We're a little crazy, about science!

The hunt for knowledge

Sometimes science is like digital archeology. Thanks to the internet I have the sum of our collective knowledge at the tips of my fingers. I just need to ask the right question and I can find the answer. Unfortunately, the right question isn’t always the question you come up with. The right question may not be worded the exact way you think it should. The right question may not even be the right question at all, it’s just the first in a long list of questions you need to work through. In a digital world, we’re still stuck looking for ways to get the answers to questions the system may not understand. I’m on a hunt and so far I’ve been fairly lucky.

Find one answer and you’re left with ten more questions. That’s been the theme of my PhD so far and I think it’s the theme of science in the general sense. It started the other day with a simple question, why are somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEP’s) considered sensory if they evoke a motor response? Which took me down a deep dark rabbit hole on the history of SSEP’s and how we know anything about them at all.

I’ve found some amazingly well written papers from the early 70’s and even earlier. I’ve found complex medical illustrations that were hand drawn and were absolutely amazing. Even more so considering they were probably drawn by the authors of the paper, which I have almost zero ability to do anything similar despite my best efforts in drawing so bonus points to them. However, I still can’t find the answers I need! Well, I guess I don’t really need them, but after this much effort it feels like I need them. It’s yet another game of asking a question which left me with about a dozen other questions I’m simultaneously hunting answers for and nothing seems to be falling in place quite yet.

That’s part of the issue, I’ve found old (very old) papers from the 50’s and 60’s that help answer some of the questions, but it feels like after those were published people took them as gospel and just stopped looking. Or maybe I’m just not asking the question in the correct way to find the more current studies I need. It’s not that I don’t trust old studies, it’s just that technology has gotten better so I would feel more comfortable knowing that the older stuff has been verified using more modern tech. Plus the really old grease marker photos of the results of the study don’t inspire a whole lot of confidence. Maybe that’s just my bias talking though.

The main issue I have with using older studies is that language has changed so it’s hard to tell what they mean sometimes. Or they will not even mention an important aspect of the study because at the time it was probably the only way to do it, but since then we have a ton of different ways things are done so it would’ve been nice to have that information saved for the day that the technique is generalized. In some ways it’s interesting to see how standards have changed, the language we speak hasn’t changed THAT much really, but the tone or the formality of the language used definitely has changed.

Not to mention everyone has their own acronyms and so I may call epidural spinal cord stimulation ESS, which is a common acronym for it, but others use ESCS or eSCS, even DCS (dorsal column stimulation) all meaning basically the same thing, just slightly different acronym. It’s a problem we run into today with spinal stimulation research, which I think makes my hunting even harder, especially when the invasive side of spinal cord stimulation has been around since the 60’s or so and the name of the technique has changed over the years (see DCS, vs ESS).

As technology improves, you would think we would have a better way to organize our information, a way to not just search titles of papers or keywords in papers, but also the general idea of the paper, what the paper is trying to achieve. We need a tag cloud system that lets us add the words we WANT to use to find that information so others wouldn’t have the same headaches we did. I don’t know, but I guess what I’m suggesting is that instead of having search engines tag research using words from the paper, the title, and authors, we need a way to add to the search terms. Granted that makes work for others who would have to monitor those tag clouds, but I feel like it would be a much better way to organize the data out there.

In any case, I’ve got to get back to my deep dive into the history of nerve stimulation, which will maybe give me a stopping point eventually where I can say the other 500 questions this answer gives me can wait for another day because I now have enough background to work on the thing that I need to do. One can hope anyway…


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