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

By Peter Medawar | Go to book overview

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

-33-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword - The Phenomenon of Medawar v
  • Contents xiii
  • Introduction xiv
  • 1 - The Phenomenon of man 1
  • 2 - Hypothesis and imagination 12
  • 3 - Is the scientific paper a fraud? 33
  • 4 - The Act of Creation 40
  • 5 - Darwin's illness 52
  • 6 - Two conceptions of science 59
  • 7 - Science and the sanctity of life 72
  • 8 - J.B.S. 86
  • 9 - Lucky Jim 94
  • 10 - On 'the effecting of all things possible' 104
  • 11 - Further comments on psychoanalysis 120
  • 12 - The strange case of the spotted mice 132
  • 13 - Unnatural science 144
  • 14 - Florey story 162
  • 15 - In defence of doctors 170
  • 16 - Expectation and prediction 182
  • 17 - Scientific fraud 196
  • 18 - Son of stroke*** 203
  • 19 - The question of the existence of God 207
  • 20 - On living a bit longer 212
  • Notes 218
  • Sources 228
  • Index 231
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