A Course Summary: What have we learned? (What I have hoped to show you)1) Many important biological and medical questions have not yet been answered.
(And textbooks rarely guide you toward the most important gaps in knowledge).
(Unlike the history of advanced mathematics, which posed specific problems, for example David Hilbert's semi-famous list of 23 specific problems). Once you realize this, you have a better chance to find your own way to good, ripe problems.
2) About 15% of what biologists now confidently believe had been conclusively proven will eventually turn out to be erroneous. Some of the most important future breakthroughs will be disproofs. It's a valuable skill to be able to detect and analyze erroneous papers; & ask "what's the evidence for that?"
3) We can learn a lot from the history of science, such as how very plausible mistakes can be. (Also, let me mention that books on the history of mathematics are amazingly interesting)
4) There is much more to the philosophy of science that the high school oversimplification ("invent hypothesis/ test hypothesis/ revise hypothesis") & the word "theory" doesn't really imply more/less confidence; many proven facts continue to be named theories (relativity, quantum, evolution, differential adhesion).
5) Many researchers concentrate on trying to disprove some opponent's most beloved hypotheses. (For example, please help me invent a way to disprove the idea that cell-cell adhesion exerts a force)
6) The two philosophers of science most worth reading are Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper.
7) Pseudo-explanations are often the worst obstacles to medical progress; It gives me ulcers worrying about this! Is cancer caused by cells growing too fast? Why are most chemotherapy drugs designed to poison either mitosis or DNA synthesis? Perhaps the most tantalizing puzzle of all, why are slow-growing cancers often (sometimes) semi-cured by these anti-growth chemotherapy drugs?
8) Autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis and lupus still have no good treatments; instead steroids and interferons are used to suppress the immune system non-specifically.
Most biologists, including most physicians, have never understood the central fact about the Clonal Selection Theory, which is that random splicing of certain DNA sequences produces billions of lymphocytes each with its own shape of binding site. As embryos, we make antibodies specific for all our own molecules (and every possible shape). Then an unknown mechanism selectively activates apoptosis in those lymphocytes whose binding sites fit any "self" molecule, but NOT because self molecules have any particular shape that can be "recognized". [A very serious pseudo-explanation]
9) Organ regeneration may soon become practical by inducing spatial patterns of stem cell differentiation. But researchers shouldn't ignore that salamanders regenerate their legs by rearranging already-differentiated cells, that seem to de-differentiate, but really go back to being their same cell type.
10) An automatic method for inventing new hypotheses, by interchanging opposite word-pairs in whatever hypotheses have already been invented to explain whatever phenomenon interests you.
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