I was skimming the philosophy blogs today and came across “Should Scientific Methods and Data be Public?” over at It’s Only A Theory (and Brains for that matter). Gualtiero Piccinini argues that scientific matters ought to be made public. My first thought was, “What exactly does G.P. mean by public?” and my second was, “Anyone who doesn’t think scientific methods should be public is bat-shit crazy.” (Yes, I get angry about this stuff. And from here on out, I’m using my own version of ‘public’, which is likely compatible with G.P.’s, but I do not want to look like I am putting words in Gualtiero’s mouth.)
Let me explain.
When practicing science we are ignoring, in part, at least three important things: time, space, and people. Science is, in some respects, atemporal: we believe that if everything else is held the same, it doesn’t matter when we conduct our scientific experiments. There is no scientific difference between an experiment performed this week and an experiment performed years ago; we can replicate the experiments of the masters and get the exact same results they did (within experimental error of course).
Secondly, science is, in some respects, separate from space: we believe that if everything else is held the same, it doesn’t matter where we conduct our scientific experiments. There is no scientific difference between an experiment performed in New York or in Shanghai; we can replicate experiments of scientists all over the world and get the exact same results they did.
Lastly, science is, in some respects, separate from particular people: we believe that is everything else is held the same, it doesn’t matter who is conducting our scientific experiments. There is no scientific difference between an experiment that I have performed and one that someone else performs; anyone may replicate an experiment and get the exact same results as someone else.
This, among other reasons, is what makes science so great: a scientific discovery will last beyond your life and your laboratory and can travel the world indefinitely. Unlike a great performance (theater or sport, take your pick), it will be exactly replicable for all time.
Now, back to scientific methods being public. If a scientific method is private, then it means that one or more of the three points listed above is being violated. Either the experiment is limited to the people who performed it (only certain people can make it work), the experiment is limited to the time in which it was performed (it only worked that one time) or the experiment is limited to the place it was performed (it only works in my basement). Once one of the three above points can no longer be ignored, then we have lost that which makes science so impressive.
Insofar as people are afforded the right to use language as they wish, I suppose it is acceptable for someone to call an experiment that violates one of the three above points science, or maybe, scientific. I, however, hold that what is generally thought to be science necessarily requires that the above three points not be violated.