What do Scientists do?
About this hub
This hub was triggered by the question, "What are the three most important issues that scientists must address today?" But the question itself is flawed. It shows a common misunderstanding of what Science is and what Scientists do. I'll first address these questions, then I'll dare to suggest that society's problems are to be solved by society, not blamed on scientists. We are all responsible for our present mess - so we should all share responsibility for fixing it.That's reasonable, isn't it?
To answer the question...
Wouldn't it be so easy to say 'Global Warming, HIV and Cancer'? But let's take a step back and look at the question before trying to answer it.
Scientists don't address issues
Issues are addressed by politicians who control which projects are funded and which ones are buried. Technologists, engineers and specialists of many disciplines are tasked by their political and commercial masters to find economically viable solutions to politically or commercially important problems. Meanwhile, science goes its own sweet way.
You can't say 'must' to a scientist, any more than you can say it to an artist. Scientists are not wage slaves to be ordered around. Did anyone tell Newton - you must formulate laws of motion - or to Einstein - you must postulate relativity theory? Did someone instruct Darwin to propose an evolutionary model? Clearly the idea is ridiculous, because no-one apart from the gentlemen themselves was in a position to do so.
What do scientists do?
They do exactly what Karl Popper explained. They try to understand natural phenomena and formulate theories that describe the observable and predict the not-yet-observed. They ensure that their theories are falsifiable by contradictory observation, They do not claim to have stated truth; instead they invite refutation. If none is available, they might have advanced human knowledge, but they understand that everything is tentative. That is what science is and what scientists do.
What about the three issues?
They are societal, to be solved by society. Scientists (or at least scientific workers) can help, but so can rock stars (Live Aid?) and for all I know, Candlestick-makers. Time for bed, Zebedee...
I wrote this hub two years ago as a quick answer to a question. I have since written several more rigorous articles on critical thinking and Scientific Philosophy. But as these don't sit naturally on HubPages I have moved them to their own site, The Rational Express.
Thanks for reading!
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