Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Research, replication and value

There are strong pressures on writers and researchers to be exciting, to be profitable, to find new and useful ideas.  There are standards as to what passes as a new fact.  In physical sciences, there is a great deal that is unknown.  Finding a new truth is difficult but finding a new truth that is deeply useful is quite a bit more difficult.  

Research, as a deliberate, paid occupation, is a relatively new sort of work anywhere.  If you look at the history of universities, you find most of them focused on the past, on the wisdom of those who lived in earlier times.  What is called "the rise of science" has taken centuries.  What is called the scientific method has taken several centuries.  Modern laboratories use approaches to experimentation and analysis that were unknown a few years ago.  

It is often useful to distinguish research involving people and that not involving people.  So, we have the physical sciences and the social sciences where we can include medicine, psychiatry and psychology and other human-related subjects like sociology, political science and archaeology.  Since we can often make money or get votes or donations when we uncover new and useful insights into people, we may find that scrutiny is lighter and the urge for speed and exciting language is greater when discussing the people sciences and their work.  

Over time, certain experiments and the published results explaining what was done and what was concluded gain fame.  Just the other day, a friend mentioned Milgram's experiment.  He assumed that the others in the group were familiar with an experiment where people were told to increase what was said to be painful to another person on the basis of the authority of a person in a white coat.

Sometimes, I run into a mention of Zimbardo's prison experiment.

In some cases, experiments which have been taken to show this or that about people have failed to replicate.  More recent researchers have tried to duplicate the experiments but failed to get the same result that has influenced instruction and activity for years.  The general problem of taking some well-known and influential experiment and trying it again without getting the famous textbook result is often called the current "replication crisis".  

The Wikipedia has a good article on our discovery that some of the truths we have uncovered about people may not be correct;

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