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Should the History of Science Be Rated X?: The Way Scientists Behave (according to Historians) Might Not Be a Good Model for Students


DOI: 10.1126/science.183.4130.1164

Brush, S. G. “Should the History of Science Be Rated X?: The Way Scientists Behave (according to Historians) Might Not Be a Good Model for Students.” Science 183.4130 (1974): 1164–1172.

p.2: The introduction of historical materials into science courses is often motivated by the desire to give the future scientist not only facts and technical skills, but also the correct attitude or general methodology. His teachers want him to respect the standards of impartiality, logical rigor, and experimental verification of hypotheses and to refrain from excessive theorizing about new or unexplained phenomena on the basis of metaphysical, mystical, or theological preconceptions. As the philosophers of science put it, he should be able to distinguish between the "context of discovery" and the "context of justification"-scientific hypotheses may come in an undisciplined way from the creative mind, but they must ultimately face the test of comparison with experiment and observation. -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.3: Another virtue often mentioned in textbooks is skepticism about established dogma. The scientist must be brave enough to question and criticize anything his teachers or his society may tell him, at the risk of ostracism, denial of financial support, or worse. Only in this way can a scientist hope to make a positive contribution to his subject. Obviously, if an historian of science were to suggest that most scientists, most of the time, are simply working out routine problems according to agreed procedures, his help would not be welcome in teaching science. There is only one established dogma in science-that scientists do not blindly accept established dogma (6). -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.3: many educators feel that the only justification for requiring all students to take a science course is to show them how legitimate (that is, physical and biological) scientists work, in order that they may learn a method they can apply in their own disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.3: Ernst Mach, a physicist who devoted considerable time to historical studies, wrote (13):

They that know the entire course of the development of science, will, as a matter of course, judge more freely and more correctly of the significance of any present scientific movement than they, who, limited in their views to the age in which their own lives have been spent, contemplate merely the momentary trend that the course of intellectual events takes at the present moment.

-- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.3: As Thomas S. Kuhn has pointed out, in the great classics of science the student "might discover other ways of regarding the problems discussed in his textbook, but ... he would also meet problems, concepts, and standards of solution that his future profession has long since discarded and replaced" (16, p. 344). Thus he might be led to waste his time doing work that would not be acceptable for publication in scientific journals. (This seems to be the fate of many bright people who try to break into a scientific discipline from the "outside," without having gone through the orthodox training process.) -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.4: It can be argued that the historical approach, while it may distract students by loading a course with superfluous information, does give the instructor an opportunity to discuss conceptual problems that are often overlooked in conventional teaching (20). Yet the science teacher may be justified in following his instincts to ignore history. especially if his purpose is to train scientists who will follow the currently approved research methods. -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.4: If this notion is correct. then the historian must do more than document the application of objectivity to scientific problems. He must be prepared to analyze the philosophical, psychological, and sociological aspects of scientific work, to explain how certain problems came to be considered "scientific" and how particular standards happened to be accepted for evaluating solutions to those problems. He may also have to account for scientific change in terms other than those of linear progress from error toward truth. -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.5: Meanwhile, the suggestion that scientific change may result primarily from theoretical arguments or subjective factors was being generalized into a new description of scientific revolutions by Kuhn (29). Kuhn's scheme undermines conventional ideas of scientific behavior in two ways. First, he argues that the (proper) function of scientific education is not to produce skeptics who will continually challenge existing dogma, but rather to train highly competent "puzzle-solvers" who will be content to work within the agreed framework of rules and theories-the current "paradigm" governing "normal science" (30, p. 341). Second, he describes revolutions as changes f rom one paradigm to another by a process that is more like a "conversion experience" than a reasoned debate based on objective evidenc -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.5: Israel Scheffler, professor of education and philosophy at Harvard University, views with alarm the tendency I have just been describing (32):

That the ideal of objectivity has been fundamental to science is beyond question. The philosophical task is to assess and interpret this ideal: to ask how, if at all, objectivity is possible. This task is especially urgent now, when received opinions as to the sources of objectivity in science are increasingly under attack. The notion of a fixed observational given, of a constent descriptive language, of a shared methodology of investigation, of a rational community advancing its knowledge of the real world-all have been subjected to severe and mounting criticism from a variety of directions.

The overall tendency of such criticism has been to call into question the very conception of scientific thought as a responsible enterprise of reasonable men. The extreme alternative that threatens is the view that theory is not controlled by data, but that data are manufactured by theory; that rival hypotheses cannot be rationally evaluate?, thele being no neutral court of observational appeal nor any shared stock of meanings; that scientific change is a product not of evidential appraisal and logical judgment, but of intuition, persuasion, and conversion; that reality does not constrain the thought of the scientist but is rather itself a projection of that thought. Unless the concept of responsible scientific endeavour is to be given up as a huge illusion, the chalienge of this alternative must, clearly, be met....

-- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.7: The problem of objectivity is closely associated with another issue now being debated by historians of science-the so-called Whig interpretation of history. This phrase was introduced about 40 years ago by historian Herbert Butterfield to characterize the habit of some English constitutional historians to see their subject as a progressive broadening of human rights, in which good "forward-looking" liberals were continually struggling with bad, "backward looking" conservatives (48). In the last few years, historians of science have applied the term to the accounts of scientific progress that tended to judge every scientist by the extent of his contribution toward the establishment of modern theories. Such an interpretation looks at the past in terms of present ideas and values, rather than trying to understand the complete context of problems and preconceptions with which the earlier scientist himself had to work (49). -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.8: The rejection of Whig history is made quite explicit in writings such as H. F. Kearney's recent book on the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries (51). Kearney describes, not a progressive change from primitive to modern theories, a replacement of error and confusion by truth and clarity, but a complex interaction between three traditions, or paradigms: the "organic," the "magical," and the "mechanical." [These correspond to what are sometimes called Aristotelian, Hermetic, and Newtonian viewpoints, except that Newton himself may have been influenced by the magical tradition, as were Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Giordano Bruno, and William Gilbert, according to some historians (52). In their enthusiasm for relating scientific theories to the philosophical and cultural movements of earlier centuries, historians of science have begun to de-emphasize the technical content of those theories that makes them significant in modern science. The result is a widening gap between the goals of the historian and of the science teacher. -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.9: As historian D. S. L. Cardwell has argued (57, p. 120):

... [I]f the history of science is to be used as an educational discipline, to inculcate an enlightened and critical mind, then the Whig view ... cannot do this. For it must emphasize the continuities, the smooth and successive developments from one great achievement to the next and so on; and in doing so it must automatically endow the present state of science with ali the immense authority of history. -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.9: He suggests that the critical mind might be inhibited by seeing the present as the inevitable, triumphant product of the past. The history of science could aid the teaching of science by showing that "such puzzling concepts as force, energy, etc., are man-made and were evolved in an understandable sequence in response to acutely felt and very real problems. They were not handed down by some celestial textbook writer to whom they were immediately selfevident" (57, p. 120). -- Highlighted aug 23, 2014

p.9: The past may give some hints on how to survive the most recent recurrence of public hostility to science. Rather than blaming historians such as Kuhn for encouraging antiscientific attitudes, as one physicist did in a public address in 1972 (58), one might consider this criticism of the older style of science history, published in 1940 by W. James Lyons (59, p. 381):

The historians of science are responsible, it would appear, for the unpopularity of science among those most acutely affected by the depression. In their clamor to enhance the scientific tradition, and hoard for science all credit for the remarkable and unprecedented material advances which studded the century and a quarter preceding 1930, these historians have been more enthusiastic than accurate ... science emerged [in the popular mind] as the most prominent force responsible for making this modern world so startlingly different from all preceding ages. Thus when, for many people, the modern world, in spite of all its resources, began to slip from its role of "best of all imaginable worlds," science came in for a proportionate share of blame. Had a more accurate picture of the part science has played been presented, science would not now be the object of so much suspicion and resentment.

-- Highlighted aug 23, 2014