Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dangerously Stubborn

I stumbled across this article in Slate today, where a leading environmental activist professes he was wrong about opposing genetically modified crops. In and of itself, it's an outstanding, and seemingly courageous thing to do.

I say "seemingly" because, in truth, this is how science should always be. The steadfast adherence to a particularly belief is one of the most dangerous things in science, and one that far too many scientists are guilty of. I understand, I really do. It's difficult to write something and then go back later and say that maybe you were wrong. But the point is, barring truly poor or fraudulent science, studies aren't ever wrong--they just all provide different results. The entire point of the scientific method is to replicate until the preponderance of the evidence suggests a particular hypothesis to be true.

Unfortunately, we live in a scientific world where novelty is valued over replication, regardless of what it means for a particular hypothesis. I do believe we are making some strides, particularly with the advent of journals whose purpose is publish either negative findings, or to publish other things that might not get much interest but are still scientifically sound.

As I have begun to pay more attention to this phenomenon, I've become more determined to not allow myself to fall prey to this pressure. I hope, throughout my career, that I will be able to recognize and admit when I am wrong, and that I will always work towards doing the right things, as a scientist. I probably won't have a very storied career, but at least I'll know I've done well.

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