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Science is simply “what scientists do”? That’s all?

This image represents the evolution of the Universe, starting with the Big Bang. The red arrow marks the flow of time.
Big Bang/NASA

From theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder at her blog Back(reaction):

On the one hand, I understand the concerns about breaking with centuries of tradition. We used to followed up each hypothesis with experimental test, and the longer the delay between hypothesis and test, the easier for pseudoscience to take foothold. On the other hand, I agree that speculation is a necessary part of science and new problems sometimes require new methods. Insisting on ideals of the past might mean getting stuck, maybe forever.

Even more important, I think it’s a grave mistake to let anyone define what we mean by doing science. Because who gets to decide what’s the right thing to do? Should we listen to Helge Kragh? Peter Woit? George Ellis? Or to the other side, to people like Max Tegmark, Sean Carroll, and David Gross, who claim we’re just witnessing a little paradigm change, nothing to worry about? Or should we, heaven forbid, listen to some philosophers and their ideas about post-empirical science?

There have been many previous attempts to define what science is, but the only definition that ever made sense to me is that science is what scientists do, and scientists are people who search for useful descriptions of nature. “Science,” then, is an emergent concept that arises in communities of people with a shared work practices. “Communities of practice,” as the sociologists say. More.

One suspects that Hossenfelder is finding it difficult to keep her footing in a world where cosmologists wish to ditch evidence and proclaim theories as a metaphysic. So she hopes for a middle way. What the new cosmologists are doing is indeed a “community of practice” but so is water witching. However, it won’t be science. And people who don’t go along with it won’t be popular. Which is probably why she seeks a middle way.

Her current approach proves useless on examination. How about this:

What is medicine?

What medical practitioners do.

What do medical practitioners do?


If we believe that science-based medicine has something to offer, we must take a stand on the pre-science approach (pay a magician to transfer your illness to a passing dog and then drive it away… ) In some situations, that has taken a lot of courage.

It will also take a lot of courage to take a stand against the post-science approach to cosmology.

Wesley Smith notes at Evolution News & Views:

Science is a method for determining facts about the natural world. As the dictionary definition has it, it is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

But too often science is hijacked by “the scientists,” who actually do something else — e.g., make ideological or ethical assertions — and call it “science.” And when they are criticized or their findings are challenged, they wield the “anti-science” canard like a cudgel to shut their critics up — a phenomenon I wrote about in more detail here.

This conflation harms science because it communicates a deconstructing message that science is just politics or ideology by another name. Keep this up, and science will become as discredited in the eyes of the public as other once venerable institutions.

It’s kind of hopeless at that point to complain that the public is anti-science as if that meant what it used to.

See also: Sabine Hossenfelder asks at her blog “How do you prove that Earth is older than 10,000 years?”

Rob Sheldon: “Naturalness” in physics is dead, says Sabine Hossenfelder, and that’s a good thing


Can science survive long in a post-modern world? It’s not clear.


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