Objectivity is a fallacy

NICHOLAS HARRISON

Science searches for the ‘truths’ in the universe, empirical evidence leads to theories which are assessed by a scientist’s peers and opposition alike. In an academic environment where publishing in certain journals can lead to a permanent post in lectureship is objectivity a fallacy?

True objectivism in science is a major difficulty. Many historical figures have commented on the ways in which a practising scientist can blind themselves to their ‘idols’. A source of this difficulty is the human desire to succeed. In an environment where results speak for themselves, where one paper can lead to a lifelong career in research, it is easy to see why the desire to succeed can corrupt experimentation. This does not mean results lead to a conclusion which is subjectively driven; the results themselves could be checked in a way that leads to a desired result. A 20th century physicist Robert Millikan was awarded a Nobel Prize for a massively controversial experiment. Millikan fiddled the results accepting only 58 drops and discarding 115 drops, his mistake was not in discarding drops, but in saying that none were omitted. Naturally this led to an incorrect result and for many years physicist struggled to understand why an electrons charge seemed too high. Millikan’s blunder serves as a massive how-not-to-guide to scientist today.

A major difficulty of objectivism is the progressive nature of science. When a theory proposed by specialists in the field is accepted the specialists name is what is important and this catalyses the theories acceptance. If these findings are not falsified then they will authenticate results of other scientists. Recently images have been produced that apparently show hydrogen bonds, this result has been cited by other researchers authenticating their findings. The results produced were merely artefacts produced by the tip. Even though peer review is designed to counteract subjectivism, it can however lead false authentication. Discoveries which have shaken the beliefs of mankind and have led to paradigm shifts have been made by those that truly question what they believe, it is not the data that is the problem, it is the way we think about the universe. These people are those that truly ask ‘what is science?’ and wholeheartedly accept their short comings as fickle beings of emotion.

So what can we do? Should scientists strive for a robotic, emotionless assessment of data? The competitive nature of the system lends itself to productivity and cooperation but can also be a cause for misconduct. Importantly we are not robots, and we should embrace this. Scientist’s imagination and passion to find the truths is the true driving force of discovery, but we need to be wary because our emotions and prejudices while they can be strengths, they can also be a great weakness.

Objectivity is a fallacy

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