In the recent issue of Trends in Biological Sciences there’s an article by Alexander M. Shneider (yes, the one who also wrote “Four stages of a scientific discipline; four types of scientists“) entitled: “Mental inertia in the biological sciences“. Author defines mental inertia as
… the basis that precludes a scientist from taking the most productive step and adapting the most frutiful line of reasoning available at the moment, with considerations of the current level of scientific methods, approaches and techniques.
and explains that intentional bias or repositioning does not qualify as mental inertia (but avoids naming that phenomenon by its true name 😉 ). Then, he lists reasons (including interesting examples) for mental inertia. These are:
- incorrectly established results (from assumption that some old work done with deficient technique)
- incorrect understanding of mechanism of action (propagating by wrong name of mechanism, improper controls, questions falling outside of the scientific paradigm)
- researcher’s false diffidence (wrong interpretation of observations)
- old paradigms
- borrowing experimental approach from other scientific fields (yes, it helps to advance the field but creates other roadblocks)
- hot topic (original ideas are not recognized instantly)
- equating task with the traditional method
- and finally, cultural context
He doesn’t provide an example for mental inertia caused by the cultural context, but that would be the most interesting one. I wonder if mother tongue defines in some way ability to come up with certain ideas. Wouldn’t that be visible in the culture/books, or philosophy?
Wouldn’t mental inertia disappear when we have serious data driven science?