Jan2018, Opinion&Letters
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My roommate doesn’t like Neil deGrasse Tyson

Contrary to the title of this article, I will neither discuss cosmology nor perform a psychological analysis of my roommate. Rather, I hope to convince readers of the importance of academic journal clubs in an interdisciplinary undergraduate setting. As my roommate explains to me, Neil deGrasse Tyson often casts the canons and phenomena of natural science as ultimatums. It is as if, according to deGrasse Tyson, science (particularly natural science) is the sole key towards understanding the world around us. He has emphasized that there are objective truths, and questioning those truths is futile. Because deGrasse Tyson is popular among young people, his teachings are likely influential when it comes to societal beliefs. We should feel concerned if younger generations are encouraged to favor natural science and all of its associated “truths”, yet the act of questioning those truths is discouraged. I find such ideology conflicting largely because the scientific method’s founding principle is the act of questioning. Regardless of what we question, the ability to contest “fact” on its own needs both fortification and practice.

Because I am a student, more so a Quest student, I often assume that my practice of questioning is both proficient and employed often. However, it is worth asking, “am I quick to view science publications as a testament, pure, and free of bias?” And, “when I use published work as evidence, am I capable of defending or justifying the arguments put forth in that published work?” And also, “have I critically appraised an article by asking questions that challenge what may or may not be taken for granted?”

Perhaps this is one of higher education’s greatest fallacies: that scientific literature is often free from scrutiny. Is my practice of questioning truly proficient if I fail to critique an article regardless of its prestige, reputation, or objectivity?

Evaluating my own tendencies, I feel assured when citing published work. My argument is somehow more valid because I have referenced something of “distinction”. I do not intend to remove power from evidence and it is fair to acknowledge that published work has undergone rigorous critique prior to publication. Furthermore, I believe that the value of published science cannot be overstated. However, we must continue (as readers) to appraise evidence in a thorough and rigorous manner versus equating unfounded power with the theories or proposals put forth. Our appraisal of published work becomes more “founded” when the rationale, method, discussion, etc. each influence our scientific questioning. The very design of a study can easily constrain results; this is often purposeful and advantageous. However, by practicing scrutiny in instances such as these we can come to a better understanding of what is explicitly known and what remains to be determined.

Quest’s Health Science journal club acts as a platform in which one’s own critical appraisal abilities come to light, beyond what the classroom provides. Speaking only from personal experience, the environment of journal meetings is explorative, engaging, and fulfilling. Critical appraisal forces us to commit, to question not only the work itself but also the inferences put forth by other club attendees (students and tutors alike). Meetings often include a presentation of a recent journal article relating to health sciences, and a collaborative discussion following the presentation. As the discussion develops, I begin to either reevaluate my original standpoint or entertain something entirely unfamiliar. It’s satisfying to engage with the literature and feel a sense of authority as I challenge the implications of the article. If you are not yet convinced to attend, think of Health Science journal club as Quest’s very own, very prestigious, (😉) article review board—and you, a fellow board member, capable of suggesting any critique, following any curiosity, or challenging any assumption put forth by other “members”. Assuming this role of arbitrary power is rather fun. And, as mentioned by someone who has previously attended, it is both surprising and enjoyable to observe the tutors in attendance wearing a different hat—one that essentially levels the playing field. I consistently walk away satisfied and impressed with the quality of discussion, regardless of the number of attendees or the topic presented.

I am, or perhaps, was, disinclined to take issue with deGrasse Tyson’s celebrity persona. His mission to bolster science’s presence in society is admirable; this I will not deny. However, my fellow skeptic of a roommate has brought forth a valid concern. As you evaluate your own opinion of “Mr. Space-time Odyssey”, ask yourself whether you too fall subject to an ideology of ultimatums and preemptive, unfounded trust in published science. Essentially, if you’d like to better society (yes, BETTER SOCIETY) and promote the existence of questioning (regardless of what is questioned), please take part in Quest’s Health Science journal club—a place in which critical appraisal is the name of the game.

Meetings are held every Wednesday of the second week of block at 4:15 (Academic Building). For Block 1, of Spring 2018, the meeting will be held on the third Wednesday (1/31/18). We will be discussing a recent article published on brain performance-enhancing supplements. If you have any questions, please contact either myself or Marina Tourlakis.





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