Reflecting on Science

How to understand science as a method of inquiry? Because I begin from an autoethnographic perspective, inquiry as practiced by working researchers is what has interested me most. Philosopher Thomas Kuhn popularized the idea that science was characterized by beliefs and values shared by members of a scientific community as established and acceptable ways of problem solving. Kuhn also emphasized that beyond these shared criteria, scientific judgment depends on individual biography and personality. The importance of individual biography and personality is the focus of physician and philosopher Ludwik Fleck’s description of a researcher’s thought style from his 1935 book Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, which tells the story about how syphilis was discovered as an infectious disease.  According to Fleck, a person’s thought style is the combination of education, past experience, temperament, and life situation that determines how the individual thinks about and acts in the world. Thought styles determines what behaviors, tools and methods will be used to achieve desired outcomes. Different thought styles might lead researchers to focus on phenomena from different points of view, e.g., descriptive vs. mechanistic, structure vs. function, or composition vs. emergent features of organized hierarchical systems. Following Kuhn and Fleck, I have emphasized that scientific inquiry begins with investigators’ attitudes that determine the what and how of their practices that give rise to specific domains of knowledge. Philosophers of science have called this the pluralist stance.

(i) Books to advance understanding about scientific inquiry

  • Grinnell, F. (1987) The Scientific Attitude, 1st Edition, Westview Press, Boulder, Co.; (1992) 2nd Edition, Guilford Press, New York, NY.
  • Grinnell, F. (2009) Everyday Practice of Science: Where Intuition and Passion Meet Objectivity and Logic, Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y. In 2010, Everyday Practice of Science was shortlisted for the UK Royal Society Science Book Prize

(ii) Philosophical studies