Scientists consider alternative mechanisms for diseases or genes all the time. This is what the path to discovery looks like. But rarely do we consider alternative mechanisms for how something is done. Why this discrepancy in thinking?
Scientists consider alternative mechanisms for diseases or genes all the time. What's my gene doing? How does it contribute to disease? Could it be doing something else? This is what the path to discovery looks like — a curiosity about the world and how it might work. But rarely do we consider alternative mechanisms for how something is done — for infrastructure. What does an alternative mechanism for funding science look like? Or for publishing? Why this discrepancy in thinking?
Perhaps because there are some things we take for granted, some things we assume to be true. Considering counterfactual or alternative realities for how we do work is just as important as the work itself. Indeed, this is how progress is really made in a field. Jeff Bezos considered an alternative way to buy books (not just thinking about a new book). Elon Musk considered an alternative way to transport people (not just dreaming up a new car or rocket).
I've written before that science is broken; but without envisioning ways to fix it, this is an overly pessimistic view. Like any field, science has challenges that are tied to historical ways of doing things. Whether it's "an establishment" or just established behaviors, breaking away from comfort and familiarity to do something risky and new is difficult. Biomedical science has three key problems. Over the next 3 weeks, I'm going to take apart these problems and consider alternative ways we might approach them.
If we designed science from scratch today, what would it look like? Technology — both the technology to carry out science, but also the technology to communicate and share it — is changing rapidly. What does a decentralized web3-powered scientific infrastructure look like? How can this be used to do science better? While these problems will be central to science, my hope is that this thought exercise could be applied to any field.
Considering alternative mechanisms for how your gene is functioning is the first step towards discovering what it's doing. Considering alternative mechanisms for how you fund your work to study that gene, or for how you share the results of your studies from that gene might be the first step towards discovering what could be a better way to do science. What does that look like? What is that alternative mechanism?