What is a Scientist?
Stemming from last week's post on influential figures in Irish science, Stefano Sanvito (one of the individuals listed) conveyed his disappointment via Twitter on the lack of "scientists" on the list. However, Irish Times science journalist Claire O'Connell pointed out that most of the list had a science background and most were involved in research. Thus followed a really interesting debate on Twitter about the definition of a scientist. Sanvito was adament that a scientist is "somebody who's job is to do science", producing "new knowledge, which is reproducible and verifiable". He believed most of his colleagues would agree with his definition. O'Connell disputed this, saying an individual need not be actively involved in research to be considered a scientist. As a former researcher she considers a scientist "as someone who trained as one and uses those skills" in their everyday lives (e.g. writing about science or teaching it in my case). She described it more along the lines of "a way of looking at the world ... and beyond" and that "once a scientist always a scientist". Maria Daly from the excellent Science Calling weekly blog also became involved and I think it's fair to say was slightly divided by the argument (correct me if I'm wrong Maria!).
It was a really interesting debate which got me thinking - is there a divide amongst the science community on the definition? So I thought I would throw this short post together to share my definition of a scientist and ask for your opinion - if you are a self professed scientist or not.
My own personal view is very much along the line of Claire O'Connell's. For me, science is a way of looking at the world, of questioning what we see and looking for ways of making things better. Science doesn't have to occur in a research lab. As a teacher I often describe some of my students as "good scientists", not because they get good examination results but because they cast a questioning eye on their world, look for problems, imagine solutions, experiment and draw conclusions. This is my definition of a scientist. I studied science at university, completed post-graduate research yet have been teaching for 11 years now. I still consider myself a scientist because I too look at the world in the same way. I don't do this in a lab all the time - sometimes I look about my house, find problems, design solutions, experiment and fix things. Science is a process and a scientists follows the process.
Do you agree with Claire & I or Stefano? I'd would love to hear your definition of what a scientist is .....