throughout my 20+ year career in biology I was repeatedly reminded of what I call "the protein bias" where DNA and RNA are treated as boring molecules that just exist to support proteins. I was an RNA researcher for a while and it's an absolutely fascinating molecule and over the years people have built up more and more evidence that RNA influences biology in deep ways that aren't fully appreciated.
It's funny about the magnesium in the article- getting the Mg concentration right when working with delicate nucleic acids is absolutely key to good results.
Personally, I think it’s best if scientists lean towards the conservative/skepticism side, to filter out scams or bad science. But there should be a balance between that and allowing new ideas to surface. Do you think it’s taken too far?
I think the opposite - hold the highest standards for the quality of the data and it's interpretation, but we need to allow the wildest of hypotheses to be tested without judgement. Conservatism at the hypothesis step is the biggest reason science today sucks if you ask me. I'll say the job of being conservative belongs to engineers, and is one of the main differentiators between science and engineering.
The most amazing discoveries even in the recent times often come from scientists testing some of the wildest hypothesis - a rotation student in Andrew Fire's lab thinking he's injecting RNA into the gonad of a worm when he was stupidly injecting them into its mouth, or when a young Yamanaka had no clue basically and did a random experiment in his new lab adding a bunch of genes to cells to see if they do something.
I've sat through sessions seeing scientists laughed at for their wild hypotheses, by what I can only call as old, over-congratulated high school valedictorians who are only actually good at playing politics and writing grants, with a self professed love of science and discovering things that's as genuine as a Republican saying he is all for facts.
Let the crazies risk their lives on the wildest hypotheses. Fund them as long as they are systematic and methodical in their efforts to prove them. That's how you make science take the leaps it needs to be truly transformative for civilization. That's how I intend to do science and I learned clearly that I don't belong in academia. I have no intention of even swinging the science bat if I'm not at least trying to shoot for the moon!
Exactly Right! I think this mindset is fundamental to advancing Science. One of the reasons i feel that "doing" Science has fallen out of favour with the public is because the "Researchers" are not being daring and brave enough to "dream up" far fetched hypotheses and in general not pushing the envelope. Most are just regular "salaried employees" with no great dreams/ambitions.
UBI can free scientists from grants, but democratization of hypotheses will become populistization.
Also, engineering leads science at time: this works but we don't know why.
How much effort do you think we should put into testing homeopathy?
At the same time, labs and researchers and equipment cost real money. There are opportunity costs. There some good reasons to not spend money on wild conjectures.
Yes, it's taken too far. Multiple times in RNA biology people have made legitimate discoveries and were required to implement heroic methods to make their case. The first two I think of are Tom Cech whose grad student demonstrated that RNA can be an enzyme with extremely reliable evidence but they had to put in a few years of work to actually get the community to agree. Similarly, Harry Noller had very strong evidence the heart of the ribosome was an RNA machine and it took 40 years and a crystal structure before the community finally accepted it. A similar case happened with DNA with the Avery experiment which was as good a proof as you'll ever get in biology, but it wasn't until Hershey Chase that the general community overcame the skepticism that DNA could be the molecule of heredity.
Scientists should be skeptics of their own conservatism. Much "conservatism" is in the name of defending egos.
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” - Max Plank
It'd be nice to not wait a generation.
Right, there are plenty of such examples from physics. I was wondering if biology is the same. But it actually sounds worse.
I think computer science is doing much better nowadays. The “NoSQL” movement for example was particularly impressive, it’s something that wouldn’t fly in most other sciences.
Indeed. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions lays this out well
Great, got literally anything which is making a testable prediction to advance physics? No? Then come back when you do.
Physics isn't advancing because everything is degenerate to the standard model - any bold new idea still fails to predict an accessible experimental regime which would rule out alternatives.
From the article:
>Other researchers “rolled their eyes in horror” when he presented his theory, Jacob recalled in his memoir, The Statue Within. “With a little encouragement, my audience would have jeered and left,” he wrote.
Skepticism and contempt are distinct and disparate feelings.
That is interesting, I have had the exact opposite experience. People saying that genes and their regulatory circuits are all that matter and that proteins are boring byproducts of that. I guess it is a matter of what sub-community you find yourself in.
Proteins are practical.
I have to ask what the hell is wrong with them - even if considering proteins as an end all you would at least consider DNA and RNA peripherally useful to look into to figure out the process of their creation and constraints.
To go with a clumsy metaphor living wheels and axle style of locomotion cannot be plausibly grown and moved by known organic structures - it would have to use it. Knowing more what can be produced would help figure out what cannot and commonalities. The reaction doesn't make any sense even for protein folding obsessived.
I'm doing my PhD on topics related to mRNA and took a seminar class with Meselson in college. Really crazy how quickly our field has gone from obscure to mainstream this last year.
> Researchers looking for mRNA were ridiculed by colleagues
Sounds like textbook Structure of Scientific Revolutions?
Yup. I honestly believe The Structure of Scientific Revolutions should be required reading
this is the aspect of science that is not talked about in the media and among "science, fuck yeah" "big bang theory" bros. science is full of dogma, politics and downright dirtiness. people who do research are often showmen more than scientists, because the system selects for people who can sleazily promote their own research to win grants, or people who just hop onto whatever bandwagon is popular. and the worst part is that people who are blowing on the kindling of the next big breakthrough are not only discarded by the scientific establishment, they are ridiculed viciously. anyone who says we should "listen to science" needs to open a history book. dogma, dogma, dogma. its the most insidious parasite in the modern western world and has happily escaped completely the confines of its old religious home.
> anyone who says we should "listen to science" needs to open a history book. dogma, dogma, dogma
You're describing humans.
What makes science novel is its mechanism for challenging and disproving blowhards without tipping into anarchy. That makes dogmatic incumbents' positions less stable while, remarkably, maintaining the integrity of the system as a whole.
Science doesn't (or shouldn't) claim to negate our worst instincts. Simply to uniquely check them through its method.
This is subtly one of my favorite comments in the history of Hacker News, and I've read a lot of good ones. We're at this weird historical moment where we are enjoying the many rewards of Enlightenment philosophy, but we've forgotten almost all of the stuff they wrote about the weaknesses of human nature. Everyone and their brother is throwing mud at the notions of reason and logic thanks to postmodernism, pointing out their hypocrisies and failures, ignoring the fact that that's the default. Of course human beings are contradictory and full of self-interested behavior and reasoning. They knew that in ancient Greece better than we do! The point is that we have demonstrated we can improve on the baseline condition, not that men have suddenly become angels. It's a false standard and enormously damaging.
I'm not sure I would consider the implementation of the methods in today's fields of science to be "without tipping into anarchy", but credit is certainly due to the platonic ideal of the scientific methods themselves.
Science is a very carefully defined field that includes little or no controls on the behavior of its members, as long as the behaviors that are controlled appear to be adhered to. We've ended up with Retraction Watch, collusion between journal editors and paper publishers, and endemic #metoo issues throughout the field. I would never voluntarily enter a science field that depends on publishing papers for advancement today, because by definition these concerns are excluded from our current answers to 'what is required to science?'.
As to the scientific methods they often practice in service of those fields, yes, and it's admirable how well those have persisted. We also have a massive reproducibility crisis across all human psych and social fields, so while the theoretical methods do earn credit for not being "anarchy", their implementations clearly aren't being held to the standards that we're praising here today.
What makes science great is the scientific method. Far too many people seem to forget it.
Coming up with a hypothesis and then finding some evidence isn’t science any more than alchemy is a form of science. Neither is cherry picking data and then retroactively creating a hypothesis (There was a big scandal surrounding this a few years ago). Even if you are right you need strong evidence of reproducibility for scientific claims to have any credibility. You need extremely strong reproducibility if you expect to make claims that may have implications for the health and safety of others.
Many great examples, for psychology the Freudian Cabal vs Jung and other formulations, the bullying Bohr did to Heisenberg in the interpretation of quantum mechanics, and you'll read many accounts from Haidt and Pinker about the social sciences.
The consensus that materializes due to the various pressures at the time might not always be the best for advancement, and at worst it may take decades to overcome.
It feels to me that in some fields after WWII the movement towards logical/numeric theories vs ad hoc behavioral/historical ones lead to actual regressions.
Example from the 1940's through the 1970's it was believed that facial expressions were _learned_ behavior. The guys that proved that facial expressions are innate endured a lot of blowback and ridicule.
> because the system selects for people who can sleazily promote their own research to win grants
It's quite common in most fields for success to go to those who are able to sell themselves well.
You'd think people might've cottoned on by now that selling "yourself" (or, more likely, your product) is a skill, that it can be learnt, and it should be learnt.
If there's sleaze involved or dirty tricks that's not right, but if you've a good idea or product and you can't persuade someone to back you then I'm not sure why the complaint should be against those who can, especially with allegedly inferior ones.
The people using the dishonest tactics will tend to win out, same reason almost everyone in sports uses steroids. Being dishonest is just far, far too advantageous, which is why the "selling yourself" game is disgusting to many.
The good news is that the retail direct investor revolution is changing this: people who are working in any technology field realized that they have a huge edge over general business analysts/hedge funds, and can often pick stocks better than just putting all money to IBM / Chevron / Goldman.
Combined with SPACS, ARK Invest, tech angel investors, sci-hub, Wikipedia, researchers with great ideas don't need to go to boring old conservative investors anymore.
Of course this may not help basic research, but the biotech infrastructure is getting much better.
^This comment right here. This is what it was like to live through 1999.
I had to upvote you, even if you make fun of me, it's so funny :)
Maybe you're right. But the stocks are very far from overvalued as long as the bond bubble doesn't pop (which depends on the FED policy).
Also I remember listening to Ark's interview with Moderna's CEO last April when nobody knew about that company.
Love the 90 years old have the interest to lead cello. It is this interest in spite of obstacle that get us to here.
However still one has to know technology itself is neutral. Now we can produce a drug that can disappear after its effect, that can patch the system without the main source code involved ...
Is it dangerous? Who stop some outside western governance to make and try getting their piggy stronger ... then accidentally
This makes for a good story but shouldn’t be surprising. You don’t have to go far to find people willing to ridicule a new idea in science. Most of the time it’s “why are you focusing on that area of research? It’s a dead end”.
It makes for a good story for the non-scientist, but as a scientist this is how it works. Until you can prove your theory it’s just a theory and it’s the job of other scientists to poke holes in it.
I just want to thank the person who posted the Biontech / Friedman / RNA herpes vaccine story here on HN in October ‘19. Got in on BNTX @ 15.
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