"Ok everyone, gather round", said a conference organiser to the lecture hall of scientists. "We'd like to end by doing something different today. There is some really high quality science coming from all around the room, but I'd like to open a discussion in to those things that we never talk about"... "lets say... what could be considered to be the 'dirty secrets' in your field?"
I attended a scientific conference this week on the topic of surface spectroscopy and electrical phenomena. Experts from around the world presented their work in quite a wide range of experimental and theoretical topics. It was one of hundreds of small, specialized conferences, that unassumingly occur all over the world. However, from my judgement, in discussions with other scientists and general reading, the outcomes at this conference seemed rather ubiquitous in scientists’ criticism of… science.
So how does ‘science work’, practically speaking? Peer reviewed journals are a great way of getting good science out in to the scientific community; other experts anonymously review your work, and with the appropriate additions and corrections you can publish and advertise that to the world. Conferences serve as another great venue for science. You can share ideas, collaborate, network, present your finding and get a critical analysis of your work. I've been to some conferences where the question and answer sessions were pretty brutal. Normally, in the good spirit of science, this is positively encouraged, and is mostly done well.
But is there anything really 'off the table' that cannot be (or isn't) discussed in a scientific setting? Are there dogmatic truths about the way science is done, published and disseminated to the masses? Is all data published? SHOULD all data be published? Is there an issue with reproducibility? What if two lines of solid experimental evidence directly contradict each other? What are the external factors hindering good science and how can they be addressed? Should we expect scientists to be moral? With whom does the burden of checking for faulty science, lie?
All these questions (and more) were posed at the conference that I attended. I would say that most of the scientists knew exactly what was being referred to... And always with many disagreements! Some of my conclusions will follow shortly...