Investigation or Argumentation?
Lately I've noticed a disturbing trend of seminars sounding more like the opening arguments of a court case than a scientific discussion.
These seminars often contain a phrase like "I hope to convince you that..." at the beginning.
Usually there is a lot of background and heavy-handed explanation of the significance. An almost evangelistic proclamation of why we should care. How important and wonderful it would be if this model were correct.
The message is:Don't you want it to be correct? Wouldn't you feel bad about poking holes in it? You don't want to think critically, you want to be charmed!
Then there is a list of evidence supporting this model. When questions are raised about "Did you check whether [this other thing might be going on]?" the answer is invariably "I didn't check, but I think not because...."
Sometimes this is fine. Sometimes it really is just a way to present the evidence in a structured format so it's not too confusing.
But more often lately I'm noticing that alternative explanations are avoided, as are including things like references to other people's work (my favorite phrase is "Another group showed that..." when used in the absence of a reference on the slide) or details of methods (that might influence interpretation).
This worries me most when I see it among a subset of younger scientists who are clearly trying to please older scientists in their field. There is so much pressure to perform, to be the favorite, and I have to sit there and watch them start down the slippery slope to ethically muddy areas.
What it they say about old white guys and suckers?
Oh yeah, there's another one born every day.
It's this kind of thing that makes me think the type of research I want to do might be a dying beast.