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“Modern” Science Science in the 20th/21st century Prof. Stuart Bunt The Sociology of Science

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modern science

“Modern” Science

Science in the 20th/21st century

Prof. Stuart Bunt

the sociology of science
The Sociology of Science

Nowadays, almost all modern scientists participate in a scientific community, hypothetically global in nature (though often based around a relatively few number of nations and institutions of stature), but also strongly segregated into different fields of study. The scientific community is important because it represents a source of established knowledge which, if used properly, ought to be more reliable than personally acquired knowledge of any given individual. The community also provides a feedback mechanism, often in the form of practices such as peer review andreproducibility.

merton and the sociology of science
Merton and the Sociology of Science

Merton carried out extensive research into the sociology of science, developing the Merton Thesis explaining some of the causes of the scientific revolution, and the Mertonian norms of science, often referred to by the acronym "Cudos". This is a set of ideals that are dictated by what Merton takes to be the goals and methods of science and are binding on scientists. They include:

• Communalism - the common ownership of scientific discoveries, according to which scientists give up intellectual property rights in exchange for recognition and esteem (Merton actually used the term Communism, but had this notion of communalism in mind, not Marxism);

• Universalism - according to which claims to truth are evaluated in terms of universal or impersonal criteria, and not on the basis of race, class, gender, religion, or nationality;

• Disinterestedness - according to which scientists are rewarded for acting in ways that outwardly appear to be selfless;

• Organized Skepticism - all ideas must be tested and are subject to rigorous, structured community scrutiny.

the matthew effect
The Matthew effect

In sociology, Matthew effect was a term coined by Robert K. Merton to describe how, among other things, eminent scientists will often get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher even if their work is similar; it also means that credit will usually be given to researchers who are already famous: for example, a prize will almost always be awarded to the most senior researcher involved in a project, even if all the work was done by a graduate student. An example is given by the story of the isolation of the antibioticstreptomycin by Albert Schatz in 1943, and the attribution of all the credit, including the award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1952, to his supervisor, Selman Waksman. 20th century mathematician John von Neumann is frequently called the "father of game theory" or the "father of the computer," even though his influential publications were sometimes restatements of the ideas of his collaborators (see the First Draft).The Matilda effect is the corollary to the Matthew effect: the work of women in science is often neglected. The Matilda effect was postulated by historian of science Margaret W. Rossiter in 1993.

karl popper s philosophy of science
Karl Popper’s philosophy of science
  • Almost everyone is familiar with the classical method of reasoning know as modus ponens.  The well known example goes as follows:

If Socrates is a man then Socrates is mortal.

Socrates is a man.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

  • Few know that the progress of science no longer depends primarily upon this method, but on the less familiar form known as modus tolens,(A=>B and NOT A) which goes like this:

If Socrates is a god, then Socrates is immortal.

Socrates is not immortal.

Therefore, Socrates is not a god. 

Karl Popper's philosophy of science uses modus tolens as the central method of disconfirming, or falsifying, scientific hypotheses. 

Scientists start with a current scientific theory and use the usual methods of deductive reasoning to derive specific conclusions, of which some are "predictions".  

Strictly deductive reasoning is "truth preserving", that is, it is such that if one starts out with "true" premises, one can only deduce "true" conclusions.   Starting with a "theory" and deducing "predictions" can be stated in the form of a premise:

If the theory is true, then the prediction is true

Popper shows that we cannot prove that a theory is true, but we can certainly show that a prediction is false.  If the scientist tests one of these predictions and finds out that it is not true, he uses modus tolens to conclude that the theory cannot be true.If the theory is true, then the prediction is true.The prediction is not true.Therefore, the theory is not true.

The key feature of Popper's theory is "critical testing". 

In order for critical testing to give valid results, the theory to be tested must be free from any "looseness"; Popper lists four criteria, or levels of evaluating, for determining whether a proposed theory is sufficiently "tight" to be admitted as a "scientific" theory.

  • The logical comparison of the conclusions among themselves, by which the internal consistency of the system is tested. 
  • The logical form of the theory, whether it has the character of an empirical or scientific theory, or whether it is, for example, tautological. 
  • Whether the theory would constitute a scientific advance should it survive our various tests.
  •  And finally, there is the testing of the theory by way of empirical applications of the conclusions which can be derived from it.

Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, New York: Harper & Row, 1968, pp. 32-33


Popper admits only theories capable of being tested by experience.  If the form of a theory is such that its basic statements simply don't correspond to experience, or are otherwise not testable, then that theory does not qualify as empirical scientific.   It may be some other kind of theory, but it is definitely not to be considered scientific.  For a theory to be scientificit must be testable. 

  • The task of formulating an acceptable definition of the idea of an "empirical science" is not without its difficulties.   Some of these arise from the fact that there must be many theoretical systems with a logical structure very similar to the one which, at any particular time, is the accepted system of empirical science.   This situation is sometimes described by saying that there is a great number -- presumably an infinite number -- of "logically possible worlds".  Yet the system called "empirical science" is intended to represent only one world: the "real world" or the "world of our experience".  
  • In order to make this idea a little more precise, we may distinguish three requirements which our empirical theoretical system will have to satisfy.
  • First, it must be synthetic, so that it may represent a non-contradictory, a possible world. 
  • Secondly, it must satisfy the criterion of demarcation . . . , i.e. it must not be metaphysical, but must represent a world of possible experience.
  • Thirdly, it must be a system distinguished in some way from other such systems as the one which represents our world of experience.(5)

Thomas Kuhn is most famous for his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SSR) (1962) wherein he argued that science does not progress via a linear accumulation of new knowledge, but undergoes periodic revolutions that he called "paradigm shifts", in which the nature of scientific inquiry within a particular field is abruptly transformed.


In general, science is broken up into three distinct stages.

“Pre-science”, which lacks a central paradigm, comes first.

”Normal science", when scientists attempt to enlarge the central paradigm by "puzzle-solving". Thus, the failure of a result to conform to the paradigm is seen not as refuting the paradigm, but as the mistake of the researcher, in contrast to Popper’s concept of refuting the hypothesis.

As anomalous results build up, science reaches a crisis, at which point a new paradigm, which subsumes the old results along with the anomalous results into one framework, is accepted. This is termed “Revolutionary science”.


The enormous impact of Kuhn's work can be measured in the changes it brought about in the vocabulary of the philosophy of science:

besides "paradigm shift", Kuhn raised the word "paradigm" itself from a term used in certain forms of linguistics to its current broader meaning, coined the term "normal science" to refer to the relatively routine, day-to-day work of scientists working within a paradigm, and was largely responsible for the use of the term "scientific revolutions" in the plural, taking place at widely different periods of time and in different disciplines, as opposed to a single "Scientific Revolution" in the late Renaissance.


Kuhn also argues that rival paradigms are incommensurable—that is, it is not possible to understand one paradigm through the conceptual framework and terminology of another rival paradigm.

For many critics, this thesis seemed to entail that theory choice is fundamentally irrational: if rival theories cannot be directly compared, then one cannot make a rational choice as to which one is better.

paul feyerabend15
According to Feyerabend, new theories came to be accepted not because of their accord with scientific method, but because their supporters made use of any trick – rational, rhetorical or ribald – in order to advance their cause. Without a fixed ideology, or the introduction of religious tendencies, the only approach which does not inhibit progress (using whichever definition one sees fit) is "anything goes": "'anything goes' is not a 'principle' I hold... but the terrified exclamation of a rationalist who takes a closer look at history." (Feyerabend, 1975).Paul Feyerabend
heliocentric universe
Heliocentric Universe

Been There, Done That: Aristarchus of SamosThe idea of Copernicus was not really new! A sun-centered Solar System had been proposed as early as about 200 B.C. by Aristarchus of Samos (Samos is an island off the coast of what is now Turkey). However, it did not survive long under the weight of Aristotle's influence and "common sense":1.If the Earth actually spun on an axis (as required in a heliocentric system to explain the diurnal motion of the sky), why didn't objects fly off the spinning Earth?2.3.If the Earth was in motion around the sun, why didn't it leave behind the birds flying in the air?4.5.If the Earth were actually on an orbit around the sun, why wasn't a parallax effect observed? That is, as illustrated in the adjacent figure, stars should appear to change their position with the respect to the other background stars as the Earth moved about its orbit, because of viewing them from a different perspective (just as viewing an object first with one eye, and then the other, causes the apparent position of the object to change with respect to the background).