The Structure of Future Scientific Revolutions
Science is in its infancy. It will evolve, change, and grow until it achieves a more mature form. To date, the human experience suffers from an underdeveloped understanding of the nature and scope of the scientific enterprise. Those who suffer from this misunderstanding are scientists themselves most of all. Popular culture imagines science to operate at a superficial level of significance, with technocratic objectives, outlandish methods, and esoteric membership rolls. Scientists strive for this image sometimes, and so perpetuate an unwelcoming stereotype, despite the fact that they are privileged to be engaged in a noble enterprise that is the heritage of the entire human race. Above all, one would anticipate that scientists would know its worth and potential and lead the way in democratizing the generation, application, and diffusion of knowledge to encompass all people.
By restricting membership in a scientific community to an elite circle of like-minded personalities, who share a particular culture, upbringing, and socio-economic status the scope of what questions emerge to scientific investigation is narrowly restricted. This hierarchical structure is maintained by the use of elaborate accreditation systems (such as MD, PhD, and the like) and exclusive membership policies in professional societies. The structure is reinforced by a disciplined academic hierarchy, not unlike those of a church order or ecclesiastic organization, like the Vatican or Caliphate. Though their subject matter differs, their use of dogma and ritual to perpetuate it, does not. As a result only a tiny minority pose the problems to be researched for the benefit of humanity. These questions arise from the interests of a miniature subset of the collective brain power available to humankind, and in the process skew the representation of humanity’s fundamental interests.
The foregoing analysis explains the structural impediments preventing the scientific enterprise from attaining its full stature as the driving force and bulwark of human welfare. This will change in the future. Statistical power is born of the sample size of the population being studied. By restricting research subjects to the interests, purview, and aspirations of an elite, the questions really needing answers, the life-and-death circumstance facing humanity have been relegated out of the research agenda. Research topics of infectious disease, sanitation and fresh water, agriculture and irrigation, public health policy, and vaccinations are some of the most important issues in medical science today, affecting millions.
Statistical power in defining specific problems facing the largest number of humans in the most severe way should be the ideal. Therein should science find its priorities defined. Instead decision-making power lies in the hands of individuals at the top of grant-lending and fund allocating agencies, or in the personal vantage point of chief editors of peer-reviewed journals. The number of people polled in the decision as to what questions deserve investigation in this way never exceeds a handful of individuals, and these are often in competition with each other or finally coerced by market or governmental forces that displace their decision-making even further from what matters, the well-being of the majority. This structural arrangement is inadequate to address complex and wide-sweeping needs.
Whether this scientific structure has arisen due to unregulated expedients accumulating inadvertently over time to define who sits at the decision-table or if it is the direct result of corrupt forces on regulatory mechanisms like the cultural analogue of corporate money on politics, the fact of the matter is that scientific goals are driven in large part by popular consumer values for technologically enhanced entertainment and consumer-satisfying commodities like iPad’s and video games. No doubt these are useful to a subset of individuals who seek to have their work efficiency enhanced or their children pre-occupied and off the streets. But what cannot be denied is the selfishness of this position, and the motivations that lie at the bottom of this type of science. What is needed is conscious effort to engage in discourse regarding issues of scientific reform and encourage ongoing dialogue on the nature and structure of the premises underlying the agenda of science and its priorities.
Science cannot reform its own structure from within, because it responds to market pressures and consumer demand. Economics has run rampant determining western middle classes destiny politically, economically, and scientifically. An external influence is necessary to prescribe in part to science its core values and give it direction. Science is the machine, it must be given a directive. In the absence of clear public interest, obscure private interests co-opt the machine and employ it to selfish ends. While allowing science to recommend its own opinions of what remains possible and tactically feasible, an understanding that values must be prescribed from an external source, and cannot be left to emerge naturally from within the field itself is necessary. Dysregulation always implies corporate co-optation as a rule — as evidenced by politics, finance, globalization, and now science. The parasite is familiar, the host is diverse.
In the process of structural revolution, the democratization of science will require us to insulate funding agencies and influential scientists from financial forces in the industry, academic pressures from the university, or market pressures as healthcare becomes increasingly monetized. The democratization of science will mean that it is determined by universal participation in a survey of human needs. The generation of knowledge regarding research priorities bubbles up in response to the appropriate system of training grassroots initiatives to engage laborers of all kinds. Systems for grass-roots training will allow the masses to build consensus on the most pressing demands of their respective industries, synthesize response in the form of experimental interventions, and coordinate solutions in segments before extrapolating to global practice. Only in this way will the enterprise of science become informed by the diverse needs of the real humankind.
A process of increasing democratization in which fewer and fewer individuals call the shots for what is on the list of priorities and an ever-increasing number of unskilled laborers engage in dialogue that allows the organic assimilation of the experience of millions into an objective representation of what concerns humankind. These should then come to dominate public discourse, resource earmarking, priority setting in scientific agendas, and the daily concern of scientists. This is the transformation that so crucially beckons science into the 21st century.
In an age when social constructs are being torn down all around us, religious dogmas uprooted, social conventions systematically dismantled, gender roles questioned and experimented with, rules of personal conduct and language utterly recreated, and the very tempo of life on the internet re-envisioned — is it possible to constrain what constitutes the most powerful force for progressive civilization behind a veil of anachronistic and outmoded stereotypes of self-righteous elderly males donning lab coats and scheming over a slew of chemistry beakers and petri dishes, erlenmeyer flasks and bunsen burners? Is this image even tenable in any age of internet traffic and lightning media, of the democratization of skills, of the open-sourcing of software, and the free-flow of knowledge ? Why have we allowed stereotypes to restrict the prospects obvious to a dreaming and visionary world that can see the potential application of science to the betterment of the whole of humankind with participants numbering in the millions from every walk of life and every cultural persuasion? Such a prospect ought to invoke in the mind of an objective observer the promise of human longevity wrought by universal participation in the task of researching and discovering solutions to global impasse’s, with completely open source modes of disseminating research conducted and methods employed.
Ownership assumed across a representative spectrum of the human species would allow the generation of sufficient data to converge on statistically adamantine findings — discoveries the like of which humanity could never before have found, and which humanity could never before have felt so confident would benefit all equally. We all await the rise of science, the last great democracy.