Total Posts:4|Showing Posts:1-4
Jump to topic:

What makes a person a scientist?

TheFlex
Posts: 1,745
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
4/12/2016 5:51:48 PM
Posted: 7 months ago
So, here's the backstory for this question.

I'm a quality assurance evaluator for test measurement and diagnostic equipment. My job is to essentially evaluate how well technicians perform their jobs (calibrate) on equipment. The career falls under Metrology (not Meteorology), the science of weights and measurements. We essentially make sure complex pieces of equipment operate exactly how they should so that the equipment itself can make precise measurements.

While evaluating the a technician one day, and I'm kind of fuzzy here, I remember she said, "I don't exactly know what's going on here. I'm not a scientist." Which got me thinking, what exactly is a scientist within my career field? What would a scientist in metrology be doing?

So to you, is a scientist someone who's actively trying to research different things within their field of study? Is a scientist someone who's learning their particular field of study? Are there credentials to define a scientist? Is a scientist someone who's applying already known practices in their field, but not looking for advancements? Is there a point where you stop becoming a scientist?

I'd like to see some thoughts and opinions.
RuvDraba
Posts: 6,033
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
4/12/2016 7:08:43 PM
Posted: 7 months ago
At 4/12/2016 5:51:48 PM, TheFlex wrote:
While evaluating the a technician one day, and I'm kind of fuzzy here, I remember she said, "I don't exactly know what's going on here. I'm not a scientist." Which got me thinking, what exactly is a scientist within my career field? What would a scientist in metrology be doing?
That's a great question, Flex!

By way of context, I'm a former pure research scientist, now consulting in informatics. Since informatics can be thought of as Information Science, we face the same question: what does an Information Scientist (and now increasingly, a 'Data Scientist') actually do?

Here's my answer, which I hope may apply to metrology too.

Science, as you know is built on systematic, best-practice, continuously-improving empiricism. When we look at how science is constructed, we can see a paradigm built on three key, inter-related activities:
1) Ontology (how we classify and connect what exists);
2) Methodology (how do we observe and analyse it); and
3) Epistemology (how do we assess the results so produced, and winnow the information from the error.)

Each area is both fed by the others, and challenged by it. For example the discovery of bacteria (an ontological advance) changes both methodology and epistemology for studying disease. A gravitational wave detector (a methodological advance) alters ontology, and lifts our standards of epistemology. Recognition of confirmation bias (an epistemological insight) forces us to revisit ontology, and improve epistemology.

In my field, informatics has a lot to offer systematic improvements in ontology (e.g. automated classification systems), methodology (record-keeping, standards, metadata, search, big data analytics, and interoperability) and epistemology (information quality, validation, verification.) Without those efforts, science loses (fails to gain) the increasing scope, scale and quality that accurate, accountable, inter-connected scientific prediction demands.

I suspect that it's similar in metrology, Flex. Ensuring the validity of measurement (i.e. you're measuring what you mean to), and its veracity (i.e. knowing the confidence of tolerance) are critical to all three areas of ontology, methodology and epistemology.

When you consider the recent discovery of gravitational waves, involving detecting deflection a fraction of a nuclear diameter in length -- that's a fundamental result that could not be achieved without insanely advanced metrological capbability. In fact, even most scientists researching in the field thought it impossible to engineer!

That we can do so lifts the bar on both what we know, and what we can attempt. It's no accident that pretty much all science stalled until we had custom lenses and precision gearing.

So to you, is a scientist someone who's actively trying to research different things within their field of study? Is a scientist someone who's learning their particular field of study? Are there credentials to define a scientist?
Having educated and examined doctoral students for a significant part of my career, I think a scientist is defined by competence, application and ethics:

Competence: they have a demonstrated detailed understanding of a field, including its history, methods, areas of focus, and approaches to exploring them, and the strengths and weaknesses thereof;
Application: they are working to advance that enterprise;
Ethics: they uphold the underpinning professional ethical frame of observation, diligence, honesty, transparency and accountability.

We've probably both met professionals without qualification who do that really well, and I at least, am happy to call them scientists. We've also likely tripped over qualified people who nevertheless lack competence, application or ethics and whom we wouldn't trust to button on a lab-coat the right way. I for one am happy to call them frauds and nincompoops, and I personally think it's unethical not to do so: as a chief of Australian Defense once said, the standards we walk past are the standards we uphold.

Is a scientist someone who's applying already known practices in their field, but not looking for advancements? Is there a point where you stop becoming a scientist?

As a consultant I sometimes wonder that. :) Part of the reason I switched from public-funded basic research to client-funded engineering was that I wanted to turn smart ideas into benefit. I feel I've done more good (or more good that I've seen) doing that, than had I remained being clever in a corner by myself, and moreover, I've learned a lot more than I was learning working on something narrow and pointy.

However, I'm not sure whether other scientists still think of me as a scientist, since I don't publish peer-reviewed stuff any more. [On the other hand, one of my best friends is a biologist recently retired from executive science management, and we have more, far-ranging science discussions than many scientists I know. :)]

I think you can make the case both ways, but as far as metrology goes, I think it's likely in the same boat as informatics: although it's on the border of applied science and engineering, it's absolutely critical for the advancement of ontology and epistemology, but also advances methodology in its own right.

I hope that may be useful, or at least interesting. :)
TheFlex
Posts: 1,745
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
4/12/2016 7:25:18 PM
Posted: 7 months ago
At 4/12/2016 7:08:43 PM, RuvDraba wrote:
At 4/12/2016 5:51:48 PM, TheFlex wrote:
While evaluating the a technician one day, and I'm kind of fuzzy here, I remember she said, "I don't exactly know what's going on here. I'm not a scientist." Which got me thinking, what exactly is a scientist within my career field? What would a scientist in metrology be doing?
That's a great question, Flex!

By way of context, I'm a former pure research scientist, now consulting in informatics. Since informatics can be thought of as Information Science, we face the same question: what does an Information Scientist (and now increasingly, a 'Data Scientist') actually do?

Here's my answer, which I hope may apply to metrology too.

Science, as you know is built on systematic, best-practice, continuously-improving empiricism. When we look at how science is constructed, we can see a paradigm built on three key, inter-related activities:
1) Ontology (how we classify and connect what exists);
2) Methodology (how do we observe and analyse it); and
3) Epistemology (how do we assess the results so produced, and winnow the information from the error.)

Each area is both fed by the others, and challenged by it. For example the discovery of bacteria (an ontological advance) changes both methodology and epistemology for studying disease. A gravitational wave detector (a methodological advance) alters ontology, and lifts our standards of epistemology. Recognition of confirmation bias (an epistemological insight) forces us to revisit ontology, and improve epistemology.

In my field, informatics has a lot to offer systematic improvements in ontology (e.g. automated classification systems), methodology (record-keeping, standards, metadata, search, big data analytics, and interoperability) and epistemology (information quality, validation, verification.) Without those efforts, science loses (fails to gain) the increasing scope, scale and quality that accurate, accountable, inter-connected scientific prediction demands.

I suspect that it's similar in metrology, Flex. Ensuring the validity of measurement (i.e. you're measuring what you mean to), and its veracity (i.e. knowing the confidence of tolerance) are critical to all three areas of ontology, methodology and epistemology.

When you consider the recent discovery of gravitational waves, involving detecting deflection a fraction of a nuclear diameter in length -- that's a fundamental result that could not be achieved without insanely advanced metrological capbability. In fact, even most scientists researching in the field thought it impossible to engineer!

That we can do so lifts the bar on both what we know, and what we can attempt. It's no accident that pretty much all science stalled until we had custom lenses and precision gearing.

So to you, is a scientist someone who's actively trying to research different things within their field of study? Is a scientist someone who's learning their particular field of study? Are there credentials to define a scientist?
Having educated and examined doctoral students for a significant part of my career, I think a scientist is defined by competence, application and ethics:

Competence: they have a demonstrated detailed understanding of a field, including its history, methods, areas of focus, and approaches to exploring them, and the strengths and weaknesses thereof;
Application: they are working to advance that enterprise;
Ethics: they uphold the underpinning professional ethical frame of observation, diligence, honesty, transparency and accountability.

We've probably both met professionals without qualification who do that really well, and I at least, am happy to call them scientists. We've also likely tripped over qualified people who nevertheless lack competence, application or ethics and whom we wouldn't trust to button on a lab-coat the right way. I for one am happy to call them frauds and nincompoops, and I personally think it's unethical not to do so: as a chief of Australian Defense once said, the standards we walk past are the standards we uphold.

Is a scientist someone who's applying already known practices in their field, but not looking for advancements? Is there a point where you stop becoming a scientist?

As a consultant I sometimes wonder that. :) Part of the reason I switched from public-funded basic research to client-funded engineering was that I wanted to turn smart ideas into benefit. I feel I've done more good (or more good that I've seen) doing that, than had I remained being clever in a corner by myself, and moreover, I've learned a lot more than I was learning working on something narrow and pointy.

However, I'm not sure whether other scientists still think of me as a scientist, since I don't publish peer-reviewed stuff any more. [On the other hand, one of my best friends is a biologist recently retired from executive science management, and we have more, far-ranging science discussions than many scientists I know. :)]

I think you can make the case both ways, but as far as metrology goes, I think it's likely in the same boat as informatics: although it's on the border of applied science and engineering, it's absolutely critical for the advancement of ontology and epistemology, but also advances methodology in its own right.

I hope that may be useful, or at least interesting. :)

This was quite the substantive response and I really, really appreciate it. Thank you. You've answered a lot of questions for me. Hopefully you won't mind if I PM you directly if I have other questions!
RuvDraba
Posts: 6,033
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
4/12/2016 7:56:46 PM
Posted: 7 months ago
At 4/12/2016 7:25:18 PM, TheFlex wrote:
At 4/12/2016 7:08:43 PM, RuvDraba wrote:
As far as metrology goes, I think it's likely in the same boat as informatics: although it's on the border of applied science and engineering, it's absolutely critical for the advancement of ontology and epistemology, but also advances methodology in its own right.
This was quite the substantive response and I really, really appreciate it. Thank you. You've answered a lot of questions for me. Hopefully you won't mind if I PM you directly if I have other questions!
I'm glad it helped, Flex. I should say that my own views have changed substantially since I was a young scientist -- in part from broadening my experience of how scientific methods actually work in the broader economy, and my growing awareness of how critical engineering is to science doing anything but math. :D

Please go ahead and PM me whenever you'd like. The way this site works, I think you'll need to add me as a friend to send PMs -- else the system will treat you as a nubile, 18 year old Russian looking for an exciting, plump, English-speaking businessman to date. :)