From examining the outright fraud committed by researchers that casts doubt over many of the academic studies that we read or hear about in the news, let’s now turn our attention to some issues with the values underpinning the scientific method.
This is the point where we need to examine the foundations of our knowledge in the modern world, and for that we need to first consider the role of the scientific method. Ever since (most educated) people cast off superstition and religion and instead adopted science as the main method for interpreting and understanding the world, we have relied on the scientific method, involving experimentation, analysis, and logical inference and deduction, to provide us with the knowledge that underpins everything we claim to know about the world.
Although this has certainly led to massive progress in human knowledge, advancing our understanding of almost everything, there are still many doubts as to what we can say with certainty are ‘facts’ in our knowledge. Many of these gaps in our knowledge will no doubt be filled in over time through more experiments and studies.
However, it is the continual questioning and overturning of these facts which underpins the scientific method, and this makes it so difficult to know for sure what we can really grasp as our own knowledge to use as a foundation for our understanding of the world.
This variability in itself is one of the great strengths of the scientific method – as opposed to just guessing or believing based on blind faith alone – in that it is an ongoing re-evaluation of whether what we know is accurate, updating and correcting concepts as new evidence emerges.
The trouble results from what seems to be an innate human desire to have a degree of dependability in our knowledge so that we can understand the world from a relatively stable position, without having to continually adjust our perspectives to accommodate shifting models or debunked theories.
This is certainly why the unchanging dogma of religion and superstition are attractive to so many, because they offer a ready-made fictional explanation for the world that is unrelated to any evidence and independent of any facts, that believers can just put their blind faith in, and then ignore or dismiss anything that contradicts what their religion has told them to believe.
On the other hand, when new technology or techniques are developed, or when new evidence is uncovered through the application of the scientific method, theories and concepts that were once seen as ‘fact’ need to be adjusted or even completely dismissed.
Researchers’ attempts to trace the origins of our own species, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the subsequent discoveries of the remains of various shared ancestors of humans, along with rapid advances in genomics, are all great examples of this. Archaeologists, historians and biologists, not to mention average citizens, have all struggled to keep pace as new evidence has come to light, and technology has given us ever-more-powerful tools to try to piece together where our origins truly lie.
Unfortunately, as this article on recent scandals in the fields related to paleo-genomics makes quite clear, even though some massive adjustments have needed to be made in the past few decades to interpret the data and findings produced from new discoveries, the scientific method, despite its continued claims of total objectivity, relies substantially on significant levels of subjectivity.
This subjectivity, which pervades almost every level of research from the setting of research objectives and the allocation of funding, to the various interpretations of studies’ results and decisions about whether or not a study should even be published, severely undermines the credibility of the researchers, their theories, their findings and even their data.
The inflated egos and immature, underhand machinations of researchers vying for their fame and fortune, who will go to any length to prove their hypotheses and get their names published, discredit what is supposed to be an open, collaborative, rational, and objective pursuit of knowledge.
Is Ancient DNA Research Revealing New Truths — or Falling Into Old Trap