Scientific community

The scientific community is a diverse network of interacting scientists. It includes many "sub-communities" working on particular scientific fields, and within particular institutions; interdisciplinary and cross-institutional activities are also significant. Objectivity is expected to be achieved by the scientific method. Peer review, through discussion and debate within journals and conferences, assists in this objectivity by maintaining the quality of research methodology and interpretation of results.

The eighteenth century had some societies made up of men who studied nature, also known as natural philosophers and natural historians, which included even amateurs. As such these societies were more like local clubs and groups with diverse interests than actual scientific communities, which usually had interests on specialized disciplines. Though there were a few older societies of men who studied nature such as the Royal Society of London, the concept of scientific communities emerged in the second half of the 19th century, not before, because it was in this century that the language of modern science emerged, the professionalization of science occurred, specialized institutions were created, and the specialization of scientific disciplines and fields occurred.

For instance, the term scientist was first coined by the naturalist-theologian William Whewell in 1834 and the wider acceptance of the term along with the growth of specialized societies allowed for researchers to see themselves as a part of a wider imagined community, similar to the concept of nationhood.

Membership in the community is generally, but not exclusively, a function of education, employment status, research activity and institutional affiliation. Status within the community is highly correlated with publication record, and also depends on the status within the institution and the status of the institution. Researchers can hold roles of different degrees of influence inside the scientific community. Researchers of a stronger influence can act as mentors for early career researchers and steer the direction of research in the community like ageanda setters. Scientists are usually trained in academia through universities. As such, degrees in the relevant scientific sub-disciplines are often considered prerequisites in the relevant community. In particular, the PhD with its research requirements functions as a marker of being an important integrator into the community, though continued membership is dependent on maintaining connections to other researchers through publication, technical contributions, and conferences. After obtaining a PhD an academic scientist may continue through being on an academic position, receiving a post-doctoral fellowships and onto professorships. Other scientists make contributions to the scientific community in alternate ways such as in industry, education, think tanks, or the government.

Members of the same community do not need to work together. Communication between the members is established by disseminating research work and hypotheses through articles in peer reviewed journals, or by attending conferences where new research is presented and ideas exchanged and discussed. There are also many informal methods of communication of scientific work and results as well. And many in a coherent community may actually not communicate all of their work with one another, for various professional reasons.

Unlike in previous centuries when the community of scholars were all members of few learned societies and similar institutions, there are no singular bodies or individuals which can be said today to speak for all science or all scientists. This is partly due to the specialized training most scientists receive in very few fields. As a result, many would lack expertise in all the other fields of the sciences. For instance, due to the increasing complexity of information and specialization of scientists, most of the cutting-edge research today is done by well funded groups of scientists, rather than individuals. However, there are still multiple societies and academies in many countries which help consolidate some opinions and research to help guide public discussions on matters of policy and government-funded research. For example, the United States' National Academy of Science (NAS) and United Kingdom's Royal Society sometimes act as surrogates when the opinions of the scientific community need to be ascertained by policy makers or the national government, but the statements of the National Academy of Science or the Royal Society are not binding on scientists nor do they necessarily reflect the opinions of every scientist in a given community since membership is often exclusive, their commissions are explicitly focused on serving their governments, and they have never "shown systematic interest in what rank-and file scientists think about scientific matters". Exclusivity of membership in these types of organizations can be seen in their election processes in which only existing members can officially nominate others for candidacy of membership. It is very unusual for organizations like the National Academy of Science to engage in external research projects since they normally focus on preparing scientific reports for government agencies. An example of how rarely the NAS engages in external and active research can be seen in its struggle to prepare and overcome hurdles, due to its lack of experience in coordinating research grants and major research programs on the environment and health.

This page was last edited on 26 March 2018, at 13:01.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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