We’re marching for science (I hope you come, too),
With science defined as “what scientists do”—
A good definition if ever there was,
Although science is not “what a scientist does”.
I was reading a piece on scientific outreach to audiences beyond their immediate peers, and came across this:
We should remember that science is the behavior of scientists, subject not only to their success with its subject matters but also subject to social contingencies between scientists and cultural contingencies across them
As most readers here are surely already aware, there have been voices expressing displeasure that this march is not for some Platonic Ideal of Science, one unsullied by concerns about underrepresented groups, sexism, racism, politics, or, I don’t know, gravity. You know, all sorts of things that actually do matter and make a difference in the lives and actions of scientists.
There is no ideal Science that is this abstract thing that every individual scientist does. I gave a talk a few years ago, and in preparing for it I took a look for definitions of “the scientific method”; I found sources that said it was three steps, four steps, up to seven steps, as “the” method. I found sources that dismissed things other sources found crucial. I found hugely influential scientists who claimed they never followed anything like the scientific method. There simply is no standard “science” that is what a scientist does.
Rather, science is what scientists do. The plural is crucial. Science is the activity of a community, necessarily so. The versions of the scientific method are an external structure, a scaffolding, that organizes the efforts of individuals. If we are naturally not very self-critical, a peer review process (pre and post publication) outsources criticism. If we want to defend our ideas and attack those of others, a scientific community harnesses our desires to critically assess ideas and (in the long run) converge on agreement. Science is a process that requires a community; it is not something that can be done alone.
And that community is part of the world, and has concerns beyond those of the laboratory. That community is not, historically, equally welcome in academia. Addressing the issues that treat us differently is, obviously, in the best interest of science; if this is a collective endeavor, it is held back when any of us are impeded. Science is what scientists do, not what a scientist does.