In this TEDtalk, Prof. Zuckerman will make you radically reconsider the idea of the internet being an equalizing, democratic place. He talks about how the media we normally access comes from a very narrow demographic. There is a lot to unpack from this video, but I want to think about it a little bit as it pertains to open-sourced scientific research. The big problem with crowdsourced scientific research is authority, and in the context of this post, we’ll consider how alternative research frameworks are going to make us have to rethink scientific authority.
Alternative Research Frameworks?
What do I mean by “alternative research frameworks?” I mean that when we talk about “science” in the western world, we are talking about a certain epistemology. I hate to say it, but scientific knowledge is predicated by a belief in the scientific method as a means for uncovering truth. This belief, to me, is more valid than a belief in the authority of something like the bible. I am much more likely to put findings reported in the scientific journal ‘Nature’ (which just open-sourced all it's research) in the truth bin than I am to put findings from ‘Journal of Modern Creationist.’ However, there are grey areas in between, which will become more increasingly important as a wider range of epistemological frameworks collaborate to solve universal problems.
Let me give you an example. My girlfriend believes that marijuana cures cancer. She firmly believes this, and everyday she hits me with a new article reporting on new anecdotal evidence of people who are being cured from stage IV cancer with marijuana. My sister and her husband, both Columbia Med School doctors are not so quick to believe marijuana’s potential. “It’s anecdotal evidence” they say, by which they mean that the evidence does not rigorously adhere to a set of formalities that the western scientific establishment imposes on new studies that are to be considered “science.” “There is no scientific evidence to support those claims,” they would say, implying that they are not ready to put anecdotal accounts--no matter how heartwarming or laudatory--into the truth bin.
With crowdsourced scientific research, we will reconsider scientific authority (a little bit, I hope)
But what if a million people report the same anecdotal findings? And aren’t there a million anecdotal cases of scientists falsifying data or just downright making the wrong conclusion? Of course the tried and true method of controlling an experiment and treating hypotheses with skepticism is much more credible than what Joe Shmoe raves about on the internet, but I think our ideas of scientific truth are going to be more and more defined reproducibility than reason. That is, in the future I think mass verification is going to be as important as those rigorous traditional forms of verificatio, and lot's of people reporting a going-on is going to have the same epistemological value as one important researcher finding the same thing
I am going to look like a total jackass here, talking about something I know nothing about, but I proceed: Chinese medicine is based more on herbal treatments and prevention than western medicine. I remember my father, also a doctor, being very concerned when I needed medical treatment for a tooth infection while we were traveling in China. “You don’t know what the hell is in this crap,” he said, skeptically brewing some tea for me.
You could say the same about Western medical treatments though. Who knows what kind of chemicals are still in that speciously innocuous-looking white pill?
I’m not going to take either side. What I will say is that crowdsourcing of scientific research will cause a big stir in what we consider scientific authority. Reputable sources will still be reputable sources, but I think that we will start giving more of a chance to occult studies or studies that lie outside the scope of what western scientists normally consider reasonable, and I think that wider scope will be a massive boon for universal scientific capacity--Back to the video now:--IF collaboration between in crowdsourced scientific research actually occurs. IF there is a framework that allows different kinds of scientific methodology to be accepted. I thank Prof. Zuckerman for bringing new perspective to it. Without watching this Ted talk, I never would have had this thought.