Salk on Biomedical Investigation

Lesley

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I am reading Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic, by Pamela Weintraub. It is the Osler's Web of Lyme disease. The following quote is applicable to the research on XMRV.

The first part describes the European researchers:

Scientists had to be careful, Salk told me then, lest they impose themselves too aggressively on the process of discovery and confuse their bias with the way things really work. Salk concluded there were two types of biomedical investigation. The first type of experiment sought to prove or disprove a theory or find a discrete, isolated fact. These experiments were designed narrowly, to answer just a single question, yes or no, up or down, black or white. Such experiments, Salk had said, were rote at best and, often, poised to mislead---like sand flowing through sieves at the beach, these studies were set up to discard most of the ambient data and could be manipulated to elicit the very answer the researcher wanted in advance.
The second type is the kind of research that is done by WPI and their collaborators.

The second type of investigation had a more open-ended approach. Instead of simply seeking to bolster or undermine a single discrete issue, these were experiments driven by dialog---"a dialog with nature," Salk had said, "a dialog with the ecosystem, with the genome, with the oceans or the organism or the brain," with all the levels and aspects of life. Because such experiments were designed to explore whole realms rather than answer specific questions, discarding data would be ruinous. Instead, every singe data point, no matter how outrageous or seemingly anomalous, was reqired to complete the tapestry. Each input of information simply engendered another experiment, ad infinitum, enabling the dialog between the scientist and nature to go on.

It was the second type of investigation said Salk, that moved science forward and shifted paradigms of thought.