"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
-- Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible (KJV)

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Outdated Memes

Outdated Memes

As a Stanford University Law School graduate, the present author was pleased to read in the Scientific American at Science Research Needs an Overhaul, that John P. A. Ioannidis has co-founded a new center at Stanford University called METRICS (Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford) to deal with the costly problem that much mainstream research is wasted.

Ioannidis cites to The Lancet, which avers this applies even to 85% of medical research, a "hard" science.

So how bad are things in the soft sciences?

Ioannidis writes that the METRICS center:
"[W]ill seek to study research practices and how these can be optimized. It will examine the best means of designing research protocols and agendas to ensure that the results are not dead ends but rather that they pave a path forward. The center will do so by exploring what are the best ways to make scientific investigation more reliable and efficient."
We enthusiastically applaud this development.

We have been confronted for years by gullible, uninformed, and opinionated people in and out of science proclaiming the near infallibility of mainstream ideas and research methods and we really have little patience for it.

Having taught research ourselves at the university level, we know from experience that exactly the opposite is true: most of what is researched in science and is peer-review published as a result is a costly waste of time and often leads science in the wrong directions. It serves people's vanities.

One main reason for these follies of "scientific research", as we have written time and time again, is that science in the past has been predominantly "authority-based", i.e. it is not "what" but rather "who" determines the truth, whereas we think that "evidence-based" research must be given priority.

Outdated memes must be abandoned. That is our quest.

Meme is a term coined by Richard Dawkins, emeritus Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in England.

Memes are by his definition: "replicated ideas, symbols or practices".

We view memes as describing the state of mainstream science at any given time. Indeed, memes explain many of the aberrations of science.

A meme is defined at the Wikipedia as:
"[A]n idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.... The word meme was coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins ... as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given [in The Selfish Gene] included melodies, catch-phrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches."
In our view, what is normally called a "school of thought" in academia is more accurately defined as being a "meme", because "thought" often has nothing to do with it.

Ideas -- whether right or wrong -- become entrenched in various disciplines of science and propagate themselves as if they had a life of their own.

The same is true for politics and religion.
Truth is not at all at issue.
Unfounded belief is everything.

As written at the Wikipedia in Memetics:
"Memetics is a theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution.... Proponents describe memetics as an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer.... As with genetics, particularly under a Dawkinsian interpretation, a meme's success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host."
In other words, and contrary to the notion that "truth" is the objective in science or elsewhere, people thus actually adhere to a given idea, school of thought, cultural practice or religion because the adherent of a particular meme perceives it as providing the holder of that meme with advantages.

That essential understanding helps to explain many of the backward ideas that are maintained in science. Presumably "rational" people are holding fast to long-outdated ideas and ways of looking at things, often at odds with the available probative evidence.

We look to the probative evidence. Science must look forward.

The next posting in this series of postings is:

The Great Avebury Challenge - Introducing the Avebury Stones of Avebury Henge and Circle