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

By Peter Medawar | Go to book overview

6
Two conceptions of science

My theme is popular misconceptions of scientific thought. I shall argue that the ideas of the educated lay public on the nature of scientific enquiry and the intellectual character of those who carry it out are in a state of dignified, yet utter, confusion. Most of these misconceptions are harmless enough, but some are mischievous, and all help to estrange the sciences from the humanities and the so-called 'pure' sciences from the applied.

Let me begin with an example of what I have in mind. The passage that follows has been made up, but its plaintive sound is so familiar that the reader may find it hard to believe it is not a genuine quotation.

Science is essentially a growth of organized factual knowledge [true or false?], and as science advances, the burden of factual information which it adds to daily is becoming well nigh insupportable. A time will surely come when the scientist must train not for the traditional three or four years, but for ten or more, if he is to equip himself to be a front-line combatant in the battle for knowledge. As things are, the scientist avoids being crushed beneath this factual burden by taking refuge in specialization, and the increase of specialization is the distinguishing mark of modern scientific growth. Because of it, scientists are becoming progressively less well able to communicate even with each other, let alone with the outside world; and we must look forward to an ever finer fragmentation of knowledge, in which each specialist will live in a tiny world of his own. St Thomas Aquinas was the last . . .

True or false, all this? False, I should say, in every particular. Science is no more a classified inventory of factual information than history a chronology of dates. The equation of science with facts and of the humane arts with ideas is one of the shabby

-59-

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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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