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Thoughts on the word “science”

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From a cautious climate scientist hounded by global warming fanatics (move over, give the lady a seat), some links to insights on the unexpected history of the word:

By the 1870s, “scientist” had replaced “man of science” in the United States. Interestingly, the term was embraced partly in order to distinguish the American “scientist,” a figure devoted to “pure” research, from the “professional,” who used scientific knowledge to pursue commercial gains.

Feelings against “scientist” in Britain endured well into the twentieth century. In 1924, “scientist” once again became the topic of discussion in a periodical, this time in the influential specialist weekly Nature. Physicist Norman Campbell sent a Letter to the Editor of Nature asking him to reconsider the journal’s policy of avoiding “scientist.” He admitted that the word had once been problematic; it had been coined at a time “when scientists were in some trouble about their style” and “were accused, with some truth, of being slovenly.” Campbell argued, however, that such questions of “style” were no longer a concern—the scientist had now secured social respect. Furthermore, said Campbell, the alternatives were old-fashioned; indeed, “man of science” was outright offensive to the increasing number of women in science.

The patient, dedicated men and women, the living realities of the word scientist, working in laboratories and communicating in an esoteric language only with their peers, do not satisfy the general craving for definitive answers to social, economic, and political problems, which, so the great half-educated has been led to expect, ‘science ‘ has it in its power to deliver. An abstraction named ‘ the scientist ‘ has been given form in people’s minds as a new figure of authority, corresponding to the priest or witch-doctor of a more primitive culture, whose ‘scientific’ statements can be accepted with child-like reliance. The notion is dangerous not merely because it is untrue but because it is irrational. The quest for absolute scientific validity is as hopeless as the quest for the philosopher’s stone. There may be incidental good in a political or religious philosophy that claims ‘ Scientific ‘ authority and that stands ready to identify itself with the ready-made image in the popular mind of the infallibility of science; but the willingness to assume and exploit that role betrays the unprincipled shrewdness of the publicist. More.

Hmmm. Why did that Texas pressure group suddenly come to mind?

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One Reply to “Thoughts on the word “science”

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    Amen. Scientist is now a figure of intellectual authority on the issue in question.
    Its simply the EXPERT.
    The issue is really can a EXPERT be wrong. Science history teaches YES.
    Evolutionism etc etc is another time the experts are wrong or rather better experts have come along.
    Whats more is because their is a contention NOW the EXPERT must show his proof. This is what hurts the wrong ideas.
    Evolution must prove itself and of coarse it can’t.
    Nothing wrong with science experts.
    Just prove your points and don’t say being a EXPERT means your above proving your points.
    You are being questioned .
    For example. IS THERE ANY BIOLOGICAL SCIENTIFIC evidence for the great claims of evolution???

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