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What is Science?

Posted Jul 20, '13 at 8:50am

aknerd

aknerd

1,276 posts

Hello!

Most of the threads I have made regarding scientific topics have failed because we all come from different backgrounds, making it hard to find a common topic we can actually debate about. But, looking over the types of people the post in the WEPR, I still feel like there is a general interest in science, so, following Moegreche's lead, this is going to be more of a philosophical discussion.

Feel free to join in even if you have no formal scientific education, everyone's opinion can contribute something worthy here. This is intended to be more of an opinion based thread, I'm interesting in what other people think about science. Feel free to make a new thread, however, if you want to talk about how science is different from religion. While it might come up here and there in this topic, religion is really beyond the scope of this thread.

Okay, now that you've read the fine print, lets get down to business. The first questions I would like to address are these:

1) Where do you think science comes from?

2) What is a typical scientist? How do you think one becomes a scientist?

I would to focus on current science for these questions, by the way. Current being the last 20 years.

 

Posted Jul 20, '13 at 9:21am

HahiHa

HahiHa

5,043 posts

Knight

I think it might be interesting to start with a link to the Online Etymology Dictionary on 'science':
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?ter … in_frame=0

1) Where do you think science comes from?

The search for knowledge and truth. There have been several approaches to this, but there were always people trying to find out how this world works. Science being one of those approaches, typically the more objective one.

2) What is a typical scientist?

Honestly, I don't think there is such a thing. The only thing uniting most modern scientists is their interest in their specific branch.

How do you think one becomes a scientist?

Officially? Studying a certain scientific field, do research and publish papers.

Now of course, anyone working with scientific methods can be considered a scientist, those methods involving experiments, facts and objectivity.

 

Posted Jul 20, '13 at 11:14am

MageGrayWolf

MageGrayWolf

9,677 posts

Knight

Starting with the Title.

Science simply put means knowledge. (Latin, scientia meaning "knowledge", scio meaning "to know".) What is general meant when talking about science is the method used to arrive at this knowledge, "n. the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment"- Oxford Dictionary.
"Science is a system of statements based on direct experience, and controlled by experimental verification. Verification in science is not, however, of single statements but of the entire system or a sub-system of such statements."- Rudolf Carnap

1) Where do you think science comes from?

The development of science in general stems from philosophical thought. Since you're speaking of moderns science how about we turn to wiki.

'The Scientific Revolution (The Scientific Revolution is a convenient boundary between ancient thought and classical physics.) established science as a source for the growth of knowledge. During the 19th century, the practice of science became professionalized and institutionalized in ways that continued through the 20th century. As the role of scientific knowledge grew in society, it became incorporated with many aspects of the functioning of nation-states.

The history of science is marked by a chain of advances in technology and knowledge that have always complemented each other. Technological innovations bring about new discoveries and are bred by other discoveries, which inspire new possibilities and approaches to longstanding science issues."

2) What is a typical scientist? How do you think one becomes a scientist?

I agree with what HahiHa said.

 

Posted Jul 20, '13 at 1:00pm

aknerd

aknerd

1,276 posts

I'm going to reword the first question a bit.

1) Where do you think scientific ideas come from?

Hopefully, this is a bit more non-trivial than the original version.

But, I think there could still be some discussion on the second question. I don't totally agree with Hahiha's answer:

Honestly, I don't think there is such a thing.

Okay, I get where you are coming from. Obviously, we can't throw a blanket over ALL scientists. But, in the end, science is a profession. Like, most scientists are professional scientists, who are paid salaries to do, well, science. This is actually a recent development- historically science was the domain of independently wealthy hobbyists.

So there is one commonality of most scientists: they are for profit. And who pays them? In the U.S, typically universities/colleges. Or the government. A lot (here, I do not use the word "most") of scientists are also professors, and have degrees.

I also think that, at the moment, a large proportion of scientists are young, like younger than 35. In my experience most labs* are run by a single older person, but most of the people in the lab are still students.

* "lab" here refers to a research lab, not a lab class as in a university. Though there is actual research conducted in classrooms these days.

Officially? Studying a certain scientific field, do research and publish papers.

Now of course, anyone working with scientific methods can be considered a scientist, those methods involving experiments, facts and objectivity.

I agree with this, but also think that we might be able to discuss it further. Because its interesting, isn't it? Like, theres this huge divide between being able to call yourself a scientist, and getting other people to respect you as a scientist. Its not like becoming a doctor, where you have to do a certain number of things in order to legally practice medicine.

Anyone can conduct an experiment in their basement. But then again that doesn't mean you're gonna get published in Nature.

Follow up question: Should there be some sort of criteria you need to pass in order to become a scientist? Why or why not?

 

Posted Jul 20, '13 at 2:30pm

MageGrayWolf

MageGrayWolf

9,677 posts

Knight

So there is one commonality of most scientists: they are for profit.

I think it's more a matter of requiring money in order to get the necessary supplies in order to properly run some experiments rather than being for profit.

A lot (here, I do not use the word "most") of scientists are also professors, and have degrees.

All that tells us is they spent time learning and have learned about the field  they are endeavoring to contribute to first.

I also think that, at the moment, a large proportion of scientists are young, like younger than 35. In my experience most labs* are run by a single older person, but most of the people in the lab are still students.

I would have to see statistics on that.

Anyone can conduct an experiment in their basement. But then again that doesn't mean you're gonna get published in Nature.

That would all depend on the nature of the experiment and how you carried it out. This is where money can come it. With a better facility and you stand a better chance of running more precise experiments and can better monitor the results with better equipment. Since science has us become more focused and precise at each step, that becomes more important as we go.
Also you will have an easier time being taken seriously if you have the proof that you are knowledgeable in that specific field (a degree).

 

Posted Jul 20, '13 at 3:00pm

aknerd

aknerd

1,276 posts

I think it's more a matter of requiring money in order to get the necessary supplies in order to properly run some experiments rather than being for profit.

Many (most? nearly all?) scientists get grant money to run their experiments, but are paid an additional salary by whatever institution they work for. I'm not trying to say that scientists are in their field solely for the monetary benefits (because the benefits aren't really THAT great), but rather that it is more of a profession than it used to be.

I would have to see statistics on that.

Hmmm. I'm going to go ahead and say that I will not be able to produce satisfyingly definitive numbers for that claim. As I said, it was more of a personal observation. But, there are SOME numbers to back it up on this  NSF page.

So, its like this. PhD students generally* have to complete a thesis before they get their degree. In the pursuit of this thesis, they generally* work for a mentor (and, again, are generally* paid a salary) for a number of years. If they are also trying to get their masters, a good number would be like 6-8 years. But each mentor can have multiple students. In this way its easy to see how the cumulative "student years" can outweigh the "mentor years", especially considering how the number of PhD students has been rising.
(*you might notice that I am generalizing here...)

Furthermore, it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to say that virtually all science PhD students are currently scientists, but they won't necessarily remain scientists for the rest of their lives. Many of them will drop out, and even those who get their degrees won't necessarily continue their scientific career until they die. A lot will go into administrative or purely academic roles as they get older, some will just get tired or jaded or whatever and open up a food truck.

All that tells us is they spent time learning and have learned about the field  they are endeavoring to contribute to first.

A LOT of time, though. And again, the fact that so many go into education even after they graduate shouldn't be ignored. Think about it: a significant bulk of research is conducted by people who have spent their entire lives in an academic setting. Does that matter? I don't know. But it is interesting to think about.

 

Posted Jul 20, '13 at 3:38pm

HahiHa

HahiHa

5,043 posts

Knight

So there is one commonality of most scientists: they are for profit.

Often the profit is made by independent organisations using the knowledge provided by science. As an example, in medicine/biology the knowledge provided is supposed to help fight diseases, which is used by pharmacological companies to develop treatments (and get money).

Anyone can conduct an experiment in their basement. But then again that doesn't mean you're gonna get published in Nature.

Getting published in Nature is no requisite for being scientist, it is 'simply' a great achievement. There's that thing with the journal indices, and scientists try to publish ina  journal with an index as high as possible. One can argue about the sense of this; of course papers published in Nature will get more attention, but that doesn't mean it is better; it just means it probably contains the words 'cancer' or 'dinosaur' in the title ;)

Follow up question: Should there be some sort of criteria you need to pass in order to become a scientist? Why or why not?

No. As it is, you need to learn the fundamentals of your branch as you specialize, in order to find people supporting your research etc. This should already be sufficient.

I'm not trying to say that scientists are in their field solely for the monetary benefits (because the benefits aren't really THAT great), but rather that it is more of a profession than it used to be.

That is mostly because scientists used to come from wealthy families before. Now that scientific education got more accessible, institutional funds replace private wealth.

Furthermore, it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to say that virtually all science PhD students are currently scientists, but they won't necessarily remain scientists for the rest of their lives. Many of them will drop out, and even those who get their degrees won't necessarily continue their scientific career until they die. A lot will go into administrative or purely academic roles as they get older, some will just get tired or jaded or whatever and open up a food truck.

Does it really matter who does the research, as long as the methodology is respected? Many go to private companies and in the industry after getting their diplomas, true, but this may not be a bad thing either. Knowing some professors, I can tell we don't necessarily need more old mules fighting about their opinions..

A lot will go into administrative or purely academic roles as they get older,

At my uni, professors are chosen for their renown and contributions to research (which is a problem since they don't necessarily possess good didactic skills)...

 

Posted Jul 20, '13 at 4:55pm

HahiHa

HahiHa

5,043 posts

Knight

At my uni, professors are chosen for their renown and contributions to research (which is a problem since they don't necessarily possess good didactic skills)...

I meant to say lecturers, not professors..

 

Posted Jul 22, '13 at 7:15am

Moegreche

Moegreche

2,845 posts

Moderator

This is such a terrific topic, but it looks at bit bogged down. I'd like to suggest a slight shift in direction in how we go about answering (2) from above.

While it might be difficult to give an account of a scientist (or, for that matter, a 'typical' scientist) there certainly do seem to be things that an individual must do - or must avoid doing - to be considered a scientist.

In formal terms, there are some necessary conditions (some of which are already mentioned above) for being considered a scientist. But there are also defeaters - practices that, if an individual engages in, would cause us to withhold the title of scientist to that individual.

I find the defeaters for 'scientisthood' far more interesting that the necessary conditions, although both certainly play an important role.

So my question is: why are there defeaters? What makes certain practices not scientific?
A related question: Does science have its own goals, or does scientific practice reflect further goals that we have as epistemic agents?

 

Posted Jul 22, '13 at 9:36am

aknerd

aknerd

1,276 posts

Does it really matter who does the research, as long as the methodology is respected?

My point was more along the lines of arguing that more people tend to "drop out" of science as they age than "drop into". I was trying to show how you have this (relatively) huge pool scientists in the form of grad students as a young age, which then shrinks with time as some of the student follow other, non-research interests. My overall point was that scientists tend to be younger than what is typically featured in the media.

But, your point in a great segue into Moegreche's post. Because, in a way, he answers your question with another question.

It DOES matter (in my opinion) where the science comes from, because of Moegreche's defeaters. So:

why are there defeaters? What makes certain practices not scientific?

There are defeaters because the current way that science is implemented requires a high level of trust within the scientific community. A scientific paper is an analysis of information, but rarely contains the information itself. Manipulating this data in a clandestine manner is thoroughly unscientific, because you are no longer analyzing the information you are claiming to analyze.

If you are found to commit such an action knowingly, then your paper will definitely be rejected, and probably any past and future papers will be called into question.

Because really, that is what science is all about. Applying logic to data. We can examine each others logic in a paper quite easily- if someone makes an error in a formula, we can see that. But if someone applies a totally different formula to their data in order to make their results more significant, or fabricates the results entirely- well then. How do we know?

There are certain things that someone can do that will raise the level of suspicion. If you have something very personal invested in the topic. If your employer has something important invested in the topic. etc. These shouldn't be enough to discount you as a scientist on their own, but they definitely raise some flags and might merit further inquiry.

I'll have to think about your last question for a bit, I believe.

 
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