A quick definition…

17Aug10

When I talk about ‘controversies within cosmology’, what do I mean? What does it take for something to be labelled a scientific controversy?

In The Golem (2nd ed. 1998), Collins and Pinch conclude that the only science the public need know about is controversial science as controversy is “how science is done”. For me, the latter rings true with what I’ve been reading in Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (3rd ed. 1996): in short and in general, a new theory is accepted when an old theory shows too many holes to remain the prominent way of thinking and a debate over a number of new theories ensues. For the moment, I’m taking controversy in this academic sense. In Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe (1999), Kragh also demands that a controversy must “be of some duration, be expressed in public, and take place by means of arguments and counterarguments”. I believe, however, that controversies within cosmology, being a field with little immediately direct influence on people’s lives (unlike, say, health science), may not be played out in the public arena as often as other sciences.

Hence, my working definition is as follows: a debate that develops over a period of time between scientists regarding scientific theory or results, in which views are defended and opposing views attacked. As I read further into the nature of scientific controversies, my definition may change. Please feel free to comment if you feel that I’ve left something important out!

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