Science: a story without subjects

Consider this: scientists are trained, since very early in their careers, to communicate with the passive voice, excluding subjects and emphasizing objects. I propose that this ingrains a strong, subconscious message that scientists aren’t full, emotional, ‘human’ beings.

Besides being dull to read, the standard use of the passive voice gives the impression that science happens all on its own, without motives or feelings or hopes or agendas of the people performing the science. Of course any honest scientist would tell you that this is not at all true. Yet, we cling to the specter of complete objectivity–to the idea that we, as human beings, do not impact the science that we do. We cling to this concept in the language we use to discuss our work, the way we train young scientists, the way in which projects persist longer than the people who work on them.

I perceive two key negative impacts caused by the lack of proper attention to the scientist as subject. First of all, scientists themselves forget to see themselves as biased human beings. This encourages scientists to think that they do not need training in order to avoid racist, sexist, unfair behaviors. There is a strong message that we, as scientists, are above the rules that apply to regular people–such as the need for training in pedagogy or philosophy. In the scientific community, there is a healthy culture of arrogance. Secondly, laypeople do not see how to understand or empathize with the work that scientists do. As a result, the important work that is done by scientists (global warming research, etc) isn’t trusted. Laypeople become uncomfortable with the idea of giving public funds to support efforts by people they view coolly, with distrust.

What would it look like if scientists started being more open about our own role in the research and discovery process?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s