Who Gets to Decide What “Science” Means?


(system) #1

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/who-gets-to-decide-what-science-means

#2

Scientists get to decide what science means since they are the ones doing science, publishing scientific research, and judging the scientific work of others through peer review and further testing.

To use an analogy, the umpires at a baseball game get to decide what is a ball and a strike. How annoying is it when a fan continually harasses the umps about balls and strikes? There are times when I wish you could grab one of those annoying spectators, drag them down to the field, put the umpire equipment on them, and then see how they do. I think they will find that it’s a lot harder to do the actual job than it is to complain from the stands.

I also tend to feel the same way about ID/YEC/OEC’s. They continually complain about the science that others do, but they very, very rarely do science of their own, much less publish that science in a real peer review journal. They very, very rarely engage the actual scientific community, and instead focus on webpages and tracts sent to churches. To be a credible critic of science you have to be in the game, at least in my opinion.


(James Stump) #3

Hmm… not sure I quite agree. Or at least I want to claim it is more complex than that. In your analogy, the umpires are determining whether a particular event is a ball or strike, but they’re not (at least in the performance of that judgment) determining the criteria for what makes something a ball or strike. Isn’t there a committee that includes non-umpires that determine that??

In science, I agree that practicing scientists (already a circular definition) are best suited to say, “this is what we do, and what we do is most properly called science.” But what’s to prevent another group of people (who maybe call themselves scientists too) from using the same word to describe the slightly different thing they do? They only thing that prevents that is the community of language speakers, and if they accept it, the word sticks.

I wrote about a similar issue before during the PLOS One creatorgate scandal. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on that too: https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/reviewing-creatorgate-how-science-is-like-soccer


#4

Any analogy will weaken as you stretch it too far, but playing along . . .

There is a rules committee for baseball, and the closest analogy in science are scientific organizations like ASM, NSF, NIH, AAS, and APS. These organizations are staffed by career scientists who are well respected and have an extensive CV, so it once again goes back to the scientists deciding what is science. More importantly, “what is science?” is not something determined by non-scientists who feel it necessary to criticize the science. For example, the FDA, CDC, and NIH are in charge of determining the efficacy and safety of vaccines based on the best available science, not Jenny McCarthy or other non-scientist anti-vaxxers.

I would also like to reiterate that this is my opinion, so feel free to disagree or pick it apart.[quote=“jstump, post:3, topic:37454”]
In science, I agree that practicing scientists (already a circular definition) are best suited to say, “this is what we do, and what we do is most properly called science.” But what’s to prevent another group of people (who maybe call themselves scientists too) from using the same word to describe the slightly different thing they do? They only thing that prevents that is the community of language speakers, and if they accept it, the word sticks.
[/quote]

Nothing is stopping any group from doing this, freedom of speech and all. I think it really comes down to two things:

  1. Do people respect the opinion of scientists more than they do the opinion of non-scientists when it comes to science?

  2. Who should we be listening to?

I suspect that you and I agree that we respect scientists more than lay people when it comes to science, and we should be listening to them (without treating their words as gospel). However, there is a trend towards people citing non-scientists simply because they agree with their conclusions. We also currently see political movements that brazenly ignore inconvenient scientific findings because they clash with their ideology.

Creatorgate seems to have poked a stick at this problem, even if unintentionally. Scientists are well aware that people are rejecting good science because of religious beliefs or political ideology, so when someone even hints at supporting ID/creationism it will spark some strong comments. Are scientists being overly sensitive? Perhaps. Is it occurring in a vacuum? Heck no.


#5

I agree. All professional people, those with expertise and training in their fields, should be allowed to decide on standards and normative practice for their own professions. They also decide on such things as licensing, accreditation, and discipline. We have laws about who may practice law, medicine, etc. We’re only asking for trouble when a googling “expert” tell us that vaccinations are harmful, global warming is a hoax, etc.