We are publishing a guest post by Abbas Zaidi, an acclaimed writer. We hope that this thoughtful piece leads to a reasoned debate on this blog-zine. (RR, ed.)
The cocoon of science around our lives is so comprehensive that it has become more than a sine qua non for the world to go on today. Not only that. In the non-material, non-day-to-day affairs too science is the inevitable, formidable player. Science is a magic wand that gives credibility and validity to a concept or a methodology. It is rational and logical, and its findings and results are predictable. In the groves of Academe, anything “unscientific” stands to lose; from government funds to simple acceptability. That is why, those subjects that not long ago were purely “humanities” now proudly claim to have adopted scientific methodologies in order to be accurate, respectable, and valid. A typical humanities/arts subject tries to adopt a “scientific” point of view to earn respect. But what is the nature of science?
The answer should not be difficult on at least five counts. First, given an overwhelming preponderance of science in every walk of life; second, so much of work, time and money have been spent on science/scientific research; third, given the nature of their job, scientists operate in terms of total precision and accuracy (or predictability, an essential feature of science, will not come through); fourth, science is “open-ended”, curiosity-based and truth seeking; and fifth, scientific results are verifiable. That is why science has become a privileged route to knowledge, and it has become, as indicated above, exemplary for all other branches of knowledge. Hence as a matter of fact, there should be one clear-cut and generally agreed-on definition of the nature of science that should also provide guidelines for non-science disciplines. Do we have, then, one definition of the nature of science?
The answer, unfortunately, is No. A survey carried out by Brian J. Alters of Harvard University, reported in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (Vol.34, No 1, 1997), shows that 176 American philosophers of science did not agree on a single definition of the nature of science. Indeed, their standpoints often contradicted one another’s. The author concludes, Continue reading