Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why, Why, Tell 'em That It's Human Nature

Humans—the creators of the seven world wonders and the source of global warming. We are a perfectly imperfect whether we know it or not and, as humans, scientists are not immune to this fact. The simple human nature of scientists arises in many forms. For example, human error appears during the experiment implementation process, while human desire makes its appearance as we all long to make a discovery that would positively impact our field. Lastly, our natural survival instincts and competitive air settles in as we feel the pressure to produce quality data in order to secure funding.
Basic human behavior is simple to display in the sciences, but how do we ensure the line between human nature and scientific ethics remains bold and defined? Neil DeGrasse Tyson stated in a short Q&A response that scientists are ”trained to minimize the role of our bias in our experiments and interpretations” but in all actuality, it’s impossible to completely remove ourselves from the equation. 

To help with this issue, Tyson points out the fact that the scientific process has a verification step built into it in which our peers hold us accountable to our duty to remain objective and driven by the facts. Lucky us to have a system that is ready to catch us if we fall, but what price is there to pay if we choose this option? What happens to us scientists if we choose to rely on the scientific process to keep us honest or if our human traits of error, desire, competition, and survival lead us to the wrong “truth” enabling us to see what we want to see in our experimental setup or data? Oh, well, only the possibility of discounting our future work in the eyes of our colleagues… clearly there’s got to be a better way than allowing “the system” to catch and discipline us. The answer sounds very Disney-ish: it all starts with you.

We as HUMAN scientists are able to police ourselves into remaining objective in the name of science. Our first steps of doing this lies in the selection of a testable (and refutable) hypothesis and the ethical choice to note experimental conditions or results that might make the resulting data invalid. While our bias is inherent to us as human beings, luckily we  have ourselves and “the system” to keep us in line.

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