Discussion of controversial problems in Cell Physiology

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Vladimir Matveev
Vladimir Matveev's picture
Discussion of controversial problems in Cell Physiology

Everyone who is interested in competing theories in cell physiology are invited to take part in the discussion.

Themes for discussion can be found on the following sites:

Public website: http://www.bioparadigma.spb.ru

The first therme for discussion:


The last 50 years in the history of life sciences are remarkable for a new important feature that looks as a great threat for their future. A profound specialization dominating in quickly developing fields of science causes a crisis of the scientific method. The essence of the method is a unity of two elements, the experimental data and the theory that explains them. To us, "fathers" of science, classically, were (are) the creators of new ideas and theories. They were the true experts of their own theories. It is only they who have the right to say: "I am the theory". In other words, they were carriers of theories, of the theoretical knowledge. The fathers provided the necessary logical integrity to their theories, since theories in biology have not still to be based on strict mathematical proofs. It is not true for sons. As a result of massive specialization, modern experts operate in very confined spaces. They formulate particular rules far from the level of theory. The main theories of science are known to them only at the textbook level. Nowadays, nobody can say: "I am the theory". With whom, then is it possible to discuss today on a broader theoretical level? How can a classical theory - for example, the membrane one - be changed or even disproved under these conditions? How can the "sons" with their narrow education catch sight of membrane theory defects? As a result, "global" theories have few critics and control. Due to specialization, we have lost the ability to work at the experimental level of biology within the correct or appropriate theoretical context. The scientific method in its classic form is now being rapidly eroded.

Vladimir Matveev
Vladimir Matveev's picture

At present it is commonly accepted that the most characteristic feature
of the modern science is its marked specialization. Even researchers studying similar cellular structures - for instance, channels - live now in parallel worlds: those who study Na-channels do not see too much sense in communicating with those who study Ca-channels, and even less with those who study channels for organic molecules. Of course, expanding specialization is not merely a sensation or individual observations. We see everywhere objective evidence for degradation of sciences into individual "earldoms" whose autonomous status is constantly being enhanced. The most evident proof in favor for this is a rise of the number of publication co-authors, reaching in some cases up to several hundred names. Also steadily increasing are the numbers of specialized journals and conferences. The mean length of formulations of the essence of discoveries, for which Nobel Prizes are awarded, increases, while the number of "discoveries" decreases and their significance can be correctly evaluated by only an increasingly narrow circle of specialists. A decrease of significance of investigations on the background of a steady rise of the number of publications means that expenditures for science increase, while their true yield decreases. But whereas economic consequences of the specialization are widely discussed, the intellectual menace impending over science still escapes proper attention.

The danger has descended over the Scientific Method itself. Theories of a general biological character were accepted many decades ago, and nowadays, due to the specialization, there are no scientists who master these theories so well as those who could be rightfully considered their bearers. As a result, the profound generalizations of the past have turned out to be outside the natural process of renovation, beyond criticism. If competing theories appear under these conditions, their significance and advantages over classical knowledge will be unable to be properly evaluated, fantastic as this might seem. There has appeared or can appear the situation when scientists mastering the most modern methods of investigations at the molecular level are guided in their work by obsolete or even erroneous concepts of the general character that they inherited from the classicism epoch. The theories of the past, instead of being always under scrutiny, have turned into the dogmas incompatible with the spirit of the scientific method. The extra specialization is a menace, which may lead to the loss of the integrity of scientific knowledge.

Vladimir Matveev
Vladimir Matveev's picture
The topic is continued in

The topic is continued in this article:
V.V. Matveev and D.N. Wheatley. "Fathers" and "sons" of theories in cell physiology: the membrane theory. Cell. Mol. Biol., 51(8): 797-801, 2005.

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