might be “scientifically challenged”:
“The Growing Gap Between The Scientific Elite And The Vast “Scientifically Challenged” Majority.” Link
Skills, Career Prospects and Science Demands.
Nowadays it has been built such an aura around defining everything with statistics and numbers that biological systems are increasingly expected to be physiologically described by numbers and their behaviour to follow mathematical formulas and models.
Is like trying to make a mathematical formulation of how nice or ugly will it be your son, how is it going to behave and, as part of the same model, predict numerically how becoming a parent is going to affect your life…
Biology is about identifying synergies, well, at least that is the conclusion from my experience as Biologist. We can built data sets of any kind. We can even learn how to name everything around us. But, at the end of the day, names are useful to build communication. Without having something to communicate, without understanding the meaning behind its existence, it becomes like knowing the names of every capital of a nation around the globe and not having ever travelled abroad.
Our environment, where ever we look at, is built upon non-biotic components which sustain and interact with the behaviour of the biotic component. That goes from the availability of money, food, water, space and temperature affecting the behaviour of the people around you, to the chemicals, water, space and temperature affecting the behaviour of the plants and animals around us.
It is not about if you can name it or measure it, it is about where are the limits of understanding for it to exist and where are the limitations applying to restrict the improvement on such understanding. And that requires challenging the establishment which is settling the bases of the knowledge that either we have converted in dogmas or discarded in the absence of proof.
Our Knowledge. Made by the new news on the News.
The news, those events which are defined by being “new”, unprecedented or rare. They are all over around us. In all type of media and in scientific publications. They make “the news” because they are… new.
So how should we call those events for which their significance lies on being repeatedly on the news? Are those still News? When do they become something else?
Does the repetition of an event or series of them create a new normality?
In that case, how should we call such transition? … Normalization …?
Time ago, a friend of mine brought to me the attention over the difference between “frequent” and “normal”.
We might see events happening around us, from social behaviour, political “scenarios” or weather events, which become so frequent that they become located in a blurred position, since, by their increase in frequency, they almost feel like the “new normal”. They are on the news, again, and again, so their presence in the news is so “frequent” that they are part of the “normal” display. And, at the same time, if an event does not shows in the news of any media, their existence is out of the description of the reality that we all believe to be part of.
Such ambiguity has created concepts we all are familiar with, but over which we lack control subconsciously. Consciously we will recognise that we know about them but we might not be aware of how much impact it has over our judgement and behaviour.
Sure most of you might be familiar with the following question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
You can find answers offered to this question in many shapes and forms. Many, if not all, look at the literal meaning of the words and apply physics to make sense of it.
But lets try again:
“If an “idea” falls in “a forest” and “no one” is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
And now, in “media” terms:
“If an idea goes into the media and no one pays attention to it, does it makes any difference?”
There are those having ideas worthy to be considered. There are those with access to platforms to make their voice heard. But, not always becomes easy to find those with ideas worthy to be considered “and” access to platforms to make them be noticed.
In this times of open broadcasting , and in every field of knowledge, it is not so important how vast is the amount of information being offered, or the person behind it claiming to hold a shiny CV.
Nowadays, in the era of available information and fast paced digital communication, the most important limitations in increasing the state of knowledge are the absence of “sensorial communication” (involves the use of senses and logical understanding beyond statistical significance) and “critical thinking”.
Those elements are being tamed making us to become comfortably numb. We have the freedom to discuss what we are told of being worthy to be discussed. And many times, we are offered the opportunity to even scream our lungs out defending our positions, which we, unconsciously, have chosen from the ones being offered.
Something is missing in the stage of growth on our global “developed” community. Something I would not know how to call it. And that is not information… … …
Or maybe I know, and that missing is something over which I have increasingly been talking about in the recent years in relation with food. That is “rawness”, the absence of being put throughout an industrial processing.
In towns, every type of food we buy has undergone some type of processing, affecting taste, texture and nutritional composition (the least).
Well, I guess, what I miss about the information I receive from all types of media is “rawness”. The lack of processing and the taste of honesty.
As I said in the title, I might be “scientifically challenged” to accept the “frequent” as the “normal“. I like too understand what I feed to my brain and that challenge some establishments.
But I rather prefer one person honestly wrong than a manipulated truth.