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Be curious about the dogmas in your research field

DIAS challenges the dogmas that have a great impact on research

 “It’s good for children to go to school” – right? The dogma that school is good for children, rules through society and research on various levels.

But if you break down the argument there are a lot of assumptions that are not necessarily given or backed up by research.

The above is a dogma that was presented by DIAS’s Nina Bonderup Dohn. She and Christine Stabell Benn had arranged a meeting at DIAS where the dogmas of various fields were presented and discussed.

Definition of dogma: “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true” (Oxford languages).

Here is a selection of the discussed dogmas:

Christine Stabell Benn, DIAS Chair, presented this dogma: In vaccinology, it is a dogma that a vaccine only protects against the vaccine infection but does not impact on the risk of other infections, but the fact is that this has never been studied before the current vaccines were introduced and recent studies seriously question this dogma. However, it is difficult to get general acceptance of these new studies, because they are viewed through the glasses of people who grew up with the dogma and believe it is” incontrovertibly true”.

Nina Bonderup Dohn presented this dogma: Within education, a dogma widely held in the public is that it is good for children to go to school – “good” psychologically and socially speaking as well as in terms of knowledge acquisition. Arguably, however, organizing learning in schools is primarily an efficient way to educate the next generation to become knowledgeable, skilful citizens (this is a further dogma). There are no large-scale studies documenting that it is actually better for children to have their childhood learning organized in this way. Some smaller-scale studies challenge the dogmas, but they are most often pushed aside precisely because they are small-scale, and because it is believed to be unethical to do large-scale studies on children’s learning and well-being.

Angela Y. Chang presented this dogma “Gender equality” is what we should be thriving for in all areas, as expressed in global targets such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs). However, whether equality between the genders (and often this is depicted as women’s outcomes should be at the same level as men’s) is actually desired should be questioned. For example, in my research field of public health, many talk about gender equality in health because women suffer more - maternal mortality, adolescent fertility, lower quality of life — but in fact men actually live shorter than women. In labor force participation metrics, globally we aim for women to have the same level of participation rates as men without considering alternatives (for example, men to lower working hours to support family). We also see this in leadership and career advice, encouraging women to be “more like men” to get the jobs they want. This dogma is helpful and important in many aspects, but it also hinders potential for further scientific and welfare advances. 

Dogmas may be true – and helpful - but as illustrated by the above examples it is not always the case – some dogmas may indeed need to be killed for science to progress.

The following questions were discussed around the dogmas at the meeting: How do we identify a dogma? They can be hard to identify as many are taken so much for granted that we do not even consider questioning them. The main question is whether a given dogma is substantiated by data? Is it presumably true or is there suspicion that it might in fact be wrong? How can we debate dogmas – how can we even get the questioning of them off the ground? Dogmas are inherently defended by the majority and may often be highly political – to the extent where questioning the dogma may inadvertently link the questioner to extremist groups in society. Is it good for a career to question dogmas? We also discussed what the difference between a dogma and a paradigm is – the latter being an overarching framework building on (several) dogmas.

Another round of discussing dogmas, controversies or dilemmas will be planned for the spring 2023. If you are interested in participating – presenting a dogma in your field or just taking part in the discussion, then kindly email Victoria Touveneau from DIAS,

Redaktionen afsluttet: 27.09.2022