Common Sense in Science

Established beliefs are maintained until they can be convincingly displaced, and even then tend to linger on. This is especially true in the medical sciences, where the rash introduction of untried methods can have disastrous consequences. The increased incidence of litigation has also hindered the introduction of many promising new techniques.

As modern specialities have developed they have formed their own governing bodies, and assumed responsibility for monitoring their own standards. Naturally they base training on their own beliefs, so their pupils tend to think alike. While this helps to establish a common viewpoint, it can reach a point where change is resisted for no other reason than it is change. This can result in separate specialities dealing with similar areas of the body, having contrasting beliefs. For instance Orthodontists and Ear Nose and Throat surgeons have different terminology, reach contrasting diagnoses and offer alternate treatments.

In years gone by, such issues could be debated in an open forum such as the British Royal Society, where a wide range of views would be expressed by separate scientific disciplines and obvious inconsistencies addressed. However, there is now no authoritative body to oversee common sense in science. The orthodontic establishment are by no means the only ones that face this problem, and John Mew recently offered the Royal Society a donation of £100,000 to set up a court where an unbiased jury could consider a wide range of controversial scientific advances. Unfortunately the offer was rejected.

He also offered to fund the cost of an independent enquiry into the cause and cure of malocclusion by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. However despite extending his offer to reward contributors generously, none of the orthodontic authorities were prepared to attend. This is a shame as it could have been the best arena for an open scientific debate on this very important and yet quite unresolved subject. It also reflects poorly on the orthodontic establishment who should have felt confident in having their beliefs confirmed.

The examination system forced onto students often slows down change, because they are primarily given the established view. Postgraduates on the other hand should be encouraged to balance the merits of treatment alternatives for themselves but in medicine unorthodox lecturers are usually disapproved of for fear that naive students will believe them and fail their exams. This is likely to prevent their exposure to alternative techniques until their pattern of reality has formed, thus perpetuating established beliefs.

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