What Makes a Scientist?

Since I posted a while ago on “why I am a scientist“, I’ve been thinking of what makes a scientist. This has been partially inspired by a post that Laelaps wrote a while ago, on whether to consider himself a scientist, and also brought to the front of Sci’s head by a post over at the Intersection, where someone started contesting whether or not Sheril is a scientist. My answer to both of you? HELLZ YEAH.


Many people have what seems to me to be a pretty restricted view of what a “scientist” is. To many people, including practicing scientists themselves, a “scientist” must obtain the following credentials:

  • Training in a specific scientific subdiscipline, such as physics, biochemistry, or physiology
  • A PhD
  • A series of ongoing publications in peer-reviewed journals
  • A position at an academic institution or research facility, public or private
  • Funding

All of these are necessary, but no one by itself is sufficient to call oneself a “scientist”. Interestingly, most of the people I find who consider these things to be important in whether or not they are a scientist are people who either already HAVE these things, or who wish very much to attain these things, as it is the career path they have chosen.
However, if you require all those things in the above list in order to be considered a “scientist”, you are narrowing the field to a very small subset of the population. Moreover, you are discounting a large number of people who, in some way or another, participate in to the scientific enterprise.
Historically, this definition of a “classic scientist” in the manner I outlined above, is really pretty new. It wasn’t so long ago that there was no such thing as public scientific funding, and very little in the way of graduate education in the sciences. The scientist of the day was the “gentleman scientist”, usually rich or well-off enough to do scientific studies in his free time, unless he was lucky enough to get hired by or start his own company to continue experimentation and development. Most of them were not scientifically educated at all. They were just smart, curious, and will to test and discount a hypothesis until they found an explanation for an unknown phenomenon. But by modern standards, most of these people, the Benjamin Franklins, Edward Jenners, Joeseph Listers, and Louis Pasteurs, are not “scientists”. What, then, were they?
And what do you call those who may be trained in science but are unable to pursue the traditional scientific career? Right now there is 1 post-doc position available for every 10 graduate students getting out of graduate school. That’s one leaky pipeline. When that 1 post-doc position is taken, what are the other 9 graduate students, each with their newly minted PhDs and their training in highly specific techniques, supposed to do? Are you going to tell all of those people, with their PhD’s, publications required for graduation, and mastery of what are often extremely difficult techniques, that they are not scientists? I don’t think so.
But many of them cannot go on to do science. They can, however, go on to teach, write, or otherwise disseminate scientific information, scientific techniques, and the scientific method to the public. They can help scientists deal with politics, performing the delicate translation from science-speak to political-eeze, enabling academic scientists to continue to do their work in a safe and affordable environment. They can go into the National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies, helping academic scientists navigate the funding maze. They can even go on to edit the journals that academic scientists publish in, performing the dreaded “triage” to determine what will go into the peer-review process. I’m sure there are other avenues that I am missing.
And what about those who may not have a PhD? Who have cut their training short at some point to pursue other avenues of promoting science? Or who may be in the process of obtaining a PhD in the first place? I challenge anyone to look at what I do on a day-to-day basis and tell me I am not a scientist, though I may not yet have a PhD.
Would you say that all these people are not scientists? I wouldn’t. They remain interested in science and acquainted with what is going on in their fields. They may not be at the bench or out in the field collecting data and publishing papers (or they might be), but they are still closely associated with the scientific enterprise. So what should be the requirements for being a “scientist”? Should there be requirements at all?
A scientist is someone with curiosity. Someone who desires to know about the world, to discover mechanisms or technologies that have not been discovered. Someone who uses the scientific method to solve problems and logic to look for potential avenues for solutions. A scientist is also someone who is consistently learning and using what they learn to teach others. To teach others how to use the scientific method and how to utilize their curiosity to find answers is to be a scientist. Scientists are perpetual students themselves, constantly seeking to learn and understand more about their environment.
Hell, you know what? I like what wikipedia has to say:

A scientist, in the broadest sense, refers to any person that engages in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge or an individual that engages in such practices and traditions that are linked to schools of thought or philosophy. In a more restricted sense, scientist refers to individuals who use the scientific method.

That’s what I’m talking about. Scientists use the scientific method to explore the world around them, and engage in systematic activities to acquire knowledge. Whether that is through data collection or thorough reading of the literature, or whether it involves using the scientific method in daily life to communicate information, those people are scientists. Whether or not you have a PhD doesn’t change whether or not you have a scientific mind, and does not change whether you can use the scientific method. I may not have a PhD (yet…), but I AM a scientist.
But now I would to open it up to the masses (well, there aren’t exactly masses, but there are some awesome opinions out there). What makes a scientist? What am I missing?

39 Responses

  1. Science is not (just) a profession. Science is a mindset.

  2. Very well said, SciC, nothing to add.

  3. Curiously enough, I had this conversation with a colleague from India, who seems to have the same definition of ‘scientist’ as listed in the five points above, claiming that the two of us (graduate students) and the post-docs next door are not really scientists.
    All I can say is: What ARE we then? We come here to work every day doing science, we come home and wake up thinking about science (at least I do), and we’ll stand in a lab and at the microscopes, doing experiments, analysing, testing, hypothizing and interpreting results, making posters, working towards papers and theses. Obviously we’re not engineers, acountants, medical or technical lab assitants, plumbers, gardeners, etc. etc., but we do get paid for what we do.
    So if not scientists, what ARE we? In our case “PhD students” might still work, but what about those post-docs next door?

  4. My favorite part is the question.

  5. But now I would to open it up to the masses (well, there aren’t exactly masses, but there are some awesome opinions out there). What makes a scientist? What am I missing?

    Well, I would say you’re absolutely right, but the primary difficulty is that many people who claim to be using the scientific method really aren’t even coming close. I know that as for myself, though I thought I was pretty good at approaching the world in a scientific way, it wasn’t until I saw how real scientists at the Physics department in my university behave that I actually understood what scientific scepticism really was.
    So while I think your definition is accurate, it means that many people who don’t actually make use of the scientific method would consider themselves scientists by that criteria. I would state that the other criteria, those of the “professional scientist” are ways to be relatively certain that you’re actually acting with the correct level of skepticism. Though I might perhaps pare it down to merely publishing in peer-reviewed journals, as that allows one to check one’s thinking and arguments against others directly. The rest, I would say, merely makes up the easiest way to be a scientist and do scientific work, not the only way. But science is pointless if its not communicated, so publishing in journals, I would say, is essential, because it not only communicates the work, but also serves as an independent check to make sure the person claiming to be a scientist isn’t deluding themself.

  6. wow. i guess there are a lot of non-scientists out there, eh? between all those kickass bs/ms technicians who apparently don’t do ‘real’ science (nah, just the kind where you do experiments), to grad students, who aren’t scientists YET (just doing experiments aimlessly forever, right?), to educators in community and teaching colleges who don’t publish much science (because teaching future generations of scientists excludes you from the ranks of scientists), to grant officers/administrators (oh, those guys are TOTALLY not scientists) and policy consultants (yeah, who needs science to translate to public health and policy?). yeah, really, only the truly insane ones (cough… i meant the ones who get the phd… cough) are the REAL scientists. the rest are all just fakers.
    wtf kind of crap is that.
    also, i find it amusing that a scientist quotes the notoriously bias-prone and non-peer-reviewed wikipedia, to define scientists.🙂 but i do enjoy the definition.

  7. leigh, rock on. Anyone tells me the lab techs in my lab aren’t scientists, and I will cut their pretty little faces. Same with policy people. Scientists should know better than to insult them, because they DO control the purse-strings.
    And wikipedia is often wrong, but this definition I think they got spot-on. Or at least I agree with the current biased person who last edited the page.🙂

  8. Scientist is a job. No PhD is required. If you have a job doing research in a scientific field using the scientific method, then you are a scientist. If you do have a PhD in a scientific field, but do no research, you are not a scientist. That is unless one is unemployed, then you are an unemployed scientist, hopefully looking for a job. If you find a job waiting tables, you are no longer a scientist, as you are now a waiter. If you are scientist and accept a promotion into management, then you are a former scientist, who is now an administrator.

  9. between all those kickass bs/ms technicians who apparently don’t do ‘real’ science (nah, just the kind where you do experiments),

    Presumably they publish, right? If so, then I would call them scientists. If they don’t involve themselves at all with the communication of the work to the scientific community, then I wouldn’t call them scientists. They don’t even have to publish often, just sometimes.

    to educators in community and teaching colleges who don’t publish much science (because teaching future generations of scientists excludes you from the ranks of scientists)

    If we think of being a scientist as being a job, then typically no, science educators are not scientists, because they aren’t doing science. Teaching science and doing science are two different things.

    to grant officers/administrators (oh, those guys are TOTALLY not scientists)

    Well, often times, these people are those that are no longer doing science, but did it in the past. Would you call such a person a scientist? I honestly don’t know. Because of their past history, they almost certainly know how to do science. But if they’re not doing it presently, and haven’t done science for years, is it still accurate to call them scientists?

    yeah, really, only the truly insane ones (cough… i meant the ones who get the phd… cough) are the REAL scientists. the rest are all just fakers.

    Well, do they claim to be scientists? Being something other than a scientist, after all, does not mean that a person does not have a valuable or demanding job. A non-scientist is not inherently lower or less valuable than a scientist.
    I would call myself a scientist now, as I am actively working to publish some research. But in a few years, who knows? I certainly wouldn’t call myself a scientist any longer if I had gone to work in some private firm doing programming or engineering of some sort or other.

  10. Jason: I wouldn’t say that publication is required. What about presenting your work to the scientific community at conferences? A lot of the lab techs I know do that, though they may not get a name on the paper. They also do the data analysis and troubleshoot problems. I do think they are scientists, they certainly still communicate their work to the scientific community.
    I think I have to disagree with your idea that being a scientist is a job. I think being a scientist is much more of a critical thinking mindset, coupled with constant intellectual curiousity. Which would make those who teach and practice policy with scientific training also scientists.
    Note: just because you are a scientist doesn’t have to mean that you’re a GOOD one.

  11. I wouldn’t say that publication is required. What about presenting your work to the scientific community at conferences? A lot of the lab techs I know do that, though they may not get a name on the paper. They also do the data analysis and troubleshoot problems. I do think they are scientists, they certainly still communicate their work to the scientific community.

    If they’re involved in work that goes into a paper, why wouldn’t they get their name on it? And if their name is going go on a paper, why wouldn’t they want to be at least partially involved in the paper’s contents, at the very least to ensure accuracy of their contribution?
    As for scientist being a critical thinking mindset, personally I would say that science itself is a critical thinking mindset. A scientist is just a person that uses that mindset professionally. But this is semantics and therefore arbitrary, so that I can’t say that my way of using the word is any better than yours.
    However, let me state that a science teacher doesn’t necessarily have to employ a scientific mindset in their teaching. It is entirely possible to teach a scientific subject without conveying the way in which science is performed. This was my experience before going to a university: at the community college and even moreso in high school what I got in my physics classes was largely, “This is how this physical system works, and this is how you calculate it.” When I got to the university, there was far, far more of, “This is how we know that this particular way of describing nature is accurate.”
    Of course, a science educator can make use of science in terms of figuring out the best way to teach, and the student need not ever notice this aspect of this scientist educator’s job.

    Note: just because you are a scientist doesn’t have to mean that you’re a GOOD one.

    Excellent point. And this includes scientists who publish, perhaps even many of those who publish frequently. I wouldn’t venture to judge for myself whether or not I am a good scientist. I hope I am, but I can’t really say.

  12. “Right now there is 1 post-doc position available for every 10 graduate students getting out of graduate school.” Citation plz? I think the bottleneck is more at the faculty/permanent position level than that would indicate. If post-docs really are that hard to come by, I have been horribly misinformed.
    Also, no offense but “a scientist is someone who uses the scientific method” is almost a tautology… unless you post what you think is the scientific method. I personally don’t believe there is any such thing- at least nothing that can be accurately modeled by a linear pathway instead of an interconnected network. The notion that there is ONE scientific method, and everyone uses it uniformly, lends itself to multiple choice questions on standardized tests with correct answers, but does not facilitate a better understanding of how the processes of science actually function.
    @Jason Dick “If they’re involved in work that goes into a paper, why wouldn’t they get their name on it?” Is this question in earnest? Cause authorship criteria are a whole other kettle of fish…

  13. @Danimal “Scientist is a job. No PhD is required. If you have a job doing research in a scientific field using the scientific method, then you are a scientist.”
    So, you’re saying that unless you are getting paid to do scientific stuff, you’re not a scientist. What about people who do scientific discoveries on their own in their free time (going beack to the “gentleman scientist” of the past – people do still do this)? You’re still excluding a fair number of people who would consider themselves scientists.

  14. Hmmm, good points, becca. As for the citation…I…admit that I just heard it in a multitude of places, usually on blogs. I think it may apply to higher faculty positions, but I’ve already heard that applied to post-docs as well. Especially with the recession, faculty members aren’t retiring, and post-docs are deciding that it might be worth hanging around another year before job hunting. But take my figures with a grain of salt.
    Do you have an idea of how you would define someone as a scientist? I dislike the notion of limiting it to people who are publishing in the present. I also think that scientific training can really impact the way you conduct your life and your work, no matter what that work is. But I’m out of ideas for now.

  15. Amen, Sister Sci!

  16. I think that sentiments voiced above – that only PhDs with publication in academia are “true, real scientists” – is a very dangerous one. Why?
    It reinforces the noxious idea that the PhD-to-tenure-track path is the one and only path in science. Everything else is dubbed “alternative careers” and sneered at as somehow lesser.
    As a result, there is a self-reinforcing Elite Club, or inner circle, or old-boys-club, or Ivory Tower, call it what you want, that loves to stroke its own ego while keeping everyone else out.
    Those “everyone else” are people who, either by choice or due to the forces of marketplace, are scientists in a different way. This includes people who may have wanted to go tenure-track but, due to inherent systemic discrimination due to history (not necessarily implying any individual in the system is discriminatory), have leaked out of the pipeline: women, minorities, people who went to smaller schools, scientists in developing countries, scientists who do not speak good English, etc.
    This also excludes people who got their training in science at some level and decided that their interests and talents lead them elsewhere: teaching, editing science journals, political activism, science writing/journalism, political advising, administration, environmental activism, scientific illustration or science art, science librarianship, science-related copyright law, designing new equipment or online science resources, manufacture or sales of lab equipment and supplies, etc.
    This also excludes people who, by choice, decided to by-pass the inner-circle path. Some are citizen scientists – participating in things like SETI or Christmas bird-count or volunteering at museums, but others are even more serious – they abhor the academic treadmill and taught themselves science and are now employed as researchers by companies, zoos or museums and are doing kick-ass science, getting invited to speak at meetings, and publishing (see, for an example of the latter, Elizabeth von Muggenthaler (pdf) who has her own company, works at the Zoo, and speaks about infrasonic communication in animals everywhere at meetings and in the media).
    Keeping all those people out of the Inner Circle by demeaning them and not acknowledging they are scientists is a puerile and dangerous way for defending and enforcing an out-moded, white-male-dominated power structure.

  17. As a “tech” of sorts (not officially in title, but that seems the easiest way to qualify myself), I would like to agree with becca about authorship being a whole different kettle of fish. I love my job. Currently I don’t have any papers published with my name on it. The politics of that honor are complicated and seem to vary from PI to PI. My supervisor tried to get my name as an author on a paper where I had run the experiments and contributed to the analysis of the data. The PI thought differently. I’m not mad about that. I’m young and I have time and other opportunities. However, I always feel a little miffed when reading science blogs where techs are often brushed aside. While that may be true for some techs, I hate to see the generalization because I’d like to think that I am involved in the research that I help with. And yes, for some projects I am more involved than other and that changes things. I just don’t want to think that people think less of me as a researcher just because I have yet to move onto grad school. I would like to think that I am an integral and appreciated part of the scientific community that work in.

  18. @ Liz and becca and Jason: becca is right, publication is a VERY different kettle of fish. And to exclude technicians and graduate students who may not yet have publications seems to me to be very elitist, they may do science, but they aren’t scientists YET?

  19. OK, I found von Muggenthaler’s company’s website so you can see the publication list etc. An interesting case – is she a scientist? No PhD. Very careful in interviews to avoid hype or unwarranted conclusions from the data. Publications and invited talks at meetings. Out-of-the-box research, a little wacky and unusual, but good. Self-funded by doing other stuff (e.g., helping owners of animals with behavioral problems), so that is alternative as well. No quackery, but totally outside of the regular PhD-to-tenure track. Scientist or not?

  20. @Natalie “So, you’re saying that unless you are getting paid to do scientific stuff, you’re not a scientist. What about people who do scientific discoveries on their own in their free time (going beack to the “gentleman scientist” of the past – people do still do this)?”
    Self employed (self funded) scientist, if doing research and publishing, going to conferences, etc. If not scientific hobbiest with whatever title their job is (waiter, lawyer, actor, etc). Was Michael Crichton, MD, Phd a scientist? Wikipedia discribes him as “… author, producer, director, and physician,…” Do you consider amateur astronomers to be scientists? They do make alot of discoveries. I do not know, but for me lawyer by day, amateur astronomer by night is still a lawyer doing some science (hobby) but are not scientists. An amateur astronomer might be considered scientist if they publish their findings. Likewise a graduate student studying science != scientist, but = student if doing no actual research. But, yes in my opinion (which is not worth much, maybe one cent?), scientist is a job title.

  21. OK, I dug it up – from an interview with me a few months ago:
    What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in Science? Why?
    This is a very good question because it addresses the difference between two uses of the word ’science’. 

A common use of the word is its narrower sense – the sense of actively participating in scientific research. In that narrower sense, I am not a scientist any more – I spent 10 years in graduate school, got my Masters halfway through that time, did my PhD work which I never published and almost written a Dissertation which I never defended. Then I left graduate school. I published five scientific papers that were very well received by the peers in my discipline (chronobiology – study of biological time), and have four unfinished, unpublished manuscripts that I still intend to publish soon, one of which I think of as particularly creative, insightful and useful for other people in my field.
    But there is another, broader sense of the word ’science’. It denotes a scientific mindset that one acquires through the study, training and practice in science. In this sense: once a scientist – always a scientist. And in this broader sense I think that my research and publication contributions are dwarfed by the influence I have had as a biology teacher for 16 years, as a science blogger for the past four or so years, as the organizer of three science blogging conferences and editor of two (and the third is coming out soon) science blogging anthologies, as a community manager for PLoS ONE, and as a vocal proponent of the Open Access model of publishing. With those activities, I think I have reached more people in a positive way than with my scientific papers, I have changed more minds, made more people think, spread more good information around, and did more good for the entire enterprise of science than with my research, as much as I like to think that my experiments were creative and cool (and perhaps even useful in some distant sense).

  22. Hmmm, blockquotes don’t work around here any more?

  23. Coturnix:

  24. Who are these “many people” defining scientists so damn narrowly, and is there some kind of line I can get in to bop them on the head? As others have clearly pointed out, the first definition excludes grad students, technicians, group leaders in industry, etc etc etc.
    If we’re trying to come up with a one-liner here about what makes a scientist, I’d suggest that “independent analysis and decision-making toward the goal of driving forward a scientific project” would be a good place to start. I’ve met plenty of grad students (and techs, and postdocs for that matter) who are perfectly content to slavishly follow the instructions of others (their PI, another postdoc, etc). Many of these folks end up with a pretty nice publication record, but have the intellectual curiosity and experimental design skills of a hockey puck, which I feel oughta disqualify you as a “scientist”.

  25. Way to volley back sci- I’m much better at tearing down definitions than creating them. It’s odd, I normally think of myself as preferring very precise definitions to words, but I tend to think of a lot of the notions of “scientist” out there as too restrictive (particularly the career-oriented interpretation- sorry danimal).
    If pressed, I’d probably use something like “Scientist- someone engaged in the generation of new data-derived information and the systematic organization of such information to produce knowledge”

  26. What is a ‘scientist’ is a matter of definition, and opinions on the proper definition apparently differ, and differ by sub-field of science.
    As regards to making it on the author list, the custom in experimental high-energy particle physics is that the very first publication has all engineers and physicists as co-authors, who worked at some time on the design and building of the detector (which might have taken several years), so as to give all some recognition; on subsequent publications, all physicists are co-authors, even if they did not contribute directly to the specific analysis reported. But they will have contributed (years of their life) by taking shifts in data collection, data reconstruction and simulation, maintaining their detector system, and sitting on review committees criticizing the papers to be published. So I’d think it is fine to regard them all as co-authors and scientists. It makes for long author lists though.–
    In Astronomy, it seems that only those doing the final analysis and writing the publication are deemed worthy of authorship; I often wonder about a two-author paper analyzing some satellite data; the data certainly were prepared from raw data by some reconstruction from raw data, by applying thresholds, calibrations,… which required probably many man-years of dedicated labor and insight by scientists and engineers, whose effort apparently never gets acknowledged; and that is not counting the effort of numerous astronomers, physicists and engineers who built the instrument flown on the satellite.–
    The most narrow definition of ‘scientist’ might possibly used by those with secure academic positions (so it applies to them) who have less than great self-confidence (so they need to cling to titles, such as Prof., Ph.D.); those with better self-confidence are not afraid to share the ‘glory’ of the appelation ‘scientist’ with others.
    Then even those of us who work in an academic and research position need to acknowledge the fact, that we are not all little Einsteins or Fermis or Watsons or…; most of the time we do rather routine calculations, analyses, experiments, measurements etc. which – most of the time – lead only to a small increment in the body of scientific knowledge. Only now and then will one of us make a real novel discovery (often to find out, that someone else made the same discovery at about the same time, or years ago). But the hope for such an insight keeps us in the lab after hours.
    And the awareness, that we keep the larger scientific enterprise going, that our incremental improvement may be a foundation for a new insight by a later generation.
    And then, one has to consider that much progress in (experimental) science comes from the availability of better instruments and tools; being the first to have access to a new wavelength region in astronomy, a telescope with better resolution, a x-ray beam with higher energy/brilliance or shorter pulse length…. almost guarantees some discovery and publication.
    So one should give ample credit to those developing these tools.
    (And certainly not dismiss them as ‘mere engineers’ or technicians).
    Finally, we rely on the public to fund most science nowadays. So one should avoid appearing elitist. For me, an amateur astronomer who records his observations, and perhaps finds another comet, is also a scientist, even if his day job is something else.
    Then, what we ‘are’ is really unknowable to others, but our behavior can be observed. We should take all who do or want to contribute to science serious, treat them professionally and politely (which, of course, includes criticism, and dismissal of pseudoscience and ‘woo’). And, if we want to be seen as scientists, be a model in how we use evidence to arrive at conclusions, rather than prejudice or ideology.–

  27. @ Liz and becca and Jason: becca is right, publication is a VERY different kettle of fish. And to exclude technicians and graduate students who may not yet have publications seems to me to be very elitist, they may do science, but they aren’t scientists YET?

    I guess I’m really not understanding. In my own field, if a person has a relevant, significant, and original contribution to the work in question, they end up as an author of the paper, end of story. Most of the discussion on authorship comes down to the order of authorship, not on who gets on the paper.
    So I can’t honestly imagine a lab tech not getting on a paper that they work towards. I mean, if they’re sitting there performing the experiments, or at least doing parts of them, and recording those results, it would seem to me that they most definitely should be an author. But I suppose cultures do differ from field to field.

  28. Excellent post, Sci, and thank you for the compliment. I’m still not quite comfortable calling myself a scientist (how about scientician?), but I definitely agree with what you have posted here. It is a shame that when kids are asked to draw what they think a scientist looks like they almost invariably draw an old white man in a lab coat doing something with beakers. There is so much wrong with that image it’s hard to know where to start.

  29. I’m Finnish, and in my native language scientist is “tiedemies”, a science-man, a word that feels weird when used to describe women. The word “tiedenainen” has been invented to use when you are talking about women on the field of science, but it feels odd, and it’s not in a wide use. If I remember correctly, according the research institute for the languages of Finland , the masculine word can be used to describe women too, even though it sounds odd.
    Most of the Finnish scientists I know don’t use those words to describe themselves, instead talking about their particular field and calling themselves for example biologists or geologists.

  30. It’s probably safe to assume no one would disagree that Einstein was a scientist. So it might be interesting to considering the following abbreviated biography of Einstein taken from wikipedia:
    1879: Einstein born
    1890-94: Einstein teaches himself some math
    1895: Einstein quits high school; applies to a post-secondary institution and fails entrance exam but gets high marks in math and physics; has first thought experiment associated with relativity
    1896: Einstein finishes high school
    1896-1900: Einstein enrolls and graduates from Polytechnic with diploma in math and physics
    1901: Einstein publishes first paper about the physics of a straw
    1903: Einstein finds work as a patent clerk evaluating patent applications for electromagnetic devices; starts a philosophy discussion group that influences his later ideas on relativity; has no contact with physics community
    1905: While working in patent office, Einstein publishes famous relativity papers (although not viewed as important by physicists at that time); obtains PhD
    1921 – Wins Nobel prize for photoelectrical effect law
    It’s left as an exercise for the reader as to exactly what point in the above timeline (I suppose this is a pun) Einstein would have been declared a scientist given classical and contemporary definitions of a scientist.

  31. I hope readers will find this on-topic: I just discovered that Science Magazine is making all its research reports more than 1 year old available to anybody with a free registration. See Register For Free Access to Content

  32. Here’s a perspective I don’t see addressed: What about “Researchers” captive to a company or organization? Military, Government, Industry: we do research, make discoveries, follow the Scientific Method, but cannot publish our proprietary work. We may consume the published science of others, but do not reciprocate in the same way. BAD (even EVIL) Scientists, but Scientists still. Worse, in my case, I don’t have a PhD (or even an MD).
    I agree with the earlier sentiments showing distaste for an “Old (old white man in a lab coat doing something with beakers) Boy’s Network” with exclusivity and disdain for outsiders. If we are to have a society that respects, values and aspires to “scientificity,” doesn’t implying that Science is the sole purview of an anointed priesthood stand in the way of what I think we would all agree is what we, society, need? I remember reading that “all children are born Scientists,” and that it is their circumstances, society and opportunity that so often snuffs that spark. Achievement, in degrees, awards, publications, even in discoveries and the practical implementation of discoveries should be lauded, but shouldn’t we also encourage less famous, widespread (and socially valuable) application of the principles of Science?

  33. Thread Hijack!
    Hey! OrchidGrowinMan- are you one of those people my Mom the gardener was telling me about? She said they were now using tissue culture to grow new varieties of orchids (I saids “Tissue Culture? Not just grafting such?” and she said “tissue culture!”).
    I was wondering how one goes about getting a job doing this, in case the whole curing malaria thing doesn’t work out for me. I like flowers and I’m tired of making thing sick to study them. I want to make things healthier and prettier.

  34. On occasion, I get people telling me that I’m not a scientist because I’ve been trained as an engineer. In reality, almost any engineer with a Ph.D. is a scientist. Why? Because they don’t hand out Ph.D.s for doing 5 years worth of pipe-fitting and unit conversions. They hand them out to us for doing science with the mindset of an engineer.

  35. OK …..Calling ALL of you to band together, to use those wonderfully brilliant scientific minds of yours and come up with an Official Name/Title for those of who may lack the actual PHDs, but cannot contain the scientist within !!
    To quote Scicurious ;
    ” A scientist is someone with curiosity. Someone who desires to know about the world, to discover mechanisms or technologies that have not been discovered. Someone who uses the scientific method to solve problems and logic to look for potential avenues for solutions. A scientist is also someone who is consistently learning and using what they learn to teach others. To teach others how to use the scientific method and how to utilize their curiosity to find answers is to be a scientist. Scientists are perpetual students themselves, constantly seeking to learn and understand more about their environment.”
    …..and I agree. But one may be intelligent enough to advise someone in law yet cannot carry the title of lawyer. One may live a clean and law abiding life and chastise those who are dishonest , but cannot be called a police man , etc.
    I ask you then to “Take Up The Challenge” and lay title upon those who cannot resist their scientific urgings , that are contributing in some way shape or form to advancing the sciences to the best of their abilities, with out the advantages of a degree or 2.
    You have the power !!

  36. I think your article is quite accurate. In my opinion, te most important thing a scientist need is founding with its propper explanation or demostration, of course it has to be consistent and objective. Although, mostly of the scientific thinking is objective, a scientist must have to have a little bit of faith. Faith in him/herself, faith in science, and faith in what his/her is studying. And above all, don’t forget, a scientist has to love science.
    I don’t have a phD, i’ve just started my studies in Biochemistry, and even the less i’m still learning and improving i can tell that i’m on my way to become a better scientist, but i was a scientist before i started studying biochemistry couse i love science.

  37. I agree with the viewpoint that a scientist is more about the mindset. As a BSME and a 25 year career in a R&D, I have frequently run outside of the bounds of what is known. This has led to patents and proprietary work that will never be published. All it takes to be a scientist is an inquisitive mind and the ability to learn.

  38. Many of today’s scientific institutions appear to have borrowed from principles employed by organized religion, the parallels are in so many ways uncanny. So someone who engages in scientific pursuits without a Ph.D. might still be considered a scientist, just not an ordained scientist.
    I foresee another revolution, as history repeats itself, and some Martin Luther of Science tacks his or her version of a 94th Thesis on a door somewhere, and the authority, not to mention infallibility, of some of our most sacred scientific institutions are called into serious question.

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