Our Postmodern World: Science Is Political and Non-PhDs Are Scientists

Our Postmodern World: Science Is Political and Non-PhDs Are Scientists | American Council on Science and Health (acsh.org)
Alex Berezow in American Council on Science & Health in response to Audra Wolfe. Some pull quotes and commentary from me below. Click here for full source with annotations.

What about people who don’t have PhD’s? Are they scientists, too? In any world in which credentials matter, the answer is no. (I describe a major exception to the rule below.) Just like getting an MD or a JD is a prerequisite to being called a doctor or a lawyer, in general, getting a PhD in the natural sciences is the prerequisite to being called a scientist.

I think there is a difference between calling your self a scientist, thinking like a scientist, and being gainfully employed…and conducting experiments…as a scientist.

As an example, I have my PhD. I don’t refer to myself in this capacity, but I am a doctor. I do not get into discussions with friends/family recommending specific medical procedures because “I am a doctor.” It’s not my field. Furthermore, I don’t recommend or give advice for stuff in my field (literacy, technology, education). Many times it is not appropriate…IMHO.

Actually, no, it hasn’t, no matter what the Bunny’s sign says. The scientific method is designed specifically to root out bias and false assumptions, including political ones. Sure, individual scientists can be political, but the scientific method is not. Its ideological agnosticism is why it works so well. In fact, the self-correcting nature of science means it is the best source of secular knowledge that humankind possesses.

I think science, like education, like literacy, like most framings in society is inherently political. Yes, the scientific method, and scientific thinking should partial this out, but…humans are humans.

We should extend the title of “scientist” to anyone who has spent a significant amount of time at the research bench designing experiments and contributing to the scientific literature. However, few scientists would be willing to extend the title to somebody who simply studied science as an undergraduate and moved on to other things.

Agreed. I needed to officially obtain my PhD to work at my level. I also think that I can learn from others in my field that don’t have a PhD. I don’t think that their lessons are not as valuable because they don’t have the letters behind their name, and the same amount of student debt.

Part of the reason is because an undergraduate education doesn’t really train a person to think like a scientist. Instead, undergraduates focus on learning the large amount of foundational material in a field. It really isn’t until graduate school (or after several years at the bench) that a person is taught how to generate new knowledge in the field. Once you can generate new knowledge in the field, then you call yourself a scientist.

I’m wondering if you don’t generate new knowledge in the field you aren’t a scientist? What that mean for the earlier paragraph about the PhD and completion of a block of instruction/training to call yourself a scientist?

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