The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science

By Peter Medawar | Go to book overview
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3
Is the scientific paper a fraud?

I have chosen for my title a question: Is the scientific paper a fraud? I ought to explain that a scientific 'paper' is a printed communication to a learned journal, and scientists make their work known almost wholly through papers and not through books, so papers are very important in scientific communication. As to what I mean by asking 'is the scientific paper a fraud?' -- I do not of course mean 'does the scientific paper misrepresent facts', and I do not mean that the interpretations you find in a scientific paper are wrong or deliberately mistaken. I mean the scientific paper may be a fraud because it misrepresents the processes of thought that accompanied or gave rise to the work that is described in the paper. That is the question, and I will say right away that my answer to it is 'yes'. The scientific paper in its orthodox form does embody a totally mistaken conception, even a travesty, of the nature of scientific thought.

Just consider for a moment the traditional form of a scientific paper (incidentally, it is a form which editors themselves often insist upon). The structure of a scientific paper in the biological sciences is something like this. First, there is a section called the 'introduction' in which you merely describe the general field in which your scientific talents are going to be exercised, followed by a section called 'previous work' in which you concede, more or less graciously, that others have dimly groped towards the fundamental truths that you are now about to expound. Then a section on 'methods' -- that is OK. Then comes the section called 'results'. The section called 'results' consists of a stream of factual information in which it is considered extremely bad form to discuss the

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