Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The allure of the counterintuitive - is it good or bad for science?

There is a good critique on how the popular press hypes social science research in The American Scholar: The Allure of the Counterintuitive by Jessica Love.  Well worth a look.  I very much agree with her point that the press gives very little space to studies which are
incremental, for work that shores up and teases apart, for work that complicates, for work on the boundary conditions...
But Love seems to feel that the appeal of the counterintuitive is damaging to science because people will be so entrained to hype that they will not support studying brain processes that appear to be obvious.  However,  I would argue that interest in counterintuitive conclusions is an opportunity to argue for why we study the brain, its behaviors, and its less visible processes (like the electrical and chemical signalling whose outcome are our cognitive functions) in the first place.  Even though our minds are are own, we do not have conscious access to all its processes.  This is an opportunity to explain just that, and in the case of neuroscience conclusions are even less obvious.   Although our minds 'think' our neurons do not.  We do not know before studying brain processes which hypotheses will confirm our common sense notions and which will not. So, while I get a little tired of "hey wow" science and do not like inaccurate popular press interpretations of studies, the allure of the counterintuitive offers an opportunity to better explain critical thinking and experimental processes if it is used well.

Hat tip: The Dish

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