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Learned papers

If you have used Google scholar to search learned papers you may need to be warned that these papers can be divided into three general categories - though there is a lot of overlap and it's not usually easy to see what category a particular paper belongs to!

The three kinds of learned papers

The three kinds of "learned" papers are the academic, the Scientific and the hypertechnical. A quote from Robert Heinlein neatly differentiates the Academic from the Scientific:

"There are but two ways of forming an opinion in science. One is the scientific method, the other the scholastic. One can judge from experiment, or one can blindly accept authority. To the scientific mind, experimental proof is all-important, and theory is merely a convenience in description, to be junked when it no longer fits. To the academic mind, authority is everything, and facts are junked then they do not fit theory laid down by authority."

"It is this point of view academic minds clinging like oysters to disproved theories that has blocked every advance of knowledge in history"

The third type of "learned" paper - the Hypertechnical - is also quite common: some authors obfuscate their papers with technobabble (to show their erudition) to such an extent as to make the paper unreadable to the layman!

To quote Heinlein again

"If a person with normal intelligence, and a reasonably full education, cannot understand a piece of prose, then it is gibberish."

My experience is that, if you take the time to try understand the technobabble in such papers, you will find that the actual semantic content is very close to zero. An author who has something worth saying will not disguise it with erudite jargon.

The scientific method

The scientific method is to

  1. Observe and/or measure
  2. Form a theory to explain those observations/measurements
  3. Predict from that theory something else that should be true and testable if the theory is correct
  4. Test the theory
  5. Amend the original theory as necessary to include the new observations. And so on in a loop.

Learned papers

I have made a listing of papers that I have found, relevant to Barrett's oesophagus, reflux etc. Many of these papers were researched in response to the observation that Proton Pump Inhibitors caused bile reflux in myself. Now were I in a position to test for myself, I would have measured bile in the stomachs of volunteers by who had never taken PPIs and compared with volunteers who were on PPIs. I can find no papers listing any measurements of stomach bile levels and my consultant, when asked said We don't do bile analysis on samples. Testing for bile cannot be difficult and it is pontificated that bile is required for Barrett's oesophagus to develop. So an obvious way to test that theory would be to see if people newly diagnosed with Barrett's did, indeed have bile present, and had they been on PPIs. A clear example of the Academic method overcoming the Scientific! If you do not wish to know the answer - don't make the tests!

Not being in a position to test for myself, I searched in the papers for evidence that bile reflux is caused by PPIs and it is in fact the bile reflux that tends to progress Barretts to adenocarcinoma. This theory would readily explain why there had been a huge increase in adenocarcinoma since PPIs were discovered! The above test of bile levels would scientifically settle this question. Instead the academic method says that PPIs are safe - they are the only effective treatment for the pain caused by reflux, so no professional wants to prove they are not safe!

There is another pretty extensive listing of relevant leaned papers. This list is probably more exhaustive than is mine, but (as far as I know) it was not made to explain any particular observation so it is likely to be Academic rather than Scientific!

Scientific papers

Scientific papers seem to be lamentably absent in medicine: almost all papers are academic! However one example of scientific papers is:
These scientific papers went no further than this - they had proven that even short-term use of PPIs did indeed affect gall-bladder operation in the majority of people. What the ramifications of that were was left to any other interested parties! But their evidence flew in the face of poplar medical opinion, so, as is the usual case with such papers, this scientific research seems to have been buried.

There are plenty of papers where some theory has been made, and test are made to prove/disprove the theory. But such proofs are notoriously difficult in medicine since the placebo effect is so strong in humans. Which is probably why the Academic method is so nearly universal!

There are a few references to the shortcomings of the peer-review system of technical papers.

Academic papers

It is often quite difficult to tell which papers are academic and which scientific - the dividing line is wide and grey! Does the paper actually report the measurements of any tests? Does it propose any theory that can be tested? If not - it's academic. Does it actually present anything factual nd new - if it's simply dishing up opinions - of the author(s) or others - it is not scientific!

One test of an academic papers that of has a long list of other papers to which it refers. The paper simply gathers the opinions of others and makes conclusions from those. It's unlikely to be scientific!

My own opinions

So are my own opinions scientific or academic? If you'll excise the pun, that's an academic question - for although my writings are based upon my own observations and experiments, I am unable to do much more than form theories. The next step is to test the theories upon a large number of other people. Clearly I am unable to do that! Instead I have looked for papers that either explain or contradict my observations.

It is the nearest approach that I am able to make to a scientific method!


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Page first published: Sunday the 29th of May, 2016
Last modified: Sun, 01 Jul 2018 18:03:39 BST
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