Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The nature of scientific research

The following article appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of the Progress Magazine published by Parkinson's UK (see the highly informative Parkinson's research magazine;

Why do research? It may be a strange question to ask in a magazine devoted to research and it has an obvious answer (a cure!) but it is important to understand the nature of research.

Research is like an unpredictable, slowly erupting volcano; within the volcano everything is fluid and constantly shifting. Sometimes a trickle of larva emerges which gradually builds and solidifies into knowledge. New treatment is built upon this solidified rock.

The analogy highlights the fact that research is slow and uncertain and deals with uncovering unknowns. When larva does emerge and adds to the scientific landscape it changes the context of previous knowledge, leading to new questions. 

Science never stops. Research is hard, shifting, precarious work and can fail to find anything. Nonetheless, the accumulation of successful research has huge practical potential, modern life is built upon it, and needs to be supported.

As a sufferer I want treatments and solid answers now but as a scientist I know today's research will take time to solidify into practical knowledge that leads to new treatment.

Research is important to me. When I was diagnosed with Parkinson's it felt like I was given a blank page; I didn't know how to fill that page and understand what was happening to me. Thankfully researchers had begun to unravel the causes of Parkinson's and the more I read, the more space I could fill on my blank page. I find understanding a great comfort.

Not only does research give hope for future treatments, it also provides the means to understand the strange Parkinson's landscape sufferers and their families are taken to when diagnosis comes. That's why magazines like "Progress" and public lectures are so important.

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