The term science gets bandied about so much that it is not always clear what is meant. This is fine in conversation, etc. But it becomes problematic when the question becomes, is there a proper domain for scientific research and development which can inform the scientific community about what is inside some bound of propriet; when selecting items for laboratory research? Other than counting upon 'good will and intentions', since some really unacceptable work has been 'committed', like Nazi medical 'research' and guinea-pigging US troops in atomic bomb testing, and even not informing very sick people who volunteer for pharma trials that they are receiving a placebo, cloning humans can be added to the list; is there such a definition? Suggesting that counting on the good will and best intentions of scientists has been shown to be unreliable. The same people who built the atomic bomb, including Einstein, asked that it not be used. So, obviously even the finest minds are confused on this issue. The philosophy of science should house the capability to assist the wide community of researchers with counsel and advice on which avenues in research are outside the bounds of ethical procedure. When offering a comment or answer to this question, please make reference to the paper, article or book and also give a brief capsule of what the author offers as a potential definition. Even if the SEP members can only provide an outline or suggestions for what might serve to inform research, that would be useful. Thanks in advance for your response to this, it appears to be an overlooked issue.

  • Overlooked it is not remotely. Closely related is this post. I'd recommend Conifold's answer. – J D Aug 14 at 16:18
  • No. But there is a mismatch between universally accepted definition of science-in-general and assisting researchers with counsel and advice as the goal. There are plenty of guidelines on laboratory research in specific sciences at specific times, but said research is too different in physics and biology, or today and in 1940s, for any timeless catchall guidelines to be feasible. As science is a diverse work in progress so are the guidelines for or definitions of it. – Conifold Aug 14 at 21:41
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    The title says "what constitutes science", but the question is mostly about what makes science ethical. I'd suggest bringing the title closer to the subject. – IMil Aug 17 at 4:48
  • Science is a practice or culture which has and is evolving, not a set of rules that apply algorithmically. Science is what scientists do - as unpacked philosophically here philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/74408/… – CriglCragl Aug 17 at 14:38
  • This is egregious: "The same people who built the atomic bomb, including Einstein, asked that it not be used. So, obviously even the finest minds are confused". Einstein in no way helped design the bomb (denied security clearance for 'pacifist tendencies'), or could have known his work would help make the bomb possible. What do you have against asking a bomb not be used? Humans can always misuse power, and greater power more-so. Pugwash nuclear conferences & chemical weapon ban did not come from philosophy of science. Scientists are morally autonomous, & accountable for their power. – CriglCragl Aug 20 at 8:42

The short answer is there is no universal set of necessary and sufficient criteria to delineate what is science and what is not science.

This leads to a very complex discussion of how to separate science from pseudo-science. The demarcation of science is a well-known problem that can be dissolved by recognizing that some definitions are not in possession of such explicit criteria, but rather there is a graded membership based on an overlap of qualities whose entities may actually share no essence at all. This of course was recognized at least as early as late Wittegenstien's recognition of such a principle in his family resemblance passage.

It's best to recognize that there is no monolithic scientific method, but rather different domains of knowledge require different methods and none of them have a algorithm for converting observations to theories, though some have tried. The logical positivists, for instance, were represented by men like Hempel who articulated his deductive-model. Ultimately, the project of the logical positivists to eliminate subjectivity from science failed, as did their attempts to eliminate metaphysics on account of the normativity inherent in the scientific methods.

You have claimed that scientists' intentions of goodwill are unreliable, but this clearly misses the point. First, scientists and their methods are more about is than ought. Theories of ethics, such as deontological ethics, moral absolutism, and situational ethics are the speciality of ethicists, those vaunted philosophers who ply their reason within the context of value-laden human decision. Heck, it's arguable that most scientists even have any special expertise in the philosophy of science, but most scientists are engaged in what Kuhn in his Revolutions called normal science.

In fact, paradigm shifts are more the domain of expertise across the technicalities of specific sciences and an intuition about the philosophy of science, and Newton-Smith goes so far to say in his introduction of Blackwell's Companion to the Philosophy of Science states on page 6 states that "[s]cientists in particular sometimes express disappointment in philosophy of science.".

Of course, science and human values aren't incompatible, and many scientists have their own takes on ethics and morality and often politically advocate those views. But, science from a philosophical perspective is much more concerned with ontic and epistemological matters (the true and real), then it is in questions of beauty and virtue (aesthetics and ethics). Science is a universal path to truth and reality precisely because it does not seek to settle whether Gould's NOMA is a better choice than showing God is a very poor scientfic theory like Dawkins.

And, to fault Oppenheimer for the bomb used after Stagg Field, or more generally scientists for the woes of society is just scapegoating. Nazi eugenics was inspired by American slavery and Jim crow far more than it was evolutionary theory, and the decision to drop the bomb was widely made prior Ike and Truman ordering the Enola Gay to let loose a new era of warfare. One might even argue that these events are the fault of religions which are often a confusing mishmash of ethical theories and misleading myths, when leaders of societies and the people that constitute them should be listening more to ethicists and scientists about what is true, real, good, and beautiful.

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  • @JD- Splendid, I am certain that each of us have gained some clarity on the issue, Thank you, JD. The bit at the end was a bit much what with confusing science with 'truth and beauty', whereas it's pragmatic value is all that's required. As for the bomb itself, dropping it saved hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers lives from participating in an assault on Japan. So, bizarrely enough Oppenheimer, et all, saved the Japanese from complete annihilation. It's a grizzly thought but probably a true one. – Charles M Saunders Aug 15 at 3:46
  • "You have claimed that scientists' intentions of goodwill are unreliable, but this clearly misses the point. Science is a universal path to truth and reality precisely because it does not seek to settle whether Gould's NOMA is a better choice than showing God is a very poor scientific theory." And; ..."scientists and their methods are more about is than ought." Both of these remarks can only be regarded as the words of what J D himself has termed, 'a true believer'. Science being about 'is' presupposes that the act of doing science results in some form of objective truth. No one believes that. – Charles M Saunders Aug 15 at 14:17
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    Well Charles, I disagree very hearilty with the claim that science's central pursuit is not the construction of a social reality built around the establishment of objective truth. I propose you ask the question of whether it is or isn't, and I'll respond to put forth why my assertion is consistent. :D Well, met! – J D Aug 15 at 14:32
  • "to fault Oppenheimer" There's an implicit straw man, the idea he was exceptionally or solely responsible. But to say he had no responsibility - that is very problematic. Einstein felt deep responsibility, so much so he regretted publishing his work on relativity. There was complex reasoning, sure. But responsible scientists agonised about setting the atmosphere on fire, nuclear winter, & widespread fallout. And leading physicists like Murray Gell-Man helped change policy. Scientists are responsible for what they choose to work on, and good ones know it, they don't say 'just following orders' – CriglCragl Aug 17 at 15:03
  • @CriglCragl It was rhetorical metonymy, not a literal assertion, but I'm glad you tried to parry. It does demonstrate that scientists are generlly concerned citizens. – J D Aug 18 at 23:28

The respondent in answering the question here, laid out the difficulty inherent in attempting to create a definition for what constitutes science. Nevertheless that in no way removes the need for more oversight of the scientific enterprise. To act as if Science concerns itself with Kuhn's 'normative' presupposes that the normal is acceptable.

One example why this is a dangerous way to assess the activity of doing science is what passes for scientific normalcy in the pharmaceutical industry. Many if not most of the 'drugs' on the market today were all created by scientists and approved by other scientists working for the FDA. A question which only the philosopher of science would pose at this point is, Has any scientist ever queried why harmful and even deadly side effects are part and parcel, no, actually it goes beyond that, they are a 'given' in most prescription medicines? The side effects posted on the sides of the bottles which are doled out to unsuspecting patients should sound alarm bells in the minds of all scientists involved in the laboratories which develop and market them. Or at least cause some alarm in the agencies and oversight 'committees', which purportedly monitor this process. But there is nary a whisper of complaint. Only the philosopher of science, apparently, has the purview to ask a simple question, How is it acceptable to threaten and endanger the lives of patients by ignoring the problematic nature of the assumption that 'drugs' must contain dangerous substances? At what point did, "Do no harm" leave the scene?

The answer to this conundrum lies in the faulty scientific hypothesis which assumes that using 'blockers' and 'inhibitors' is the only way to treat disease. Only the philosopher of science, whose perspective as an overview of the entire scientific enterprise in terms of 'drug' manufacture, can observe this egregious misapplication and call for more oversight of the so-called scientific process which perpetrates these crimes. It doesn't stop there but this is just one, only, example of why a definition which might attempt to describe and capture the limits of legitimate scientific inquiry needs to be attempted.

So, here goes;

Science is a completely human invention which takes advantage of the mind's capability to observe the environment and to then attempt to extract the material elements which might prove useful and beneficial by hypothesizing theses which can be placed under observation and measurement. The goal of this entirely synthetic and subjectively based exercise should be to identify and to separate out the useful, from the non-usable and dangerous elements through a rigorous and closely supervised process to guarantee that no harm befalls any of the citizenry.

Well, that's a first go at it.

The real reason that no one sees the need for any 'definition' or boundary drawing prescription for scientific research is the purely naive assumption that all's well and 'truth and beauty' are near at hand.

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  • "entirely synthetic and subjectively based" Is it entirely subjective? If so, surely it wouldn't matter what anyone but the originator of the hypothesis thought of it. But it does..? Science evolves, to say it was invented is like saying languages are invented - like sure, in a way, but also the power of them comes from each user refining, and passing on for more refining. Inventing a unique methodology that isn't aimed at passing, only say at examining a scientists own isolated experience to their own satisfaction, would be like inventing a language & never sharing it. Scientists cooperate – CriglCragl Aug 17 at 15:20
  • Sorry, most of this answer is plain ridiculous. Side effects of the drugs are listed because they were observed during tests. The drugs are nevertheless approved because benefits outweigh the danger. If this is not the case, they don't. No one made the assumption that drugs must sometimes be dangerous; this just often happens to be the case. It's a limitation of nature, not of the scientific process. And this is not limited to drugs: you might as well list side effects "obesity, diabetes, choking, allergic reactions, cyanide poisoning" on the side of each apple. – IMil Aug 17 at 23:17
  • @IMIL- In the history of science, in the late 19th century, it has been noted that a German by the name of von Hohenheim, who called himself Paracelsus was the first to introduce poisons, (nitrate salts), into medical injections. It is not unlike Trump recommending cleaning being fluid ibeing injected into the bloodstream to purge covid 19. That you are unaware of this not make your comprehension 'ridiculous', but only underinformed. – Charles M Saunders Aug 18 at 12:17
  • @CharlesMSaunders in my books, Paracelsus lived not in XIX but in XVI century, thus long predating any real science-based medicine. – IMil Aug 18 at 12:57
  • Thanks for the correct dating on that. The point is that he is credited as the Father of Pharmaceutics and what he began was the deviation away from organics ingredients in medicines to the acceptance of synthetic chemical additives. Cheers – Charles M Saunders Aug 19 at 13:33

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