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Scientific controversies

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A scientific controversy can be defined as a friendly or not debate opposing personalities of the scientific community or observers (sociologists of science, journalists …) on a scientific theory point or on historical or philosophical facts to be associated with this theory. Any scientific controversy is confrontational. According to some sociologists, it may result, at worst, by creating fake deliberative spaces obscuring the truly dissenting views and, at best, so-called hybrid forums where scientists and non-scientists involve.

Scientific controversy is characterized by persistent and public division of several members of the scientific community, in coalition or not, which support opposing arguments in the interpretation of a given phenomenon. By this definition, a debate on science and technology in public space does not constitute a scientific controversy if it poses scientifically no particular problem. The debate must be born in the world of science, the constituent forum, to provide a scientific controversy in the strict sense.

The history of science is littered with such controversies, some of which have remained famous.

Types of scientific controversies

Pure scientific controversies

This is the one between scientists to determine eligibility of a new theory or what theory must be specified from among competing theories emerged in relatives times.

A controversy of this type can be determined by an experiment in which both parties agree with the theoretical demonstration proving that it has different results depending on what is the correct theory.

Controversy over the interpretation of a theory

Bohr and Einstein at Paul Ehrenfest (Bohr and Einstein at Paul Ehrenfest (December 11, 1925))

In some cases, it is the interpretation of a theory, particularly from a philosophical point of view, that creates debate. In this case, it may be impossible to settle permanently.

The dispute between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr on quantum mechanics is a famous example; it was actually a mixed controversy because the EPR paradox allowed to separate the protagonists in part, but the realism of Einstein is not entirely refuted.

The meaning lent to a scientific theory from the point of view of philosophy is also crucial. André Metz said many have struggled to convince philosophers that the theory of relativity was not absurd from a philosophical point of view. Some researchers were partly guided in their work by philosophical considerations: Paul Dirac eg looking primarily to mathematical elegance. But for all its mathematical beauty (in the eyes of Dirac) its equation could not impose on this criterion alone, but because it explains better experience than previous equations.

Controversies on the experimental facts

According to Kuhn, normal scientific activity (or normal science) is based on the assumption that the scientific community knows how the world is made. This is why the scientific community will be brought to overshadow anything new, any anomaly specific to undermine its basic beliefs.

Only when the experts can no longer ignore such abnormalities the extraordinary investigations begin (the extraordinary science) that lead to a new set of beliefs: a new paradigm. The observations made by Kuhn on the behavior of the scientific community indicate that, facing an anomaly, scientists prefer to develop new versions and revisions of ad hoc theories, at least if they accept the existence of the defect as such.

Controversies on the history of science

Controversies on the history of science are often disputes on paternity. The history of infinitesimal calculus provides an example of conflicting claims of two scientists. Conversely, the relativity priority dispute is not the work of those concerned.

Modern scientific practice, despite its transparency at all levels (the advanceds are automatically published or placed as “pre-publication”), did not end the controversy. Dark energy is an example for the late twentieth century.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee plays a very important role in disputes on paternity. The awarding of a Nobel Prize for a discovery valids the author according to the committee. The committee may also co-award the price to the various players, a maximum of three (which raises regularly problem in the case of collaborative work). The award does not always turn off the controversies, participants in the controversy did not hesitate to criticize the committee itself. The relativity priority dispute is an example in which the role of the committee is rather difficult to interpret, since the committee has just awarded no price on the subject.

For a historian of science, questions relating to life of the researchers may also be discussed. Recently opened on the fate of Lieserl Einstein.

(Translated from Wikipedia)

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