Word Association: Science

Clyde Davenport (clyde@BUS.HIROSHIMA-PU.AC.JP)
Thu, 25 Apr 1996 18:02:24 +0900

At 11:01 AM 96.4.24 -0500, Jana Fortier wrote:
>Fred... now what are you trying to do? Start a furious battle among
>different folks of scientific fervor?? Shame, but okay, i bite. I suggest
>we try a little experiment. Let's have anyone interested in the ol' "Is it
>Science?" question make a semantic list for the term "Science". I'll bet
>alot of people won't have the same little semantic bubbles & this will show
>why we can't agree as to whether "anthro = scientific". I'll start! Anyone
>who wants, please add/take away from my initial list.
>*science* = replicable, reliable, observable, testable, refutable, logical,
>significantly stated, human-made, culturally constructed, a way of mapping
>the world, a tool, [what else?] - Jana's List
>I assert that each of these characteristics (yes, even "replicable") can
>USUALLY be found in anthropological research.
>At 08:53 AM 4/24/96 -0500, you wrote:
>>If anthropologists use the scientific method to test and refute their
>>hypotheses then they most certainly are scientists. Of course, it is much
>>more difficult when you can not always repeat your experiments in lab
>>conditions. I don't think that takes away from our basic epistemology which
>>make us scientists.

My own (imperfect, and impressionistic) attempt:

1. Mad scientist, Frankenstein, genetic engineer, nuclear power
specialist, eugenicist, creator of chemical and biological weapons, robots,
2. Nerds with calculators (in the old days slide rules), comp-sci majors,
math majors, biology students cutting open fetal pigs (the smell of
formaldehyde), dirt science students with their collection of rocks
3. The Big Bang Theory, quantum mechanics and Einstein, black holes and
DNA, the periodic table, telescopes, microscopes, and various flasks and
beakers with mostly clear liquids in them, lots of tables and graphs,
mathematical formulas scribbled on blackboards, men (and women?) in white
lab coats
4. the search for truth, progress, painstaking research about tiny things,
specialization, banishing superstition, theory as fact, Darwin
5. Additives, pesticides, toxic waste, nuclear waste, PCB's, sludge,
nitrates, nitrites, PET bottles, styrofoam, CFCs, lithium, tritium,
6. Social science, clinicians, therapists, social workers, deviancy,
academics, statistics, grants, doctorates, theory
7. prove, verify, experiment, control group, test group, subject,
objectify, quantify, analyze, reduce, inquisition, laboratory, maze, mind,
reinforce, break down, hypothesize, state, imply, assume, consider,
criticize, condemn, disprove, repeat, reduplicate, procedures, write-up,
grants, money, fame, position
8. tool, bomb, missile, beaker, scope, scanner, computer, software,
programming, series, feedback loop, fuzzy logic, forceps, forensics
9. logic, law, truth, mind, rationalization, codification, classification,
categorization, labelling, excluded middle, philosophy, scientific method
10. replicable, reproducible, DNA, write-up, laboratory, copy, copyright,
plagiarism, confirmation, scholarly standards
11. reliability, accuracy, instrumentation, procedures, verification,
statistics, standard deviation, reputable, disreputable
12. observable, visible, quantifiable, graphs, data, figures, tables,
charts, photographs, tools, microscopes, scanning electron microscopes,
computer-enhanced images, grey science buildings on university campuses
13. testable, machines, graphs, computers, results, discussion, methods,
conclusion, abstract, published scientific papers
14. culturally created, history of science, sociology of knowledge, social
construction of reality, postmodernism, modernism, better living through
chemistry, Time magazine science specials, Scientific American, public TV
specials on science, cleaning products
15. inventions, airplane, cars, TV, radio, computer, telephone, x-ray
machine, CAT scan, robot, software, bomb, missile, machine-gun, aircraft
carrier, VCR, dishwasher, washing machine, central heating, air
conditioning, CD player
16. maps, diagrams, charts, graphs, tables, figures, formulas, pictures,
citations, references, footnotes, APA format
17. technology, pollution, weapons, pure science, physics, chemistry,
industry, petrochemicals, plastic
18. environment, ecology, biology, sociobiology, mating behavior,
reproductive success, feedback, homeostasis
19. AIDS, cancer, drug, chemotherapy, vaccine, virus, bacteria, slime
mold, IV, IUD, transplant
20. space, spaceship, Mars, rocket, Star Wars, suspended animation, robot,
cyborg, Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy

My own opinions on this matter are as follows:
1. The social sciences can reproduce the methodology of the hard sciences
only to their detriment as traditions of knowledge (albeit this gives them
institutional respectability in an age dominated by "scientific"
2. Science in both its hard and soft senses as practiced in the academia
while concerned with the advance of knowledge finds its more direct
motivation in the professional need to publish, and produce findings. This
tends to trivialize the content as academics cannot afford to wait until
they find truly important things to pass on to others.
3. Science in the corporate world is conditioned by the need to make a
profit (here I include research under corporate sponsorship at
4. Much social scientific research becomes involved in the needs of
bureaucracies for managing information and people. Anthropology is perhaps
the least involved in this kind research (at least in its more current
5. If science itself includes much in the way of social practices, the
popular image of science is of course not scientific. Various
stereotypical images exist of what the typical scientist looks like, what
the important scientific theories are, etc. Also if many scientists
perhaps for practical reasons wish to tightly separate science from
technology, I believe they are fused in the popular imagination since much
of our direct experience of science is through "scientific" inventions.
The media also plays a complex role in mediating between "science" as a
tradition and the popular conception of it.
6. For myself, and I am sure for others as well, my images of science are
also caught up with my experiences of science in my childhood which came
largely out of the classroom.
7. I can only artificially separate my technical knowledge of
science/social science from my own local/private/personal impression of
science. In my experience, these two realms are joined. If I try to write
academically/seriously about science, I can only do so by a process of
deletion. Yet what is deleted still hovers about in the motivational
background for what I write.

Clyde Davenport