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Scientist

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A scientist is someone who uses the scientific method of research. The term, coined in 1834, has no single definition. Despite the popular view of scientists as being totally objective, they are subject to biases like everyone else.

Contents

Definition

There is no official definition of 'scientist'. It is usually taken to mean someone with a formal qualification in some area of science, although before such qualifications were available, and very occasionally still today, it is used of someone who does scientific research, whether or not they have an applicable qualification.

Origin

The word was coined in 1834 by the Rev. William Whewell, an English polymath.[1]

Bias

As science is supposed to be an objective search for the truth, scientists are often imagined to be objective searchers for the truth. However, scientists are fallible human beings like everyone else.

...the myth of science being a passionless enterprise, carried out by objective detached men, does not hold. ... the image of the objective emotionally disinterested scientist is taken seriously only by the layman or by young science students.[2]

In the same vein, Stephen Jay Gould wrote:

Our ways of learning about the world are strongly influenced by the social preconceptions and biased modes of thinking that each scientist must apply to any problem. The stereotype of a fully rational and objective “scientific method”, with individual scientists as logical (and interchangeable) robots is self-serving mythology.[3]

Science historian at the University of NSW Evelleen Richards said:

Science … is not so much concerned with truth as it is with consensus. What counts as “truth”? is what scientists can agree to count as truth at any particular moment in time … [Scientists] are not really receptive or not really open-minded to any sorts of criticisms or any sorts of claims that actually are attacking some of the established parts of the research (traditional) paradigm — in this case neo-Darwinism — so it is very difficult for people who are pushing claims that contradict the paradigm to get a hearing. They’ll find it difficult to [get] research grants; they’ll find it hard to get their research published; they’ll, in fact, find it very hard.[4]

Anthropologist and science journalist Roger Lewin:

'... And scientists, contrary to the myth that they themselves publicly promulgate, are emotional human beings who carry a generous dose of subjectivity with them into the supposedly "objective search for The Truth ".
In fact, a completely unbiased, unprejudiced exploration of nature is a methodological impossibility, as a biologist and philosopher of science Sir Peter Medawar is fond of pointing out. Without a set of expectations to act as a guide, such a search would be a chaotic and largely unprofitable enterprise. Moreover, the way in which scientists typically report their findings, informal papers submitted to learned journals, is, he says, "notorious for misrepresenting the process of thought that led to whatever discoveries they describe." Preconceptions are rarely acknowledged, because this, after all, would be "unscientific." ...
The anonymous aphorism "I wouldn't have seen it if l hadn't believed it" is a continuing truth in science...[5]

References

  1. Scientist on the Online Etymological Dictionary
  2. American Sociological Review, Volume 39, August, 1974, pp.579-95, quoted by Wieland, Carl, A look at some myths about scientists, Creation 11(3):29, June 1989.
  3. Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History103(2):14, 1994, quoted by Batten, Don, ‘It’s not science’, 28 February 2002.)
  4. Richards, Evelleen, Lateline (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 9 October 1998, quoted in Creation 21(4):47, September 1999.
  5. Lewin, Roger, Bones of Contention: Controversies in the Search for Human Origins, 1987, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, pp. 18-19, quoted in Journal of Creation 11(3), 1997, p.282
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