Saturday 29 May 2010

Mainstream medical research: trivial science and useless medicine

Scientists generally assert their right to study anything they want-to study ('blue skies') as contrasted with the subject matter or direction research being dictated by government, corporations and other organizations.

Yet over the past few decades scientists have tamely allowed the subject matter and direction of their research to be dictated by the funders of science and the peer review cartel who apply funding criteria.

Worse than this, scientists have colluded with evaluation criteria which measure inputs rather than outputs, so that for career purposes externally-funded science is seen as intrinsically superior to unfunded or self-funded science. Well funded pseudo-science is privileged infinitely above unfunded real science (because unfunded science is discounted altogether, or sometimes negatively - as evidence of un-seriousness or disloyalty or misplaced effort).

So we have ended-up the worst of both worlds: the uselessness of arbitrary subject matter and the dullness of merely applied science.

My prime exhibit is mainstream medical research which is useless in the sense that it (almost) never discovers anything of medical/ clinical value (i.e. nothing useful in diagnosing or treating illnesses) - but it is plodding, incremental and organized on an industrial scale just like the most mundane industrial or military R&D.

Mainstream medical science is, in effect, R&D applied to useless and trivial (and dishonest) pseudo-medical subjects.

But IF medical research was motivated by the genuine interests of either the scientists who do it (i.e. amateur science) or by the wants and needs of patients (i.e. clinical science - usually done by clinicians) - then it might stand some chance of making (either) significant jumps in progress of science or of medicine (or both).

As it is, mainstream medical research is at the same time trivial science and useless medicine.