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The Price of Scientific objectivity

 

The Price of Scientific
Objectivity

by Roman Oleh Yaworsky. Copyright © 2014

Preface: The series of articles on Astrology and Science are a rebuttal to the ignorant treatment of astrology on some science sites such as  universetoday.com. and are not meant to demean the true contributions that modern science has made.

 

In the Psychology of Science, Abraham Maslow wrote about the process of objectification that occurs almost out of necessity in the course of becoming a medical doctor.

For a medical student in residency, the experience in the direction of objectivity is not unlike boot-camp. The resident is forced to make decisions for patients, some of them life and death. At some point, to survive, the medical student has to find that place within themselves to trust their diagnosis, their choice of treatment and the consequences, and to make peace with the process.

Maslow, in his day, saw many doctors choosing to create boundaries and to objectify their relationship with their patients as a means of survival. It meant to some extent to cross over into a world view dictated by an objectified vision of medicine, a vision that could withstand the daily uncertainties of the practice.

 

the medical student in their residency year faces a challgne of faith in their profession

 

Surgery as part of a medical student's internship. After receiving their MD degree, medical students then enter into one or more years of residency in a hospital, where they are confronted with the practical life and death decisions that force them to trust in their professional training and the objectivity that ensues from it.

 

It is interesting to compare this process with that of becoming a scientist. There are a number of parallels.

My own experience occurred in my first undergraduate physics lab. We were asked to perform some fundamental experiments relating time and motion. And in those days, we used a stop watch. Since we were also taking a class in statistics, one of the things we did, was to assess the variance and error distribution that occurred from using a stop watch, since all of our results depended on the accuracy of the timing. From our results we derived the basic laws of motion, and we were able to establish the statistical confidence levels of our results. The interesting thing was, that we all received a D grade for that lab report, because it was deemed that we were not objective enough by including the statistical analysis!

Just as a medical student has to take a leap of faith in applying the art of medicine, we were being asked to leap towards an objectified, ‘scientific’ view of the world, and part of that objectification was to understand that the human side of the experiment, the experimenter themselves, and the variables that might result had to be ignored if we were to pass this course.

 

The Post Graduate Thesis

Candidates that write their masters or PhD thesis are bound not to describe their own personal process of how they came to do the actual research and form the conclusions of their work. In fact, instead of an honest chronology or truthful assessment of their process, most candidates, with the help of their supervisor, assemble a thesis that reconstructs an objectified time line.

It is a time line that in a sense is derived backwards, from the results towards the choices and directions that would rationally support a linear path towards those results. It leaves out those choices or considerations that no longer support that rational time line, and no doubt fills in some that are missing for continuity. That objectification is found in words and phrases such as: “this behavior led to the conclusion that”, “the literature suggested”, “the approach was taken”, “it was determined”, “an experimental series was constructed”, “the objective was”, “the results indicted that”.

In most cases, the thesis does not reflect what happened, how the decisions were made or what they were based on. It only delivers the ‘naked truth’.

This objectification is kind of like the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. In 1837, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a children’s story about two weavers that convinced an emperor that they had fashioned a new suit for him that was invisible only to incompetent and silly people, unfit for their positions. Of course, even the emperor would not admit that he did not see the clothes, and so he went out in public, until a child shouted out that he was naked.

In many cases it may have been the luck of getting a hint from someone else. Perhaps their supervisor suggested what they should do. Especially these days, it would be even likely that the whole course of the thesis was laid out, because the graduate student’s work was to fulfill a niche that the supervisor needed for his or her own work.

Graduate students learn that they have to make a choice, if they are to graduate, and if they have not learned and accepted the deception as an undergraduate, they must walk that road if they are to get their graduate degree. The thesis is the proof that they can be trusted to be part of an “objective” community.

What is the Price of False Objectivity? For medicine, much of the price was paid in human terms. It put the medical profession at the top of alcohol abuse for example. Especially in the 20th century, physicians in their attempts to be 'objective' in their diagnosis tended to disproportionately ignore the symptoms of their female patients as it was assumed they were 'exaggerating’ and less ‘objective’ than the males.

For science, at least in the West, some of that human price is showing up in decreasing interest in perusing science careers. Science in search of objectivity, has isolated itself behind a wall created by the differentiation of its own language and concepts. It is a wall that not only separates it from the rest of the community, but also from one branch of science to another.  

References:

The Psychology of Science: A Reconaissance, by Abraham H. Maslow, New York, Harper & Row, 1969

Image based on the article : Is There Really a Mars Effect  by Michel Gauquilin,  published in Above & Below: Journal of Astrological Studies, Issue 11, Fall, pp. 4-7, (1988).

 

 



The Price for Science

There is also a price paid by science itself. There is no true objectivity. What is often touted as objectivity is simply conformance to the status quo or the politically appropriate belief system of the day. There is the hard reality of where research funds come from, and who gets their share.

The age of the lone scientist hidden in his or her laboratory, making the next great leap forward is largely a myth. The reality for most scientists is that they work as part of a team. Their research papers are vetted by peer review. Their research is judged by the very same people that are competing for the same grants and research funds.

Under this system, it is far more likely that a mediocre paper is approved quickly with minor changes for style, while an important paper is delayed, sometimes by a year or two. Why? Because of self interest. There is competition for the grant money. The delay also gives the reviewer a chance to drop what they are doing and establish their own foothold in the new and about to be important direction before the paper is published so that they can claim some of the turf. This process dilutes the funds available for original research.

Under this system, research that is not consistent with the status quo, that breaks the mold, or introduces a new paradigm shift, tends to face much more significant opposition and political reaction.

When New Research is Too New

In 1988, Nobel Laureate and French immunologist, Jacques Benveniste submitted a paper to the prestigious publication Nature, concerning evidence that water has memory. In part because it would support some of the claims made by practitioners of Bach Flower remedies, essentially a system of healing that is considered blatantly unscientific, the paper was handled as if it were poison. Instead of having it reviewed in the normal process, an investigative team was sent to the lab of Benveniste. His laboratory and research team were heavily scrutinized, even to the point of sending a magician to seemingly debunk the results. The results were eventually published, but alongside a retraction.

It may be interesting to point out that water is a very polar molecule, and in liquid form, tends to exist as clusters of molecules that are approximately 50 molecules wide. It is the movement of these clusters against each other that we experience as water in its liquid form. Because water is such a polar molecule, it tends to act like a little magnet, and within the cluster, it behaves like a pail of magnets. If you were to push your hand into a pail of smooth magnets and  withdraw your hand, then the cluster of magnets would maintain that impression. Since the shape of enzymes and proteins is determined largely by their three-dimensional shape, the possibility that water may mimic some of those properties is a very important discovery.

Nevertheless, the publication Nature did everything possible to wash their hands of publishing this research. They would rather attack the credibility of a Nobel laureate than face loss of readership or prestige. This scenario has been repeated many times with other publications and research.

It is interesting to note that Brian Josephson, another Nobel Laureate published his own research that went on public record to support Benveniste's claims. Nevertheless, and unfortunately, this path of research and the potential knowledge that it may have revealed has been marginalized.

To put things into perspective, much of the resistance about how water behaves came from looking at how individual molecules interact and extrapolating this into larger structures. Individually, water molecules can break relationships with their neighbor in the order of picseconds.

On the other hand we know little of how water molecules behave in the larger clusters found naturally, whether more stable groupings may occur forming resonance structures and the contribution of minute levels of impurities to re-stabilize orientations or resonant tendencies.

Perhaps even more poignant is the very real possibility of entanglement and quantum interactions at the individual level. As of this writing, quantum entanglement is being demonstrated not only at the atomic level but at increasingly larger molecular levels and with more complex structures, including dynamic systems such as cells.

Nearly three decades after Benveniste's original claims that water may have memory, research along these lines seems to be heading towards at least a partial exoneration of his work.

When Science Backs Up Astrology

The pressure to conform is enormous, and the penalties to apply scientific methods towards anything outside of a narrow accepted turf are severe exclusion, ridicule and personal attacks. Of course one of those unaccepted turfs for scientists is astrology, and researchers such as Michel Gauquelin and others have suffered the consequences. 

 

 

Image based on Is There Really a Mars Effect by Michel Gauquilin published in 1988 in the Journal of Astrological Studies. The red line shows the distribution of mars in athletes relative to the cardinal directions, the blue dashed line shows the expected value if by chance.

 

These results gave statistical evidence that showed a high correlation for astrology, supporting some of its claims, He is perhaps best known for the Mars effect that showed a high correlation between planetary positions in the Houses at the time of birth and  professions. That correlation was especially strong with Mars and athletes. Needless to say, the response from some components of the scientific community extended to denial, misrepresentation, psuedoskeptism and vicious personal attacks.
 

The Lesson for Astrology

The lesson for astrology is that there will never be enough evidence to convince the 'religious' side of science that astrology is 'scientific'.

That attempt is more than futile, for two important reasons: For some members of the scientific community, astrology is anathema, and there will never be enough evidence to change that stance.

More importantly, it risks pulling astrology away from its core and true offering, as both a spiritual and mundane science that connects things by relationship, not just by causal relationships, but also non-causal associations. In its essence, it is a bridge between our inner spiritual experience and out outward co-creation and experience of the world around us.

Trying to become more 'scientific' or to be accepted by science, astrology faces the same fate as many other systems of knowledge and healing. Too many have chosen the path of conformity that results in cutting the connection of their inner science. Separated from its core, it may find itself scavenged for what is deemed useful and eventually face being absorbed.

I suggest a wiser route. Astrology needs to re-examine its own origin and validity from the place of sprit. Eventually, it is science itself that will change, by removing its self imposed limits and boundaries that exclude spiritual science. and at that point in time, it will be more willing to accept astrology in its fuller offering. Quantum effects and the consequences of entanglement are already pointing in that direction.