Review: 'Through the Shadowlands’ describes Julie Rehmeyer's ME/CFS Odyssey
I should note at the outset that this review is based on an audio version of the galleys and the epilogue from the finished work. Julie Rehmeyer sent me the final version as a PDF, but for some reason my text to voice software (Kurzweil) had issues with it. I understand that it is...
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Is Science becoming too hard even for scientists?

Discussion in 'General ME/CFS Discussion' started by charles shepherd, Sep 5, 2015.

  1. charles shepherd

    charles shepherd Senior Member

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  2. Gijs

    Gijs Senior Member

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    I don't agree. Science isn't so hard at all. Even ME-patiënts can understand it. Science these days are more like religion. I think Richard Dawkins wouldn't agree :)
     
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  3. charles shepherd

    charles shepherd Senior Member

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    I was agreeing with the way in which some of my academic and research colleagues now put their findings into complex language and jargon which non experts in a particular field often have difficulty in following or understanding

    Consequently, large numbers of research papers (including those covering ME/CFS), remain largely unread - except by those who have a telescopic interest into a particular -ology or sub -ology

    If you visit a medical school library, which I do quite often, and look through back issues of very specialist journals they are often in pristine condition - suggesting that very few people have even looked at them

    I know there has been a big shift to e-reading, and some of the important stuff does get read and understood (eg the Rituximab trail papers)

    But many other papers have a very poor readership
     
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  4. JaimeS

    JaimeS Senior Member

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    I think one has to be pretty motivated to tease out the meaning. And it's fair to say that the vast majority of papers out there are 'borrowing' from other papers heavily, often their own, so that their work is a figurative trail of breadcrumbs away from the first thing they ever published. If they start each paper off by explaining what has gone on before, they could seriously just write a book, instead.

    ;)

    -J
     
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  5. JaimeS

    JaimeS Senior Member

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    Just read the paper, and Dawkins's point seemed to be that the writing was drivel, not that the writing was challenging. Like, you can't even tell what they're trying to say because they aren't saying anything. Like the example they gave was the guy who said that after eight years all the subjects were older.

    ORLY.

    I think the title of the article is an attention-grabber, not necessarily reflecting the content of the article.

    That makes it a self-demonstrating article, how meta!

    -J
     
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  6. unto

    unto Senior Member

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    hi, I think that the truth is simple and science that feeds on truth must be simple too .....
    Today maybe science does not believe in herself and this often needs to complicate the reality.
    They try to explain too many things with stress, with psychology, with pollution, as they had once cared for with exorcisms ..... as well as a few decades ago explained the gastric ulcer, blamed on many factors: stress, smoking, fatty foods
    genetics, etc. Then came someone who ate a colony of Helicobacter pylori
    and they understood that the causes before mentioned were only marginal factors ...
    good night
     
  7. Stretched

    Stretched Senior Member

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    Isn’t Science the organization of otherwise chaos along an ever growing permissable grid?

    Some pursue such organization close to what has already been assimilated while
    others tackle larger stacks of tamed chaos and synthesize new proportions.

    Then there are the few seekers who reach way out and grab a handful of what might be but isn’t necessarily - yet. Maybe theirs is science, maybe not… .
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2015
  8. Snowdrop

    Snowdrop Rebel without a biscuit

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    I really don't think explanations for things are as simple as you have suggested. For example the tipping point for H pylori bacteria turning into an ulcer probably differs for different people depending on a great many factors. I'm not science literate but I look around me and it seems to me that there is an interplay and a back and forth of reinforcement (or not) of many conditions that lead to a system working one way or another.

    Chaos and complexity theory would suggest that your analysis wouldn't hold.

    I do agree though with the original point (I think) that papers are being written with the idea of obscuring the fact that they are reporting not much of anything or on something on the level of minutiae (possibly important or not) in which case the jargon is impenetrable.
    I take this by extension from papers in philosophy (which I once upon a time read long ago when my brain was not a cabbage).
     
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  9. Stretched

    Stretched Senior Member

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    <Chaos and complexity theory would suggest that your analysis wouldn't hold.>

    Why not, if the ‘grid’ (above) is within limits imposed by probability, as in particle physics (with which I presume you know about, given your 'Feynman' tag line?:))

    I don't know that I would want to debate nor defend my impromptu statement too vigorously for the same reasons to which you alluded - my brain is also wilted, as much from CFS as from years gone by, and particularly those years with CFS!:nervous:

    Wouldn't you agree it apropos here that pursuing concepts (based on knowledge) the delight rather than the rigors of syllogistic proofs? (which is what I observe are the conditions of the thread.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2015
  10. Eeyore

    Eeyore Senior Member

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    I disagree. I am a layperson and I read both those journals regularly without much difficulty. Sure, some stuff is new, and you might have to look things up. It's not intended that everyone will read every article. You can rapidly figure out which are interesting to you - usually from the title, and if not that, from the abstract. Most of the time I will just skim a few key parts to get the main idea. Depending on how relevant or interesting it is to the question at hand, I'll dig deeper. Often it involves doing some work to learn something I didn't know before, but I consider that to be time well spent. I rarely spend much time on materials and methods. Most of the time I'm interested in results/discussion if the abstract is interesting, and if really interesting, the introduction can help give me context and a big picture.

    Old copies are unread because no one reads physical journals anymore. Pretty soon there won't even be physical journals. Most medical professionals, if they want to consult the literature, will go right to pubmed and search for what they want. Relevance to a particular question at hand is usually more of a determinant of what one is reading than is the importance of the paper itself, although obviously doctors do need to stay on top of developments in their scope of practice.

    There is a real value to precision in the written word (and spoken word) in science. Very subtle details can make a very big difference. We are talking about complex ideas. I don't think it's that professionals cannot understand them - I think it's just that complex ideas take time. The amount of information in the world today is growing exponentially. No one can know it all - or even know enough to make it easy to read any paper. It all depends on the level of understanding you need for your application. A surface understanding is usually very quick and easy, while a deep understanding requires motivation and effort.

    People who don't really understand things do a lot of hand waving and speak in vague terms. (This includes me when I don't feel sufficiently motivated to look up the details of some pathway or mechanism, but remember the basic idea.) When you really understand it, you can use details. It is the reader's job to understand what details he/she does or does not need.

    It's harder than it used to be for me to hold complex information in my head all at the same time - and it definitely requires more conscious effort, and I take more breaks. However, with sufficient persistence, time, and effort, it is still possible. I understand papers now better than when I got sick, because back then, I only had a rudimentary knowledge of the basic science. The more time you spend reading, the easier it gets.
     
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  11. Valentijn

    Valentijn Senior Member

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    It looks like another method of spinning results, to get them published and sound authoritative. Unnecessary grammatical and methodological complexity is probably being added to deliberately obscure the weaknesses of the paper. And if the researchers do a "good" job of spinning it, insecure reviewers might fear sounding ignorant if they confess that they do not understand the paper well enough to evaluate the contents of it.

    Solution: print out said paper, roll it up, and smack the relevant researchers on the nose with it. Repeat until they submit something intelligible.
     
  12. A.B.

    A.B. Senior Member

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    Add "unnecessary complexity in statistical analysis". Another way of spinning results, while reducing the number of potential critics.
     
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  13. Seanko

    Seanko Senior Member

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    Like Stephen Pinker's phrase "'professionalism narcissism' :)

    On a lesser scale you get it on Phoenix Rising with people posting unintelligible papers claiming they understand them.

    When I lived in Spain, I taught English to a medical lecturer. My duties were to talk mostly about football & basketball, some light grammar, pronunciation & vocabulary and turning his speeches for conferences into intelligible English.
     
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  14. Valentijn

    Valentijn Senior Member

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    If you believe that you see that happening, perhaps you should ask them to explain it to you. It is likely to be more productive (though perhaps less satisfying) than making broad generalizations.

    Papers are also frequently posted precisely because they look interesting but we don't really understand them. Then we can engage in discussion to get a better understanding.
     
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  15. user9876

    user9876 Senior Member

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    I think one of the problems is science is becoming increasingly specialised with scientific papers normally written for those with a common background in the specialist area. This can make it really hard for others to pick up the work.

    Sometimes when specialisms overlap in techniques they use they can have very different language. But this is not new. Years ago when I worked on signal processing I did some work with some geophysicists and they have very different terminology for similar problems and techniques.
     
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  16. Woolie

    Woolie Senior Member

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    In the media, why have things always gotta be getting worse in order to sell a story!

    I personally think, at least in my field, average writing quality has improved over the past 30 years. Writing is less pompous, less dense. There is more attention to using graphics to clarify complex ideas and methods.

    Sure, stuff is more complex now, we know more in each subfield, so to stay on top of it, there's ever greater specialisation. So definitely, papers aren't as widely readable. That is, to me, a natural consequnce of exponential knowledge growth (compare now to the time of Da Vinci, he could pretty much be on top of the entire collected knowledge of science and work on it all!).

    Hard to judge too on hard copies. I read hundreds of articles each year, but I haven't leafed through a hard copy journal since, well, 2006. The closest I've got is a scanned interloan.
     
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  17. user9876

    user9876 Senior Member

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    I see people posting papers I think are unintelligible all the time but they do seem to understand them and have sensible discussions. They are unintelligible to me be because I have very little knowledge of biology and certainly not complex processes in the human body. I suspect this is true for many people here.

    Some people of course such as Simon and Jo Edwards do a very good job of summarizing the papers and the underlying processes for those of us without the background knowledge to understand.
     
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  18. Snow Leopard

    Snow Leopard Hibernating

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    With a surplus of eager graduates, I'd have to say no, jargon is not the central issue.
     
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  19. Hip

    Hip Senior Member

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    In the area of theoretical physics, the optimum age for a physicist always used to be around 27. That age was the time of peak performance and peak output of groundbreaking new work. After that age, the performance drops, presumably because the mind loses some agility, creativity and perhaps also loses some driving ambition.

    So theoretical physics was a sort of "rock and roll" career: think fast and die young.

    However, in recent decades all that has changed, and now theoretical physicists are making advances in their fields even in late middle age. The reason for this change is that physics has become so complex that it now takes many decades of study and experience before you get sufficient knowledge and understanding under you belt, and thus get to the frontier of knowledge.

    In a way that's quite nice, because it means a physicist can now pace themselves over many decades, and produce advances in their field throughout their life, not just in early career.



    In a recent documentary I was watching about new pharmaceutical drug discovery, one industry expert was saying that nearly all the advances now come where the boundaries of two disciplines overlap.

    The idea is that within a given discipline, the area is well explored and the knowledge has been well exploited. However, at the boundaries between two fields there is still uncharted territory that, when waded into, often leads to fruitful new understanding, which within the pharmaceutical industry may lead to the development of a new drug.

    This expert said that in his pharmaceutical research lab, they adopted an office plan such that researchers from different but overlapping disciplines were deliberately seated next to each other; in that way, you help create an exploration of the boundaries between disciplines just through daily office chatter across your desk.
     
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  20. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

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    The science we figured out early was simple. The most complex thing we are studying is the human brain. Its so complex that most of what we say about it is still probably wrong, despite oodles of research. We keep learning new things.

    Take a look at a systems biology chart for human biochemistry if you do not believe me, or the human genome, and realize that despite decades of research we are still only just starting. Its not just volumes of data, its how everything interacts with many other things, a gigantic spaghetti pile of things tied to other things, and constantly shifting. Each piece is relatively simple, how they combine isn't.

    Or just look at the marvel that is a living plant or animal, or the biosphere. Underlying principles are probably simple, but the beauty of the universe comes from the complex way things can be combined.
     

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