December 14, 2021

Establishing breath analysis as a robust science

Establishing breath analysis as a robust science

Breath analysis is a young science and there are not yet any standard operating procedures (SOP) or gold standards by which scientists can validate their procedures and results. Thus, there is not only data diversity, but also data incommensurability [1].

How to deal with new techniques or inventions for which there is not yet a consensus on their veracity? Employing Ian Hacking's concept of robust fit, I will address aforementioned problem.

According to Hacking, reality has more to do with what we do in the world than what we think about it [2]. But what if there are more theories than practices in a field? I think this is the case with the young science of breath analysis. Essentially no concrete clinical or other practices or unit procedures for breath analysis have yet been found. Breath analysis has so far mainly been applied in research settings. There is wild speculation about what/how/where it can be represented and what it might and might not tell us, what the limitations are, what the future holds, and so on. Many different instruments and measurement methods are currently utilised.

Now how does one get from this level of general confusion to the accomplishment of unity (others call this insight)? Trial and error and experience through many additional studies will lead the way. Areas of greatest disagreement through independent studies will be filtered out, and slowly a consensus will form. In practical terms, a robust fit must occur for a scientific direction to be considered true. The fit between theory, phenomenology, schematic model, and apparatus is robust when attempts to replicate an experiment go pretty smoothly — and when other groups of workers, with new apparatus, new tacit knowledge, and a different experimental culture do not encounter important new resistance [3].  To achieve this robust fit in breath analysis, the Exhalomics Consortium was founded; by bringing together many different scientists from different institutes with different measurement methods and equipment, targeted work can be done. The Exhalomics Consortium efficiently works together to establish breath analysis as a robust science and comprehensive measurement method.

[1] 'Incomparability of substances with measured values due to lack of properties suitable for comparison''

[2] Hacking, Ian. 1983:17. “Representing andIntervening. Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science”. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

[3] Hacking, Ian. 1999:72. “The Social Construction of What?”. Cambridge/Massachusetts, London/England: Harvard University Press