Indigestible Discoveries Assignment

Biology 446   Unsolved Problems   Albert Harris   Sept. 15, 2014

Is it an exaggeration to say that 99% of research scientists spend 99% of their effort looking for new evidence to confirm old theories that they mostly learned in graduate school, or were developed by their PhD advisors? (And also that their work will be most praised if their results and observations support whatever hypothesis most other scientists already believe; instead of whether their results are new, revolutionary, or have medical uses.)

Please contrast these accusations (firstly) with what Kuhn wrote, and (secondly) with the traditional "Scientific Method" that is taught in many introductory Biology courses. Our goal is not to complain about human nature, but to study its effects in specific cases.

Please use "Google Scholar" to confirm or disprove these claims, in relation to citations of the following three specific research papers (two of which I co-authored). The main thing to look for is the extent to which other researchers either ignored, misunderstood or re-interpreted the original papers, to make them fit the prior beliefs of these other researchers. Notice whether anybody developed medical applications for the new discoveries, and/or whether they fitted the new discoveries into whatever they had previously believed and advocated (fitting it in).

Otto Warburg "On the Origin of Cancer Cells" Science, Vol. 123, No. 3191, (Feb. 24, 1956), pp. 309-314,34&q=warburg+cancer

Abby Rich, A. K. Harris "Anomalous preferences of cultured macrophages for hydrophobic and roughened substrata" Journal of Cell Science. 1981

A K Harris, David Stopak and Patricia Wild "Fibroblast traction as a mechanism for collagen morphogenesis" Nature, 1981

All 3 of these papers describe results that were extremely different from expectations, even revolutionary.

But none of them have caused revolutions (so far). Why not? The observations (but not the conclusions) of all three have been confirmed many times and are no longer doubted. The first summarizes a major difference between cancer cells and normal cells, the second reports some radical differences in behavior of a medically important cell type, and the third concluded that what people assume is a form of amoeboid locomotion is really the cause of geometric formation of tendons, muscles, and many other anatomical structures. What is more revolutionary? Yet all three sets of discoveries somehow got absorbed and widely cited, without producing big changes in people's thinking.


YOUR ASSIGNMENT: FIRST: Please use "Google Scholar" to read the abstracts of at least fifty of the papers that have cited each of the three papers above. Just click where it says Cited by 8745 etc. This will produce lists of abstracts of every published scientific paper whose bibliography included the papers listed above.

You don't have to write these lists down; just promise me you read them; these abstracts are all short.

SECOND: For each of the three papers, make lists of at least ten of these abstracts that do any of the following: (and for each paper on your lists, please mention which of the following it does).

a) Tries to disprove or confirm either the results or the conclusions. (i.e. like the "Scientific Method" says scientists do).

b) Rejects or argues against either the results or the conclusions.

c) Confirms and/or extends and/or improves on the results or conclusions (i.e. of the three papers).

d) Proposes or accomplishes some medical use for the discoveries of the original 3 papers.

There really are papers in each category, just not as high a percentage as you would think.

I apologize if this seems like a lot of work; but the abstracts are short, appear rapidly in large numbers, and you can "cut and paste" as much as you want, taking from the web pages and transferring to your report.


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