‘This Idea Must Die’ – what scientific theories need to go?

I recently came across this article on the Science News website, which discusses a book being published by John Brockman, founder of the discussion forum Edge.org.

John states that science can only advance via a ‘series of funerals’, and that we should be willing to accept the death of current established scientific facts before new, radical ideas can come about.

Following his idea, he asked scientists to submit essays highlighting where they thought the line had to be drawn in a variety of different research areas in order for new discoveries to flourish. It all sounds very intriguing, with a physicist demanding the end to string theory and an oncologist insisting mice are not human-like enough to warrant continuing tests with them.

Some of the topics are perhaps deliberately controversial, such as one journalist questioning the value of the information gathered from very expensive particle accelerators.

All in all, it makes for a very interesting collection of material, and will no doubt get many a scientific enthusiast will now be considering which of many scientific ideas and principles could do with disappearing for good.

What do you think? What ideas need to die?

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200-word papers – game changing or gimmick?

This post from the Nature News website describes the interesting new science publication The Journal of Brief Ideas – which limits its articles to only 200 words.

The sites owners state that they think there is an ‘inherent inefficiency’ in scientific publishing right now, with the minimum material required for publication being considerably large, and ideas often getting forgotten or pushed to one side in favour of more publishable material. They want to appeal to researchers by offering somewhere for them to receive feedback on their research ideas and gain citable publications which they may not have gotten otherwise.

The publications aren’t peer reviewed, as the site says that would be ‘impractical’ – instead, a post-publication voting system is in place, where readers can rate ideas, meaning the best rise to the top and the worst are ignored.

It’s certainly an interesting idea, and I am keen on the idea of scientific ideas being put out into the public domain, rather than being forgotten forever. However, I’m sceptical of how successful such an endeavor can be. With impact factors ruling publication at the moment, many academics are reluctant to publish anywhere other than the top journals, even if only a 200-word brief idea. Researchers are often keen on holding back golden ideas in the hope of one day cracking into a top journal, and will keep the rest of the scientific community in the dark until they eventually publish.

Right now the Journal of Brief Ideas is still in its infancy, and only time will tell if this sort of radical publication will prove popular. It’s worth keeping an eye on!

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