Tag Archives: research freedom

WHAT ARE THE LARGEST LIMITATIONS TO FREEDOM OF RESEARCH?

 Some Research Topics Still Cannot be Investigated!  (http:dr-monsrs.net)

Some Research Topics Still Cannot be Investigated!  (http://dr-monsrs.net) 
                   

           Research freedom is the totally open choice of scientists and scholars for what to investigate, exactly how it is studied, and what to conclude from the experimental data gathered.  Freedom of scientific research is inherently fragile.  Traditional restrictions in classical science involved the adequacy of financial support, presence of religious or political dogmas, availability of technical means to gather certain experimental data (i.e., capabilities of research instruments), duration of time needed for the investigation, availability of certain samples, and, public health and safety concerns.  Thus, the limitations to research freedom generally involve money, time, technology, official regulations, and various authorities.  All these classical restrictions still are active today! 

 

            Many current restrictions to research freedom for scientists at modern universities have a practical nature.  These can make it very difficult or even impossible to conduct some research studies by scientists working at an academic institution.  Common examples of these limitations include:

(1)     ability to acquire funding from research grants, such that support is available in a sufficient amount to fully conduct all the proposed work;

(2)     only insufficient time is available to conduct the needed experiments, because their duration takes much longer than the usual period of any research grant (i.e., the project needs more than 5 years of support to be completed);

(3)     the required research experiments are deemed too dangerous to be conducted at a given institution or facility;

(4)     where the needed experimental data can be obtained only at one or two very special research facilities in the entire world, scheduling priorities might be such that it is necessary to  wait for several years before data collection can begin;

(5)     although a research grant would provide the large funds needed to purchase some very special and very expensive large research instrument, there is no suitable building available on the present campus for its installation; and,

(6)     the proposed experiment necessitates violating some official prohibitions or laws established by the national government agencies (e.g., DNA cloning, stem cell studies, chemical synthesis of certain toxic materials, etc.). 

            In fact, there often are some paths for determined researchers to bypass these restrictions. Working on a research project in a small group of other funded scientists can provide more funds than are available from any one research grant.  Some scientists still are able to successfully pursue construction of a book with long-term research studies by obtaining a number of consecutive research grants, such that each of these enables production of one or 2 chapters at a time until the full set is completed; this tactic is common for very successful scientific researchers, but necessitates strict discipline, a well-defined focus, and much good luck with the current research grant system.  If some special research instrument is needed but has not yet been developed, then one could invent (i.e., design, construct, and test) and use the very first one.  Other researchers work with a collaborator in some other country having different regulations, thereby enabling very special facilities to be used or forbidden dangerous experiments to be conducted.  Where the roadblock is located at the local institution, frustrated scientists must also think about the possible necessity of moving to a new employer where there is more flexibility.  All of these difficult problems and possible work-arounds mandate that research scientists have a strong personal commitment to their research project, along with much patience and a steadfast determination to succeed. 

 

            Another general category of limitation to research freedom is based on human psychology.  This concerns restrictions in the mind of most research scientists.  All research scientists, whether young or old and famous or relatively unknown, are hesitant to openly disagree with eminent other scientists who have stated some view or published some conclusions that differ from their own convictions.  It is striking to realize that many young students or non-scientist adults viewing this same situation often will have little hesitation to disagree with the eminent expert.  All of us are taught to conform, be respectful, and be obedient to authority, but research scientists must break through this psychological barrier and learn to think more independently in order to be creative and able to find hidden truths. 

 

            Another very serious limitation to research freedom fortunately does not occur in all nations within the modern world.  This is a governmental restriction about what research questions can be asked or what conclusions can be derived from new experimental results.  Either situation obviously goes totally against the very foundation of scientific research, since in the search for truth absolutely anything and everything is open to question regardless of its widespread or longstanding acceptance.  The classical modern example is Lysenkoism in Stalin’s USSR (Soviet Union), where the conclusions of one research scientist were incorporated into state policies such that they could not be disputed or even questioned by other scientists [1].  Research freedom completely ceased to exist in this subject area (i.e., inheritance of acquired characteristics).  Fortunately, these politicized governmental mandates were later removed so that research freedom in modern Russian science again has bloomed.  

 

            The most recent example of a sad loss of research freedom is Germar Rudolf [2].  As an enthusiastic graduate student in chemistry at a German university research center, he decided to conduct research investigations seeking chemical evidence for use of gassing in certain “death camps” run by German military operations during WW2.  His extensive and careful chemical assays unexpectedly produced only negative results for the use of cyanide gas, but control situations at on-site locations were positive with the same chemical tests.  From the experimental data, Rudolf then drew the straightforward conclusion that cyanide gassings were not conducted where everyone else was certain they were done.  His German professor refused to publish Rudolf’s thesis results and tried to terminate his degree candidacy.  Rudolf’s conclusions from his chemical research studies directly contradicted and violated German national laws forbidding such statements and beliefs, even if presented as a summary of scientific research findings; he was later indicted for violation of these anti-science laws, lost his court case, and wound up in prison for several years.  Today, the same dogmatic laws and restrictions now exist in several other nations, as well as continuing in Germany.  Undoubtedly, other young researchers also are encountering this difficult situation where their freedom as a research scientist is very limited by a national policy on some mandated dogma. 

 

            Where scientists are not 100% free, there can be no research freedom!  The search for the truth is never finished, and demands freedom for scientists and other scholars to ask any questions and draw any conclusions so long as the experimental evidence supports those views.  Research is at its best when it is unrestrained by either political convictions or arbitrary dogmas.  Even established conclusions and universally accepted concepts are open to questioning and further testing.  The nature of science is such that research conclusions are not determined by political mandate, religious dogma, or arbitrary individual beliefs, but rather are built and progressively modified from the total range of experimental results gathered by many different scientists. 

 

[1]  The Skeptic’s Dictionary, 2013.  Lysenkoism.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.skepdic.com/lysenko.html .

[2]  Rudolf, G., 2012.  Resistance is Obligatory.  Castle Hill Publishers, Uckfield, United Kingdom, 367 pages. 


               

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