Update #1: Citizen Science and Celebrating the Perfection of Imperfection

Happy Holidays!

I can’t believe so much time has passed since my last post. Much has happened. (Much of what I learned that allowed me to do this — SolveEczema.org — came from many lessons in my own health journey, which continues. Please pardon my slowness!)

Last February, I attended the first annual conference of the Citizen Science Association, held in San Jose, California. It was a truly energizing and awesome experience! I learned so much from true pioneers in science from all walks of life.

I shared a poster presentation about my experience with SolveEczema.org, which can be downloaded from the Citizen Science Association (CSA) conference channel on F1000.com. (The F1000 site may not load the posters properly, please contact me or their webmaster if you are not able to view or download it.)
http://f1000research.com/posters/1097570

You can see what the poster looks like on the CSA channel, which is also worth browsing for other presentations:
http://f1000research.com/channels/citzsciassoc?selectedDomain=POSTERS&searchTerm=lumsdaine

Since publishing that poster, I have been trying to publish a scientific paper for peer review. One roadblock I expected, but was surprised to find even more from open source publication outlets, is that everything about this is simply too new and different. The observations and solutions of SolveEczema resulted from the engineering method, which makes use of heuristics. The goal is to most optimally solve a problem, within available resources (see my poster for more). Although I thought about how to do so for a long time myself, there is no way to overlay a traditional study design.  So to editors of scientific journals, I may as well be trying to publish Sunday morning cartoons. But forcing this into a traditional format will destroy what allowed me to find a solution in the first place.

When the cause of a health condition is an infection, different people may have different symptoms, and there may be a range of symptoms and manifestations across a population of people with the same disease, but ultimately the solution involves finding the one thing in common, the infectious agent, and almost ignoring that range of differences. A traditional study design is adequate to validate the treatment: it’s possible to give everyone a single treatment, or small variations on a single treatment, and a placebo to mimic treatment for comparison.

When the cause of a health condition is environmental — as researchers basically agree the modern eczema/asthma epidemic is fundamentally — then the different symptoms people have, the range of manifestations across a population of sufferers, are the result in every case of different environmental conditions and exposures, different genetics, and different immunological states. There may be a common thread or solution, but even once that is found, actually solving the problem for every individual inherently involves problem solving in the context of each person’s exposures, genes, and health status. The differences between people for an infectious disease cause are, in some ways, almost beside the point, whereas in the environmental health cause, they are the point.

The engineering method, which uses heuristics, is well suited to finding the environmental cause in the first place, and is essential for validating the solution, because it’s not possible to validate a proposed solution through a traditional double-blind study in which every person does or uses the same exact treatment. There is no way to set up a treatment or series of steps for everyone to follow exactly and get the same results as individuals problem-solving in their own environments using a well-developed heuristic tool to do whatever it takes to get the best outcome. What is held constant in each case is not the treatment, but the aimed-for outcome (by the engineering method), which by current treatment validation paradigms (using the scientific method) isn’t considered possible to do. The scientific method, in this instance, will never be an adequate problem-solving tool to achieve what we consider cure or solution.  Where a heuristic solution is applied, when a case is not resolved by properly applying the heuristic, then the heuristic (not the aimed-for outcome of problem solving) is revised or expanded to encompass the outlier circumstance.

In publishing, not only the solution and the revision of the hygiene hypothesis, plus all the novel observations I am proposing, need peer review and validation, but also the use of heuristics in disease problem solving and treatment. Using the engineering method in medical problem solving and treatment, basically, needs and deserves peer review.  (As always, stay tuned.)

-A.J. Lumsdaine

 

P.S.  Come to think of it, was this “citizen science” or was it “citizen engineering”?….

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