I have just read Alice Bell’s paper about sciene bloggers. She mentions “science studies’ long-standing obsession with the way in which professional boundaries are formed and articulated through the popularization of science”. I didn’t know science studies were obsessed with that (I don’t know much about science studies anyway, I am afraid; I am going to have mend that), and it made me think.
Skeptics are also obsessed with boundaries of science, but with the epistemological, not professional ones (epistemology is a word I feel free to use based on listening to 70+ episodes of Rationally Speaking). That is: what’s science and what’s pseudo-science, anti-science, bad science, woo or BS. This is the famous the Demarcation Problem.
But is it possible that all while reinforcing the epistemological boundaries of science, skeptics actually blur the social ones?
A case to the point: one of the leading figures in Israeli skepticism, arguably the most committed among us, a person who almost single-handedly made the Israel Skeptics Organization happen. She also gives talks about skepticism, and in her bio line for the talks she writes “a skeptic and a scientist”.
I must confess that I feel uncomfortable with that. She is a person of many talents, including an undergraduate degree in the sciences, but that’s not enough to be a scientist, the way I understand the word. But my understanding is just that – my understanding. Clearly her understanding is different.
Another prominent Israeli skeptic defines himself more cautiously as “a science fan and an amateur scientist” (hmm… it sounds better in Hebrew). I say “cautiously” because talking about “amateur scientists” implicitly acknowledges the category of “professional scientists”. But while an “amateur scientist” isn’t a professional, she isn’t a layperson either, so boundaries do blur.
And what about myself? I am super cautious, and wouldn’t dare calling myself a scientist, with or without qualifiers. But I do after all allow myself to publicly critique the research methods of practicing (social) scientists, don’t I? Isn’t that boundary blurring, in practice if not by name?
What do you think? Do you agree about blurring the social border of science, or am I blowing things up? And if I don’t, doesn’t it clash with all this talk about what science is and isn’t?
P.S. – I ran this post by the people mentioned as I thought it would be fair to ask them before I publish what might be interprested as criticism. They both OKed it. They also both felt there was a problem here, and had already or will now change the way they describe themselves. Which makes the question even more complicated, I guess…
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