to the first blog assignment of the 2012-13 school year. We will begin our
study of biology by examining the nature of science. Science is a rich
field of philosophical study and you will be introduced to two
influential essays written on the subject.
are part of science but science is not simply experiments, otherwise
science would be like a cook book. Discovered knowledge is part of
science but science is not simply facts, otherwise stamp collecting
would also be science. Science includes experiments and collected
knowledge but it is much more. For example, how do we know? Reading
these essays will help you begin to understand science and I hope cause a
conversation to discuss it further.
Read Dr. Ziman's essay then respond to the question below by commenting to the post.
Ziman's goal was to define science. He presented four familiar
definitions for science and concludes by presenting his definition. Explain why Ziman finds the four familiar definitions lacking and
how his definition addresses what he sees as the true nature of science.
free to ask questions before you answer the question. To do this,
simply comment to this entry. When you wish to answer the question,
again simply add a comment to this entry but be sure to state that this
is your answer. Your response will be your first grade.
Have fun with this and let AP Biology begin!
PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE An essay concerning the social dimension of science
J. M. ZIMAN, F.R.S. Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Bristol
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1968.
this essay a practicing scientist and gifted expositor sets forth a new
point of view on the nature of science and how it works. Professor
Ziman argues that the true goal of all scientific research is to
contribute to the consensus of universally accepted knowledge. He
explores the philosophical, psychological and sociological consequences
of this principle, and explains how, in practice, the consensus is
established and how the work of the individual scientist becomes a part
of it. The intellectual form of scientific, knowledge is determined by
the absolute need for the scientist to communicate his findings and to
make them acceptable to other people. The internal social relations of
the scientific community are. therefore all-important; the author has
much to say, from his own experience, of the-'way scientists teach,
communicate with, promote, criticize, honor, give ear to, and give
patronage to, one another.
Professor Ziman's essay,
being written in plain English, and requiring only the slenderest
technical knowledge of science, can (and should) be read by any educated
person; as he says "all genuine scientific procedures of thought and
argument are essentially the same as those of everyday life".
WHAT IS SCIENCE?
Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind: ROM xiv- 5
answer the question "What is Science?" is almost as presumptuous as to
try to state the meaning of Life itself. Science has become a major part
of the stock of our minds; its products are the furniture of our
surroundings. We must accept it, as the good lady of the fable is said
to have agreed to accept the Universe.
Yet the question
is puzzling rather than mysterious. Science is very clearly a conscious
artifact of mankind, with well-documented historical origins, with a
definable scope and content, and with recognizable professional
practitioners and exponents. The task of defining Poetry, say, whose
subject matter is by common consent ineffable, must be self-defeating.
Poetry has no rules, no method, no graduate schools, no logic: the bards
are self-anointed and their spirit bloweth where it listeth. Science,
by contrast, is rigorous, methodical, academic, logical and practical.
The very facility that it gives us, of clear understanding, of seeing
things sharply in focus, makes us feel that the instrument itself is
very real and hard and definite. Surely we can state, in a few words,
it’s essential nature.
It is not difficult to state the
order of being to which Science belongs. It is' one of the categories
of the intellectual commentary that Man makes on his World. Amongst its
kith and kin we would put Religion, Art, Poetry, Law, Philosophy,
Technology, etc - the familiar divisions or 'Faculties' of the Academy
or the Multiversity.
At this stage I do not mean to
analyze the precise relationship that exists between Science and each of
these cognate modes of thought; I am merely asserting that they are on
all fours with one another. It makes some sort of sense (though it may
not always be stating a truth) to substitute these words for one
another, in phrases like "Science teaches us. . . “or "The Spirit of Law
is. . ." or "Technology benefits mankind by..."or "He is a student of
Philosophy". The famous "conflict between Science and Religion" was
truly a battle between combatants of the same species between David and
Goliath if you will - and not, say, between the Philistine army and a
Dryad, or between a point of order and a postage stamp.
is obviously like Religion, Law, Philosophy, etc. in being a more or
less coherent set of ideas. In its own technical language, Science is
information; it does not act directly on the body; it speaks to the
mind. Religion and Poetry, we may concede, speak also to the emotions,
and the statements of Art can seldom be written or expressed
verbally-but, they all belong in the non- material realm.
But in what ways are these, forms of knowledge unlike
one another? What are the special attributes of Science? What is the
criterion for drawing lines of demarcation about it, to distinguish it
from Philosophy, or from Technology, or from Poetry?
question has long been debated. Famous books have been devoted to it.
It has been the theme of whole schools of philosophy. To give an account
of all the answers, with all their variations, would require a history
of Western thought. It is a daunting subject. Nevertheless, the types of
definition with which we are familiar can be stated crudely.
Science is the Mastery of Man's Environment.
This is, I think, the vulgar conception. It identifies Science with its
products; it points to penicillin or to an artificial satellite and
tells us of all the wonderful further powers that man will soon acquire
by the, same agency.
This definition enshrines two
separate errors. In the first place it confounds Science, with
Technology. It puts all its emphasis on the applications of scientific
knowledge and gives no hint as to the intellectual procedures by which
that knowledge may be successfully obtained. It does not really
discriminate between Science and Magic, and gives us no reason for
studies such as Cosmology and Pure Mathematics, which seem entirely
remote from practical use.
It also confuses ideas with
things. Penicillin is not Science, any more than a cathedral is Religion
or a witness box is Law. The material manifestations and powers of
Science, however beneficial, awe-inspiring, monstrous, or beautiful, are
not even symbolic; they belong in a different logical realm, just as a
building is not equivalent to or symbolic of the architect's blueprints.
A meal is not the same thing as a recipe.
Science is the Study of the Material World.
This sort of definition is also very familiar in popular thought. It
derives, I guess, from the great debate between Science and Religion,
whose outcome was a treaty of partition in which Religion was left with
the realm of the Spirit whilst Science was allowed full sway in the
territory of Matter.
Now it is true that one of the
aims of Science is to provide us with a Philosophy of Nature, and it is
also true that many questions of a moral or spiritual kind cannot be
answered at all within a scientific framework. But the dichotomy between
Matter and Spirit is an obsolete philosophical notion which does not
stand up very well to careful critical analysis. If we stick to this
definition we may end up in a circular argument in which Matter is only
recognizable as the subject matter of Science. Even then, we shall have
stretched the meaning of words a long way in order to accommodate
Psychology, or Sociology, within the scientific stable.
definition would also exclude Pure Mathematics. Surely this is wrong.
Mathematical thinking is so deeply entangled with the physical sciences
that one cannot draw a line between them. Modern mathematicians think of
themselves as exploring the logical consequences (the 'theorems') of
different sets of hypotheses or 'axioms', and do not claim absolute
truth, in a material sense, for their results. Theoretical physicists
and applied mathematicians try to confine their explorations to systems
of hypotheses that they believe to reflect properties of the 'real'
world, but they often have no license for this belief it would be absurd
to have to say that Newton's Principia, and all the work that was built
upon it, was not now Science, just because we now suppose that the
inverse square law of gravitation is not perfectly true in an
Einsteinian universe. I suspect that the exclusion of the 'Queen of the
Sciences' from her throne is a relic of some ancient academic
arrangement, such as the combination of classical literary studies with
mathematics in the Cambridge Tripos, and has no better justification
than that Euclid and Archimedes wrote in Greek.
Science is the Experimental Method. The
recognition of the importance of experiment was the key event in the
history of Science. The Baconian thesis was sound; we can often do no
better today than to follow it.
Yet this definition is
incomplete in several respects. It arbitrarily excludes pure
mathematics, and needs to be supplemented to take cognizance of those
perfectly respectable sciences such as Astronomy or Geology where we can
only observe the consequences of events and circumstances over which we
have no control. It also fails to give due credit to the strong
theoretical and logical sinews that are needed to hold the results of
experiments and observations together and give them force. Scientists do
not in fact work in the way that operationalists suggest; they tend to
look for, and find, in Nature little more than they believe to be there,
and yet they construct airier theoretical systems than their actual
observations warrant. Experiment distinguishes Science from the older,
more speculative ways to knowledge but it does not fully characterize
the scientific method.
Science arrives at Truth by logical inferences from empirical observations.
This is the standard type of definition favored by most serious
philosophers. It is usually based upon the principle of induction-that
what has been seen to happen a great many times is almost sure to happen
invariably and may be treated as a basic fact or Law upon which a firm
structure of theory can be erected.
There is no doubt
that this is the official philosophy by which most practical scientists
work. From it one can deduce a number of practical procedures, such as
the testing of theory by 'predictions' of the results of future
observations, and their subsequent confirmation. The importance of
speculative thinking is recognized, provided that it is curbed by
conformity to facts. There is no restriction of a metaphysical kind upon
the subject matter of Science, except that it must be amenable to
observations and inference.
But the attempt to make
these principles logically watertight does not seem to have succeeded.
What may be called the positivist program, which would assign the label
'True' to statements that satisfy these criteria, is plausible but not
finally compelling. Many philosophers have now sadly come to the
conclusion that there is no ultimate procedure which will wring the last
drops of uncertainty from what scientists call their knowledge.
although working scientists would probably state that this is the Rule
of their Order, and the only safe principle upon which their discoveries
may be based, they do not always obey it in practice. We often find
complex theories-quite good theories that really depend on very few
observations. It is, extraordinary, for example, how long and
complicated the chains of inference are in the physics of elementary
particles; a few clicks per month in an enormous assembly of glass
tubes, magnetic fields, scintillator fluids and electronic circuits
becomes a new 'particle', which in its turn provokes a flurry of
theoretical papers and ingenious interpretations. I do not mean to say
that the physicists are not correct; but no one can say that all the
possible alternative schemes of explanation are carefully checked by
innumerable experiments before the discovery is acclaimed and becomes
part of the scientific canon. There is far more faith, and reliance upon
personal experience and intellectual authority, than the official
doctrine will allow.
A simple way of putting it is that
the logico-inductive scheme does not leave enough room for genuine
scientific error. It is too black and white. Our experience, both as
individual scientists and historically, is that we only arrive at
partial and incomplete truths; we never achieve the precision and
finality that seem required by the definition. Thus, nothing we do in
the laboratory or study is "really" scientific, however honestly we may
aspire to the ideal. Surely, it is going too far to have to say, for
example, that it was "unscientific" to continue to believe in Newtonian
dynamics as soon as it had been observed and calculated that the
rotation of the perihelion of Mercury did not conform to its
This summary of the various conceptions of
science obviously fails to do justice to the vast and subtle literature
on the subject. If I have emphasized the objections to each point of
view, this is merely to indicate that none of the definitions is
entirely satisfactory. Most practicing scientists and most people
generally, take up one or other of the attitudes that I have sketched,
according to the degree of their intellectual sophistication-but without
fervor. One can be zealous, for Science, and a splendidly successful
research worker, without pretending to a clear and certain notion of
what Science really is. In practice it does not seem to matter.
this is healthy. A deep interest in theology is not welcome in the
average churchgoer, and the ordinary taxpayer should not really concern
himself about the nature of sovereignty or the merits of bicameral
legislatures. Even though Church and State depend, in the end, upon such
abstract matters, we may reasonably leave them to the experts if all
goes smoothly. The average scientist will say that he knows from
experience - and common sense what he is doing, and so long as he is not
striking too deeply into the foundations of knowledge he is content to
leave the highly technical discussion of the nature of Science to those
self-appointed authorities the Philosophers of Science. A rough and
ready conventional wisdom will see him through.
Yet in a
way this neglect of - even scorn for - the Philosophy of Science by
professional scientists is strange. They are, after all, engaged in a
very difficult, rather abstract, highly intellectual activity and need
all the guidance they can from general theory. We may agree that the
general principles may not in practice be very helpful, but we might
have thought that at least they would be taught to young scientists in
training just as medical students are taught Physiology and budding
administrators were once encouraged to acquaint themselves with Plato's
Republic. When the student graduates and goes into a laboratory, how
will he know what to do to make scientific discoveries if he has not
been taught the distinction between a scientific theory and a
non-scientific one? Making all allowances for the initial prejudice of
scientists against speculative philosophy, and for the outmoded
assumption that certain general ideas would communicate themselves to
the educated and cultured man without specific instruction, I find this
an odd and significant phenomenon.
The fact is that
scientific investigation, as distinct from the theoretical content of
any given branch of science, is a practical art. It is not learnt out of
books, but by imitation and experience. Research workers are trained by
apprenticeship, by working for their PhDs under the supervision of more
experienced scholars, not by attending courses in the metaphysics of
physics. The graduate student is given his "problem": "You might have a
look at the effect of pressure on the band structure of the III-V
compounds; I don't think it has been done yet, and it would be
interesting to see whether it fits into the pseudopotential theory."
Then, with considerable help, encouragement and criticism, he sets up
his apparatus, makes his measurements, performs his calculations, etc.
and in due course writes a thesis and is accounted a qualified
professional. But notice that he will not at any time have been made to
study formal logic, nor will he be expected to defend his thesis in a
step b step deductive procedure. His examiners may ask him, why he had
made some particular assertion in the course of his argument, or they
may enquire as to the reliability of some particular measurement. They
may even ask him to assess the value of the "contribution" he has made
to the subject as a whole. But they will not ask him to give, any
opinion as to whether Physics is ultimately true,
or whether he is justified now in believing in an external world, or in
what sense a theory is verified by the observation of favorable
instances. The examiners will assume that the candidate shares with them
the common language and principles of their discipline. No scientist
really doubts that theories are verified by observation, any more than a
Common Law judge hesitates to rule that hearsay evidence is
What one finds in practice is that
scientific argument, written or spoken, is not very complex or logically
precise. The terms and concepts that are used may be extremely subtle
and technical, but they are put "together in quite simple logical forms,
with expressed or implied relations as the machinery of deduction. It
is very seldom that one uses the more sophisticated types of proof used
in Mathematics, such as asserting a proposition by proving that its
negation implies a contradiction. Of course actual mathematical or
numerical analysis of data may carry the deduction through many steps,
but the symbolic machinery of algebra and the electronic circuits of the
computer are then relied on to keep the argument straight. (This point I
owe to Professor Korner.) In my own experience, one more often detects
elementary non sequiturs in the verbal reasoning than actual
mathematical mistakes in the calculations that accompany them. This is
not said to disparage the intellectual powers of scientists; I mean
simply that the reasoning used in scientific papers is not very
different from what we should use in an everyday careful discussion of
an everyday problem.
This is a point to which we shall
return in a later chapter. It is made here to emphasize the inadequacy
of the 'logico-inductive' metaphysic of Science. How can this be correct
' when few scientists are interested in or understand it, and none ever
uses it explicitly in his work? But then if Science is distinguished
from other intellectual disciplines neither by a particular style or
argument nor by a definable subject matter, what is it?
The answer proposed in this essay is suggested by its title: Science is Public Knowledge.
This is, of course, a very cryptic definition, with almost the
suggestion of a play upon words. (There is also, unfortunately, the hint
of an antithesis to Personal Knowledge,
the title of Polanyi's book to which I have already referred. No
antagonism is meant. Polanyi goes a long way along the path I follow,
and is one of the few writers on Science who have seen the social
relations between scientists as a key factor in its nature.) What I mean
is something along the following lines. Science is not merely published
knowledge or information. Anyone may make an observation, or conceive a
hypothesis, and, if he has the financial means, get it printed and
distributed for other persons to read. Scientific knowledge is more than
this. Its facts and theories, must survive a period of critical study
and testing by other competent and disinterested individuals, and must
have been found so persuasive that they are almost universally accepted.
The objective of Science is not just to acquire information nor to
utter all non-contradictory notions; its goal is a consensus of rational opinion over the widest possible field.
a sense, this is so obvious and well-known that it scarcely needs,
saying. Most educated and informed people agree that Science is true,
and therefore impossible to gainsay. But I assert my definition much
more positively; this is the basic principle upon which Science is
founded. It is not a subsidiary consequence of the "Scientific Method";
it is the scientific method itself.
The defect of the
conventional philosophical approach to Science is that it considers only
two terms in the equation. The scientist is seen as an individual,
pursuing a somewhat one-sided dialogue with taciturn Nature. He
observes phenomena, notices regularities, arrives at generalizations,
deduces consequences, etc., and eventually, Hey Presto! A Law of Nature
springs into being. But it is not like that at all. The scientific
enterprise is corporate. It is not merely, in Newton's incomparable
phrase that one stands on the shoulders of giants, and hence can see a
little farther. Every scientist sees through his own eyes - and also
through the eyes of his predecessors and colleagues. It is never one
individual that goes through all the steps in the logico-inductive
chain; it is a group of individuals, dividing their labor but
continuously and jealously checking each other's contributions. The
cliché of scientific prose betrays itself "Hence we arrive at the,
conclusion that..." 'The audience to which scientific publications are
is not passive; by its cheering or booing, its bouquets
or brickbats, it actively controls the substance of the communications
that it receives.
In other words, scientific research
is a social activity. Technology, Art and Religion are perhaps possible
for Robinson Crusoe, but Law and Science are not. To understand the
nature of Science, we must look at the way in which scientists behave
towards one another, how they are organized and how information passes
between them. The young scientist does not study formal logic, but he
learns by imitation and experience a number of conventions that embody
strong social relationships. In the language of Sociology, he learns to
play his role in a system by which knowledge is acquired, sifted and
eventually made public property.
It has, of course,
long been recognized that Science is peculiar in its origins to the
civilization of Western Europe. The question of the social basis of
Science, and its relations to other organizations and institutions of
our way of life is much debated. Is it a consequence of the 'Bourgeois
Revolution', or of Protestantism - or what? Does it exist despite the
Church and the Universities, or because of them? Why did China, with its
immense technological and intellectual resources, not develop the same
system? What should be the status of the scientific worker in an
advanced society; should he be a paid employee, with a prescribed field
of study, or an aristocratic dilettante? How should decisions be taken
about expenditure on research? And so on.
problems, profoundly sociological, historical and political though they
may be, are not quite what I have in mind. Only too often -the element
in the argument that gets the least analysis is the actual institution
about which the whole discussion hinges scientific activity itself. To
give a contemporary example, there is much talk nowadays about the
importance of creating more effective systems for storing and indexing
scientific literature, so that every scientist can very quickly become
aware of the relevant work of every other scientist in his field. This
recognizes that publication is important, but the discussion usually
betrays an absence of careful thought about the part that conventional
systems of scientific communication play in sifting and sorting the
material that they handle. Or again, the problem of why Greek Science
never finally took off from its brilliant taxiing runs is discussed in
terms of, say, the aristocratic citizen despising the servile labor of
practical experiment, when it might have been due to the absence of just
such a communications system between scholars as was provided in the
Renaissance by alphabetic printing. The internal sociological analysis
of Science itself is a necessary preliminary to the study of the
Sociology of Knowledge in the secular world.
present essay cannot pretend to deal with all such questions. The
'Science of Science' is a vast topic, with many aspects. The very core
of so many difficulties is suggested by my present argument-which
Science stands in the region where the intellectual, the psychological
and the sociological coordinate axes intersect. It is knowledge,
therefore intellectual, conceptual and abstract. It is inevitably
created by individual men and women, and therefore has a strong
psychological aspect. It is public, and therefore molded and determined
by the social relations between individuals. To keep all these aspects
in view simultaneously, and to appreciate their hidden connections, is
not at all easy. It has been put to me that one should in fact
distinguish carefully between Science as a body of knowledge, Science as
what scientists do and Science as a social institution. This is
precisely the sort of distinction that one must not make; in the
of geometry, a solid object cannot be reconstructed from its
projections upon the separate Cartesian planes. By assigning the
intellectual aspects of Science to the professional philosophers we make
of it an and exercise in logic; by allowing the psychologists to take
possession of the personal dimension we overemphasize the mysteries of
"creativity" at the expense of rationality and the critical power of
well-ordered argument; if the social aspects are handed over to the
sociologists, we get a description of research as an N-person game, with
prestige points for stakes and priority claims as trumps. The problem
has been to discover a unifying principle for Science in all its
aspects. The recognition that scientific knowledge must be public and
consensible (to coin a necessary word) allows one to trace out the
complex inner relationships between its various facets. Before one can
distinguish and discuss separately the philosophical, psychological or
sociological dimension of Science, one must somehow have succeeded in
characterizing it as a whole. ("Hence a true philosophy of science must
be a philosophy of scientists and laboratories as well as one of waves,
particles and symbols." Patrick Meredith in Instruments of
Communication, P. 40.)
In an ordinary work of Science
one does well not to dwell too long on the hypothesis that is being
tested, trying to define and describe it in advance of reporting the
results of the experiments or calculations that are supposed to verify
or negate it. The results themselves indicate the nature of the
hypothesis, its scope and limitations. The present essay is organized in
the same manner. Having sketched a point of view in this chapter, I
propose to turn the discussion to a number of particular topics that I
think can be better understood when seen from this new angle. To give a
semblance of order to the argument, the various subjects have been
arranged according to whether they are primarily intellectual, for
example, some attempt to discriminate between scientific and
non-scientific disciplines; psychological - e.g. the role of education,
the significance of scientific creativity; sociological - the structure
of the scientific community and the institutions by which it maintains
scientific standards and procedures. Beyond this classification, the
succession of topics is likely to be pretty haphazard; or, as the good
lady said, "How do I know what I think until I have heard what I have to
The subject is indeed endless. As pointed out in
the Preface, the present brief essay is meant only as an exposition of a
general theory, which will be applied to a variety of more specific
instances in a larger work. The topics discussed here are chosen,
therefore, solely to exemplify the main argument, and are not meant to
comprehend the whole field. In many cases, also, the discussion has been
kept abstract and schematic, to avoid great marshlands of detail. The
reader is begged, once more, to forgive the inaccuracies and
imprecisions inevitable in such an account, and to concentrate his
critical attention upon the validity of the general principle and its
power of explaining how things really are.
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