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The Role of Perspective in STEM
When I share my Christian faith with skeptics, they often indicate they do not believe in the Bible because it contains inconsistencies. In this connection, some individuals note that different authors of the Gospel report different details or the same story. I often respond to these critics by explaining the difference as the result of perspective. Each author has highlighted different details of the event. As long as they are not contradictory, these details actually strengthen the account by enriching it. The phenomenon is similar to the one depicted by the tale of the three blind men feeling an elephant.
Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant) records the following summary of the story among others:
A Jain version of the story says that six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.
A king explains to them:
All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.
In science, our perspective sometimes affords only a glimpse of the phenomenon of interest. Like the blind men, we need to put our glimpses together to form a complete picture, to understand the complete phenomenon. However, like the blind men, we do not know for sure if our perspective is accurate until we grasp the overall image of phenomenon. This point is critical due to its enormous impact on research quality and results validity. We should keep the role of perspective in mind as we conduct our own research and review the results of others.
In specific, we should consider the following:
It the methodology is unsound, the perspective—that is, the contribution to the overall picture of the phenomenon offered by the result--, will be unreliable.
Has the experiment been replicated? If so, were the results—the perspective—the same as in previous
research. As the case of Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy’s study "The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-StakesSocial Evaluation" (https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/9547823) reveals, even experienced, honest researchers make mistakes. In this instance, other researchers were not able to replicate her results, widely disseminated in her TED Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” (https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/9547823).
Dr. Cuddy’s study had been published in a peer-reviewed journal. In other words, other social scientists reviewed the content to confirm the methodology and results. Furthermore, she is a highly-trained researcher. Many sources are not refereed by scientists. In fact, most on the internet are not. Blogs and articles are written by novices and experts. For this reason, you should consider the qualifications and experience of the study author as you evaluate the accuracy or the perspective offered.
We should also consider the data even when the study author is an elite research or scholar whom we personally respect. As a Stanford professor I interviewed once remarked about the research philosophy at the University of Chicago, his alma mater, “In God we trust. Everyone else bring data.” I strongly commend his advice to you.
While some researchers deliberately manipulate experiments or data to bias their results to support a favored perspective, we are all unconscious victims of our personal biases. They not only affect the way we design our research, but also how we interpret it and that of others, as well. In fact, some deliberately avoid reviewing the work of researchers whose opinions or biases differ. Worse yet, search engines filter results to present us with lists of articles and sources that favor our biases and views.
In groups of three or four, review a few experiments whose results failed to confirm Dr. Cuddy’s study?
1. How are the methodologies of the studies similar to each other? How are they different?
2. How does the methodology of each study compare to Dr. Cuddy’s methodology?
3. Do you feel that Dr. Cuddy approached her study with an unconscious bias? If so, explain your opinion.
Dr. Gabriella is an accomplished scholar and businessman. Ivy-league educated, he has served as a lecturer or professor at universities in the U.S., Japan, and China. Currently, he resides in Japan, where he is a senior manager and active consultant. A former high-school math teacher, Joseph is passionate about teaching critical STEM skills to future generations through his company, Play-Ed Corporation.