Monthly Archives: May 2012

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 5

The following is an attempt to interpret Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ using the framework of a discipline which is eclectic, pragmatic and empirical in approach. The starting point of this interpretation is a review of ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ which the reader will find via the link in the Appendix. This fifth part is a response to Chapter 4 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. My understanding of this Chapter in Kuhn’s work is that there is a central paradigm which consists of a central model or set of statements. The model or statements exist within a larger more informal set of rules or assumptions. Thus any successful revolution is not simply a matter of improving upon the central model but also needs to address the surrounding infrastructure which is not just theoretical but also permeates the scientific community. The paradigm also determines which puzzles are considered solvable by the scientific community. This means that scientists may consider questions in light of the paradigm which they are working in and will discount potentially important questions on the basis that they are not thought to be solvable within the paradigm.

There are a number of factors which will lead to scientists considering puzzles solvable. These include the human and financial resources needed, the technical limitations of scientific equipment that is readily available as well as the prevailing values within the scientific community. For all of these factors there are variations within the scientists or departments which enable variation in the puzzles that are selected. We might expect that for each of the factors, the main qualities can be graphed and would form a normalised distribution. For instance, the funding in a department for solving a particular puzzle might show such a distribution. If these factors are normally distributed then the puzzles that can be solved might be those that require resources that fall within the peak of the distribution. Framing this in concrete terms, it may be that the community is more likely to select a puzzle that requires an average of two scientists working over a 2 year period with specific readily available equipment and a budget within a defined range. This would increase the likelihood of reproducibility. When any of these factors lie outside of the 95% confidence interval for these factors it would reduce the likelihood of reliability and perhaps even acceptance of the results within the community.

Appendix

Review of Chapter 4

Chapter 4 in Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ is a fairly brief chapter or essay as he also refers to it. In this chapter, Kuhn suggests that a scientific community solves puzzles. These puzzles are problems that need to be solved within a framework of rules. Kuhn suggest that the scientific community chooses puzzles that they think are solvable. Thus there are the explicit clearly articulated central problems lying within the informal framework of rules. As a result seemingly straightforward amendments of solutions to problems do not work in the scientific community if they do not also address the surrounding framework of rules. Kuhn gives the example of a suggested amendment to Newton’s inverse square law of gravitation which would have enabled researchers to derive the orbit of the moon from Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation. The amendment was ignored by the research community and other findings eventually enabled the derivation to occur without this move away from the central paradigm. Kuhns ideas here form a profound basis for consideration of scientific activities. Such questions can be turned to specific branches of science. We can begin to ask about the rules that govern research in certain areas of psychiatry for instance or reflect on the meaning of the open science movement. We can also ask use these concepts to differentiate science from other social activities.

Related Resources on the TAWOP Site

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 1

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 2

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 3

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 4

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

The Dementia Challenge

The UK Prime Minister David Cameron launched a Dementia Challenge on March 26th 2012. The Dementia Challenge builds upon the National Dementia Strategy. The essence of the Dementia Challenge is outlined on this Department of Health webpage

- Focusing on research on Dementia

- Focusing on quality of care for people with Dementia

- Increasing public awareness of Dementia

- Developing Dementia friendly communities

For each area of focus there are champions. The research champion group have recently published this post on their work to date. The group are aiming to produce a detailed report of their progress and submit this to the Prime Minister by September 2012. Part of their strategy involves work with the established Dementia and Neurodegenerative Diseases network DeNDRoN.

The Dementia Challenge is very encouraging and coincides with a strategy to address Alzheimer’s Disease in America.

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Does Blood Vessel Damage Lead to Alzheimer’s Disease? News Roundup May 2012 4th Edition

Researchers have published a paper in Neurology looking at how the APOE4 gene might play a role in Alzheimer’s Disease. The researchers looked at a Murine model and found evidence that the enzyme Cyclophilin A may be playing a role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease mediated through APOE4. They found that in APOE4 carriers there was a five-fold increase in the levels of Cyclophilin A in the Pericytes, there was a reduction of blood flow in the brain and an increase in the passage into the brain of substances including Thrombin. The Pericytes are cells that form an integral part of the Blood-Brain Barrier. They found that when Cyclophilin A was blocked in APOE4 carriers there was a reduction in the passage of a number of the previously identified substances in the brain as well as an improvement in blood flow. The researchers have thus formulated an interesting and testable hypothesis about the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease in relation to one gene variant – APOE4.

Cyclophilin A in a complex with Cyclosporin (shown in yellow), Fvasconcellos, Public Domain

From 2014, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) will no longer decide whether drugs can or cannot be prescribed. This responsibility will pass to the Department of Health although NICE will continue to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of drugs.

Researchers publishing results from the Rush Memory and Aging Study in the Archives of General Psychiatry have found further evidence that having a strong sense of purpose in life can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease (paper available here). There were 246 people with Alzheimer’s Disease who had passed away at the time of the study (there were 1400 subjects in the Rush Memory and Aging study at baseline). Global cognition was assessed using 21 tests of cognition and a Z-statistic was used to represent the outcomes. The researchers used a model which incorporated pathological changes at post-mortem as well as global cognitive scores and other variables. They compared subjects with the 90th percentile of scores on Ryff’s Scale of Psychological Well-Being (one of two main rating scales for purpose in life) and those with the 10th percentile score and graphed these (see Fig 1 in the paper). The researchers identified a significant contribution of well-being scores to the global cognitive scores. A higher score of purpose in life was  significantly associated with a higher score on global cognition in the model. Curiously though there was no corresponding relationship of well-being scores to neuropathology findings.

A trial is underway involving an antibody to Amyloid, which according to the Amyloid Cascade Hypothesis plays a central role in Alzheimer’s Disease (APOE4 discussed above is also related to Amyloid). The study is a preventative trial to reduce the future prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease in a cohort who have not yet developed the disease.

There is a brief discussion of the future of drug development in this article which includes a look at some of the barriers as well as current trends.

Professor Alistair Burns talks to Professor Rosser about Dementia research in this video

There is an interesting piece on Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ here.

Researchers have announced the discovery of the world’s oldest flutes (estimated at 42000 years before present) in the Geissenkloesterle Cave in Germany. Excavations in caves in this region have produced a number of interesting findings and are attributed to the Aurignacian culture. However the controversial Divje Babe flute in Slovenia is dated to 43100 years before present and would predate the above flute although the validity of this specimen has been disputed.

A 3D reconstruction of Ichthyostega suggests that it would not have been able to walk on land. Icthyostega is an example of a Tetrapod (having four legs). Tetrapods are were thought to have been the first animals to walk on land (an important evolutionary event) and are a distant human ancestor.

Appendix

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.