The scientific community consists of the total body of scientists, its relationships and interactions. It is normally divided into "sub-communities" each working on a particular field within science (for example there is a robotics community within the field of computer science. Objectivity is expected to be achieved by the scientific method. Peer review, through discussion and debate within journals and conferences, assists in this objectivity by maintaining the quality of research methodology and interpretation of results.
Membership, status and interactions
"Membership" of the community is generally, but not exclusively, a function of education, employment status, and institutional affiliation. Status within the community is highly correlated with publication record. Sociologists report that gender, race, and class may also influence status within the community.
Scientists are usually trained in academia through the university system. As such, degrees in the relevant scientific sub-disciplines are often considered prerequisites for membership in the relevant community. In particular, the PhD with its research requirements functions as a kind of entrance examination into the community, though continued membership is dependent on maintaining connections to other researchers through publication and conferences. After obtaining a PhD an academic scientist may continue through post-doctoral fellowships and onto professorships. Other scientists may find employment in industry, think tanks, or the government. Independent researchers tend to be regarded less-highly, though in principle scientists are judged on the caliber of their contributions.
Members of the same community do not need to work together. Communication between the members is established by disseminating research work and hypotheses through articles in peer reviewed journals, or by attending conferences where new research is presented and ideas exchanged and discussed. There are also many informal methods of communication of scientific work and results as well. And many in a coherent community may actually not communicate all of their work with one another, for various professional reasons.
Speaking for the scientific community
Unlike in previous centuries when the community of scholars were all members of learned societies and similar institutions, there are no singular bodies which can be said today to speak for all of science. In the United States the National Academy of Science sometimes acts as a surrogate when the opinions of the scientific community need to be ascertained by policy makers or the national government, but the statements of the National Academy are not binding on scientists nor do they necessarily reflect the opinions of every scientist in the community. Nevertheless, general scientific consensus is a concept which is often referred to when dealing with questions that can be subject to scientific methodology. While the consensus opinion of the community is not always easy to ascertain, generally the standards and utility of the scientific method have tended to ensure that scientists agree on a standard, mainstream corpus of fact explicated by scientific theory while rejecting ideas which run counter to this realization. Scientific consensus is of such importance to science pedagogy, the evaluation of new ideas, and research funding that critics of the consensus often bitterly complain that there is a closed shop bias within the scientific community toward new ideas (see articles on protoscience, fringe science, and pseudoscience). In response skeptical organizations have devoted considerable amounts of time and money to debunking the claims of those who balk at scientific consensus.
Philosophers of science argue over the epistemological limits of such a consensus and some, including Thomas Kuhn, have pointed to the existence of scientific revolutions in the history of science as being an important indication that scientific consensus can, at times, be wrong. Nevertheless, the sheer explanatory power of science in its ability to make accurate and precise predictions and aid in the design and engineering of new technology has ensconced "science" and, by proxy, the opinions of the scientific community as a highly respected form of knowledge both in the academy and in popular culture.
The high regard with which scientific results are held in Western society has caused a number of political controversies over scientific subjects to arise. A persistency of the alleged conflict between religion and science has often been cited as representative of a struggle between tradition and progress or faith and reason. The combative relationship has been cited back to the beginnings of natural science when Galileo was tried before the Inquisition for preaching blasphemy regarding heliocentrism. In more recent times, the creation-evolution controversy has resulted in many religious believers in a supernatural creation to attack the naturalistic explanation of origins provided by the sciences of evolutionary biology, geology, and astronomy. Although the dichotomy seems to be of a different outlook from a Continental European perspective, it does exist. The Vienna Circle for instant have had a paramount (i.e. symbolic) influence on the semiotic regime represented by the Scientific Community in Europe.
In the decades following World War II, many in the scientific community were convinced that nuclear power would solve the pending energy crisis by providing "energy too cheap to meter". This advocacy led to the construction of many nuclear power plants, but was also accompanied by a global political movement opposed to nuclear power due to safety concerns and associations of the technology with nuclear weapons. Mass protests in the United States and Europe during the 1970s and 1980s along with the disasters of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island led to a decline in nuclear power plant construction.
References and external articles
- Sociologies of science
- Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, "Laboratory life: the social construction of scientific facts". Beverly Hills : Sage Publications, 1979.
- Sharon Traweek, "Beamtimes and lifetimes: the world of high energy physicists". Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.
- Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the experimental life". Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985).
- Karin Knorr Cetina, Epistemic cultures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
- History and philosophy of science
- Other articles
- Peter M. Haas. "Introduction: epistemic communities and international policy coordination". International Organization, v. 46, n. 1, winter 1992, pp. 1-35. (PDF)
- "Producing Communities’ as a Theoretical Challenge; Social order in scientific communities". TASA 2001 Conference, The University of Sydney, 13-15 December 2001. (PDF)