Monday, January 18, 2016

Breaking Away from our Intuition

Christopher Pannucci and Edwin Wilkins define bias in their paper “Identifying and Avoiding Bias in Research” as “any tendency which prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question”. In a research setting, the initial hypothesis would be the tendency. Bias plays a role in research when the ones conducting it are tempted to direct it toward their hypothesis and not in the direction their results lead them. Dan Ariely also addresses this problem in more general terms when, while recounting his hospitalization, he tells the audience that the nurse confesses to not trying any other way of taking off his bandages other than the way she had always done it because, in Ariely’s words, “it’s very hard to believe that your intuition is wrong”. This is exactly what researchers go through when they see their results tell a different story than the one they initially envisioned. Ariely explains how his nurse thought it was difficult to do an experiment to try and check whether she was wrong. This can relate to perhaps one of the most difficult moments a researcher can encounter, where he or she is in a crossroad and has to decide whether to follow a new track in accordance with the results obtained or whether to continue with experiments in hopes of finding some results that could prove the initial statement. This is where some scientists start to “cheat a little”, as Ariely would say, and start tweaking the data, so it can better tell the story they want their research to tell. By playing around with the results, the researcher feels as though he’s only doing a low degree of cheating, if he can tell he's cheating at all, so he’s comfortable with it and with himself. However, in any degree of cheating there is always the possibility of getting caught. You run the risk of people not believing neither in your work nor in the work of other researchers; people start doubting every research paper they read and this makes it hard for other researchers to get their points across. Jeremy Berg states this point in “The reliability of scientific research” when he says “[…] we must keep in mind that the credibility of scientific results and the scientific process is one of the most valuable assets that we, as members of the scientific community, have”. It would be a shame if we all lost that credibility.

No comments:

Post a Comment