Science is stored in the scientists

What makes good science?

This is a question I ask myself pretty much continuously. It’s a question that lots of people who care about science ask themselves pretty much continuously. Good science – and what makes good science – affects everything from personal prestige to trillions of dollars of funding to actual life and death themselves.

A lot of people have attempted to answer this question over the years. If you google it, you get a variety of answers like “adhering to the scientific method”, “following a rigorous data collection method”, and “being replicable”.

You also get a variety of answers about the personal qualities that scientists should have – like curiosity, patience, courage and persistence. The implicit argument there is that good personal qualities make for good science.

Indeed, a lot of science is about recognising the people doing that science – tacit knowledge, where some groups of people have knowledge about a lab or a method that isn’t written down, is very common. That’s known by a lot of names, including metis and the “graduate student 1, 2, 3… problem”. Similarly, in experimental science, there’s the idea of “golden hands” – some people are intuitively better at making a method work, particularly on the first try.

Science is not impersonal. If anything, it’s pretty damn personal, and having good personal qualities and good amounts of unspoken knowledge is supposed to lead to doing better science.

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