Document 238130

Philosophy." The famous 'confli
a battle between combatans of tl
if -vou will-and not, saY, betrctr
a point of order and a postap s:
Science is obviously like ReQ
What Is Science?
John Ziman
To 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 ptrzzlingrather than mysterious. Science is very clearly a
conscious irtifact of mankind, with well-documented historical origins, with a
definable scope and content, and with recognizable professional practitioners
and exponents. fne task of defining Poetry, say, whose subject matter is by
.orn*on 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 bloweih 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, its essential nature.
It i$ 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. ,lmongit its kith and kin we would put Religion, Art, Poetry, Law,
Philosophy, Tichnology, etc.-the familiar divisions or "Faculties" of the
Academy or the MultiversitY.
At thii stage t do not mean to analyse the precise relationship that exists between Scienci 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
(ti'oueh it may not always be stating a truth) to substitute these words for one
anothir, in pirases like "science teaches us . . ." or "The Spirit of Zaw
or "He is a student of
is...,, or ,iTechnology benefits mankind
or less coherent set ofideas. [n irs o
ir does not act directly on the
Poetry, we may concede, sPeak
Art can seldom be written or er
non-material realm.
But in what ways are ther fo
are the special attributes of ScL
of demarcation about it, to distinl
or from Poetry?
One can be zealous for sciencr
without pretending to a clear a
In practice it does not seem to m
Perhaps this is healthy. A dc
average churchgoer, and the ordir
about the nature of sovereigrrry'
though Church and State dePe
we may reasonably leave them tr
scientist will say that he knort
he is doing, and so long as he i
of knowledge he is content to
nature of Science to those self-ap1
A rough and ready conventional
Yet in a way this neglect of'
by professional scientists is stn
difficult, rather abstract, highb'
they can get from general theo
may not in Practice be very H
they would be taught to Young
are taught PhysiologY and bud
acquaint themselves with Plaro
goes into alaboratory, howwillh
if he has not been taught the
non-scientific one? Making all e
against speculative philosophl'.
general ideas would communl
man without specific instruction
The fact is that scientfic inrn
tent of anY given branch of c
of books, but bY imitation and
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What Is Science?
supervision of more
apprenticeship, by working for their Ph'D''s under the
of physics'
e*pe.ien"eA *-hoiu.r, not f,'y attending-courses in the
at the
1"fr'e graOuate student is given his "problem": "You
effect of pressure on the band structure of the
think it has been done yet, and it would be interesting
i"io ,t. pseudopotential theory." Then, with considerable
and criticism, he sets up his apparatus, makes his measurements'
his calculations, etc. and in due course writes a
q""fin.O professionat. But notice that he will not at
his thesis in a step
;;;ily ior-al logic, nor will he be expected to defend
why he had made
LV .,.p a.Ouctive frocedure. His examiners may ask
they may enquire
some particular asiertion in the course of his argument,
ask him
; ,; i* reliability of some particular measurement.made to theeven
as a
to assess the value of the 'tontribution" he has
*r,ot.. But they will not ask him to give any opinion
in an external
is ultimately true, or whether he is justifred now in believing
of favourable
world, or in what sense a theory is veri{ied by the
with them
irrriu*.r. The examiners will assume that the candidate
and principles of their discipline'
the common language
verihed by observation, any
doubts that theories
that hearsay evidence is inadmissible.
Lu* irOg"
what one finds in practice is that scientific argument, written or spoken,
that are
is not very complex or logically precise' .The terms and concepts
used may be extremely ,rritl" an^d technical, but
qrii. forms, with expressed or implied
of 1t is very seldom ihut on. uses the more sophisticated
pi""f used in Mathematics, such as asserting a
mathematical or
,t u[ i , negation implies a contradiction. Of course actual
many steps, but
."*r.i"A Inalysis oi dutu may carry the deduction
of the computer
,-t" ryr.U"fi" machinery of algibra and the electronic
are then relied on to keep i-he argUment straight.l
one more often detects elementary non sequiturs
in itre calcuiations that
actual mathematical .i.,ut
is not said to Oisparag; the intellectual powers of scientists;
different from what
that the reasoning or.1 i, scientific papers is not very
of an
we- should use in an everyday careful disCussion
. .- . [fhis pointl ir-*#. t" emphasize the inadequacy
few scientists are interested
metaphysic of Science. Ho* .u, tt i. U" correct, whin
But then
in or understand it, and none ever uses it explicitly l".q: work?
by a
if s.i.r". is distingu-iitred from other intellectaual
title:.scrence Is Public
The answer p.opir"J in this essay is suggested by.its
the sugThis is, of course, a very cryptic definition' with almost
gestion of a play upon words. what I mean is something
or information' Anyone mal
lines. Science is not merely publishedknowledge
if he has the financial
make an observation, o,"'on"ti'" a hypotheiis' and
it Printed and distril
is more than this- Its
study and testing bY other
have been fOUnd
is not ju
-E obirtive of Science its
srradi$ory notions; goal i
db possible field.
h a sense, this is so obvious a
h educated and informed Pa
hsible to gainsaY. But I asss
&hsic PrinciPle uPon which St
.frlce of the "Scientific Metho
The defect of the conventiona
@siders onlY two terms in thec
Fsling a somewhat one-sided
notices regularitit:
alrnoes, etc. and eventuallY, Hc
h it is not like that at all- Tl
udy, in Newton's incomParab
and hence can see a linlc
cyes-and also through the eyes
c individual that goes througl
I tfoup of individuals, divi'rint
fuking each other's contributit
"Ilcnce we arrive at the conchsi
pblications are addressed is
bqrquets or brickbats' it actirt
rbns that it receives.
In other words, scientific resr
Bdigion are PerhaPs Possible fi
DL To understand the nature'
rcie"ntists behave towards one at
mation Passes between them- Tl
but he learns bY imitation al
rmbodY strong social relationsl
play his roleir.a system bY whi
made public Property.
It has, of course, long been r
to the civilization of Western
Science, and its relations to oth
hfe, is much debated. Is it a o
of Protestantism-or what? D
sities, or because of them? Wh5
intellectual resources' not dwd
of the scientific worker in an a
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What Is Science?
with a prescribed field of study, or an aristocratic dilettante? How should decisions be taken about expenditure on research? And so on.
These 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 fietd. 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 taxying runs is discussed in terms of,
say, the aristocratic citizen despising the servile labour 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.
The 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-that Science stands in
the region where the intellectual, the psychological and the sociological coordinate axes intersect. tt 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 moulded 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
of knowledge, Science as what scientists do, and Science as a
social institution. This is precisely the sort of distinction that one must no,
make; in the language 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
arid 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
Science as a body
dimensions of Sclr
&racterizing it as a whole.2
lo an ordinary work of Scitr
Irpothesis that is being teste4 t
Gporting the results of the exPc
rify or negate it. The resuls th
is scope and limitations. The p
Ilaving sketched a point of vier
rin to a number of particular t
rten seen from this new angle. I
6c various
subjects have bem ar:
intellectuol-as, for example,
rifrc and non-scientific disciplim
6e significance of scientiFrc crea
tilic community and the ins
rrandards and procedures. Beyo
fo likely to be pretty haphazar{
rhat I think until I have
l. This point I owe to Professor
2. fience a true philosoPhY of
as one of waves, particles and
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