What is the short definition of science

What is science

Giving a universal (and accepted) definition of science is practically impossible. We present one of the first definitions of the "system of science" by the American sociologist Robert K. Merton. This definition has the advantage that central features of the scientific style become immediately apparent through it.

 Communication is a central component of all sciences, with written communication being of particular importance, because scientific knowledge should be available to all members of a scientific community (the so-called "scientific community"), for which written dissemination is particularly suitable. In this section we will briefly show you the reasons why this is so and which properties of scientific language result from this "compulsion to communicate" in science.

Science researchers and sociologists have been concerned since the 1950s with the question of how science can be described as a social system and how it differs from other social systems. Some of their findings help us to understand why communication in general and the writing of scientific texts in particular are so important in science.

As early as 1957, one of the founders of the sociology of science, the American Robert K. Merton, described science as a social institution whose primary goal is the expansion of established knowledge. From this general goal he has derived four central norms or principles which, in his opinion, determine all modern branches of science:

1. That Principle of universalism means that scientific statements are checked exclusively (and based on subject-specific methodological criteria) for their truth or falsity and that the person from whom a statement originates has no influence whatsoever (i.e. that the statements of experts in a subject are checked and criticized in the same way as they are those of students).

2. That Principle of communalism states that scientific results must be available to the entire "scientific community" and that scientific property rights to thoughts are limited to the ideal sphere.

3. That Principle of altruism states that scientific research and scientific progress is carried out by the participating scientists primarily for their own sake and not out of material considerations.

4. The organized skepticism Finally, it expresses itself in the fact that every scientific claim has to face the critical review by the other scientists in a subject area and that this review is carried out without regard to the author (see “Universalism”).

These principles were later criticized many times as being too idealistic, because of course you can always find violations of them in the real world of science. Some sociologists of science have therefore understood Merton's principles as an “ideology” that describes how science should be, rather than as a description of empirically discoverable norms. But the very fact that deviations from Merton's norms are often perceived as “violations” suggests that these principles, although - or precisely because - they describe an ideology, are not out of thin air. Merton's conception of science as a norm-based system also makes it possible to explain the importance of communication for the system of science and even to explain individual features of the scientific style.

The principles of the Communalism and des organized skepticism require communication between members of a scientific community. If scientific results are to be generally available, then they have to be communicated to others. And if they are appraised and criticized, it also presupposes that this criticism is shared with others. To this end, scientific communities develop specific, subject-specific types of text (chemists write laboratory reports, ethnologists and anthropologists, etc., and then create subject-specific types of text on the basis of these). An essential part of the training to become a scientist also consists in getting to know these subject-specific forms of communication and text types and being able to write them yourself. You can find out more about this in the “Text types” section of the “Scientific language” learning unit.

The principle of the organized skepticism In addition, it also requires that scientific texts always relate to one another. Statements, findings and arguments that are published by an author are taken up, assessed and criticized in subsequent texts by their specialist colleagues, and these subsequent texts can themselves become the starting point for further texts. This is how scientific debates arise and scientific texts consist to a considerable extent of references to other texts. The principle of commonality then dictates that the shares of other authors in your own text are clearly recognizable, because "to adorn yourself with other people's feathers" clearly violates this principle. The principle of the Universalism after all, it means that facts, arguments and conclusions are in the foreground in scientific texts and not the person of the author. This also leads to the fact that authors do not or hardly appear as persons in such texts, which often makes scientific texts appear impersonal.

This brief illustration shows how important communication is to the functioning of science and that many characteristics of scientific text types are directly related to the underlying norms that are responsible for the functioning of science. Learning to write scientifically also means learning to become a scientist.

Further literature on this topic, in particular on Merton's approach, are the following works:
  Merton, Robert K. "The Normative Structure of Science." Development and change of research interests. Essays on the sociology of science. Ed. Robert K. Merton. Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp, ​​1985. 86-100.
 Storer, Norman. "The Social System Of Science." Sociology of Science I. Scientific development as a social process. Ed. Peter Weingart. Vol. 1. Frankfurt / Main: Athenaeum, 1973. 60-85.
 Storer, Norman. "Critical Aspects of the Social Structure of Science." Sociology of Science I. Scientific development as a social process. Ed. Peter Weingart. Vol. 1. Frankfurt / Main: Athenaeum, 1973. 85-121.
Critical or alternative approaches can be found in the following works, among others:
  Barnes, S.B & R.G.A. Dolby (1973): The Scientific Ethos: A Dissenting Point of View. In: Weingart, Peter (Hrsg): Sociology of Science I. Scientific development as a social process. Frankfurt / Main: Fischer Athenaeum, 263-287.
 Kuhn, Thomas S. (1967): The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp.