Monday, 17 August 2015

A look at the scientific method and issues scientists face

A recent series of news articles in Nature on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has done an excellent job at demonstrating the challenges of the scientific method and the way countries borders at times have to be considered null and void when it comes to important science. If you have about 15 to 20 minutes it would be well worth your time to read these articles as they really can offer insight into multiple problems that scientists face ranging from funding to bureaucratic to pseudo-science.The articles are "How Ebola-vaccine success could reshape clinical-trial policy", "Ebola: Embed research in outbreak response", "Disease outbreak: Finish the fight against Ebola", and "How to beat the next Ebola". Here I want to present what I deem to be some of the biggest problems that scientists face, which have serious knock on effects in the real world. It is by bringing attention to these problems that I think perhaps people will start engaging with the facts and move towards a more rational outlook.

Education and knowledge. Did you know that the Ebola outbreak is not over? I was aware that there were still a few cases, but from many Western media outlets I was getting the message that its was over. This is a major truth that needs to be told, as this virus is deadly! It is also through education that infected patients and their families would be more willing to accept the truths of the virus and not try smuggle patients away so they can infect others. In the same way with education we will be able to convince people that a vaccine is a good idea to save yourself during an outbreak.

Funding, this can be a sore point for many countries and people as it requires giving funding towards science to another country and not your own. However, these viruses do not care about borders and as such they truly need international funding. While some people may say it is easy to close borders, we also know from immigration problems in multiple countries that there truly is no way to close borders and that means there truly is no way to stop viral spread by closing borders. This gets amplified when the virus carriers are not humans, but other animals.

Bureaucracy, is probably the biggest hindrance in my opinion. At times, we just need to move things along and not be embroiled in politics and contracts. Now while getting rid of bureaucracy in many ways can be considered anti-capitalistic, the fact is that alive people are better than dead people. As such when the need arises we need to forget about money, contracts and paper work and just get on with it.

Lastly, and probably the point that clashes with many of the above points. We need to exercise caution. There is a large difference between stupidity and rational tests and trails. Solid science should still be followed and that means not just trialing any possible scenario, although this means following reason and doing what is probably best even when this comes with risk. For example, with the Ebola virus we know the death rate is really high, so perhaps less caution is best as the sick person really has no other chance and any chance is better than none. Not very scientific I agree, but probably more compassionate.