26 May 2008

Because your elders and betters say so...

Dr C has talents in many directions ... one of the things that always draws me to a person. One of them, which I've noted before, is the ability to draw an unnoticed nugget from within what someone has said and build a new post around it ... rather like (or so I have thought) the trick of building a hybrid or chimera embryo.

Yesterday (Life is a series of little steps) he took a pinch of cytoplasm from my post on education in virtual environments, twizzled in a soupçon of DNA from a systems biology reference, and produced (voilà!) a fascinating piece on inorganic chemistry, cancer inhibitors, and the phenomenon of science as religious dogma.

In the process, he also demonstrated en passant another of his talents (he has a much better detailed mastery of mathematics than I do of chemistry) so I'll just enjoy his substantive points rather than try to pick them up and run with them. The tendency of hierarchies to control the questions which are asked rather than deal with answers which may result, however, is an important one in every area of life.

In one of his short stories (I regret that I no longer remember the title and other such details necessary for proper referencing), Isaac Asimov had a scientist who discovered that he could levitate. In trying to get this phenomenon investigated, the protagonist found that science refused to examine something which it had classified as impossible, regardless of the evidence. Dr C's experience is the mirror image of that: a refusal to reexamine something which has been classified as true.

The very essence of science is to hold all things provisional, legitimate subjects for enquiry. Reality, sadly, often falls short of that ideal. Science too often takes the religious approach, holding that established authority shall not be questioned. As Dr C wryly says, "Unfortunately, questioning orthodoxy in science doesn't get you tenure." I have no idea whether or not "the reaction of sulfhydryl containing molecules is the key to the mechanism of action of cisplatinum" ... but I do know that every question refused because unorthodox is a blow to science.

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