Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Scientific ethos

Let's consider one compelling sentence from early in Prelli's essay. I want to know what you think of this claim: "Even those seeking explicitly to popularize science risk jeopardizing their ethos with expert audiences" (89). First off, what do you think this statement means? Second, have you seen examples of this in your own career or have you noticed this happening around you, in "popular culture"? Can you think of any examples of a scientist whose ethos was compromised as a result of the popularity of his/her research with a certain audience?


  1. The public perception of the scientist as an objective seeker of knowledge, the conclusions a scientist brings to the public are generally assumed to be based on a set of scientifically tested facts explicated through logically organized arguments. The objectivity of the scientist will be called into question by experts in that field.

    Thomas Kuhn (1922 – 1996) began critiquing the standard theories of the linear progression of science (Koestler’s approach) while a doctoral student in physics at Harvard in the ‘40s. He was studying Aristotle’s physics, and puzzling over why such obviously flawed notions of matter and motion could have been taken seriously for so long, when he realized that Aristotle’s theory actually made more sense, when examined as an intellectual totality.
    Aristotle’s theory of motion, for instance, refers to motion as change in general, not simply physical change (“What are Scientific Revolutions?”). This leads to his major theoretical contribution to history and philosophy of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)

  2. When Prelli states, "Even those seeking explicitly to popularize science risk jeopardizing their ethos with expert audiences" (89), I believe this can be translated to anyone who is trying to make science popular must be wary and keep the science as factual as possible. A very simple example would be a mother who attempts to explain where babies come from. She can choose to explain the factual natural process or she can explain the fairy tale stork story. Here the mother's ethos could easily be compromised in the eyes of an doctor that specializes in child birth.

    An example of a scientist whose ethos comes into question in the greater community of scientists, is named Deepak Chopra. Now known worldwide as an Indian physician and author, many scientists in the field of medicine completely distrust everything he says. As an example of some of the things belives, he is quoted as saying, "The ability of DNA to replicate has never been explained." This is a very unusual thing for a medical doctor (and not newly appointed as such) to state because as a counter to this, Arthur Kornberg won a Nobel prize in 1959 for this very question. This is just one of many things which puts questions in the minds of the greater medical community.

  3. What prelli's phrase means to me depend on which of the definition of popularize was used. To make something well known and liked or to make a difficult subject or idea able to be easily understood by ordinary people who have no special knowledge about it.
    If the first case used it means to manipulate in real science to make it nicer and more interesting especially for ordinary audience, but when it is reviewed and tested by some other experts, if it is can cause to loose your reputation.
    As i said before, science or in general what you see in the whole life is a glass that is fulled some part with water, sometime 80% full, some times 20% full. as a role of a scientist you have to report what you see, no matter you like it or you don't like.
    About this essay, if Patterson and Linden reported what they saw, and really had the case that noticed Koko have a kind of language and they had reported that, from my point if view if they can prove it again at least once, it is correct.
    You may work with 10 Kokos that has been proved they have no language, but maybe the 11th one would be different.
    Again back to here that there is no certainty and absoluteness in none of the science. That's what I've get from engineering, but maybe those in pure science like mathematics and physics, they might have different idea.

  4. "Even those seeking explicitly to popularize science risk jeopardizing their ethos with expert audiences"

    As I interpreted, the sentence means that to spread information about any particular findings/invention/ discovery, a scientist has to put the findings in simple words, words which are easy to understand by people who are not well-versed with the scientific jargons. While this attitude or any endeavor with this aim is good for common people (people who are not scientist), many well-known scientists or expert audience will consider such an endeavor not scientific and not up to certain scientific standards (which is most of the time filled-with in-field jargons).

    For example, during my Bachelor’s, once I was registered in a computer programming course. My course instructor, who was very good with programming and was well known in the field, was not a good instructor. This is because, whenever he came to teach a class he started using a lot of programming jargons, which we as a new kid on the block were not able to understand. The result was a complete chaos. This is why I believe that scientists should consider their audience seriously and should not care “too” much what expert audience think or how they are going to react when they evaluate his/her work/conduct based on any fixed set of quality which they think a scientist should follow/possess.

  5. In my understanding, I think that Prelli is talking about a scientist who is trying to address a non-specialised audience at the same time he/she is trying to maintain a good-standing with the specialised audience in his/her field. I think that, in this particular case, this may be true to a very big extent. This is because to attract a non-specialised or non-professional audience to a certain field, especially to a scientific field, one may need to do some "tweaking" to make it sound somehow exciting and intresting and at the same time simple to understand so as to not intimidate the non-specailised audience. This, from the stand-point of the specialised audience, may not be proper.

  6. I think that all scientific research is going to have a hierarchy pyramid from both an intellectual and a social point of view. The intellectual part is defined by Merton norms as: universalism, disinterestedness, organized skepticism, originality, and humanly which divided this pyramid in layers or stratus depending on the knowledge about a specific area. In accordance with this, on top of the pyramid we are going to have the scientific audience and at the bottom, the people with little knowledge in that particular topic. On the other hand, we have the social point of view which is the community or communism according to Merton, which is my opinion; it is related with the necessity to communicate the results of specific research. As a scientist we must have the capacity to inform about important results to the majority of the people interested, but the risk of jeopardizing the ethos is when this communication does not start in the higher levels of the pyramid, especially in this globalized media world in which we live.

  7. Without scientists risking their ethos at times to popularize science, we encounter a chance of not being able advance not only in our field of research but also the sciences as a whole. Without risk takers, we may not have developed into the society we are today. They are the ones who were able to find and popularize the use of coal, oil, gas, metals, nuclear power, bacteria, etc. from their research. It is these substances that we rely on to create energy, cars, nuclear power plants, medicine, and other modern advancements that improve our lives, society, and cultures. As scientists, we do take on the chance that we cross the line of popularizing science for our own means/reasons/power instead of for the right means/causes/reasons. As scientists we need to make sure we understand and maintain that fine line between these situations.

    I have never personally experienced this situation yet but have heard about it. A professor I have had was tooting his own horn about how a researcher who had worked in the same field area was research data was wrong in their publication. He had to point this out to her at a conference in a conversation at an ice breaker event. Whether the lady was right or wrong, he got caught up in his own ego trip and forgot proper etiquette on talking about his findings. Instead of proving he was right, why she was wrong, or a 50/50 mix between the two, he ended up ostracizing himself in his own academic/research community. There are other examples where people do not believe that a particular response is possible in a test (i.e. argon recoil, plate tectonics, etc).

  8. In my point of view what Prelli states, "Even those seeking explicitly to popularize science risk jeopardizing their ethos with expert audiences" (89),is for anybody who is working to make science as simple and real as possible for everyone. Simplicity is a treaky work and by using an improper word we can change the real idea easily. When we are trying to publish a new discovery, we need to know our audience first. Who is going to use this information? In this way, we can put ourselves in their place and write our ideas as understandable as possible for this particular group.

    When I was trying to publish a paper, my advisor changed language of the paper in a way that I could not understand around 30% of my discovery in the first time. Poor other people that are going to use my paper!

  9. Prelli claims that scientists that try to popularise science risk jeapordising their ethos. I think that this is not a black or white case, but ultimately it depends on the scientist and the manner that they choose to popularise science. The work that scientists do is partly enabled by the money that is donated to them for research, and therefore, popularisation of scientific work is necessary. It is also necessary to educate the global population on the nature of the world we live in. I believe that if a scientist can competently explain science to the public in an intelligent manner, that his colleagues should not think that he has lost his ethos. However, if a scientist tries to promote his work for the benefit of his ego, then he will jeapordise his ethos.
    One of the professors at my undergraduate university was on the panel of scientists that wrote the IPCC Climate Change report that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He has also testified before Congress several times on the dangers of climate change in the Southwestern U.S., and therefore, his popularisation of science will benefit many people. I think that contrary to Prelli, his stature among climate change scientists has increased due to his efforts to help increase the visibility of the problem, and his willingness to tackle policy-makers.