What’s Wrong With This Picture?

by Charles Lyell on July 3, 2011

The March 8, 2011 New York Times science section contained an article titled, “Urge to Own That Clapton Guitar Is Contagious, Scientists Find.” The piece, written by columnist John Tierney, makes a number of researchers from prestigious institutions seem like Keystone Scientists.

The researchers were trying to explain why one collector paid almost a million dollars for a used guitar and also why other enthusiasts are willing to pay over twenty thousand dollars for replicas of that guitar. In their quest to come up with answers, the scientists invented an assortment of “explanations” including “celebrity contagion,” “imitative magic,” and “a dynamic cyclical model of fetishization appropriate to an age of mass-production.”

What none of the researchers seemed to realize was that while tripping over one another to publish their papers, they all missed the 800 pound gorilla staring them in the face. The gorilla they didn’t want to see was how dopamine-induced peer-approval and esteem addictions explain both the guitar collectors and the scientists’ behaviors. As it turns out, overpriced guitars and published papers are simply different means employed by peer-approval and esteem addicts to win the approval and attract the attention that deliver the dopamine they crave.

In 1893 British biologist Thomas Henry Huxley wrote, “‘Authorities,’ ‘disciples,’ and ‘schools’ are the curse of science and do more to interfere with the work of the scientific spirit than all its enemies.”

Huxley’s quote can be found in an article written in 1961 by Bernard Barber, titled, “Resistance by Scientists to Scientific Discovery” and subtitled, “This source of resistance has yet to be given the scrutiny accorded religious and ideological sources.” Barber’s article includes dozens of important breakthroughs that were attacked, ridiculed, dismissed, suppressed, and delayed, often for decades, by the reigning authorities and their disciples who, time and again, turned out to be petty, jealous, incompetent, territorial, vindictive, and totally wrong.

The many examples of complacency, denial, and self-deception in Barber’s article bring us back to the question raised by the author’s subtitle. Why is the scientific community so much better at scrutinizing religious and ideological sources than exposing the damage caused by scientists’ resistance to scientific discovery?

The answer is that scientific research has always been dominated by dopamine addicts and the last “discovery” that addicts are interested in making is that their predecessors were and that their peers are addicts, because that might lead to the realization that they are addicts.

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