Demystifying Scientists

In the wonderful book The Golem: What You Should Know About Science, Collins and Pinch record this amusing finding: Sociologists interviewed professional research physicists about reasons for believing or disbelieving their colleagues0ˆ9 experiments. In this particular case, the experiments were the detection and non-detection of gravity waves (conducted between 1969 and 1972).

Their reasons included,

  1. Faith in a scientist0ˆ9s experimental capabilities and honesty, based on a previous working partnership.
  2. The personality and intelligence of experimenters.
  3. A scientist0ˆ9s reputation gained in running a huge lab.
  4. Whether or not the scientist worked in industry or academia.
  5. A scientist0ˆ9s previous history of failures.
  6. 0ˆ8Inside information0ˆ9.
  7. Scientists0ˆ9 style and presentation of results.
  8. Scientists0ˆ9 0ˆ8psychological approach0ˆ9 to experiment.
  9. The size and prestige of the scientist0ˆ9s university of origin.
  10. The scientist0ˆ9s degree of integration into various scientific networks.
  11. The scientist0ˆ9s nationality.

I highly recommend this book, which presents science as a clumsy, flailing, and extremely powerful force that must be constantly and carefully controlled by its human creator (like the golem of Jewish mythology), though this is not necessarily my view of science. Also, I recommend the second book in the Golem series, The Golem at Large: What You Should Know About Technology.

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