The Scientific Attitude, 2nd ed.

The Scientific Attitude, 2nd ed.
by Frederick Grinnell

(Illus.; from the Conduct of Science series)
xvii+ 175pp.
C, T, GA **


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This effort by a practicing scientist to capture some aspects of the philosophy and sociology of science is at once informative, instructive, and interesting. The procedures and practice of science and scientists are set forth clearly in a way that catches the interest of the prospective and neophyte scientist while reminding practicing scientists of the prospects and pitfalls of the scientific quest. This excellent book should command the attention of a variety of readers--especially those would-be scientists of the future. However, its brevity of treatment is at once a virtue and fault. The book can be read at one sitting and contains real substance, but the succinct treatment obviates discussion of, or does not give credit to, the inventors of science--the Greeks. And this reviewer would have appreciated a historical treatment of the antecedents and processes of some of the epochal discoveries of science, e.g., evolution, DNA, or plate tectonics. Such discussions would have elucidated the scientific method, attitude, and results. On the other hand, there is a longer than necessary treatment on the nature of graduate study as practiced in the U.S., the process of selecting papers for publication, and grant application and funding. These are, however, minor problems that do not detract significantly from the value of the book. Essential topics of science, including observations, experimental design and interpretation, scientific collectives, scientific misconduct, and science and the world, are discussed effectively. Grinnell also does a service by illustrating that not everything in science is neat, precise, and progressive. Scientists, like others, occasionally wear intellectual blinders. A quotation from page 16 illustrates "the crucial point that seeing things one way means not seeing them another way. This feature is a difficult block that must be overcome by scientists if practical concepts are to be modified so as to assimilate newly discovered information." In science, as in other intellectual endeavors, old orthodoxies must be challenged, but they must not be sacrificed to fad or technology. Perspective and balance are essential in intellectual efforts, and hard work and disciplined inquiry are often augmented by intuition and luck. So it is with science.

--Reviewed by Arthur H. Doerr in Science Books and Films, 28/5 (June/July 1992), p. 135.