Sunday, January 25, 2009

When is someone qualified to call themselves a scientist?

I have my own definition for what a scientist is, but I want to get a feel for other opinions. What credentials and what areas of study qualify one to tell others, when asked about professions, "I'm a scientist"?
For the record, I don't believe an undergraduate degree is enough (and so I won't call myself a scientist). Do you agree? What else is required?


childishkim said...

While I believe that science can be practiced in any profession the privilege of telling someone "I am a scientist" with regards to your profession is reserved for those people who regularly publish papers in academic journals. That is they do some form of structured, rigorous research. Outside of a discussion of profession though I believe anyone with a scientific approach to life and some formal training i.e. you and me Tim, could say "I am a scientist". Those are my 2 cents

childishkim said...

I suppose I had better amend my first post. I neglected to define the terms I used. In my post a person's profession is defined as that primary activity which provides the means by which a person gains those things necessary for life, such as food and shelter. Science is more difficult to pin down. For the purposes of this post science is an activity which, through use of the scientific method, produces knowledge not previously had. So, while a farmer may perform scientifically rigorous experiments to increase crop yields, his primary activity to gain those things necessary for life is farming, not science. As a profession he is a farmer, yet he is also a scientist. I hope that is clear.

Tim said...

Thanks for the thoughts.
So is a psychologist a scientist?
I like your analysis, especially the farmer example.

JorgenMan said...

I agree - I think you've got to be a professional scientist, whether in industry or academia, to call yourself a scientist. I suppose if you're unemployed, you could call yourself a scientist. I could think of a scenario where a true "scientist" wouldn't publish, but I think it's gotta be professional.

As for the farmer, well, it depends on the farmer. Just tracking how different practices influence crop yield is certainly scientific, but not enough for a farmer to call himself a scientist. The paper publishing test is probably a good one - if he's doing enough science to publish, then his research is probably significant enough that he could be considered a scientist.

I think if a psychologist is doing case studies and rigorously developing (and publishing) theories to guide the field in general, s/he would be a scientist, but psychiatrist who is focused only on specific patients, no.