Update: Science as a Self-Correcting Process

In a post at the end of June, I discussed one problem with the notion that science is a self-correcting process. I focused on the fact that scientists tend not to want to spend their time on “de-discovery,” as Carl Zimmer has called it. That is, while scientists may decry an experimental result as incorrect, they very often do not try to repeat the experiment in order to show that the result does not occur, mainly because there are no incentives for them to do so: the scientific journals do not publish papers on these types of “negative results,” and no one makes a career by debunking the claims of other researchers.

The discussion was sparked by controversy over a paper originally published last year by Felicia Wolfe-Simon at the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and colleagues, reporting on an organism that used arsenic rather than phosphorus in its DNA. Many scientists rejected the results, but no one had repeated the experiment.

Now it has been reported that one of the critics, Rosie Redfield of the University of British Columbia, is redoing the experiment. It will be very interesting to see what she comes up with. To ensure that there are no anomalous results and that the experiment is correctly done, she will have to invest and look for professional equipment, in addition to making sure that timings are correct. Either way, Redfield’s experiment will be useful to further discussions on the possibility of non-phosphorus based life, and also to the issue of science as a self-correcting process.

See the story here.

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