A next step beyond believing in it (or any well established theory — e.g. Evolution) is to ask: do you like it? (and here I’m talking about the real thing, we’ll deal with the television show later).
Einstein didn’t like it. So much so he made his self-proclaimed “biggest mistake” trying to work around it.
Over on Oscillator, Christina quotes a great line from the biography of Barbara McClintock:
“Good science cannot proceed without a deep emotional investment on the part of the scientist. It is that emotional investment that provides the motivating force for the endless hours of intense, often grueling labor.”
So, does the way you approach the science change depending on whether you like (love, hate) the theory or model on which you are working?
In my own work in biophysics, I thought of a couple of examples:
I really like the theory that changes in heat capacity (delta-Cp) during the association of different biological molecules can be directly related to the surface area change involved in the reaction, and particularly the non-polar surface area of interaction. This theory says that if you measure the delta-Cp, you can predict the surface area of interaction between two proteins, or between a protein and a piece of DNA that it binds to. And vice-versa –measure the interaction surface and you can directly predict the heat capacity. I like this theory because it is one of the few times that it has seemed that one might have a simple and direct way to relate a thermodynamic quantity to a bio-molecular quantity. Yet, my lab’s own work, along with the work of many other laboratories, have shown that this correlation doesn’t really hold, especially for protein-DNA interactions. So I really like it, but sadly I have to tell it that we cannot be friends anymore. (Note: many labs still “believe” it — this is a very active research area in biological physics.)
Another example: I don’t particularly like the two-state theory of protein folding-unfolding. This basically states that when a protein folds into its native state, it is essentially an all or nothing process — that there are few or no intermediates, it just jumps from a wiggly piece of spaghetti into the complex structure you see in textbooks. We know the situation is more complex for most larger proteins, but many smaller proteins follow this model, at least thermodynamically, very very well. My lab has also done work in this area, and every experiment we do supports the two-state theory for the particular proteins we work with. I don’t hate the two-state model, I just think it sounds too much like magic or like the double-slit experiment — it just doesn’t seem mechanically sound, yet experiments keep verifying it.
These are only two examples, but it’s interesting to think about a multi-dimensional map of the science we work on with questions like: what do you believe in? what to you know? what do you like? what do you dislike? And how does this all effect your work?