Monday, May 15, 2006

Ethos in scientific articles

Rather than doing a single long review of Gross's book, I thought I'd comment on various things as they occurred to me. One point, which I've been thinking about since his earlier work, involves the creation of ethos in scientific articles. On page 27 of Starring the Text, Gross explains,
By invoking the authority of past results, the initial sections of scientific papers argue for the importance and relevance of the current investigation; by invoking the authority of past procedure, these sections establish the scientist's credibility as an investigator. All scientific papers, moreover, are embedded in a network of authority relationships . . . within the text, a trail of citations highlighting the paper as the latest result of a vital and ongoing research program.

Although I think this description is accurate for almost all modern scientific papers, it's fascinating because of one brilliant paper that it doesn't describe: Einstein's "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies." In Einstein in Love: A Scientific Romance, Dennis Overbye tells us, "Unlike many scientific papers, it did not specifically refer to any other scientist or body of experimental data and contained no footnotes. This, remarks Galison, may be a reflection of Einstein's experience in the patent office, since footnotes, suggesting that somebody else has been there first, are anathema in a patent application" (139).

It's not clear to me why Overbye would claim that the paper refers to no other scientist or body of experimental data. The first sentence refers to Maxwell, and the rest of the introduction places Einstein's work in the context of Newton's. He also mentions the work of Hendrik Lorentz. But Galison's suggestion makes sense. The lack of citations in this work, so unusual for a scientific paper, may actually have helped develop Einstein's ethos.

Or it may not. Overbye points out that "most physicists couldn't tell the difference between his [Einstein's] approach to electrodynamics and that of Lorentz . . . " (145). Perhaps Einstein made an error here. He was still at the stage of his career when he could most effectively have developed his ethos with a Burkean identification, showing the connection between himself and others. Later on, he might have had more luck with division than identification, much as Pasteur did in his late career. In 1905, though, he wasn't ready for that yet.

Hmmm. I'm not sure. In any case, it's gotten some thoughts going, and I see that as a good thing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What If...Visit Our Web Site at If You are Looking forr advice on how to build your own house.

1:21 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home