Hello, friends! Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we talk about those weird and wonderful words scientists use. Today on Sciency Words, we’re talking about:
Metascience is when science “gets meta” and studies itself, with the specific aim of making published scientific research more accurate and trustworthy. That goal, that stated purpose, is an important part of the definition. Or at least it should be, according to this YouTube video by Professor Fiona Fidler.
You see, metascience overlaps with certain other fields of research, like the philosophy of science or the sociology of science. But a key part of a metascientist’s job is to identify problems with the current culture and methodology of scientific research and try to figure out ways to make science better.
The word metascience can be traced back to the 1930’s, with the earliest known usage attributed to American philosopher and semiotician Charles William Morris. But as an actual field of research, metascience is not nearly that old. This 2005 paper entitled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” is apparently a foundational document for modern metascience (or at least that’s what Wikipedia told me).
For a few months now, I’ve been doing lots of research about research, trying to improve the way I do my own research as a science fiction writer, and also trying to better understand what can go right (and wrong) with science. With that in mind, I’m surprised I didn’t come across this term sooner. Now that I do know about metascience, a whole new world of metascientific research has been revealed to me.
Reading about metascience has been kind of unsettling for me, actually. Modern science has a lot more problems than I realized; however, there are people out there working to identify and fix those problems, so that science can live up to its promises. And that, I think, is a very encouraging thing to know.